There are some very interesting, revealing, and encouraging differences between the SAA symposium on modeling and simulation organized by Benjamin Davies at the 2017 Vancouver meeting (Modeling People, Places, and Things: revisiting archaeology as model-based science) and the one I organized at the 2005 Salt Lake City meeting (Theoretical and Methodological Requirements for Archaeological Simulation). Beyond the fact that the titles for these things have gotten much better in the past 12 years, there are a number of indications that the field has changed considerably.

Looking at the program, I note right away that in 2005, there were 13 papers given (including the discussants) by 15 male authors. In 2017, there were 15 papers and given by 32 authors, 7 of whom were women. While 22% women still lags substantially behind the rest of the discipline in terms of diversity, it is much better than 0%. Ben Davies points out that 35% of first authors in the 2017 session are women. Since at least some of the co-authors listed later are supervisors, more senior, and therefore more likely to be male at this point, the first author metric may be more useful when considering the difference in gender diversity between the two sessions.

The other striking difference in terms of diversity is that in 2005, all authors were based in the US, UK, or Canada. This year’s symposium, included authors from a much broader spectrum of European and even Pacific Rim countries. Again, that is still not an outstanding diversity of voices, and much remains to be done in that area. But it is a step in the right direction.

In 2005, only three of the 13 papers (23%) were co-authored, and all co-authors on any given paper were from a single institution. In 2017, eight of the 15 papers (53%) were co-authored, with several papers representing inter-institutional and even international collaborations. In 2005, there were 1.15 authors per paper, and in 2017, there were 2.13 authors per paper. So in addition to becoming more diverse, the field has become more collaborative. The lone code warrior has been replaced by a team of subject matter experts, each with a contribution to make, and that’s a good thing.

5% Sample of SAA sessions Simulation Sessions only
2005 2017 2005 2017
Author/Paper 1.38 1.87 1.15 2.13
CoeffVar 0.09 0.35
Women 0.52 0.45 0.00 0.22
CoeffVar 0.39 0.35

These numbers are especially interesting in the context of archaeology in general. A very quick comparison of the 2005 and 2017 SAA programs, using a random sample of 5% of the sessions for each, shows that in 2005, there was an average of 1.39 authors per paper with a coefficient of variation (CV) of 0.09. By 2017, the average is 1.86 authors per paper, but the CV is 0.35, showing wider variation which is probably field-based. The proportion of women authors in 2006 was 52% (CV = 0.39). In 2017, the proportion of women authors was 45% (CV = 0.35). I fully acknowledge that the above does not reflect the complexity of gender identity. Still, this approximation is better than none at all.

In other words, the field of archaeological simulation is rapidly catching up to the rest of the discipline in terms of gender diversity, and becoming more collaborative. The minimum for the 2017 sample was 12% women authors, compared to 22% for the modeling session, so at least, modeling and simulation no longer ranks dead last in that category. In addition, between 2005 and 2017, the field went from being less collaborative than the average of the discipline, to being more collaborative than the average.

There was a very interesting difference in flow between the two symposia. In 2005, many of the speakers simply abandoned their planned presentations and reacted to each other’s papers, developing a very interesting and stimulating conversation. The time slots of two speakers who had not made it to the symposium were given over to discussion with the audience. In 2017, the conversation was just as interesting and stimulating, but it happened through the planned and prepared papers. It was easy for authors and the audience to briefly and subtly acknowledge links and points of comparison between papers. There is clearly in 2017 a greater unity to the field. The 2006 papers reflected the somewhat idiosyncratic methodological and theoretical concerns of practitioners working largely in isolation. The 2017 papers spoke naturally to each other and were clearly derived from a common theoretical and methodological foundation. Even more remarkably, that unity showed not only in the simulation papers but also in the non-simulation modeling papers.

Overall then, the field in 2017 is more unified, more diverse, and more collaborative than it was in 2005. This bodes well for the future.


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