Through several ongoing projects my research is designed to shed new light on the long-term dynamics of social groups and networks by drawing on theories and methods from a variety of comparative social science fields rarely applied to archaeological research. Much of my work relies on network science approaches and related areas of analytical sociology. My research program includes both traditional archaeological field and lab projects in the U.S. Southwest, and collaborative synthetic projects that integrate massive amounts of data to address questions of broad interest in the social and behavioral sciences. By directly engaging with methods and models from other fields, I hope to give archaeologists a voice in ongoing transdisciplinary discussions on important issues such as the long-term impacts of migration and the drivers of collective action and group formation.

I consider myself a preservation archaeologist. This means that (1) I engage in big-picture research through low-impact field investigations while maximizing the use of existing collections, (2) I strive to find ways to share my research with professionals and a broader public, and (3) I use my research to enhance site protection efforts through collaborations with land-owners or government/tribal agencies. The regional data compilation work I do is set up to both serve my research objectives and to provide information for cultural resource priority setting and long-term planning. When all goes well, preservation and research should go hand-in-hand.

Current Major Projects

cyberSW: A Data Synthesis and Knowledge Discovery System for Long-term Interdisciplinary Research on Southwest Social Change

PI: Barbara J. Mills (University of Arizona), Co-PIs: Sudha Ram (University of Arizona), Matthew Peeples (ASU), Jeffery Clark (Archaeology Southwest), Scott Ortman (University of Colorado Boulder); Funded by NSF RIDIR program ($1,718,440 total)

The cyberSW project, funded by the NSF Resource Implementation for Data Intensive Research (RIDIR) program, is focused on developing an analytical infrastructure for comparative social science research using archaeological data. We envision cyberSW as an integrated knowledge discovery system that will significantly enhance interdisciplinary research on long-term social change at decadal to centennial scales. The project will result in the data integration of millions of objects from tens of thousands of Prehispanic settlements across the U.S. Southwest, making it one of the largest digital archaeological repositories in the world. A major challenge in using archaeological data is that most relevant information is not digitally curated or synthesized beyond individual projects. A number of recent synthesis projects in the U.S. Southwest show the great potential of these data for addressing big questions in the social sciences such as: What promotes the success or failure of some societies? How does migration transform social identities and create new social structures? And, what are the relationships between environmental challenges and social changes? We will build on these prior projects to produce an integrated system that will allow users at different levels of expertise to readily view, analyze, and export data on past societies in the Southwest to address these and many other questions relevant to contemporary society.

This project involves the compilation of a massive amount of data into a graph database (using Neo4j) and the creation of a number of user-friendly open source tools for analyzing and visualizing these data. Ultimately, the data and tools will be delivered via a web interface with modules for archaeologists and other environmental/social scientists as well as the general public. My roles in the project include gathering and synthesizing data from the central US Southwest and the creation of tools for chronology building, data visualization, and network analysis.


Click above to download issue of Archaeology Southwest Magazine on the SWSN project

The Southwest Social Networks Project

Co-Directors: Barbara J. Mills, Jeffery Clark, and Matthew Peeples.
Funded by NSF Human and Social Dynamics program (2008-2014) and the NSF Archaeology program (2014-2018). PI: Barbara Mills; Co-PI: Jeffery Clark; Senior Project Personnel Matthew Peeples

The Southwest Social Networks Project is a collaborative project focused on applying methods and models from the interdiciplinary field of social network analyses to archaeological data from the U.S. Southwest. The project involves a diverse group of collaborators including archaeologists, sociologists, geochemists, and computer scientists from a number of academic institutions and research organizations. Project funding has been provided by the National Science Foundation through two collaborative grants to the  School of Anthropology at the University of Arizona and the non-profit Archaeology Southwest in Tucson, Arizona. This work is focused on developing an ever-growing synthetic regional database of archaeological information across the Southwest as well as new analytical tools for exploring such large datasets. These data and tools are maintained by me in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change at Arizona State University.

The SWSN project has proceeded in two phases. Phase I focused focused on the late pre-contact Southwest in Arizona and New Mexico (ca. A.D. 1200-1500) west of the Continental Divide. This period marks an interval of dramatic social and demographic change across the Southwest. The SWSN team has compiled information on site locations, features, size, as well as the materials made and used at those sits across the study area to investigate regional networks of interaction and exchange. Specifically, we address how changing patterns and scales of interaction across social networks may have influenced or been influenced by regional-scale migrations and settlement reorganization during this tumultous period. Phase II of the project, currently underway, is focused on the greater Chaco World (ca. A.D. 800-1300) in the northern half of the Southwest. Using material cultural and architectural data from settlements with public architectural features relating to developments in Chaco Canyon, we are exploring how networks of interaction at various scales changed across the initial origins and subsequent spread of Chacoan social and political developments.

This video provides and overview of ceramic networks and population across the Phase I study area.

Regional Identities, Social Diversity, and Demographic Change along the Edge of the Cibola World

PI: Matthew Peeples, Co-PIs: Paul Reed (Archaeology Southwest) and Gregson Schachner (UCLA); NSF Archaeology program ($192,173 total)

This field and collections project is focused on two portions of the pre-Hispanic U.S. Southwest (the Mariana Mesa and Cebolleta Mesa regions of New Mexico) during a period of rapid and wide-spread social transformation (ca. A.D. 1050-1350). This work relies on a new approach to tracking identities and boundaries using multiple lines of material evidence and drawing on a body of theory and methods from analytical sociology focused on the relationships among social identity, social networks, and periods of rapid social change. By exploring the tensions among different kinds of shared identity in demographic and geographic context, we expect to be able to better understand the processes driving the creation of discrete groups or the long-term persistence of regional diversity. The project involves new field work/mapping at a number of large settlements in the region as well as reanalyses of existing collections housed at the ASU Alameda Repository and other facilities in Arizona and New Mexico.

Our project is focused on a portion of the U.S. Southwest that was an important part of many early debates in Southwestern archaeology on issues of identity and culture at regional-scales, but which has seen relatively little research in recent decades. The project team is leveraging available information through the reanalysis of existing collections from earlier investigations along with new in-field and lab analyses focused on 24 major settlements in the project area. The project team includes specialists with backgrounds covering a range of
material classes (architecture, ceramics, stone tools, basketry, fiber perishables, etc.) which will allow for the documentation and comparison of several different kinds/scales of interaction. The specific objectives of this work are; 1) to establish settlement-scale and regional-scale population histories based on an improved regional chronology, 2) to track interaction in terms of the movement of ceramic and lithic objects/tools using chemical characterization, 3) to identified shared contexts of learning by characterizing technological similarities in production methods for a range of materials including ceramics, lithics, perishables, and domestic architecture, and 4) to identify patterns of similarity in highly visible markers of group membership including painted ceramics and public architecture. The overarching goal of the project is to unify several common strategies used for inferring identity from the archaeological record through new models from the broader social sciences, allowing us to develop a stronger explanatory framework for understanding the processes underlying regional scale social groups in general.