Population dynamics during the Neolithic transition and the onset of megalithism in Portugal according to summed probability distribution of radiocarbon determinations

Abstract

As field data accumulates, the study of Neolithic Portugal has been receiving increasing attention recently, from material culture and subsistence to ideology. However, little is known about population dynamics. In this paper, we use a judicious selection of radiocarbon determinations to evaluate demographic phenomena within the 9.500–5.000 cal BP range (thus, starting in the Late Mesolithic) making use of “summed probability distribution” analysis. In greater Portugal, results show a negative deviation (i.e. demographic decrease) at 6.400–6.300 cal BP and a positive deviation (i.e. demographic increase) at 5.350–4.950 cal BP. These can be explained, respectively, by the impact of farming about one millennium after its introduction (confirming the “Neolithic demographic transition” model) and by the full establishment of the “secondary products revolution” in the Late Neolithic. However, individual analyses of the northern and southern halves of the country—i.e. using the Mondego river valley as an ecological-geographical divide—show rather contrasting trajectories, with scarce Mesolithic populations and a demographic increase in the megalithism in the North, whereas in the South a demographic crisis occurred at the onset of megalithism (which remains to be fully explained) being followed in the Late Neolithic by a sharp demographic increase. Further summed probability distribution analyses of radiocarbon determinations, particularly if combined with other populational proxies, will be able in the future to detect other demographic events taking place in space and time.

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    It is a procedure where radiocarbon dates from the same level/context are grouped to reduce wealth bias (i.e. research intensity).

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Acknowledgements

Acknowledgements are also due to two anonymous reviewers for their useful comments that gave us the opportunity to explain aspects of the text that were less explicit. Finally, the authors also thank the Centre of Calculus for technical support and permission to use the local VIVES node of the University of Valencia supercomputing network to carry out the radiocarbon simulations.

Funding

This work was carried out with the financial support of a Juan de la Cierva postdoctoral grant (FJCI-2016-30588) to S. Pardo-Gordó and by the research projects PGC2018-096943-B-C21 and 2017-SGR-1302 funded, respectively, by the Catalonian and Spanish governments. The corresponding author is currently granted with an APOSTD Postdoctoral grant (APOST/2019/179) by the Valencian government.

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Pardo-Gordó, S., Carvalho, A.F. Population dynamics during the Neolithic transition and the onset of megalithism in Portugal according to summed probability distribution of radiocarbon determinations. Archaeol Anthropol Sci 12, 129 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12520-020-01086-2

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Keywords

  • Neolithisation
  • Megalithism
  • Summed probability distribution
  • Radiocarbon
  • Demography