Post-doctoral scholar, Washington State University

Challenges facing humanity today, including famine, mass migrations, and climate change may seem insurmountable, but a marriage of using the past as a calibration dataset with modern computational modeling will help determine proximal causes and suggest solutions. Within the archaeological record we have countless examples of societies confronting anthropogenic change, finding solutions to famine, or immigrating to new regions in response to poor local conditions suggesting that the archaeological past can be seen as a laboratory to examine human exposure to risk. While facile causal explanations for collapse in past societies are in the public discourse, often these narratives are not data-driven and frequently get details wrong. What is clear is that new approaches are needed to truly calibrate our understanding of the ways people respond to risk and how to use these lessons to calibrate models of the present and future. As a postdoctoral fellow at the Santa Fe Institute, Stefani uses her expertise in computational archaeology with emerging tools from multiple other fields to address: (1) the quantitative detection of social transitions in the past; (2) how humans are embedded in food webs; (3) quantifying the robustness of environmental management practices of small-scale societies, and (4) human interaction with surrounding ecosystems to identify modes of interaction worldwide. 

Stefani’s interest in archaeology is spurred from the desire to understand commonalities of humanity that can only be grasped by asking big questions. While the scale of challenges we face today are great, the trajectory of the archaeological record provides us ample examples of similar challenges. It is thus natural to use what we know of the past to try to calibrate our understanding of the future. Her work in data-driven archaeology and her interest in combining archaeological and anthropological data with methods from other fields influences guides her transdisciplinary approach at the Santa Fe Institute. We are poised at a cross-roads as a civilization, plagued by many of the same issues that our ancestors faced. An understanding of our past will help us make informed decisions about our future. 

Stefani is a computational archaeologist, field archaeologist, complexity scientist and ethnographer. In addition to being a Complexity Postdoctoral Fellow at the Santa Fe Institute she is currently a fellow of the Center for Research and Interdisciplinarity in Paris, France, holds a position at Utah State University in the Department for Environment and Society, and is a research fellow at Crow Canyon Archaeological Center. Prior to joining SFI, she was a post-doctoral scholar in the Human Environmental Dynamics laboratory at the Pennsylvania State University. In 2016 she was awarded two PhDs, one in anthropology at Washington State University under the direction of Tim Kohler, the other at the Maison des Sciences de l’Homme et Environnement at the Université de Franche-Comté under the co-direction of Laure Nuninger and François Favory. Stefani’s interests lie in agent-based modeling, food web modeling, and social network analysis. Her dissertation focused on both the Ancestral Pueblo U.S. Southwest and the Bronze Age to Iron Age transition in southern France. She additionally co-directs a project in Northern Mongolia with Dr. Julia Clark.