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Journal Article

Directly modelling population dynamics in the South American Arid Diagonal using 14C dates


Timpson,  Adrian
Lise Meitner Pan-African Evolution Research Group, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Max Planck Society;

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Timpson, A., Barberena, R., Thomas, M. G., Méndez, C., & Manning, K. (2021). Directly modelling population dynamics in the South American Arid Diagonal using 14C dates. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Series B: Biological Sciences, 376(1816): 20190723. doi:10.1098/rstb.2019.0723.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0007-91D1-8
Large anthropogenic 14C datasets are widely used to generate summed probability distributions (SPDs) as a proxy for past human population levels. However, SPDs are a poor proxy when datasets are small, bearing little relationship to true population dynamics. Instead, more robust inferences can be achieved by directly modelling the population and assessing the model likelihood given the data. We introduce the R package ADMUR which uses a continuous piecewise linear (CPL) model of population change, calculates the model likelihood given a 14C dataset, estimates credible intervals using Markov chain Monte Carlo, applies a goodness-of-fit test, and uses the Schwarz Criterion to compare CPL models. We demonstrate the efficacy of this method using toy data, showing that spurious dynamics are avoided when sample sizes are small, and true population dynamics are recovered as sample sizes increase. Finally, we use an improved 14C dataset for the South American Arid Diagonal to compare CPL modelling to current simulation methods, and identify three Holocene phases when population trajectory estimates changed from rapid initial growth of 4.15% per generation to a decline of 0.05% per generation between 10 821 and 7055 yr BP, then gently grew at 0.58% per generation until 2500 yr BP. This article is part of the theme issue ‘Cross-disciplinary approaches to prehistoric demography’.