Estimating population parameters of early villages in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic central and southern Levant
Authors: Birch, S.
Conference: Bournemouth University, Faculty of Science and TechnologyAbstract:
An understanding of population dynamics is essential for reconstructing the trajectories of central and southern Levantine Pre-Pottery Neolithic (PPN) villages during the Neolithic Demographic Transition (NDT). Whilst pre-existing population estimates of PPN villages have made a valuable contribution to our understanding of the Neolithic, these are based on limited methodological and theoretical frameworks, reducing the efficacy of these estimates for exploring the relationship between demographic parameters and socio-cultural development during this period.
The aim of this investigation is to derive more empirically and statistically robust absolute demographic data than currently exist and to produce a more precise chronology of population size, density and growth of these early villages. Several methodologies are explored, including those based on dwelling unit size and dwelling number; residential floor area per person; population density; and allometric growth formulae. The newly devised storage provisions formulae, based on the space available for sleeping individuals within structures, was found to be the most robust and viable method. A major contribution of this research is the production of precise structural contemporaneity values derived from building use-life and phase length estimates based on a combination of archaeological, ethnographic and experimental research, and Bayesian chronological modelling of radiocarbon dates.
From the results of micro-level analysis of 15 villages/village phases, a site type classification system and constants for several variables are developed for systematic application of methodologies to reconstruct population parameters of a large database of central and southern Levantine PPN villages (n = 106). Based on the final population estimate ranges, new allometric growth formulae are proposed for estimating PPN village populations in future from an assigned site type and total site extent.
This research has major implications for current theory relating to PPN village population density. In particular, the commonly utilised ethnographically derived population density coefficients are found to be too low to accurately estimate the population of central and southern Levantine PPN villages. In addition, the notion that nuclear families formed the predominant dwelling unit type within these villages is dismissed in favour of more variable dwelling unit composition. Finally, the population estimates produced in this investigation were assessed against the archaeological evidence to evaluate the suitability of previously hypothesised group size thresholds and to propose additional thresholds for this period relating to changing subsistence practices, the introduction of mechanisms for reducing scalar stress and the emergence of social complexity.