Modelling and measuring complexity of traditional and ancient technologies using Petri nets

Sebastian Fajardo*, Jetty Kleijn, Frank W. Takes, G.H.J. Langejans*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
68 Downloads (Pure)


Technologies and their production systems are used by archaeologists and anthropologists to study complexity of socio-technical systems. However, there are several issues that hamper agreement about what constitutes complexity and how we can systematically compare the complexity of production systems. In this work, we propose a novel approach to assess the behavioural and structural complexity of production systems using Petri nets. Petri nets are well-known formal models commonly used in, for example, biological and business process modelling, as well as software engineering. The use of Petri nets overcomes several obstacles of current approaches in archaeology and anthropology, such as the incompatibility of the intrinsic sequential logic of the available methods with inherently non-sequential processes, and the inability to explicitly model activities and resources separately. We test the proposed Petri net modelling approach on two traditional production systems of adhesives made by Ju/’hoan makers from Nyae, Namibia from Ammocharis coranica and Ozoroa schinzii plants. We run simulations in which we assess the complexity of these two adhesive production systems in detail and show how Petri net dynamics reveal the structural and behavioural complexity of different production scenarios. We show that concurrency may be prevalent in the production system of adhesive technologies and discuss how changes in location during the process may serve to control the behavioural complexity of a production system. The approach presented in this paper paves the way for future systematic visualization, analysis, and comparison of ancient production systems, accounting for the inherent complex, concurrent, and action/resource-oriented aspects of such processes.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0278310
Number of pages28
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 2022


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