New project papers

This week, the proceedings of the LAC2014 conference have been published in Open Access at It includes the papers of the session “Computational modeling in landscape archaeology: back to the drawing board?” organized and edited by Philip Verhagen, Marieka Brouwer Burg and Thomas G. Whitley. Two project-related papers can be found here: Simulating the Farm: Computational Modelling of Cattle and Sheep Herd Dynamics for the Analysis of Past Animal Husbandry Practices and Modelling the Dynamics of Demography in the Dutch Roman Limes Zone.

Last week, we also published a paper with Ivo Vossen in Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, on dealing with the chronological difficulties in our archaeological database. It is available in Open Access: Now you see them, now you don’t: Defining and using a flexible chronology of sites for spatial analysis of Roman settlement in the Dutch river area.

Final project conference

On 26 and 27 January 2017, we will organize a conference at VU University Amsterdam to present and discuss the results of our project.

During the conference, we want to focus on four major topics: subsistence economy, demography, transport and mobility, and socio-economic networks in the Roman period. We invite scholars working on these issues to submit a paper in one of the sessions mentioned below.

Please send a title and abstract of max. 300 words to dr. Philip Verhagen ( before 16 October 2016. Paper presenters will be given the opportunity to publish in the project’s final publication.

Hoping to see you in Amsterdam!

Philip Verhagen
Jamie Joyce
Mark Groenhuijzen

SESSSION 1: Modelling the agricultural economy in the Roman world

The necessity of the agricultural economy in the Roman world is undoubted. Most of the population in the Roman world engaged in agriculture- peasants balancing on the edge between famine and sufficiency, obliged not only to support their households but also to supply the state with supplies and manpower. Yet, the adage that our understanding of the classical world is formed largely from the ancient elites is still pertinent. The peasant in the classical world remains largely invisible and so too the economy and subsistence of the vast majority of the inhabitants in the Roman world. Furthermore, whilst we have a broad knowledge of the rural economy in the Roman world such as diet, farming practices and technology, and quantification of agricultural output, we are still missing more detailed understanding in variations across the empire on different scales.

The Finding the Limits of the Limes project has focused on the rural native economy of the Dutch Roman limes zone which was characterised by a mixed agricultural economy in a highly militarised frontier zone. In addition, the project has researched non-food producing activities namely fuel and wood management. We have utilized an agent-based modelling approach to simulate different strategies within the mixed agricultural economy of the region, with a particular interest in interactions between the different activities and the limits on surplus production presented by land and labour costs for these different approaches to agriculture. Furthermore, we have simulated the rural economy over different geographic and temporal scales: from the pre-Roman Iron Age to the Middle Roman Period, from the household to the micro-region.

To complement and contrast with our research in the Dutch Roman limes zone, we invite contributions concerning the rural economy in the Roman world. In particular, we seek papers concerning:

  • Defining the limits of agricultural production within the rural economy (such as animal husbandry, arable farming, and fuel-management) in the northern Roman provinces.
  • Multidisciplinary approaches for the understanding of agriculture in the Roman world incorporating, where applicable, traditional archaeological methods, environmental archaeology and computational modelling.
  • The interactions between consumers and native producers in the Roman world, particularly the supply to and demand from the Roman military

SESSION 2: Modelling demography in the Roman Empire

Demographic studies of the Roman Empire have a long history, but are severely hampered by a lack of reliable written sources. In the absence of such sources, archaeologists routinely rely on survey and excavation data to estimate population densities, but these only provide limited understanding of the underlying principles of human population dynamics that would allow us to confidently predict the size and composition of (parts of) the Roman population. Nevertheless, knowledge of historic population dynamics is extremely important for a better understanding of all kinds of socio-economic issues. In our project, we have used demographic estimates to better understand the potential of the study region for agricultural surplus production: was there sufficient labour force available, and did the forced recruitment of soldiers pose significant problems to the local population? For this, we relied on dynamical models of human reproduction, and confronted the model results with archaeological data and historical evidence.

In this session, we invite papers that apply modelling approaches to demographic questions in order to investigate socio-economic issues, such as the production capacity of the countryside, population growth and settlement pattern development, the impact of mortality crises on economic production and military power, or the influence of birth and marriage control strategies on available workforce. We also invite papers dealing with the problems of building reliable and usable demographic models, including their sensitivity to changes in input parameters, the choice of an appropriate temporal and spatial scale, and the problems of testing the outcomes.

SESSION 3: Modelling transport and mobility in the Roman period

Research on transport and mobility in the Roman period has largely focussed on interactions on regional to empire-wide scales. In contrast, we know very little about local-scale movements, which is at least partly the result of a relative lack of archaeological and historical material to work with. The use of spatial modelling techniques has become common to bridge the gap between theoretical notions of short- to medium-distance mobility and the lack of evidence for it. In this session we want to focus on the practical and theoretical implications of using modelling approaches to better understand transport and mobility on the local to regional scales. We specifically invite papers that deal with new approaches to modelling transport or mobility, papers that link transport models to economic models, and papers that discuss the archaeological, anthropological, physiological and/or (socio-)economic theoretical foundations of modelling transport and mobility.

SESSION 4: Networks and the socio-economic structure of the Roman period

Interactions between people are at the core of archaeological research on the cultural landscape and socio-economic structure within the Dutch limes zone. To identify patterns in relationships between archaeological data, network analysis has become an increasingly used tool. In this session we aim to explore how we can better understand the functioning of the economy, transport, and specifically the spatial and economic relations between people, by applying concepts of network science and formal network analysis techniques. We are especially interested in papers that apply network analysis to address these topics in an innovative way, papers that link network models to (socio-)economic concepts, and papers that discuss the theoretical implications and limitations of both the techniques and the data.

Seminar ‘Detection and Modelling of Ancient Pathways’

On 27 June 2016 we organized a one-day seminar at VU University on the theme ‘Detection and Modelling of Ancient Pathways’. Computer-based modelling of movement and transport in prehistory, and the detection and interpretation of ancient pathways from LiDAR images have both attracted much interest in the community of ‘digital archaeology’. Up to now, however, there have been few attempts to link pathway modelling to detection and vice versa. Experts from France, Slovenia, the United States and the Netherlands presented the state of the art in both fields, and explored the possible connections between the two.

The seminar was co-sponsored by CLUE+, VU’s Research Institute for Culture, History and Heritage, and ARCHON, the Dutch Research School of Archaeology.

The pdfs of the presentations can be accessed here.