Simulations to study the expansion of Neolithic cultures in the Amazon

Simulations to study the expansion of Neolithic cultures in the Amazon

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Human group expansions were common during theprehistory, behind the adoption of agriculture. Among other factors, this is due topopulation growth of farmers, higher than that ofHunter-gatherers.

An example is found during theneolithic period, when agriculture was introduced to the European continent by migrations from the Middle East.

However, inSouth America it was not clear if the same would have happened, since it was argued that no cultural group had spread across such long distances as in Europe or Asia. Furthermore, it was believed that the type of agriculture practiced bypre-Columbian peoples in the Amazon it would not allow them to expand at the same rate.

Now, an investigation carried out by three members of the Complexity and Socio-Ecological Dynamics (CaSEs) Research Group of thePompeu Fabra University of Barcelona shows that the expansions of some archaeological cultures in South America can be simulated in a computational way throughpopulation growth and migration, like the Neolithic in Europe.

This is the case of the so-called cultureSaladoid-Barrancoid, which extended from the Orinoco River to various points in the Amazon and even reached the Caribbean.

"The use of computer simulations to test human migrations in prehistory has been productive in other continents, but it had not been applied in the tropics of South America," he says.Jonas Gregorio de Souza, UPF researcher and co-author of the work published in the journalPLOS ONE.

According to the results, de Souza explains, the team has shown that "some cultural expansions that have taken place from the Amazon may have resulted from demographic processes similar to those of the Neolithic in Eurasia."

Population growth rate

The study adopted an approach computationalto simulate human expansions in prehistory.

“We use parameters derived from the ethnography of farming peoples in the Amazon to simulate the rate of population growth, the fission of villages, how far they move and how often,” the authors state.

Based on these parameters, they created a computer model to simulate expansions from different points and dates, and compared the results with archaeological data.

Researchers used radiocarbon dates of different archaeological cultures of great territorial extension in the last 5,000 years, which were compared with the prediction of the model, to evaluate if the rate of their territorial expansion could be explained as a demographic phenomenon (and not of another typology, such as cultural diffusion).

The cultures or archaeological traditions analyzed were theSaladoid-Barrancoid, theArauquinoid, theTupiguarani and closely related traditionsAItararé YAratu. In most regions where they settled, these cultures introduced the cultivation of domesticated plants, marked the transition to more permanent settlements and spread an economic model calledpolyculture agroforestry.

The authors, however, caution that some expansions could not be predicted by the simulations, suggesting that they were motivated by other factors.

“While some archaeological expansions can be predicted, through simulations, as demographic processes, others are not easily explained in the same way. This fact is possibly due to different processes that drive its dispersion, such as cultural diffusion, or because archaeological data is problematic or insufficient, ”they conclude.


Jonas Gregorio de Souza, Jonas Alcaina Mateos, Marco Madella (April 2020). "Archaeological expansions in tropical South America during the late Holocene: assessing the role of demic diffusion".PLOS ONE.

Source: UPF-CSIC

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