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Modelling human dispersal using agent-based modelling

Organizers: Eleftheria Paliou (Institute of Archaeology), Eric Parteli (Department of Geosciences)
Instructors: Iza Romanowska (Barcelona Supercomputing Center) and Fulco Scherjon (The Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research)

Link to the programme

What is ABM?

A model is a simplified, and often abstract, representation of a real-world system. We all work with models, whether it is a map, a multiple regression analysis, a hypothesis (conceptual model) or a simulation. Scientific process consists predominantly of developing, testing and comparing different models and the use of formal, computational methods to do so has transformed many disciplines. Simulation is a particular type of modelling which focuses on processes and causal relationships between system’s elements.

Agent-based Modelling is the most popular simulation technique in humanities (archaeology, anthropology, history, etc). It represents the world from ‘the bottom up’ by using individual software agents whose local interactions lead to global, population-level patterns. It is often contrasted with equation-based simulations which describe the population ‘from the top down’. The agents in ABM follow simple behavioural rules to interact with each other and with their environment. The results of these interactions can be then compared to the real-world data.

ABM of human dispersal

Science has largely moved forward from the simplistic ‘dots-on-the-map’ and ‘arrows-on-the-map’ approaches when it comes to studying large-scale human movements. Current models regarding spatio-temporal distribution and migration of humans often highlight the complex nature of such phenomena and the limitations that any particular data type impose on the reconstruction. However, models of human movement lend themselves particularly well to simulation and to ABM in particular. They concern a dynamic process that is inherently spatial - two characteristics that make ABM shine in comparison with other modelling techniques. For these reasons, ABM has been widely used by archaeologists and social scientists to study human movement at a wide range of scales.

The international workshop

The international two-day workshop on “Modelling human dispersal using agent-based modelling” will encourage scientific debate and offer research training on ABM via a combination of lectures, hands-on practical classes, tutorials and opportunities to form small teams for problem solving. Participants will get acquainted with the principles of ABM modelling more generally and models of human dispersal, in particular. The first day will focus mainly on practical aspects of modelling human interaction in the ABM environment, while the second will discuss example case studies and touch upon the issue of how data (environment and other) can be best integrated in such models.

You will also learn:

  • theoretical/conceptual model building
  • managing data uncertainty
  • testing and validation
  • model communication and dissemination
  • ABM and high-performance computing

Registration Fees

No fees! The workshop is organised within the framework of Competence Area III “Quantitative modelling of Complex systems” and is funded by the Excellence Initiative (DFG).

Who can apply

PhD students,  Master's students and early career researchers with an interest in ABM. No prior knowledge in programming is necessary.

How to apply

To apply please send us a short C.V. and a 200-word statement describing what your research is about and why you would like to participate in the workshop by June 30th at s.hageneuerSpamProtectionuni-koeln.de. Application documents should be in English or German. Please apply early as places are limited.


We have created a small venue page, where you can find some directions when arriving in Cologne. You find the description here.