An opportunity for archaeological synthesis

One of the newsletters we subscribe to is the monthly newsletter of the National Science Foundation, Directorate for Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences. Its easy to subscribe, and we find that it provides some useful insight into emerging funding priorities with NSF.

This month’s newsletter includes an important comment from the Assistant Director regarding the role of social science research in society:

The newly signed CHIPS and Science Act — and the increased research funding that it may lead to — is yet another encouraging symbol of the broad public support for your work. It is also a reminder that if we want technological innovations to have equitable and geographically broad benefits, we must invest in social and behavioral research, which can uniquely ensure such innovations are effective, accessible and fair for all Americans.”

These comments suggest there is an opportunity for archaeological research to play a larger role in assessing factors that influence the adoption of technological innovations in society. Archaeologists have a lot of experience with this sort of work, whether it be tracing the spread of agriculture across landscapes, the spread of pottery technology or specific functional varieties of pottery, innovations in house construction techniques, or technological advances in stone tools. I can think of many examples of studies that have looked at adoption rates, patterns of geographical spread, or functional advantages of different technological innovations.

But it seems that there has been less emphasis on the social pattern of adoption. Presumably some innovations spread first through elite networks, only to diffuse to the rest of society later on, whereas others spread more evenly. What factors govern the accessibility of new innovations in society? I suspect we already have some good answers in a general sense, but is it possible to quantify the relationship between, say, levels of socioeconomic inequality or social heterogeneity and adoption rates? What about the properties of spatial networks and transport costs of raw materials? Or the character of social boundaries between communities? It seems to me that governments could use some input from archaeologists about such questions.

But of course, such contributions require a lot of data at high temporal and spatial resolution–the sort of data that require collaborative synthesis. The Coalition and Center are here to help members who have ideas about how to realize potentials like this.

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