Anthropology Colloquia Series: Dr. Isabell Schmidt presents The Upper Paleolithic of Europe: New Insights from Population Estimates


Start Date: Mar 28, 2019 - 03:30pm

Location: Hibben Center 105

On March 28, 2019 at 3:30 pm in Hibben 105, Dr. Isabell Schmidt of the Institute of Prehistoric Archaeology at the University of Cologne will present her talk, The Upper Paleolithic of Europe: New Insights from Population Estimates.  The talk will present research results from Subproject E1: Population dynamics: Land use patterns of populations between the Upper Pleistocene and Middle Holocene in Europe and the Middle East (Principal Investigators: Prof. Dr. Andreas Zimmermann, Prof. Dr. Silviane Scharl) Funded by the German Research Foundation.


The Upper Paleolithic (ca. 42– 14 ky cal BP) encompasses the appearance and successful establishment of populations of anatomically modern humans in Europe. The rich archaeological record reveals repeated socio-cultural changes and the spread of technological innovations across the European subcontinent. Living conditions of hunter-gatherer groups were driven by glacial conditions and severe climatic oscillations, affecting economic requirements as well as the available geographic ranges of human groups. Recently published genetic data suggest the extinction of a human lineage during this period.

To understand these complex processes, demographic developments have continuously been at the heart of Upper Paleolithic research. However, direct anthropological evidence is very limited for these periods. To be able to introduce quantitative demographic data into model building processes, our research project, funded by the German Research Foundation since 2009, developed a methodological protocol to derive population size estimates using a site-density based approach. The protocol benefits from a consistency throughout data collection, modelling and computation, while being applied to a series of nine successive Upper Paleolithic periods. The high spatial and temporal resolution of the results allow the reconstruction of regional population histories and to investigate synchronous and diachronic dynamics for the entire Upper and Late Paleolithic. Population size and densities are derived for different spatial scales, which allows integrating the repeated evidence of empty areas in the investigation of hunter-gatherer populations.

Starting from this point, a diachronic overview of the results will be presented and discussed. Particular focus will be placed on the relationship between demographic developments and cultural and environmental changes. Additional data on mobility and interconnectedness of populations will be presented. Our generally very low estimated densities (around 0.13 persons per 100 km2) for the European Upper Paleolithic require explanation. A second focus is placed on insights into large-scale socio-spatial organization of hunter-gatherer populations, advocating the introduction of a “social carrying-capacity” in spatial studies on Pleistocene hunter-gatherers.