Computer-based Simulation Modelling for Anthropologists
Michael D. Fischer

Simulation Home










Some examples of simulations

Replication of activities

Venda Divining Dice - An example of a simulation that replicates a simple physical process,
throwing some markers as a tool for divination. Although basic, this kind of simulation
can serve as a learning aid, in this case for the various interpretations of the markers. For
more of the context relating to divination see the unit on Divination at this site.

Simulation used in field research and as a record of field data

Mambila Spider Divination - This site also includes some on-line reading on Mambila divination. This simulation was used by David Zeitlyn and Michael Fischer
as a fieldwork tool. The simulation was used as part of an interview with diviners in Somíe, Cameroon, who would make interpretations much like those involving real spiders, but with far less delay, since we didn't have to wait so long for the spiders. Besides observing how people interacted with the simulation, the simulation recorded the entire session so that these sessions can be played back. Thus it incorporates simulation both in the form of field aid, and later in analysis by simulating the sessions themselves.

We considered its use a success, both from the point of view of the simulation representing David's insights into what was important about the context of divination (e.g. there was no difficulty for diviners in adapting to this abstracted version of the real thing. This was in contrast to their poor adaptation to other visual representations we presented them with in other symbolic domains.)

Simulation used as means of anthropological data entry and data analysis

Kinship Editor - The Kinship editor uses simulation in two ways. First, it simulates a form of presentation of kinship data in a form familiar to anthropologists. Thus the structure of the data is closer to the models typically used by anthropologists. Second it has a feature that will simulate the development over time of the births and deaths of the people in the diagram, and of the making and breaking of links between them. Choose one of the numbered examples from the menu to the left, and then click on the step to button.

Simulation used to verify an anthropological model - Classical Simulation

Turkish Village Migrant Simulation - by Steve Wilson and Michael Fischer. This simulation and subsequent runs of the simulation were used by Steve Wilson for his MA thesis. He was trying to evaluate the extent to which anthropologists, such as Paul Stirling, could make reaonable predictions based on their ethnographic research and other data. To test this he extracted a part of a model that Stirling had proposed in the 1970s, and applied it to a simulation of migration in Sakultatun, one of the villages in Turkey that Stirling had worked between 1949 and 1996. From the statitical data, it was clear that Stirling's predictions were valid. From the simulation, Steve was able to show that Stirling's model predicts almost exactly the trends in migration that actually occured over the next 20 years.

The full MA dissertation by Steve Wilson can be found on the www at

See also:

Other examples that can be found on the WWW