The network of links between peasants who farmed a region of small region of south west France called Lot between 1260 and 1340 have been reconstructed by Nathalie Villa from the Universite de Perpignan in France et amis.
The team took their data from agricultural records that have been preserved from that time. This is a valuable dataset because it records the date, the type of transaction and the peasants involved.
Villa and co used this to recreate the network of links that existed between individuals and families in th 13th and 14th centures in this part of France. They then drew up a self organising map of the network (see above).
But the best is surely to come. What Vilal hasn’t yet done is analyse the network’s properties. Does this medieval network differ in any important ways from the kind of networks we see between individuals in the 21st century? If so, what explains the differences and if not what are the invariants that link our world with 13th century France. The team promises an analysis in the near future.
In the meantime, it’s worth reflecting on the significance of this work. These kinds of networks could provide anthropolgists with an exciting new way to study historical societies.
And while this may be the world’s oldest social network (if anyone knows of an older network, let us know), it’s unlikely to remain so for long. Excellent records survive of transactions in ancient Rome, from the earlier Greek empire and even from the Egyptian civilizations that built the pyramids some 4000 years ago.
If Villa work turns up any useful insights into the nature of medieval society in France, you can be sure that anthroplogists will rush to repeat the method usnig data from from even older societies.
All that’s left is to christen the new science of the study ancient social networks Any suggestions?
Ref: arxiv.org/abs/0805.1374: Mining a Medieval Social Network by Kernel SOM and Related Methods