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Brick makers, builders and commissioners as agents in the diffusion of Hellenistic fired bricks: choosing social models to fit archaeological data
(Journal of Greek Archaeology Volume 1 2016) by Per Östborn and Henrik Gerding. Pages 233-270.ISBN JGAVOL12016OSTBORN.

The aim of this study is to understand the mechanisms behind the diffusion of fired bricks in Hellenistic Europe, initiated in the north Aegean in the 4th century BC. To this end, a social diffusion model is used to simulate the available archaeological data pertaining to this process. The starting point in the construction of the model is the assumption that different categories of people contributed differently to the diffusion. One aim is to decide the relative importance of these actor groups. The model makes it possible for the innovation to change and evolve along several branches, so that general similarity networks can be simulated. Such networks were previously used by Östborn and Gerding to track the diffusion by identifying likely causal relationships between brick contexts. The modelling strategy is similar to that used by the cultural geographer Torsten Hägerstrand: A simple model, based on a few fundamental principles, is constructed in order to ‘isolate a few crucial factors which go a long way towards substantially explaining the phenomenon in question.’ By comparing simulations with observed data, the model can be improved step by step. Complexity is added only if necessary. Unlike Hägerstrand’s model, which only allowed the comparison of spatio-temporal distribution of contexts, we also use similarity network characteristics as comparanda. The goal is to find the smallest and simplest set of mechanisms within the model framework that are able to reproduce the known aspects of the diffusion. A set of such mechanisms is proposed. They are able to account for several features of the process, but not all. In particular, we were unable to find a single model that reproduces both the slow and hesitant diffusion of fired bricks during three hundred years and the sudden take-off in the Augustan period. This fact indicates that some change in the social structure of the late Hellenistic world is needed to explain the breakthrough.

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