Is Neolithic land use correlated with demography? An evaluation of pollen-derived land cover and radiocarbon-inferred demographic change from Central Europe
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© The Author(s) 2014. The transformation of natural landscapes in Middle Europe began in the Neolithic as a result of the introduction of food-producing economies. This paper examines the relation between land-cover and demographic change in a regionally restricted case study. The study area is the Western Lake Constance area which has very detailed palynological as well as archaeological records. We compare land-cover change derived from nine pollen records using a pseudo-biomisation approach with 14C date probability density functions from archaeological sites which serve as a demographic proxy. We chose the Lake Constance area as a regional example where the pollen signal integrates a larger spatial pattern. The land-cover reconstructions for this region show first notable impacts at the Middle to Young Neolithic transition. The beginning of the Bronze Age is characterised by increases of arable land and pasture/meadow, whereas the deciduous woodland decreases dramatically. Changes in the land-cover classes show a correlation with the 14C density curve: the correlation is best with secondary woodland in the Young Neolithic which reflects the lake shore settlement dynamics. In the Early Bronze Age, the radiocarbon density correlates with open land-cover classes, such as pasture, meadow and arable land, reflecting a change in the land-use strategy. The close overall correspondence between the two archives implies that population dynamics and land-cover change were intrinsically linked. We therefore see human impact as a key driver for vegetation change in the Neolithic. Climate might have an influence on vegetation development, but the changes caused by human land use are clearly detectable from Neolithic times, at least in these densely settled, mid-altitude landscapes.
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