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Durham University

Department of Archaeology


Publication details for Professor Chris Scarre

Scarre, Chris (2001). Modelling prehistoric populations: the case of Neolithic Brittany. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 20(3): 285-313.

Author(s) from Durham


The study of prehistoric demography draws inevitably on evidence both imperfect and incomplete, yet is essential for a satisfactory understanding of past communities. It is particularly valuable in addressing controversial questions such as the nature of early farming communities in western Europe, in the period between the adoption of domestic plants and animals and the establishment, centuries or millennia later, of permanent villages and regular field systems. In this article the demography of prehistoric Brittany is considered in light of evidence presented by monumental tombs and stone settings, artifact distributions, palaeoenvironmental determinations, and domestic remains. Whereas the megalithic monuments of Brittany are well known and have been the focus of systematic research since the mid-19th century, relatively little attempt has been made to situate them in their demographic context. The results of this study reveal that while Brittany is, like every region, unique in terms of climate, soils, and social traditions, it shares several significant features of demographic patterning—notably its cyclical character—with other areas of Neolithic Europe. This study also demonstrates how incomplete data sources can be used in combination to provide new interpretations of prehistoric demographic patterning and to frame new research questions.