Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory

, Volume 23, Issue 1, pp 150–199 | Cite as

Demography and the Palaeolithic Archaeological Record

  • Jennifer C. FrenchEmail author


Demographic change has recently re-emerged as a key explanation for socio-cultural changes documented in the prehistoric archaeological record. While the majority of studies of Pleistocene demography have been conducted by geneticists, the archaeological records of the Palaeolithic should not be ignored as a source of data on past population trends. This paper forms both a comprehensive synthesis and the first critical review of current archaeological research into Palaeolithic demography. Within prevailing archaeological frameworks of dual inheritance theory and human behavioural ecology, I review the ways in which demographic change has been used as an explanatory concept within Palaeolithic archaeology. I identify and discuss three main research areas which have benefitted from a demographic approach to socio-cultural change: (1) technological stasis in the Lower Palaeolithic, (2) the Neanderthal-Homo sapiens transition in Europe and (3) the emergence of behavioural modernity. I then address the ways in which palaeodemographic methods have been applied to Palaeolithic datasets, considering both general methodological concerns and the challenges specific to this time period. Finally, I discuss the ability of ethnographic analogy to aid research into Palaeolithic demography.


Demography Palaeolithic Hunter-gatherers Behavioural ecology Cultural evolution 



Funding for this research was provided by an Arts and Humanities Research Council (UK) Doctoral Studentship and a Peterhouse (University of Cambridge, UK) Research Fellowship. Thanks to Paul Mellars, Robert Foley, Stephan Shennan and Christina Collins for useful discussions of many of the ideas included in this paper, and Paul Mellars, Dominic Walker and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on earlier drafts of the manuscript.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.McDonald Institute for Archaeological ResearchUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK

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