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Saturday, July 18, 2009

How many people lived in Paleolithic Europe?

The latest news on Neanderthal genetics suggest that they were not too many. The figure mentioned is of 1500-3500 effective female population size (in Europe), so guess some 5000-10000 total. Does this make sense? And for Homo sapiens too?

In truth I really don't know but I've been making some amateurish estimates for the Franco-Cantabrian region, which apparently was the most populated region of Upper Paleolithic Europe. The Old Country had some 240,000 square kilometers (calculated by adding the areas of regions and provinces/departments that were inhabited back then) and, roughly, a hunter-gatherer group would typically use some 10,000 square kilometers (100 km x 100 km) in Canada (Gamble 2001) but apparently only some 1600 square kilometers (40 km x 40 km) in Cantabrian Magdelenian (Marín Arroyo 2009), roughly what would be now a "comarca", valley or district.

The latter figure fits well with Gamble's findings for Neanderthal foraging areas in Aquitaine (83% of materials from a radius of less than 20 km, no materials from further than 100 km) but would be small for the Carpathian area (48% from less than 20km, 81% from less than 80 km). The colder and drier Central Europe would then require the exploitation of areas closer in range to those of Inuits. Still the situation of the Rhin (only one case mentioned) would be more similar to that of the SW than to Moravia.

So for the Franco-Cantabrian region we could get as many 150 bands or clans, at least for Magdalenian times, when the use of the territory was most intense, each one with their territory of c. 1600 square kilometers.

My biggest doubt is how many people would these bands include: would they be simple bands of c. 30 individuals (20 to 80 following Gamble) or would they be larger groups of maybe 100 people including several of these bands, forming some sort of clan (more than 50 according to Gamble)? Maybe some of my readers has the solution but at the moment I do not. I guess that in earlier times (Aurignacian), these bands could be smaller and that by the end of the Paleolithic (Magdalenian) they would be larger instead.

Just in case here are the results using both figures for band: 30 and 100 people (as reasonable medians):

a. 150 x 30 = 4500 people
b. 150 x 100 = 15,000 people

If you think my estimate for the number of clans is a little high, then sand the figures down a bit. A conservative estimate could be 3000-10,000 people for the Franco Cantabrian region maybe.

The Franco-Cantabrian region (red dots are rock art locations)

And for all Europe? Well, the FC region was without doubt the most densely populated back then, so guess that multiplying this figure by 2, 3 or 4, you'd get a decent estimate. Let's estimate that 1 out of 3 UP Europeans lived in the FC region, that would make the total population of Europe something like 9000-30,000 individuals.

I began this post saying that there were some 5000-10,000 Neanderthals in Europe prior to the arrival of AMHs, based on the most recent genetic data. Does this fit with what I have elaborated? Yes. Even too well I fear.

And I say "I fear" because I really expected AMHs, who after all outcompeted the Neanderthals, to be significatively more efficient, so I do fear to have sinned of conservatism when doing these estimates. But well, this is nothing but an exercise without further pretenses: some thoughts to share with my readers.

So... enjoy.



After writing this, I re-read Bocquet-Appel's paper (already linked in text but only to justify the FC region as the most populated one) and I just realized he also makes his own popualtion estmates (with different and surely more serious methods). His conclusions are not that different from my own:

Aurignacian: 4400 ppl. (1700-28,400)
Gravettian: 4800 ppl. (1800-30,600)
Glacial Maximum: 5900 ppl. (2300-37,700)
Late Glacial: 28,700 ppl. (11,300-72,600)

Figures in parenthesis are considering the 47.5% confidence interval.


terryt said...

Very interesting Maju.

"My biggest doubt is how many people would these bands include: would they be simple bands of c. 30 individuals (20 to 80 following Gamble) or would they be larger groups of maybe 100 people including several of these bands, forming some sort of clan (more than 50 according to Gamble)?"

In pre-European Australia through most of the year people generally lived in small family bands, maybe a dozen individuals. They gathered into larger groups at times (of the year for example) when resources in particular places could accomodate such groups. It was then that they carried out their religious ceremonies and people could find partners within the appropriate totem group. Although Australia was not as productive as Cantabria probably the same sort of pattern existed once the human population had reached its saturation point.

