Assessing and Modelling Interaction in the Late Bronze Age Mediterranean: Negotiating between too much and too little data

Paula Gheorghiade, Henry C. W. Price, Ray J. Rivers and Tim S. Evans

Time and Place: Friday, 02.07., 11:50–12:10, Room 1
Session: Data and Methodology

Keywords: Interaction; Late Bronze Age Mediterranean; Interaction networks; Mobility; Modelling Interaction; Crete; Exchange Networks; Spatial models; Data models; Prehistory; Archaeology

This paper investigates the importance of distance and sea borne geography for contact, access and communication for coastal Mediterranean settlements in the Late Bronze Age (LBA). There is no question that in this period the sea was crucial for communities around the Mediterranean basin. Cyprian Broodbank (2013, 15-53), for example, has discussed how despite its scale, mobility in this part of the world was a necessity for survival, with the sea providing both challenges and opportunities for those willing to take the risk (Horden and Purcell 2000; Abulafia 2011). For the LBA both distance and geography mattered, although the factors that supported or hindered maritime travel were environmental and social and included weather and tides, navigational skills and boating technology (Tartaron 2013).

More recently, Bakker et al. (2018) have explored the significance of open sea geography for Iron Age Phoenician trade. They argue that parts of the Mediterranean such as the northern Aegean are naturally advantaged by their geography, while other regions such as the Levantine coast and northern Africa are less well connected (Bakker et al. 2018, 2). In their paper, they propose a measure for economic development by focusing on connectivity and archaeological sites, although without exploiting networked behaviour. Our paper considers such a distance-limiting null model for the LBA, with a focus on interaction between Crete and the larger Mediterranean, extended to incorporate an analysis of the resulting exchange networks. In this we expand on a recently submitted paper (Gheorghiade, Price, Rivers in press) to indicate how such a null model accords with the recovered archaeological evidence from two Cretan sites: Chania and Palaikastro. This archaeological data of over 13,000 ceramic entries spanning the Late Minoan II–Late Minoan IIIB was collected by one of us (Gheorghiade 2020) from published ceramic catalogues.

Lastly, our paper also discusses the difficulty in addressing questions of interaction with archaeological datasets that are paradoxical in nature. Although they cannot be conceived as “big data”, archaeological datasets that include ceramic and settlement evidence can nonetheless be thought of as a collection of “lots of data.” This data poses a challenge for finding a middle ground between theory modelling and detailed structuring of data (data modelling), from which agency is inferred rather than assumed. Nonetheless, combining the data with geography, technology, assumptions about artefact function, and simple distance modelling provides a dynamic avenue through which to explore the role of Crete and key Cretan sites during the connected LBA Mediterranean.


Abulafia, D. The Great Sea: A Human History of the Mediterranean. London: Oxford University Press, 2011.

Bakker, J. D., Maurer, S., Pischke, J.-S. and Rauch, F. (2018). “Of Mice and Merchants: Trade and Growth in the Iron Age,” Centre for Economic Performance, CEP (LSE) Discussion Paper No. 1558.

Broodbank, C. (2013). The Making of the Middle Sea. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge.

Gheorghiade, P. (2020). “A Network Approach to Interaction and Maritime Connectivity on Crete during the Late Bronze Age – Late Minoan II-IIIB2.” Doctoral Thesis, University of Toronto.

Gheorghiade, P., Henry Price and Ray Rivers (in press). “The Mycenaean Aegean and Importance of Geography: Negotiating between too little and too much data”, in Mediterranean Connections – Conference Proceedings of a Workshop on Human Development and Landscapes, Kiel University, edited by A. Rutter and L. Schmidt.

Horden, P., and Purcell, N. (2000). The Corrupting Sea: A Study of Mediterranean History. Oxford and Malden: Blackwell.