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Reconstructing the dynamics of ancient human populations from radiocarbon dates: 10 000 years of population growth in Australia


Johnson, CN and Brook, BW, Reconstructing the dynamics of ancient human populations from radiocarbon dates: 10 000 years of population growth in Australia, Royal Society of London. Proceedings. Biological Sciences, 278, (1725) pp. 3748-3754. ISSN 0962-8452 (2011) [Refereed Article]

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Copyright Statement

Copyright 2011 The Royal Society

DOI: doi:10.1098/rspb.2011.0343


Measuring trends in the size of prehistoric populations is fundamental to our understanding of the demography of ancient people and their responses to environmental change. Archaeologists commonly use the temporal distribution of radiocarbon dates to reconstruct population trends, but this can give a false picture of population growth because of the loss of evidence from older sites. We demonstrate a method for quantifying this bias, and we use it to test for population growth through the Holocene of Australia. We used model simulations to show how turnover of site occupation across an archaeological landscape, interacting with erasure of evidence at abandoned sites, can create an increase in apparent site occupation towards the present when occupation density is actually constant. By estimating the probabilities of abandonment and erasure from archaeological data, we then used the model to show that this effect does not account for the observed increase in occupation through the Holocene in Australia. This is best explained by population growth, which was low for the first part of the Holocene but accelerated about 5000 years ago. Our results provide new evidence for the dynamism of non-agricultural populations through the Holocene.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:prehistory; human population growth; intensification; demography; Holocene
Research Division:Environmental Sciences
Research Group:Environmental management
Research Field:Wildlife and habitat management
Objective Division:Animal Production and Animal Primary Products
Objective Group:Fisheries - wild caught
Objective Field:Fisheries - wild caught not elsewhere classified
UTAS Author:Johnson, CN (Professor Christopher Johnson)
ID Code:77848
Year Published:2011
Web of Science® Times Cited:41
Deposited By:Zoology
Deposited On:2012-06-01
Last Modified:2018-03-16

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