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Computer Models Find Ancient Solutions to Modern Problems

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Scientists cientists use data from archaeological sites like the 1,200-year-old Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Canyon, NM.

Washington State University archaeologists are at the helm of new research using sophisticated computer technology to learn how past societies responded to climate change.

Credit: Nate Crabtree

At Washington State University (WSU), archaeologists have developed computer simulations of the interactions between ancestral peoples in the American Southwest and their environment.

In 2001, WSU professor Tim Kohler launched the Village Ecodynamics Project to simulate how Pueblo Indian families likely would have responded to changes in specific variables such as precipitation, population size, and resource depletion, by having virtual Pueblo Indian families live on computer-generated and geographically accurate landscapes. By comparing the results of agent-based models against actual archaeological evidence, anthropologists can identify past conditions and circumstances that led different civilizations around the world into periods of growth and decline.

The WSU team describes the simulations as similar to a video game in that the virtual agents will play things out to the logical conclusion based on their parameters and rules. The technology could help modern communities identify new crops and other adaptive strategies when facing environmental challenges.

"Our hope is that combining traditional archaeology fieldwork with data-driven modeling techniques will help us more knowledgeably manage our numbers, our ecosystem interactions, and avoid past errors regarding climate change," Kohler says.

From WSU News
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