Researchers suggest a new model for analysing the social networks of Prehistory

An international team of researchers from the University of Alicante Institute for Archaeology and Heritage Research Universidad de Alicante (INAPH-UA) and the University of Barcelona (UB) has carried out a study suggesting new methods for analysing social structure, allowing us to improve our understanding of the selective pressures underlying the evolution of culture. Research team

The archaeological record contains large data sets that allow us to track cultural changes over thousands of years. This offers a unique opportunity to shed light on the processes of long-term cultural transmission.

This study, published in the prestigious journal Biological Reviews, presents multilevel analytical framework, considering particular aspects of the social structure where regional prehistoric hunter-gatherer groups were integrated. In this way, cultural transmission predictions can be made based on network metrics at a local and global level of small-scale societies, as well as their potential effects on cumulative cultural evolution.

The model represents a major advance as it combines approaches from network science, palaeodemography and cultural evolution, drawing attention to the use of the archaeological record to represent patterns of social interactions and variability of cultural transmission. Such a development will improve the understanding of social interaction patterns and ultimately provide key information on the evolution of human behaviour.

The team responsible for this study is comprised by Valéria Romano and Javier Fernández-López de Pablo, researchers at the UA Institute for Archaeology and Heritage Research, and Sergi Lozano from the UB Department of Economic History, Institutions, Politics and World Economy.

The study has been carried out within the framework of the project PALEODEM – Late Glacial and Postglacial Population History and Cultural Transmission in Iberia”, led by  influential researcher from the University of Alicante Javier Fernández-López de Pablo and funded by the European Research Council (ERC), under the European Union Horizon 2020 Programme, with 1.5 million euros.


With a duration of five years, until September 2021, PALEODEM aims to reproduce the population dynamics between the end of the Magdalenian and the Recent Mesolithic (15,000 to 8,000 years ago) in the Iberian Peninsula, a period that witnessed major climatic and environmental transformations, whose impact on human demography remains unknown.

This project compares different paleo-demographic indicators, with multidisciplinary paleo-environmental reproductions to understand how climatic change at the end of the last glaciation and the beginning of the Holocene affected populations at a local, regional and macro-regional levels. The work also includes network analysis and agent-based computer modelling to study how long-term changes in population density and interrelationships between groups influence transmission processes and cultural evolution.


“A multilevel analytical framework for studying cultural evolution in prehistoric hunter–gatherer societies”, Biological Reviews (April 2020)