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Computer simulation to understand history

Understanding the most recent history is not an easy task and depends on the data available. So, why should be easier the interpretation of more ancient events? As a matter of fact, there are discoveries that contradict old theories about humankind history. Could new technologies and simulation tools help to read again our history? Could they help to understand society behavior in the past and nowadays? That’s the goal of Simulpast project.

Social and environmental transitions: Simulating the past to understand human behaviour (SimulPast) is a five-year interdisciplinary research project started in January 2011 and funded by the Spanish Ministry for Science and Innovation (CSD2010-00034) within the framework of CONSOLIDER-INGENIO 2010, part of the Spanish National Program for Fundamental Research.

The aim of the project is to develop an innovative and interdisciplinary methodological framework to model and simulate ancient societies and their relationship with environmental transformations.

The project includes 11 Research Groups from 7 different Institutions with more than 60 researchers from several fields (archaeology, anthropology, computer science, environmental studies, physics, mathematics and sociology). The leader institution is the CSIC’s Institución Milá y Fontanals, in Barcelona.

Understanding human behaviour represents a great scientific challenge that gathers some of the most distinguished researchers worldwide. The fast-growing international scenario of clusters of excellence devoted to this perspective demonstrates the international expectations and significant investments in that direction.


Spain hosts some important research groups coming from different perspectives and disciplines, whose work is focused on this target, however these research groups remain mostly isolated in a single disciplinary framework.

SimulPast intends to break this status-quo. The project will exploit existing technologies designed and used in indirectly related fields such as the natural and formal sciences, in which simulation methodologies are significantly more established than in the Humanities and Social Sciences. Such techniques will be used to inform and develop novel simulation methodologies specifically optimised for use in archaeology, not simply recycled unchanged from other disciplines.

This will help define a new transdisciplinary trend for computer simulation research in human populations. SimulPast will lead to an improved ability to simulate social networks and decision-making processes, with special emphasis on resource management during periods of environmental stress.

Advances in the field of social simulation are of special relevance today, as the social component remains the most difficult to integrate in predictive models of global change. Indeed, any advance in the field of social simulation may prove fundamental to implement the right strategies to face rapid environmental (and social) change in the near future.

Practical results of SimulPast will include:

• The definition of a set of guidelines for technology and knowledge transfer for social simulation.

• The development of new validated software packages for social simulation.

• A more comprehensive understanding of the processes of social transformations and human-environment interaction.

• Learn from “examples from the past” for social transformations in changing environments and resistance/resilience of human societies to climate change.

• The generation of new, innovative and transdisciplinary research groups.