Digital Archaeology and the Science of Cities: some observations on the application of spatial interaction models to the study of Minoan urbanism

Eleftheria Paliou


A grand disciplinary challenge for Digital Archaeology is to increase its impact in society by partaking in a cross-disciplinary dialogue on contemporary issues, and in this way to contribute to advances both in archaeology and in other scientific disciplines. In recent years there is a steady increase in the number of published archaeological works that draw upon developments in contemporary urban geography, and in particular computational and mathematical modelling, to study a variety of past human and urban phenomena, such as settlement evolution, population movement and growth, the transmission of cultural traits, trade, economy and socio-political organisation. Such approaches are often the result of cross-disciplinary collaboration between archaeologists, physicists and urban geographers and have been encouraged by a growing realization that archaeology could constructively contribute to advances in a Science of Cities (Batty 2013), offering an abundance of material evidence against which contemporary scientific theories, concepts and methods can be evaluated and tested across time and space. Some of the methodologies that fall under the umbrella of this urban science, namely Space Syntax methods, have already met many applications in archaeology, while others, for example urban scaling, are only just emerging in archaeological studies.
This paper will discuss briefly the reciprocal relationship between Digital Archaeology and the Science of Cities before focusing on a particular type of modelling that has attracted much attention in archaeological investigations in the last five years: simulations of spatial interaction that draw from “entropy maximising” approaches. By presenting applications of these models to the study of Minoan urbanism it will discuss the benefits and problems linked to their use in archaeology at various spatial scales.
Batty, M. 2013, The New Science of Cities, MIT press.