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Durham University

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Palmisano, Alessio, Lawrence, Dan, de Gruchy, Michelle W, Bevan, Andrew & Shennan, Stephen (2021). Holocene regional population dynamics and climatic trends in the Near East: a first comparison using archaeo-demographic proxies. Quaternary Science Reviews 252: 106739.

Author(s) from Durham


This paper illustrates long-term trends in human population and climate from the Late Pleistocene to the Late Holocene (14,000–2500 cal. yr. BP) in order to assess to what degree climate change impacted human societies in the Near East. It draws on a large corpus of archaeo-demographic data, including anthropogenic radiocarbon dates (n = 10,653) and archaeological site survey (n = 22,533), and 16 hydro-climatic records from cave speleothems and lake sediments. Where possible, inferred population dynamics and climatic trends have been made spatially congruent, and their relationships have been statistically tested. Demographic proxies and palaeoclimatic records have been compared for the greater Near East as a whole and for seven major geo-cultural regions (Anatolia, Arabia, Cyprus, Iran, Levant, Mesopotamia, and South Caucasus). This approach allows us to identify regionalised patterns in population and climate trends. The results suggest a clear relationship between population and climate in the Late Pleistocene and Early Holocene (14,000–8326 cal. yr. BP) with population increasing in concomitance with wetter climatic conditions. During the Middle Holocene (8326-4200 cal. yr. BP) there is an increased regionalisation of demographic patterns, followed by marked interregional contrasts in the Late Holocene (4200-2500 cal. yr. BP). We identify a decoupling of demographic and climatic trends from the Middle Holocene onwards, and relate this to the existence of more complex societies. These were less vulnerable to gradual climatic shifts due to their logistical infrastructure, social organisation and technological capacity. We also assess the impact of five Rapid Climate Changes (RCC) which occurred during the study period on population levels. Although all five RCC (the so-called 10.2 k, 9.2 k, 8.2 k, 4.2 k, and 3.2 k cal. yr. BP events) are visible to some degree in our palaeoclimatic and demographic proxies, there are marked regional variations in magnitude and duration.