The impact of site sample size on the reconstruction of culture histories

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5 Scopus citations


I examine how our capacity to produce accurate culture-historical reconstructions changes as more archaeological sites are discovered, dated, and added to a data set. More precisely, I describe, using simulated data sets, how increases in the number of known sites impact the accuracy and precision of our estimations of (1) the earliest and (2) latest date of a cultural tradition, (3) the date and (4) magnitude of its peak popularity, as well as (5) its rate of spread and (6) disappearance in a population. I show that the accuracy and precision of inferences about these six historical processes are not affected in the same fashion by changes in the number of known sites. I also consider the impact of two simple taphonomic site destruction scenarios on the results. Overall, the results presented in this paper indicate that unless we are in possession of near-total samples of sites, and can be certain that there are no taphonomic biases in the universe of sites to be sampled, we will make inferences of varying precision and accuracy depending on the aspect of a cultural trait's history in question.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)547-572
Number of pages26
JournalAmerican Antiquity
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2011
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Archaeology
  • Museology


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