October 21, 2010

Revisiting Bocquet-Appel 2005: the population of Europe in the Paleolithic.

Something I want to do in this new blog is to revisit some areas that I have explored in the past, hopefully with an improved approach. One of the key elements in understanding European Prehistory as a whole is the demographics of Paleolithic Europe.  Nothing better surely than this excellent survey of archaeological density and corresponding population estimates:


The paper evidences the demographic growth, specially after the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), when it really explodes (from 5900 to 28,700 - average figures). 

But maybe even more interesting is the demographic tendencies of the various regions. Most outstandingly, the Franco-Cantabrian region comprises almost half of the all Europeans early on, reaching to 2/3 in the LGM.

Second is the Danube region, with 20-25% in the early period and a marked decrease in the LGM. Third is the related Rhine region with 6-9%, sharply declining to near zero in the LGM. 

These three regions are fused in the latest map (Late UP, Magdalenian), including together 95% of all Europeans some 15-10,000 years ago. These would be then something between 11,000 and 73,000 individuals, average: 29,000 (more than 27,000 in the Magdalenian area). 


Fig. 5 (2nd part). Population estimates for LGM (top) and Late UP (bottom)

Less important regions are East Europe (4% in the Gravettian era, declining after that) and Iberia (7% in the LGM, much less in the next period). Italy is not mentioned but does indeed show some sparse continuity (Gravettian/Epigravettian).

You can easily compare these maps and those of the patterns of R1b1b2a1a2; it seems clear to me that the best possible explanation for its subclades' dispersion patterns is at the post-LGM stage.

2 comments:

  1. A low point population of 5,900 at LGM in Europe is notable and compares to the Neanderthal population around the time of first contact with Cro-Magnons.

    One wonders how much of the post-LGM population in the Upper Paleolithic was made up of descendants of pre-LGM European Cro-Magnons returning from refugia, and how much was "new blood" from points South. The map could seem to support the expansion from within Europe view.

    One also wonders why population would be so concentrated at a single focus in Southern France, and so scarce in Iberia, Italy and the Balkans, where the weather would presumably have been better. Is this archeological evidence for a glacial margins big game orientation? Or is this simply a reflection of greater respect for archeology, and hence more digs, in France than in the rest of Europe?

    The inland orientation is also counterintuitive, because the prevailing view was that the ability to fish and comfort in coastal areas was one of the key factors that gave Cro-Magnons an edge over Neanderthals. Does this reflect a move from a marginal ecological niche that Cro-Magnons filled when Neanderthals were present to a better ecological niche when Neanderthals were gone?

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  2. "A low point population of 5,900 at LGM in Europe is notable"...

    It's not an overall low point compared with previous periods: most regions decrease but the Franco-Cantabrian and Iberian regions clearly grow. The FCR hosted then already 63% of all Europeans.

    "The map could seem to support the expansion from within Europe view".

    Absolutely. And it's not just density, archaeology also supports it (the rather well known post-LGM Magdalenian expansion, and later the post-Glacial one as Epipaleolithic industries of Magdalenian derivation), paleoanthropology (Magdalenian skulls totally look modern European), genetics (mtDNA H1, H3 and others; Y-DNA R1b1b2a2). The attested expansion is not just from "points to the south" but from the FCR specifically (also into Iberia).

    There are paleoclimatic reasons, I understand:

    1) the Rhine-Danube and Dniepr-Don regions were good steppe (loess steppe): cold but rather productive.

    2) the Balcans and North France were poor (dry) steppe.

    3) the Mediterranean regions were rather too forested

    4) the FCR had a milder more humid steppe (oceanic steppe) combined with ample areas of lowland to mountain ecology. These are the two more strongly inhabited ecosystems: the fluvial plains of the Garonne and Dordogne and the rolling hills of the North Pyrenean and Cantabrian coastal strip (which also provided coastal resources).

    Additionally there was a tundra+taiga belt, which may have been occasionally exploited by peoples in Central and Eastern Europe.

    "Or is this simply a reflection of greater respect for archeology, and hence more digs, in France than in the rest of Europe?"

    IMO it's a reality (even if it would be somewhat distorted by dig bias). The author argues that the data is valid at the beginning of the paper if I recall correctly. He argues that on curves of the evolution of new findings in the various regions of Europe. He argues that the sampling is as homogeneous as it can be.

    The true heartland of Paleolithic Europe was at Dordogne, just NE of Bordeaux, however Central Europe played probably the central cultural role before the LGM, at that point it is replaced by the FCR, with center at Dordogne. I estimated elsewhere that Dordogne had four times the population density of other FCR areas. It seems to have been a most fruitful "metropolis".

    "... the prevailing view was that the ability to fish and comfort in coastal areas was one of the key factors that gave Cro-Magnons an edge over Neanderthals".

    I understand that this hypothesis refers to riverine fishing initially, as marine exploitation is only attested from Magdalenian onwards, right? It's part of a larger hypothesis on Sapiens exploitation of smaller animals in general, like hares or trouts.

    "Does this reflect a move from a marginal ecological niche that Cro-Magnons filled when Neanderthals were present to a better ecological niche when Neanderthals were gone?"

    Can't say but it seems clear to me is that the occupation and exploitation of, specially the FCR, was critical in the short and long run for demographic consolidation, not only in the Neanderthal-Sapiens competition but also within our species.

    We might for instance consider what role did this economic recognition of the FCR as particularly rich region in the arrival not just of Aurignacian but Gravettian later or Chatelperronian earlier. Since the LGM the FCR becomes a clear center (Solutrean, Magdalenian) but earlier it was destination from the NE. Why a region that had almost 50% of the population (it seems) was not culturally expansive earlier? Why when it finally was, all it did (excepting maybe Iberia) was to repopulate "empty" regions?

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