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Effective Population Size and the Effects of Demography on Cultural Diversity and Technological Complexity

Author(s): Luke Premo

Year: 2017

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The "demographic hypothesis" provides a recent example of how models can play an important role in driving new and interesting archaeological research. Influential models by Shennan and Henrich inspired the notion that, holding all else constant, members of larger populations ought to display more diverse and more complex toolkits than those in smaller populations. Empirical tests of this idea against the material culture of recent small-scale societies have yielded mixed results, raising valid concerns about the efficacy of the demographic hypothesis for explaining changes in technological complexity during the Paleolithic. Here I address whether the mixed results reflect deficiencies with the formal models or with the expectations archaeologists derived in order to apply them to ethnographic data. I use simulation to show that Shennan’s and Henrich’s models highlight different demographic effects, each of which applies to a different set of conditions. The concept of effective population size is central to understanding this distinction. In light of my findings, I argue that one way to increase the power of empirical tests of the demographic hypothesis is to hew them more closely to the conditions of the formal models that inspired the demographic hypothesis in the first place.

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Effective Population Size and the Effects of Demography on Cultural Diversity and Technological Complexity. Luke Premo. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Vancouver, British Columbia. 2017 ( tDAR id: 431514)


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Abstract Id(s): 15397

Arizona State University The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation National Science Foundation National Endowment for the Humanities Society for American Archaeology Archaeological Institute of America