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A fundamental challenge of science is to understand the processes that shape how human societies interact with one another and that explain how societies are, at once, constrained by and change the natural environments in which they are situated. Because of the complexity of the interactions, achieving these understandings must be seen as a shared enterprise that broadly engages social, behavioral, and economic sciences, as well as a range of natural sciences. Some of these processes are strongly influenced by events that can be readily observed over periods of days, months, or years. Other important processes operate slowly - over centuries or millennia - and their effects often cannot be detected in present-day or historical observations. Because archaeology is frequently the only source of long-term scientific data on human societies and their environments, it is essential that we take advantage of the unique information that archaeology can provide. Indeed, reconstructed archaeological sequences can be seen as completed "experiments" in the long-term operation of social and environmental processes played out in diverse social and natural environments.

Systematic archaeological research has been conducted for more than a century. In the US alone, thousands of archaeological field projects are now conducted each year. These projects record large amounts of archaeological and environmental data and produce lengthy reports, in addition to published articles and books. However, overwhelmingly, this information is not readily accessible to scholars. Even if it were accessible, the complexity of the data - due in large part to the enormous diversity of the human behavior it documents - make it extremely difficult to use in the context of synthetic research on social and environmental dynamics. To move forward on this important research agenda, the availability of archaeological data must be enormously expanded and computational methods developed and implemented that make it possible for synthetic research to effectively exploit this huge reservoir of data and documents.

The goal of this project is to develop a plan that would detail how major investments by NSF in the information infrastructure of archaeology could best improve the scientific community's ability to use archaeological data in synthetic research on social and environmental dynamics and thereby serve the needs of contemporary society more broadly. This goal will be achieved by a sequence of two small conferences coordinated by a steering committee that will select the conference participants and set the agendas. Based on the conference outcomes, the steering committee will produce a report that details the needs for and expected benefits of substantial infrastructure investments in archaeology and that describes and provides budget estimates for the proposed investments.



National Science Foundation, Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences


January 2012 — December 2012