Time-dependent taphonomic site loss leads to spatial averaging: implications for archaeological cultures

Emily Coco, Radu Iovita

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Archaeologists typically define cultural areas on the basis of similarities between the types of material culture present in sites. The similarity is assessed in order of discovery, with newer sites being evaluated against older ones. Despite evidence for time-dependent site loss due to taphonomy, little attention has been paid to how this impacts archaeological interpretations about the spatial extents of material culture similarity. This paper tests the hypothesis that spatially incomplete data sets result in detection of larger regions of similarity. To avoid assumptions of cultural processes, we apply subsampling algorithms to a naturally occurring, spatially distributed dataset of soil types. We show that there is a negative relationship between the percentage of points used to evaluate similarity across space and the absolute distances to the first minimum in similarity for soil classifications at multiple spatial scales. This negative relationship indicates that incomplete spatial data sets lead to an overestimation of the area over which things are similar. Moreover, the location of the point from which the calculation begins can determine the size of the region of similarity. This has important implications for how we interpret the spatial extent of similarity in material culture over large distances in prehistory.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Article number136
    JournalHumanities and Social Sciences Communications
    Issue number1
    StatePublished - Dec 1 2020

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • General Arts and Humanities
    • General Social Sciences
    • General Psychology
    • Economics, Econometrics and Finance(all)
    • General Business, Management and Accounting


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