Institute of Archaeology


Christine Spencer

Picking up the Pieces: Assessing the role of legacy survey data in interpretations of social change in Bronze Age Crete


Email: christine.spencer.14@ucl.ac.uk
Section:World Archaeology


Picking up the Pieces: Assessing the role of legacy survey data in interpretations of social change in Bronze Age Crete

Crete has long been a fulcrum for cultural interaction between Europe, the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. While offering a precocious example of early maritime Neolithic expansion and the heartland for the innovative 'Minoan' Bronze Age society, its settlement distributions also bear testimony to shifting power dynamics in later Hellenistic, Arab/Byzantine and Venetian/Ottoman confrontations. Despite being some of the Mediterranean's richest, Cretan archaeological surveys have never been analysed as a collective dataset to explore long-term patterns in island settlement dynamics. The few attempts at spatial modelling have used only datasets from high-profile periods, overlooking the unusual potential for a long-term and comparative perspective.

This project will consolidate settlement evidence from surface surveys island-wide, and use spatial statistics to model and compare settlement patterns of the first urbanised societies on Crete (ca.4000-1000 BC), to advance understanding of the interplay of social, political and economic processes affecting past communities and their environments.

My initial objectives will be focused on assessing conditions and comparability of legacy data and method development. I will statistically model correlations between exogenous influences on site location (e.g. groups dispersing themselves across rich alluvial areas), and model endogenous interactions that attracted or inhibited sites from clustering together (e.g. how groups chose to settle within that alluvial area). These settlement models will be iteratively run using random sampling techniques to evaluate the effect of data uncertainty in the strength of correlations between settlements and their landscapes and move beyond the presumptions of accepting any single model.

These methods will be applied to transitional periods in Aegean prehistory to demonstrate which factors drove socio-economic organisation within specific environments, and which remain influential across diverse environments suggesting deeper cultural significance. Comparison to periods with documented economic/political contexts (Roman, Venetian, early 20th century) will inform

interpretations and evaluate causal processes, thereby re-examining traditional assumptions behind Bronze Age systems. By comparing Bronze Age systems to successive periods and major urbanising phases, it will explore the effects of fluctuating human demography, as well as economic and political relationships at ground level, and more broadly serve as a methodological framework for quantitative settlement studies in geographical regions beyond the Mediterranean.




  • MSc, GIS & Spatial Analysis in Archaeology, UCL, 2015
  • BA, Prehistoric Archaeology and Art History, University of Toronto, 2013

    Spencer, C. and Bevan, A., 2018. Settlement location models, archaeological survey data and social change in Bronze Age Crete. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 52: 71-86.

    Conference papers

    Poster Presentation

    "Picking up the Pieces: Assessing the role of legacy survey data in interpretations of social change in Bronze Age Crete", Cultural Heritage and New Technologies Conference, Vienna Austria, November 16-18, 2016.