Maju said...

That's the kind of feedback I was hoping for when I wrote that, thanks. I've been browsing Gamble's book for this data but not wholly re-reading it. He mentions those small "extended family" groups (sub-band) of up to 30 individuals (minimal maybe 5?) but I wonder if these familiar bands use such wide areas or just a fraction of them.

He does mention that most of the time everywhere these smaller groups make up the camps... but I wonder if that means that they travel for several days in the best seasons to meet the larger groups at specific (presumably bountiful) locations or if it's more that a "district" would be subdivided loosely and spontaneously into subdistricts while the band (20-80 ppl) stays mostly within its limits, keeping occasional contact easy and within the range of a journey walk.

If people of the Cantabrian area would have used the districts/valleys in such small family sub-groups, it would mean that they'd need to walk for more than a day (or if they were very sturdy walkers for a whole day without rest) to meet any other sub-group and the journeys for the special larger gatherings would imply week-long journeys or more. And that would mean that in less favorable areas like Arctic Canada or the Australia desert the journeys would be at least doubly longer.

Instead if we assume that the district (foraging area) was shared by the whole band, maybe split in subareas, clannic and tribal life would be a lot easier.

Of course all that ultimately depends on how many people can an area feed with forager economy.

Gamble does compare the density in camps in different ecological areas, with the least dense being the arctic ones and the most dense those of the rainforest (prairie would be intermediate). But while this seems to reflect the group lifestyle as a whole (more individualistic in the arctic, so they also keep the distances in the camps), it says nothing of the overall density regarding the territory as whole, at least not directly.

terryt said...

Here's a couple of links regarding Australian Aborigines that may be helpful, if not directly relevant for Eurasian Paleolithic:

And this one regarding modern land rights for Australian Aborigines. I think you'll find it interesting although even less relevant for the Paleolithic:

I actually had very little to do with Aborigines when I lived in Oz apart from a few drinking sessions in Western NSW. I did see enough to realise they're in a far worse position than are NZ Maoris though. But that's not relevant to Paleolithic either.

Maju said...

Thanks. They are interesting, even if the situations may be not too easily comparable, specially in terms of density (Australia is larger than Europe but most of it is desertic and can probably just feed a small fraction of what Europe can, or even what it could in the Ice Age).

Some stuff called my attention anyhow, like:

Much of Aboriginal art is connected with the imagery of totems.

I guess this is probably exportable to UP European art. The horses, cows, bisons, goats and bears painted in the caves and engraved in so many items probably indicated the totemic association of the artists.

The clan is an important unit in Aboriginal society, having its own name and territory, and is the land-owning unit. A clan is a group of about 40-50 people with a common territory and totems, and having their own group name. It consists of groups of extended families.

This is particularly important, because it suggests that territory was not something held by bands ("hordes") but by larger clans that could include 2-5 of these semiautonomous foraging groups.

A horde is an economic group, consisting of a number of families who might band together for hunting and food gathering. It is a term for this group of people, seen through the eyes of non-Aboriginal observers. A horde is not a distinct group in the minds of Aborigines, who more regard themselves as belonging to a particular clan, totemic group, or skin name...

This clarifies the issue even further.

terryt said...

I'm pleased you found them useful.

Regarding your comment,'Australia is larger than Europe but most of it is desertic and can probably just feed a small fraction of what Europe can'. I've just read a very recent book "The Bone Readers", subtitled "Atoms, genes and the politics of Australia's deep past".

The authors come down very much on the side of those who believe the evidence shows Australia was much more heavily vegetated before humans and their fire arrived. They date that arrival at more than 50,000 years and probably 55,000 by the way. And unequivocally blame these first arrivals with megafauna extinction.

So perhaps Australia was able to support a denser population at first.

Maju said...

Yah, it's possible, maybe even likely.

Anyhow, I mean Australia at the time of European arrival, when it's comparable with Ice Age Europe.