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Explaining population booms and busts in Mid-Holocene Europe

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.

D. Kondor, J.S. Bennett, D. Gronenborn, N. Antunes, D. Hoyer, P. Turchin, Explaining population booms and busts in Mid-Holocene Europe, Scientific Reports 13 (2023) 9310.

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