Long-distance social networks existed in the past much before technology

Washington, Mar 26 (ANI): Long-distance social networks existed long before the advent of the Internet, a new study has revealed.

The finding sheds light on the transformation of social networks in the late pre-Hispanic American Southwest and shows that people of that period were able to maintain surprisingly long-distance relationships with nothing more than their feet to connect them.

Led by University of Arizona anthropologist Barbara Mills, the study is based on analysis of more than 800,000 painted ceramic and more than 4,800 obsidian artifacts dating from AD 1200-1450, uncovered from more than 700 sites in the western Southwest, in what is now Arizona and western New Mexico.

With funding from the National Science Foundation, Mills, director of the UA School of Anthropology, worked with collaborators at Archeology Southwest in Tucson to compile a database of more than 4.3 million ceramic artifacts and more than 4,800 obsidian artifacts, from which they drew for the study.

They then applied formal social network analysis to see what material culture could teach them about how social networks shifted and evolved during a period that saw large-scale demographic changes, including long-distance migration and coalescence of populations into large villages.

Their findings illustrate dramatic changes in social networks in the Southwest over the 250-year period between AD 1200 and 1450.

They found, for example, that while a large social network in the southern part of the Southwest grew very large and then collapsed, networks in the northern part of the Southwest became more fragmented but persisted over time.

"Network scientists often talk about how increasingly connected networks become, or the 'small world' effect, but our study shows that this isn't always the case," Mills, who led the study with co-principal investigator and UA alumnus Jeffery Clark, of Archaeology Southwest said.

"Our long-term study shows that there are cycles of growth and collapse in social networks when we look at them over centuries. Highly connected worlds can become highly fragmented," she said.

Another important finding was that early social networks do not appear to have been as restricted as expected by settlements' physical distance from one another.

Researchers found that similar types of painted pottery were being created and used in villages as far as 250 kilometers apart, suggesting people were maintaining relationships across relatively large geographic expanses, despite the only mode of transportation being walking.

The UA study shows how social network analysis can be applied to a database of material culture to illustrate changes in network structures over time.

The study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (ANI)

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