Innovative use of high-performance computing technology to map ‘superhighways’ of early human migration has snared an international team of researchers a prestigious global award.
Flinders University’s Professor Corey Bradshaw and Dr Frédérik Saltré, and international colleagues at the Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage (CABAH), harnessed hefty computer power for complex mathematical modelling to recreate ancient pathways into Australia 65,000 years ago when the continent was still part of a landmass called Sahul.
The incredible research has been honoured at the HPC Innovation Excellence Awards, the first time an archaeologically based study has prevailed in a field dominated by STEM.
The awards recognise achievements in the use of high-performance computing in fields such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, quantum computing, modelling, simulation, and computational analysis and are open to governments and corporations as well as researchers.
“We’re working at the intersection of humanities and science, applying the best of technology to improve our understanding of our human past and what it could mean for our future,” Professor Bradshaw says.
“In this case, high-performance computing enabled us to test hundreds of billions of potential human pathways and identify likely routes through a combination of archaeological, ecological, anthropological, geographical, and environmental data – such as access to water, food sources, and terrain factors.
“The largest-ever reconstruction of early migration networks, it has transformed our understanding of patterns of movement in ways that we can apply today – for example, climate change is a prime example of a factor influencing the movement of people around the globe.
“The sheer amount of data and number of calculations to arrive at our insights would not have been possible to process in our lifetime using human computing power alone. High-performance computing offers amazing capacity that we didn’t have even a decade ago,’ Professor Bradshaw says.
The study was published in Nature Human Behaviour in 2021. More information is available on the CABAH website and at The Conversation.
● Project leader: CABAH Associate Investigator Dr Stefani Crabtree from Utah State University and the Santa Fe Institute
● CABAH researchers: Distinguished Professor Michael I. Bird and Distinguished Professor Sean Ulm from James Cook University; and Dr Alan N. Williams from EMM Consulting Pty Ltd
● Devin A. White, Manager of Autonomous Sensing & Perception from the Integrated Military Systems Centre at Sandia National Laboratories
● Dr Robin J. Beaman from the College of Science and Engineering at James Cook University