An archaeologist and historian by training, van der Leeuw’s personal research interests are in the study of long-term dynamics of socio-environmental systems, reconstruction of ancient technologies, (ancient and modern) regional man-land relationships, invention and innovation, urban dynamics, geographic information systems, modeling and complex systems theory. In the last 15 years, he has focused on bringing trans-disciplinary approaches to these domains.
Since 1992, he has (co-)coordinated a series of major research projects financed by the European Union in the area of socio-natural interactions and environmental problems. Among these projects are ARCHAEOMEDES I (1992-1994) and ARCHAEOMEDES II (1996-1999), concerned with understanding and modeling the natural and anthropogenic causes of desertification, land degradation and land abandonment and their spatial manifestations, using the complex systems approach. The team of 65 researchers from 11 European institutions included practitioners from physics, mathematics and computing, via geology, hydrology and the life sciences to sociology, social anthropology, history and archaeology. The fieldwork spanned all the countries along the northern Mediterranean rim. The “Environmental Communication” project (1996-8) studied the difficulties of communication between scientists and decision-makers, while the MODULUS project (1997-1999) modeled land-use decision making from a complex systems perspective. The ISCOM project (The Information Society as a Complex System, 2003-2006) investigated the relationship between innovation and urban dynamics. Currently, he is coordinating the Phoenix Innovation Study, funded by the Marion Ewing Kauffman Foundation, for ASU.
His publications include 17 books and over a hundred papers and articles on archaeology, ancient technologies, socio-environmental and sustainability issues, as well as invention and innovation.