Public Release: 

Human population, climate, and food production

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Researchers report human population fluctuations that coincide with changes in climate and food production during the Holocene in Britain and Ireland. Radiocarbon dating is increasingly used to reconstruct past dynamics of human populations. In Britain and Ireland, archaeological sites have yielded a high density of radiocarbon samples from botanical and faunal material. Andrew Bevan and colleagues used more than 30,000 archaeological radiocarbon dates from databases and published reports to study human population dynamics in various regions of Britain and Ireland during the middle and later Holocene. The authors report at least three instances of human population decline that coincided with periodic changes in climate and subsequent societal responses in food use. For instance, after an increase in human population during the Early Neolithic around 4000-3850 BCE, a population decline occurred from around 3500-3000 BCE. The population decline was consistent with reduced solar activity and changing salt input to the Greenland ice sheet; the decline was also likely associated with cold winters and wet summers. Moreover, food use during the Middle-Late Neolithic, around 3500-2500 BCE, moved toward hardy cereals, gathered resources, and pastoralism, with wheat giving way to increased barley cultivation and an emphasis on gathered hazelnuts and cattle herding. According to the authors, the findings offer insight into the long-term dynamics of human population, food production, and climate change.

Article #17-09190: "Holocene fluctuations in human population demonstrate repeated links to food production and climate," by Andrew Bevan et al.

MEDIA CONTACT: Andrew Bevan, University College London, UNITED KINGDOM; e-mail: <a.bevan@ucl.ac.uk>

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