Statistical time-series analysis has the potential to improve our understanding of human-environment interaction in deep time. However, radiocarbon dating—the most common chronometric technique in archaeological and palaeoenvironmental research—creates challenges for established statistical methods. The methods assume that observations in a time-series are precisely dated, but this assumption is often violated when calibrated radiocarbon dates are used because they usually have highly irregular uncertainties. As a result, it is unclear whether the methods can be reliably used on radiocarbon-dated time-series. With this in mind, we conducted a large simulation study to investigate the impact of chronological uncertainty on a potentially useful time-series method. The method is a type of regression involving a prediction algorithm called the Poisson Exponentially Weighted Moving Average (PEMWA). It is designed for use with count time-series data, which makes it applicable to a wide range of questions about human-environment interaction in deep time. Our simulations suggest that the PEWMA method can often correctly identify relationships between time-series despite chronological uncertainty. When two time-series are correlated with a coefficient of 0.25, the method is able to identify that relationship correctly 20–30% of the time, providing the time-series contain low noise levels. With correlations of around 0.5, it is capable of correctly identifying correlations despite chronological uncertainty more than 90% of the time. While further testing is desirable, these findings indicate that the method can be used to test hypotheses about long-term human-environment interaction with a reasonable degree of confidence.
Carleton WC, Campbell D, Collard M (2018) Radiocarbon dating uncertainty and the reliability of the PEWMA method of time-series analysis for research on long-term human-environment interaction. PLoS ONE 13(1): e0191055. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0191055
Radiocarbon dating uncertainty and the reliability of the PEWMA method of time-series analysis for research on long-term human-environment interaction
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