Testing complex networks of interaction at the onset of the Near Eastern Neolithic using modelling of obsidian exchange

Juan José Ibáñez, David Ortega, Daniel Campos, Lamya Khalidi, Vicenç Méndez

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© 2015 The Author(s) Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved. In this paper, we explore the conditions that led to the origins and development of the Near Eastern Neolithic using mathematical modelling of obsidian exchange. The analysis presented expands on previous research, which established that the down-the-line model could not explain long-distance obsidian distribution across the Near East during this period. Drawing from outcomes of new simulations and their comparison with archaeological data, we provide results that illuminate the presence of complex networks of interaction among the earliest farming societies. We explore a network prototype of obsidian exchange with distant links which replicates the long-distance movement of ideas, goods and people during the Early Neolithic. Our results support the idea that during the first (Pre-Pottery Neolithic A) and second (Pre-Pottery Neolithic B) phases of the Early Neolithic, the complexity of obsidian exchange networks gradually increased. We propose then a refined model (the optimized distant link model) whereby long-distance exchange was largely operated by certain interconnected villages, resulting in the appearance of a relatively homogeneous Neolithic cultural sphere. We hypothesize that the appearance of complex interaction and exchange networks reduced risks of isolation caused by restricted mobility as groups settled and argue that these networks partially triggered and were crucial for the success of the Neolithic Revolution. Communities became highly dynamic through the sharing of experiences and objects, while the networks that developed acted as a repository of innovations, limiting the risk of involution.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20150210
JournalJournal of the Royal Society Interface
Publication statusPublished - 6 Jun 2015


  • Complex networks
  • Near East
  • Neolithization
  • Network theory
  • Obsidian exchange


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