Population size does not explain past changes in cultural complexity

K. Vaesen, M. Collard, R. Cosgrove, W. Roebroeks

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

103 Citations (Scopus)
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Archaeologists have long tried to understand why cultural complexity often changed in prehistory. Recently, a series of highly influential formal models have suggested that demography is the key factor. According to these models, the size of a population determines its ability to invent and maintain cultural traits. In this paper, we demonstrate that the models in question are flawed in two important respects: They use questionable assumptions, and their predictions are not supported by the available archaeological and ethnographic evidence. As a consequence, little confidence can be invested in the idea that demography explains the changes in cultural complexity that have been identified by archaeologists. An alternative explanation is required.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)E2241-E2247
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS)
Issue number16
Publication statusPublished - 4 Apr 2016


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