Session: #421

Theme & Session Format

1. Widening horizons through human-environment interconnections
Session format:
Regular session

Title & Content

Demography in Archaeology beyond Boom and Bust? Critical Examinations of Phases of Under- and Overpopulation
The study of prehistoric population dynamics has experienced a significant upswing in recent years, not only due to new methodologies but also growing significance of the human-environment relationship. However, current approaches are comparatively simple: we observe an increase or decrease in the number of archaeological finds or sites at certain times, and conclude from this population increase or decrease. Special attention is paid to so-called boom-and-bust phases, often explained by environmental disasters; above all effects of abrupt climatic deterioration. Many approaches are frequently based on a rather simple Malthusian worldview: the population grows until it reaches the limit of its environment’s carrying capacity, and then has to move into a dynamic equilibrium, determined by technological innovation as well as by birth control and/or emigration. The other extreme is a simple Boserupian perspective of ever-increasing innovation through population pressure, raising the environment’s carrying capacity by technological advancements. In this scenario, mainly external triggers (warfare, climate events, or else) would be the cause of bust phases in human demographic history. How can data-driven archaeology help to assess the most plausible scenario? Over the long course of human history, the above-mentioned model’s expectations of exponential population growth cannot be observed. To explain the prehistoric population dynamic we might search for more mundane factors keeping population sizes ‘in check’. What role do diseases and violence play? How can social norms and inter-group relations influence demographic dynamics?
For this session, we invite contributions addressing the question of how to achieve a meaningful and historically significant investigation of past demographic dynamics beyond the mere descriptive representation of increased or decreased amounts of archaeological remains. We would be happy to receive contributions with integrative and alternative models, multi-proxy evidence or simulation studies showing in which direction demographically oriented archaeology might develop in the 2020s.
Demography, Human-Environment Interconnections, Social Archaeology, Environmental Archaeology, Epidemics, Climate Change
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Main organiser:
Martin Hinz (Switzerland) 1,2
Jan Kolář (Czech Republic) 3,4
Caroline Heitz (Switzerland) 1,2
Julian Laabs (Germany) 5,6
1. Institute for Archaeological Sciences, University of Bern, Switzerland
2. Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research, University of Bern, Switzerland
3. Department of Vegetation Ecology, Institute of Botany of the Czech Academy of Sciences, Brno, Czech Republic
4. Institute of Archaeology and Museology, Masaryk University, Brno, Czech Republic
5. Institute of Pre- and Protohistoric Archaeology, Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel, Germany
6. Department of Geography, Physical Geography, Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel, Germany