Posts Tagged ‘Monuments’

More Thoughts on Mound Size Variability

June 29, 2013

This post begins to explore additional patterning in mound size, refining some of my earlier observations and offering some hypotheses for evaluation. Suppose mound-building groups occupied stable territories over the span of several generations or longer. Within the territory held by such groups, they built burial mounds. Many burial mounds within a given area may thus have been produced by the same group or lineage. Under these circumstances, burial mounds located in close proximity should be more likely to be the product of a single group or lineage. If the group traits that influenced mound volume were also relatively stable through time, burial mounds located near to each other should be similar in size. As an initial attempt to evaluate these claims, I looked at the relationship in mound size between mounds that were nearest neighbors and between randomly-paired mounds.

Recall that most mounds have been affected by modern plowing and other disturbances, but some mounds have been largely spared such damage. The museum records that I used characterized these undamaged mounds as “whole”. The museum records documented 287 whole mounds. To make sure that the comparisons were fair, I limited the sample of nearest neighbors to just those whole mounds that had another whole mound as its nearest neighbor. I eliminated duplicate pairings, so each pair of nearest neighbors was only considered once. The imposition of these constraints shrunk the nearest neighbor sample size to 49. Finally, I ran a simple linear regression to evaluate the relationship between the size of the mounds in these nearest neighbor pairings. Because the distribution of mound volume can be modeled as an exponential distribution, I used the log of mound volume in the regression analysis. Without this transformation, any relationship in
mound size between the nearest neighbors would be unlikely to be well approximated by a straight line.

I then sampled without replacement from the 287 whole mounds to obtain 49 randomly-selected pairs. As with the nearest neighbors, I performed a simple linear regression, using log volume. I repeated this procedure 500 times. The repeated sampling and analysis allowed me to develop a null hypothesis for the values of the regression coefficients.

I expected that the randomly-selected pairs would not have a meaningful relationship. The slope of the regression line should be close to zero for these samples. In contrast, the size of the nearest neighbor pairs should be positively correlated, so the slope of the regression line should be significantly larger than zero. The following two figures show the distribution of the regression coefficients, the intercept and slope, for the randomly-selected pairs.


Notice, in particular, that the distribution of the slope clusters near zero as predicted. This result indicates that the randomly-selected pairs do not have a meaningful relationship with each other, at least with respect to size.

These distributions contrast with the regression coefficients calculated for the nearest neighbors. The intercept is 0.90, and the slope is 0.75. These values are completely beyond the range of values estimated for the randomly-selected pairs. This experiment shows that the size of nearest neighbors is significantly and positively correlated. The results lend some support to the notion that stable groups produced these mounds. At the very least, the results provide encouragement to further explore the relationship between mound size and mound spatial distribution. Such work should probably make use of the spatial analysis tools available in GIS programs.

© Scott Pletka and Mathematical Tools, Archaeological Problems, 2013.

On Monument Volume IV

April 29, 2013

This post evaluates burial mound volume, fitting various probability models to the data. As noted previously, the exponential distribution seems like an appropriate model to fit to the mound volume data. This model is not the only possibility, of course, so I will also consider an alternative, the gamma distribution. The exponential distribution is a simplified version of the gamma distribution.

The gamma probability density function (pdf) is:

f(x\vert \alpha , \lambda) = \frac{\lambda ^{\alpha} x^{\alpha - 1}e^{- \lambda x}}{\Gamma (\alpha)} ,


\alpha is the shape parameter,

\lambda is the rate parameter,

and \Gamma is the gamma function.

The gamma function typically takes the following form:

\Gamma (\alpha) = \int_{0}^{\infty} t^{\alpha -1} e^{-t} dt

Depending on the parameter values, the graph of the gamma pdf can take a wide variety of shapes, including forms that resemble the bell-shaped curve of the normal distribution. The following illustration shows some of the possible variation.


To evaluate the relationship between mound volume and mound condition (plowed and whole) under the gamma and exponential distributions, I analyzed model fit using the maximum likelihood method. The following R code details the analysis.

>mdvol_g.mle=mle2(Allmds$Mound.Volume~dgamma(shape=shape, rate = gvar), start=list(shape = 1, gvar = 1/mean(Allmds$Mound.Volume)), data=Allmds, parameters = list(gvar~Allmds$Condition))

>mdvol_e_cov.mle=mle2(Allmds$Mound.Volume~dexp(rate = avar), start=list(avar = 1/mean(Allmds$Mound.Volume)), data=Allmds, parameters = list(avar~Allmds$Condition))

>mdvol_e.mle= mle2(Allmds$Mound.Volume~dexp(rate = bvar), start=list(bvar = 1/mean(Allmds$Mound.Volume)), data=Allmds)

In this code, Allmds refers to an R data frame containing the variables Mound.Volume and Condition. The code uses the maximum likelihood method to evaluate the fit of an exponential distribution to the data and to estimate parameter values. I performed the analysis three times. In the first analysis, I fit the gamma distribution, using Condition as a covariate. In the second and third analyses, I fit the exponential distribution to the data, once with the covariate Condition and once without the covariate.

The models are “nested”. The gamma distribution can be reduced to the exponential distribution by setting the gamma’s shape parameter to one. The exponential model without the covariate is a simplified version of the model with the covariate. Nested models can be compared using an ANOVA test to see whether the more complex model gives a significantly better fit to the data, justifying the extra complexity. The following two tables show the results of the analysis.


