Dates as Data: Where Are We Now in Using Radiocarbon Dates to Infer Population Histories?

Author(s): Stephen Shennan

Year: 2018


Archaeologists have long used site counts and other measures to infer past population histories and such efforts have always been criticised by those who point to all the known and unknown unknowns that in their view make such efforts as dubious as getting to the topmost steps on Hawkes’s ladder of inference. In recent years most effort has been devoted to the use of summed radiocarbon probabilities for demographic inference since for most of later prehistory in most of the world it gives a much higher degree of chronological resolution than any alternative, resulting in many cases in a qualitatively new view of population patterns, which have turned out to be characterised by booms and busts. To overcome the many obvious problems to using radiocarbon dates in this way a great deal of effort has been devoted to the development of rigorous methods combined with large-scale data collection. The methods involve either building and testing specific models of population change through time, for example exponential growth, or comparing patterns in different data sets by means of permutation tests to see if they are significantly different from one another. The methods, criticisms and ways forward will be described.

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Dates as Data: Where Are We Now in Using Radiocarbon Dates to Infer Population Histories?. Stephen Shennan. Presented at The 82nd Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Washington, DC. 2018 ( tDAR id: 443771)

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Abstract Id(s): 19996