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  1. The northern American Southwest provides one of the most well-documented cases of human population growth and decline in the world. The geographic extent of this decline in North America is unknown owing to the lack of high-resolution palaeodemographic data from regions across and beyond the greater Southwest, where archaeological radiocarbon data are often the only available proxy for investigating these palaeodemographic processes. Radiocarbon time series across and beyond the greater Southwest suggest widespread population collapses from AD 1300 to 1600. However, radiocarbon data have potential biases caused by variable radiocarbon sample preservation, sample collection and the nonlinearity of the radiocarbonmore »calibration curve. In order to be confident in the wider trends seen in radiocarbon time series across and beyond the greater Southwest, here we focus on regions that have multiple palaeodemographic proxies and compare those proxies to radiocarbon time series. We develop a new method for time series analysis and comparison between dendrochronological data and radiocarbon data. Results confirm a multiple proxy decline in human populations across the Upland US Southwest, Central Mesa Verde and Northern Rio Grande from AD 1300 to 1600. These results lend confidence to single proxy radiocarbon-based reconstructions of palaeodemography outside the Southwest that suggest post-AD 1300 population declines in many parts of North America. This article is part of the theme issue ‘Cross-disciplinary approaches to prehistoric demography’.« less
  2. 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 continentalmore »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.« less
  3. Archaeologists now routinely use summed radiocarbon dates as a measure of past population size, yet few have coupled these measures to theoretical expectations about social organization. To help move the ‘dates as data’ approach from description to explanation, this paper proposes a new integrative theory and method for quan- titative analyses of radiocarbon summed probability distributions (SPDs) in space. We present this new approach to ‘SPDs in space’ with a case study of 3571 geo-referenced radiocarbon dates from Wyoming, USA. We develop a SPD for the Holocene in Wyoming, then analyze the spatial distribution of the SPD as a functionmore »of time using a standard nearest-neighbor statistic. We compare population growth and decline throughout the Holocene with expectations for different Ideal Distribution Models from population ecology that predict the relationship be- tween habitat quality and population density. Results suggest that populations in Wyoming were initially clustered and then became increasingly dispersed through the course of the Holocene. These results suggest that Allee-like benefits to aggregation, rather than ideal free-driven dispersion patterns, explain settlement decisions in response to growing populations. Our approach is a first step in constructing a method and theory for de- scribing relationships between social organization and population growth trends derived from archaeological radiocarbon time-series.« less
  4. We conduct a global comparison of the consumption of energy by human populations throughout the Holocene and statistically quantify coincident changes in the consumption of energy over space and time—an ecological phenomenon known as synchrony. When populations synchronize, adverse changes in ecosystems and social systems may cascade from society to society. Thus, to develop policies that favor the sustained use of resources, we must understand the processes that cause the synchrony of human populations. To date, it is not clear whether human societies display long-term synchrony or, if they do, the poten- tial causes. Our analysis begins to fill thismore »knowledge gap by quantifying the long-term synchrony of human societies, and we hypothesize that the synchrony of human populations results from (i) the creation of social ties that couple populations over smaller scales and (ii) much larger scale, globally convergent tra- jectories of cultural evolution toward more energy-consuming political economies with higher carrying capacities. Our results suggest that the process of globalization is a natural consequence of evolutionary trajectories that increase the carrying capacities of human societies.« less