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Changes in the ‘Connectedness’ and Resilience of Paleolithic Societies in Mediterranean Ecosystems

Abstract

Human predator‐prey relationships changed dramatically in the Mediterranean Basin between 250,000 and 9,000 years ago. Many of these changes can be linked to increases in Paleolithic human population densities. Small game species are particularly diagnostic of increases in human hunting pressure and are a major source of evidence for demographic change after 40–45,000 years ago. Biomass-corrected data on prey choice also indicate increasing use of those species that possess higher reproductive efficiencies. Step-wise, apparently irreversible shifts in human predatory niche are apparent in the Mediterranean Basin, beginning with the earliest Upper Paleolithic in the east and spreading westward. Evidence of demographic pressure and greater use of resilient prey populations is followed by technological innovations to exploit these animals more efficiently. The zooarchaeological findings suggest that Middle and Lower Paleolithic reproductive units probably were not robust at the micropopulation scale, due to the rather narrow set of behavioral responses that characterized social groups at the time, and thus localized extinctions at the micropopulation level were likely to have been common. Upper Paleolithic groups were the quintessential colonizers and, in addition, uniquely good at holding on to habitat gained. Upper Paleolithic archaeological “cultures” had shorter histories of existence than those of earlier periods, but they were even more widespread geographically. The demographic robustness of the Upper Paleolithic systems may stem from wholesale strategies for evening-out or sharing risk and volatility in technology. Micropopulations were larger and often denser on landscapes, more connected via cooperative ties, and thus more robust.

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Acknowledgments

We first presented this paper in a special symposium in May, 2003, entitled “Coupled Human and Natural Systems,” hosted jointly by the National Science Foundation Program (BCS-BE: Dynamics of Coupled Natural-Human Systems, #0215989) and the Santa Fe Institute. The symposium was a collaborative effort on the part of Erica Jen, Lisa M. Curran, J. Stephen Lansing, Thomas K. Park, and the first author. We are grateful to the Santa Fe Institute for hosting the conference and providing a forum for the fertile intellectual exchanges that have followed. We also thank anonymous Human Ecology reviewers for their comments on the penultimate version of the manuscript.

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Stiner, M.C., Kuhn, S.L. Changes in the ‘Connectedness’ and Resilience of Paleolithic Societies in Mediterranean Ecosystems. Hum Ecol 34, 693–712 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10745-006-9041-1

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Keywords

  • Mediterranean Paleolithic
  • demography
  • hunting
  • diet breadth
  • foraging efficiency
  • subsistence risk
  • human evolution.