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Title: A first empirical analysis of population stability in North America using radiocarbon records
Questions regarding population stability among animals and plants are fundamental to population ecology, yet this has not been a topic studied by archeologists focusing on prehistoric human populations. This is an important knowledge gap. The fluctuation of human populations over decades to centuries – population instability – may constrain the expansion of human economies. A first step toward describing basic patterns of population stability would be to identify sizes of fluctuations through time, since smaller fluctuations are more stable than larger fluctuations. We conduct a biogeographic analysis of the long-term stability of human societies in North America using a continental scale radiocarbon dataset. Our analysis compares the stability of summed calibrated radiocarbon date probability distributions (SPDs) with subsistence strategies and modeled climate stability between 6000 and 300 BP. This coarse-grained analysis reveals general trends regarding the stability of human systems in North America that future studies may build upon. Our results demonstrate that agricultural sequences have more stable SPDs than hunter-gatherer sequences in general, but agricultural sequences also experience rare, extreme increases and decreases in SPDs not seen among hunter-gatherers. We propose that the adoption of agriculture has the unintended consequence of increasing population density and stability over most time scales, but also increases the vulnerability of populations to large, rare changes. Conversely, hunter-gatherer systems remain flexible and less vulnerable to large population changes. Climate stability may have an indirect effect on long-term population stability, and climate shocks may be buffered by other aspects of subsistence strategies prior to affecting human demography.  more » « less
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Date Published:
Journal Name:
The Holocene
Page Range / eLocation ID:
1345 to 1359
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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    This study aims to characterize the genetic histories of ancient hunter‐gatherer groups in Fuego‐Patagonia (Chile) with distinct Marine, Terrestrial, and Mixed Economy subsistence strategies. Mitochondrial (mtDNA) and Y‐chromosome data were generated to test three hypotheses. H0: All individuals were drawn from the same panmictic population; H1: Terrestrial groups first populated the region and gave rise to highly specialized Marine groups by ~7,500 cal BP; or H2: Marine and Terrestrial groups represent distinct ancestral lineages who migrated independently into the region.


    Ancient DNA was extracted from the teeth of 50 Fuegian‐Patagonian individuals dating from 6,895 cal BP to after European arrival, and analyzed alongside other individuals from previous studies. Individuals were assigned to Marine, Terrestrial, and Mixed Economy groups based on archeological context and stable isotope diet inferences, and mtDNA (HVR1/2) and Y‐chromosome variation was analyzed.


    Endogenous aDNA was obtained from 49/50 (98%) individuals. Haplotype diversities, FSTcomparisons, and exact tests of population differentiation showed that Marine groups were significantly different from Terrestrial groups based on mtDNA (p < 0.05). No statistically significant differences were found between Terrestrial and Mixed Economy groups. Demographic simulations support models in which Marine groups diverged from the others by ~14,000 cal BP. Y‐chromosome results showed similar patterns but were not statistically significant due to small sample sizes and allelic dropout.


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