Explaining population booms and busts in Mid-Holocene Europe

Daniel Kondor, James S Bennett, Detlef Gronenborn, Nicolas Antunes, Daniel Hoyer, Peter Turchin
Nature Scientific Reports June 8, 2023 Journal Link


Archaeological evidence suggests that the population dynamics of Mid-Holocene (Late Mesolithic to Initial Bronze Age, ca. 7000-3000 BCE) Europe are characterized by recurrent booms and busts of regional settlement and occupation density. These boom-bust patterns are documented in the temporal distribution of 14C dates and in archaeological settlement data from regional studies. We test two competing hypotheses attempting to explain these dynamics: climate forcing and social dynamics leading to inter-group conflict. Using the framework of spatially-explicit agent-based models, we translated these hypotheses into a suite of explicit computational models, derived quantitative predictions for population fluctuations, and compared these predictions to data. We demonstrate that climate variation during the European Mid-Holocene is unable to explain the quantitative features (average periodicities and amplitudes) of observed boom-bust dynamics. In contrast, scenarios with social dynamics encompassing density-dependent conflict produce population patterns with time scales and amplitudes similar to those observed in the data. These results suggest that social processes, including violent conflict, played a crucial role in the shaping of population dynamics of European Mid-Holocene societies.
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