Research Press Release

Climate: Neolithic population boom or bust

Nature Communications

October 2, 2013

The introduction of agriculture in Europe was followed by regional population crashes despite general trends of demographical growth in the region, reports research published in Nature Communications. The work suggests that these sharp population decreases weren’t due to extreme climatic conditions, as has previously been suggested.

Agriculture was introduced in the Aegean around 8,500 years ago and steadily spread across Europe, reaching France around 7,800 years ago, and Britain, Ireland and northern Europe circa 6,000 years ago. In all instances, the introduction of agriculture meant a drastic change in food production and consumption patterns, which led to a demographic boom. Stephen Shennan, Sean Downey and co-authors present radiocarbon data of Neolithic populations across Europe, and accurately date population density changes in time. They find that, in all of the 12 different European regions studied, from the South of France to Scotland and Denmark, drastic population fluctuations can be observed. In fact they note that, in some cases, population declines were of the order of 30-60% from the highest post-farming levels, corresponding to the scale of decrease estimated for the much later Black Death. This is despite the population during the Middle Age being considerably larger than that of the Neolithic.

The authors find that those fluctuations cannot be associated to climatic factors however the exact reasons for this population decline remain unknown.


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