Planet Earth

Foretelling the Future

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorAug 9, 2010 4:03 PM

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I'm in an archaeological state of mind. This week I will be traveling and working on some new assignments. So blogging will be light--and probably archaeologically related. On that note, I recently came across this neat story that talks about the use of computer modeling in archaeology, and the similar aims and challenges it shares with climate modeling:

Archaeologists can treat the past as a proving ground for calibrating their models. This allows them to refine a model and improve its accuracy before it is applied to contemporary situations by soil and agricultural scientists. "If we can predict the past really well, then that gives us a good chance of predicting the future," said Barton. This is similar to the way climate modelers calibrate their models with ancient climate data gathered from sources like tree rings, pollen and ice cores. Reenacting the past and comparing the outcome to what actually happened is one effective way to test a model. Large differences between what the model says and what past evidence says can expose weaknesses in the model.

Some of the most fascinating (and on-going) archaeological modeling is part of the Village Ecodynamics Project, which attempts to sort out the social and ecological factors that led to the depopulation across a huge swath of the American Southwest in the 12th century. The Anasazi cultural collapse is of enduring fascination to scientists and the general public. But I've come to suspect that there are connecting dots to a larger story that doesn't get nearly as much attention, perhaps because the ruins aren't as visually spectacular or well-preserved.

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