Everything Old Is New Again
April 7, 2013

Everything Old Is New Again

The rapid advancement of technology makes it hard to believe the network everyone was on, but no one will admit to, MySpace, isn’t even 10 years old. The current social networking juggernaut, Facebook, only just turned 9. So, when I was reading a story on the redOrbit main site recently, written by our own Lee Rannals, about how social networking has a history older than a decade, my interest was piqued.

Apparently, University of Arizona researchers used some 4.3 million painted ceramic artifacts to help them determine the existence of long-distance social networks between pre-Hispanic societies of the southwest region of what is now the US, dating back to the 1200s.

The anthropologists involved in this study used modern-day formal social network analysis to help them learn how the material culture of the time could explain the shift and evolution of social networks.

These researchers, observing similar artifacts found across a wide geographic region, claim people were maintaining social relationships despite the great distances and the fact the only way to travel between the two separate and distinct communities was by foot.

The lead author pointed out the production and use of these nearly identical artifacts could not come about by chance. Rather, actual physical interaction, where one teaches another how to make these specifically designed pieces of pottery, could be the only explanation.

I was reminded of a conversation I had with an indigenous guide at a site when I was studying in Mexico. We were touring an ancient Mayan site, marked by brilliant engineering, hard even to replicate today. Also at this site were carvings and markings on the walls, made by the original inhabitants of this area. In referencing the wall markings, the guide looked at me and explained there was no difference between the Mayans of old, sharing their experience by marking walls and our (referring to we Internet connected modern-day students) propensity to post our pictures on the World Wide Web. He smiled slyly and said, “You are just using a different kind of wall.”

And so it would make perfect sense that archaeologists would eventually turn to the use of formal social network analysis to gain a better understanding of bygone civilizations. It was just jarring that what was so easily explained by a man in a straw hat in 2006 would not be realized and applied by academics for another 7 years.

While it may appear they came to the game late, one of the last parts I read in Rannals’ article showed the use of this new form of analysis was likely to become commonplace by archaeologists in researching societies even older than those that existed for this latest study.

Image Credit: Sergey Nivens / Shutterstock

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