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Innovative online course on Modelling and Simulation in Archaeology

Simulation is a formal scientific method used to develop, compare and test hypotheses (models). In the last few decades the use of simulation has increased dramatically in virtually all scientific disciplines, but is still limited in archaeology due to the technological barrier – coding skills. Starting in September 2019, the Faculty of Archaeology will be offering an online course on Modelling and Simulation that targets archaeology students and professionals alike. ‘It is a tailor-made module that can transform any student or professional into a competent modeller.’


Dr Iza Romanowska, one of the instructors of the course, explains the relevance of the new online course. ‘Humanities have so far lagged behind in taking a full advantage of modelling techniques, but recently the surge in applications of simulation to human-centered research questions has been immense.’ The course will help archaeologists to lay a foundation for simulation research. ‘It will give the participants a very tangible skill: computer programming. Next to this they will work on their ability to formulate explicit and testable models of complex social and socio-natural systems – one of the main cornerstones of good science.’

A smooth introduction

An important feature that sets this course apart is that it has been developed with the needs for archaeology students and professionals in mind. ‘It is a very smooth introduction into the world of programming, formal models testing and software engineering,’ Romanowska adds. ‘The instructors all have a background in archaeology which means that, although ambitious, the course objectives are achievable even for those who have never seen a line of computer code before. 

Iza Romanowska has, for example, used modelling techniques when studying archaeological palimpsests.

Becoming a ‘hybrid scientist’

The skills taught in this course are widely looked for. ‘The need for so-call 'hybrid scientists', that is, individuals who master expertise across different disciplines, is huge at the moment. It seems that almost every research group seeks someone who combines the ability to do computational work with a good understanding of the research context and data.’

The course will prepare the participants to easily jump into this kind of roles. Likewise, there are many chances in the world outside of academia. ‘Across almost all industries the ability to combine computational analysis with experience of dealing with complex data and nuanced questions, typical for humanities research, is highly sought after. And those who can perform simulations and test hypothesis are at the very top of the ladder.

The “go to” technique

Simulation has been used in a wide variety of topic across archaeology and other humanities disciplines. ‘From modelling early hominin dispersal to testing hypotheses regarding ancient trade or simulation historical battles - formal simulation techniques are used to develop and test hypotheses. For any researcher who asks themselves questions such as 'why did it happen this way?', 'what caused it?', 'which of the factors were critical?' simulation is the "go to" technique.’

Another application of modelling and simulation: a reconstruction of Bronze Age settlement patterns in Mongolia

This online course in Modelling and Simulation in Archaeology:

  • Gives you a hands-on introduction to modelling and simulation in archaeology based on theoretical lessons and practical exercises, with a focus on Agent-based Modelling (ABM);
  • Teaches you the coding skills necessary to work with and build computer simulations of complex social and natural systems;
  • Allows you to gain insights into ancient societies in your own field of interest.

These skills will be taught within an e-learning environment, using NetLogo for building and running simulations. The course is highly interactive, with students collaborating on assignments and interacting with the instructors via online fora.

External participants can register for the course via the course page. Leiden archaeology students can enroll for this elective course as part of their MSc programme.

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