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Thursday 18 Feb 2016Statistical Science Seminar: A dilemma in Bayesian chronology construction

Caitlin Buck - University of Sheffield

H101 14:30-16:30

Chronology construction was one of the first applications used to show case the value of MCMC methods for Bayesian inference (Naylor and Smith, 1988; Buck et al, 1992). As a result, Bayesian chronology construction is now ubiquitous in archaeology and is becoming increasingly popular in palaeoenvironmental research. Currently available software requires users to construct the statistical models and input prior knowledge by hand, requiring considerable expertise and patience.  As a result, the published chronologies for most sites are based on a single model which is assumed to be correct.  Recent research has, however, led to a proposal to automate production of Bayesian chronological models from field records.  The approach uses directed acyclic graphs (DAGs) to represent the site stratigraphy and, from these, constructs the Bayesian hierarchical models (Dye and Buck, 2015).  The related software is in the developmental stage but, before it can be released, we need to decide what advice to offer users about working with the large number of potential models that the new software will construct.  In this seminar we will outline how and why Bayesian methods are so widely used in chronology construction, show case the new DAG-based approach, explain the nature of the dilemma we face and hope to start a discussion about potential practical solutions.

C.E. Buck, C.D. Litton, & A.F.M. Smith (1992) Calibration of radiocarbon results pertaining to related archaeological events, Journal of Archaeological Science, Vol. 19, Iss. 5, pp 497-512.

T. S. Dye & C.E. Buck (2015) Archaeological sequence diagrams and Bayesian chronological models, Journal of Archaeological Science, Vol. 63, pp 84-93.

J. C. Naylor  & A. F. M. Smith (1988) An Archaeological Inference Problem, Journal of the American Statistical Association, Vol. 83, Iss. 403, pp 588-595.

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