The National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC)
1 Park Place, Suite 300
Annapolis, MD 21401
Recent work by the European Research Council (ERC)-funded EUROEVOL research project has established with a high degree of certainty that radiocarbon-inferred human demography during the Neolithic exhibits a boom-and-bust pattern that is probably driven by endogenous population dynamics rather than climate forcing. This finding suggests one of humanity’s major advances in technology—agriculture—failed to buffer against widespread social collapse.
This talk will explore implications of this finding by asking whether it is possible to retrodict collapse of European farming using ‘early warning’ signals. These indices have proven effective in forecasting critical transitions in global climate systems such as lake eutrophication and grasslands. But such analyses require long time-series data that are not typically available for human societies. The EUROEVOL archaeological radiocarbon database spans over 4,000 years of human history and provides the opportunity to test whether changes in prehistoric human population levels contained the signal of forthcoming collapse. In contemplating paths to a sustainable future, it is worth considering the consequences of failure during the transition from foraging to farming in Europe, and successful retrodiction could be an important contribution to contemporary debates about sustainability.