Ancient farming populations went boom, then bust


Topic: Farming

Europe’s ancient embrace of farming took the continent on a demographic roller-coaster ride. Regional booms and busts in human numbers occurred between 8,000 and 4,000 years ago, a new study finds.

From southern France to Scotland and Scandinavia, 10 of 12 regions with early farming sites experienced substantial population ups, downs or both, say archaeologist Stephen Shennan of University College London and his colleagues. Known climate changes from the period show no relation to the timing of the shifts in the size of these farming societies, the researchers report October 1 in Nature Communications.

“Diminishing natural resources due to agricultural practices may partly have caused population busts,” says anthropologist and study coauthor Sean Downey of the University of Maryland in College Park. He and his colleagues reported in 2012 that as Britain’s population increased following the introduction of farming, the nation’s forests shrank in size — consistent with…

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