6th Roundtable Teotihuacan

Today started the 6th Roundtable of Teotihuacan, which will take place in Teotihuacan during Nov. 16-18, 2017.

There is live transmission of the main talks: http://www.inah.gob.mx/es/mesa-teotihuacan-programa

The title and abstract of my talk are as follows:

Explorando la función del posible cogobierno de distritos con base en un modelo matemático de su red social

Dr. Tom Froese y Dra. Linda R. Manzanilla
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International Symposium on the Sociopolitical Organization of Teotihuacan

It has been 5 years since I moved to Mexico to create a computational model of the sociopolitical organization of ancient Teotihuacan. I am happy to report that this project has matured. I am involved in the organization of the International Symposium on the Sociopolitical Organization of Teotihuacan, which will bring together the world’s leading experts working on this topic.

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At the symposium I will I gave talk on the latest results of the model. The title and abstract are as follows:

A computational model of Teotihuacan’s collective government: New insights into role of the city’s division into districts

Tom Froese

Experts remain divided about the nature of the sociopolitical system of ancient Teotihuacan, which was one of the earliest and largest urban civilizations of the Americas. Excavations hoping to find compelling evidence of powerful rulers, such as a royal tomb, keep coming away empty-handed. But the alternative possibility of a corporate or collective government still remains poorly understood. There is a lack of evidence of a powerful bureaucracy, such as durable record keeping, but a decentralized network limited to the level of neighborhood representatives seems susceptible to problems of collective action.

Previously we used a computational model to show that in principle this latter worry is unfounded, as long as we assume that the network’s topology could be transformed via community rituals and was not strongly subdivided. Here we extend this model to investigate whether increased social hierarchy could mitigate the negative effects of strong divisions. We found a special synergy between hierarchy and community ritual in that only their combination improved the extent of cooperation, which is consistent with portrayals of the elite as religious specialists serving the public good and with the apparent absence of extensive secular institutions.

Current work is investigating whether a reduction in the city’s number of districts could reduce the necessity for this kind of centralized hierarchy.

New research project grant received

I am happy to report that my application for the 2017 call for research projects issued by UNAM’s “Programa de Apoyo a Proyectos de Investigación e Innovación Tecnológica” (PAPIIT) was successful.

The project is entitled “Explorando los alcances de la auto-organización social: desde la cultura hasta la célula” (IA104717). Its overarching aim is to support the activities of the 4E Cognition Group.

Talk at the Society for American Archaeology

Next week I am scheduled to give a talk during the 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, which will take place April 15-19 in San Francisco. Title and abstract are as follows:

Can government be self-organized? A mathematical model of the collective social organization of ancient Teotihuacan, Central Mexico

Tom Froese, Carlos Gershenson, and Linda R. Manzanilla

Pyramid of the Feathered SerpentTeotihuacan was the first extensive urban civilization of Mesoamerica and one of the largest of the ancient world. Following a tradition in archaeology to equate social complexity with centralized hierarchy, it is still widely believed that its origin and growth was controlled by a dynastic lineage of powerful individuals.

However, much data is indicative of a government of co-rulers, and artistic traditions expressed an egalitarian ideology while deemphasizing individuals. Yet this heterarchical alternative keeps being marginalized because the problems of collective action, such as the tragedy of the commons, make it difficult to conceive how such a coalition could have functioned even in principle. We therefore devised a simplified mathematical model of the city’s hypothetical network of neighborhood representatives, serving as a proof of concept that widespread cooperation was realizable in a fully distributed manner.

In the model, political decisions become self-organized into globally optimal consensuses, even though local representatives always behave and modify relations in a rational and selfish manner. The network’s self-optimization of connectivity crucially depends on occasional communal interruptions of normal activity, and becomes impeded when groups are too independent. We relate these insights to theories about community rituals at Teotihuacan and the city’s eventual disintegration.

News about model of ancient Teotihuacan

A news report based on an interview I gave to Ciencia UNAM has been published on their web portal:

Santillán, M. L. (Feb. 23, 2015). Modelo matemático revela la organización política de Teotihuacán. Ciencia UNAM. Mexico: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. Retrieved from http://ciencia.unam.mx/leer/431/Modelo_matematico_revela_la_organizacion_politica_de_Teotihuacan

It describes the social network model we made about the collective government of ancient Teotihuacan, Mexico.

Paper: A Mathematical Model of the Collective Social Organization of Ancient Teotihuacan

Ever since I first visited the ancient ruins of Teotihuacan several years ago, I wanted to learn as much as possible about its unique culture. Here is one of the products of that quest: a paper combining complex systems modeling with Mesoamerican archaeology and the anthropology of ritual.

Can government be self-organized? A mathematical model of the collective social organization of ancient Teotihuacan, Central Mexico

Tom Froese, Carlos Gershenson and Linda R. Manzanilla

Teotihuacan was the first urban civilization of Mesoamerica and one of the largest of the ancient world. Following a tradition in archaeology to equate social complexity with centralized hierarchy, it is widely believed that the city’s origin and growth was controlled by a lineage of powerful individuals. However, much data is indicative of a government of co-rulers, and artistic traditions expressed an egalitarian ideology. Yet this alternative keeps being marginalized because the problems of collective action make it difficult to conceive how such a coalition could have functioned in principle. We therefore devised a mathematical model of the city’s hypothetical network of representatives as a formal proof of concept that widespread cooperation was realizable in a fully distributed manner. In the model, decisions become self-organized into globally optimal configurations even though local representatives behave and modify their relations in a rational and selfish manner. This self-optimization crucially depends on occasional communal interruptions of normal activity, and it is impeded when sections of the network are too independent. We relate these insights to theories about community-wide rituals at Teotihuacan and the city’s eventual disintegration.

DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0109966

Section of a mural painting of ancient Teotihuacan, Mexico

Here is a recording of a little news clip about the article that was rotated for a week on MVS Radio y Radio Fórmula in Mexico starting on the 10th of November: