Comparing archaeological proxies for long-term population patterns: An example from central Italy

Publication date: November 2017Source:Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 87
Author(s): Alessio Palmisano, Andrew Bevan, Stephen Shennan
Raw counts of archaeological sites, estimates of changing settlement size and summed radiocarbon probability distributions have all become popular ways to investigate long-term regional trends in human population. Nevertheless, these three archaeological proxies have rarely been compared. This paper therefore explores the strengths and weaknesses of different kinds of archaeological evidence for population patterns, as well as how they address related issues such as taphonomic loss, chronological uncertainty and uneven sampling. Our overall substantive goal is to reconstruct demographic fluctuations in central Italy from the Late Mesolithic to the fall of the Roman Empire (7500 BC-AD 500), and with this in mind, we bring to bear an unusually detailed and extensive dataset of published central Italian archaeological surveys, consisting of some 10,971 occupation phases at 7383 different sites. The comparative results demonstrate reassuring consistency in the suggested demographic patterns, and where such patterns diverge across different proxies (e.g. Late Bronze Age/Iron Age) they often do so in useful ways that suggest changes in population structure such as site nucleation or dispersal.