The initial results suggest that the exponential distribution with the covariate provides a significantly better fit to the data than the simpler model without the covariate. The gamma distribution does not provide a significantly better fit. Notice that the gamma’s shape parameter is estimated to be one, which reduces the gamma to the exponential distribution.

From this preliminary analysis, I offer the following conclusions. The exponential distribution appears to be an appropriate model for mound volume. In addition, plowed mounds may be distinctly smaller than whole mounds, contradicting my initial hypothesis. In subsequent posts, I will consider some archaeological implications and address some additional considerations that may help to explain these results.

© Scott Pletka and Mathematical Tools, Archaeological Problems, 2013.

On Monument Volume III

April 20, 2013

For my study area, the distribution of burial mound volume for plowed and whole mounds looks similar. This distribution is also quite different from the normal distribution that characterizes so many traits in the natural world. The distribution of burial mound volume resembles the form of an exponential distribution. Exponential distributions have a peak at the extreme left end of the distribution and decline steadily and rapidly from that point. The exponential distribution has a single parameter, the rate, typically denoted by \lambda . The following function gives the probability density (sometimes called the pdf) of the exponential distribution.

f(x\vert \lambda) = \lambda e^{-\lambda x}

The pdf defines a curve. For a continuous distribution such as the exponential distribution, the area under this curve provides the probability of a sample taking on the value within the interval along the x-axis under the curve. The following illustration depicts these relationships. In the illustration, the shaded area under the curve represents the probability of a given sample falling between the two values of x.


As a check on my intuition regarding the applicability of the exponential distribution, I generated a random sample of 2000 from an exponential distribution with a mean of 500. The following figure shows what such a distribution may look like. The simulation does not provide definitive proof, but it may nevertheless indicate whether a more rigorous analysis that employs the exponential distribution is worth pursuing.


At least superficially, the histogram of the simulation results resembles the histograms of mound volume shown in the previous post. This simulation did not produce the apparent outliers seen in the mound data, but the resemblance suggests that burial mound volume can be modeled with an exponential distribution. I thus modeled mound volume with an exponential distribution, using mound condition (plowed or whole) as a covariate. I performed this analysis in R with the bbmle module. In the next post, I’ll present the code and initial results.

© Scott Pletka and Mathematical Tools, Archaeological Problems, 2013.

On Monument Volume II

April 10, 2013

The previous post suggested that mound shape could be modeled as a spherical cap. I then proposed that the shape of those mounds may change through time, due to weathering and repeated plowing by modern agricultural equipment, but mound volume might remain the same. As illustrated in the following figure, mounds might become shorter but wider as they are weathered and plowed. In the figure, A represents the original mound shape, while B reflects mound shape after weathering and plowing. The height, h, has decreased over time, while the radius, a, has increased.


Other hypotheses are possible, but I will evaluate this scenario first.

I have compiled museum data on mound condition and mound size for all recorded mounds in my study region. The museum records characterize mound condition as either “whole” or “plowed”. The records did not disclose the basis for this characterization. These records also document mound height and width. For each mound, I calculated a volume, assuming that mound shape resembles a spherical cap. The following two histograms illustrate the distribution of mound volume for plowed mounds and for whole mounds.



As you can see, the distributions of mound size for plowed and whole mounds look very similar. A few outliers may occur at the right tail of both distributions. These outliers represent unusually large mounds. The similarity of the histograms suggest that a single probability distribution could be used to model monument volume. The next post will evaluate monument volume more rigorously.

© Scott Pletka and Mathematical Tools, Archaeological Problems, 2013.

On Monument Volume I

March 26, 2013

This post introduces an approach for evaluating the original size of round burial mounds. In one of the places where I’ve worked, burial mounds comprise a prominent feature of the landscape, as illustrated in the following photograph.


This prominence may be amenable to explanation through formal high-level theory. Mound size, for example, may reflect the labor used to produce it, suggesting something about the size and organizational capabilities of the group that produced the mound. In order to use this feature of the monuments to evaluate high-level theory, the modern size should be an accurate reflection of the original size.

Such monuments may erode over time, making them less conspicuous and also less reliable as an index of the characteristics of the group that produced them. Natural weathering may take its toll, but modern agricultural practices probably affected burial mounds to a greater extent. Burials mounds were sometimes plowed repeatedly. These modern practices came later to the region where my case study is located, by which time laws protecting them had been enacted. Nevertheless, various processes leveled many mounds, perhaps decreasing their height and increasing their diameter. Despite these depredations, the original volume of the mounds may be preserved.

Mound shape can be modeled as a spherical cap, a geometric form representing the portion of a sphere above its intersection with a plane. Spherical caps are thus dome-shaped. The following figure illustrates a spherical cap. In the figure, h is the height of the dome, a is the radius of the dome’s base, and R is the radius of the sphere.


The total volume of a spherical cap depends on the maximum dome height, h, and on the radius of the circle where the plane intersects with the plane, a. The formula for the volume, V, of a spherical cap is:

V=(\frac{1}{6})\pi h(3a^2+h^2)

Importantly, the calculation of the volume of a spherical cap does not depend on the radius of the sphere of which it is a part. The maximum possible original height of a mound, however, should be equal to the radius of that sphere. This height can be calculated by holding the volume constant and finding this value of the height and radius. At that point, the height and radius will be equal. Subsequent posts will explore these ideas further and play with some data on mound size.

© Scott Pletka and Mathematical Tools, Archaeological Problems, 2013.