Why are population growth rate estimates of past and present hunter–gatherers so different?
Hunter–gatherer population growth rate estimates extracted from archaeological proxies and ethnographic data show remarkable differences, as archaeological estimates are orders of magnitude smaller than ethnographic and historical estimates. This could imply that prehistoric hunter–gatherers were demographically different from recent hunter–gatherers. However, we show that the resolution of archaeological human population proxies is not sufficiently high to detect actual population dynamics and growth rates that can be observed in the historical and ethnographic data. We argue that archaeological and ethnographic population growth rates measure different things; therefore, they are not directly comparable. While ethnographic growth rate estimates of hunter–gatherer populations are directly linked to underlying demographic parameters, archaeological estimates track changes in the long-term mean population size, which reflects changes in the environmental productivity that provide the ultimate constraint for forager population growth. We further argue that because of this constraining effect, hunter–gatherer populations cannot exhibit long-term growth independently of increasing environmental productivity. This article is part of the theme issue ‘Cross-disciplinary approaches to prehistoric demography’.
PublisherThe Royal Society Publishing
CitationTallavaara M, Jørgensen EK.2021 Why are population growth rateestimates of past and present hunter–gatherers so different?Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B376: 20190708
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