The Southwest Social Networks Project

Project Overview:

In the simplest terms, a social network is a set of actors—individuals, communities, or other organizations—and the connections among them. Connections can represent a broad range of relationships between pairs of actors: kinship ties, friendship, frequent interaction, exchange partnerships, political alliances, etc. Social network analysis (SNA) refers to the formal methods and models for studying the structure and dynamics of such social networks, often relying on tools from the mathematical field of graph theory and theoretical models from sociology and related social science fields. The overarching goal of the Southwest Social Networks (SWSN) Project is to explore the nature and dynamics of social networks at various spatial and demographic scales across a large portion of the U.S. Southwest in order to both address important questions focused on the ancient Southwest and also to test general models of network dynamics and social change using the long-term perspective provided by high-resolution archaeological data.

The SWSN study areas for Phase I and Phase II of the project.

The SWSN project has proceeded in two phases. Phase I focused focused on the late pre-contact Southwest in Arizona and New Mexico (ca. A.D. 1200-1500) west of the Continental Divide. This period marks an interval of dramatic social and demographic change across the Southwest. The SWSN team has compiled information on site locations, features, size, as well as the materials made and used at those sits across the study area to investigate regional networks of interaction and exchange. Specifically, we address how changing patterns and scales of interaction across social networks may have influenced or been influenced by regional-scale migrations and settlement reorganization during this tumultous period.

Phase II of the project, currently underway, is focused on the greater Chaco World (ca. A.D. 800-1300) in the northern half of the Southwest. Using material cultural and architectural data from settlements with public architectural features relating to developments in Chaco Canyon, we are exploring how networks of interaction at various scales changed across the initial origins and subsequent spread of Chacoan social and political developments.

In order to define social networks in an archaeological context, we rely on both geographic and material cultural data. Specifically, we have compiled information on more than 1,000 sites including frequencies of dated ceramic types, lithic materials, counts of geologically sourced obsidian, and informatoin on public architectural features. We define network connections among our sites based on similarities in the features and artifacts recovered at those sites. One major focus of the SWSN project has been the creation and evaluation of methods approrpriate for defining and analyzing networks based on these kinds of archaeological data.

See the Data page for more information on the database structure and content.


Example network graph.

Additional Information:


This video provides and overview of ceramic networks and population across the Phase I study area.

This special issue of Archaelogy Southwest Magazine provides an overview of the methods and results of Phase I of the SWSN Project. Click here for online supplementary information associated with this issue.