December 05, 2005

Waterways and the Neolithic

The authors of this paper present a model which considers the effect of waterways (rivers) in the spread of the Neolithic. According to their model, the farmers from Southeastern Europe did not simply diffusion in all directions into Europe, but were constrained to move closely to rivers. Interestingly, these findings seem to agree with some modern population genetic data, according to which:
A lower frequency of E3b1 significantly distinguishes populations of the Adriatic-Dinaric complex, i.e. mainland Croatians, Bosnians and Herzegovinians (7.9%; 95% CI 0.054-0.114) from their neighboring populations of the Vardar-Morava-Danube river system, i.e. Serbians and Macedonians (21.9%; 95% CI 0.166-0.283). These observations hint a mosaic of different E3b1 dispersal modes over a short geographic distance and point to the Vardar-Morava-
Danube river system as one of major routes for E3b1, in fact E3b1α, expansion from south and southeastern to continental Europe. In fact, dispersals of farmers throughout the Vardar-Morava-Danube catchments basin are also evidenced in archeological record (Taringham, 2000).
Journal of Archaeological Science (Article in Press)

The role of waterways in the spread of the Neolithic

Kate Davison et al.


The causes and implications of the regional variations in the spread of the incipient agriculture in Europe remain poorly understood. We use population dynamics models to study the dispersal of the Neolithic in Europe from a localised area in the Near East, solving the two-dimensional reaction-diffusion equation on a spherical surface. We focus on the role of major river paths and coastlines in the advance of farming, to model the rapid advances of the Linear Pottery (LBK) and the Impressed Ware traditions along the Danube–Rhine corridor and the Mediterranean coastline, respectively. We argue that the random walk of individuals, which results in diffusion of the population, can be anisotropic in those areas and hence lead to an effective advection. The standard reaction-diffusion equation is thus supplemented with an advection term, confined to the proximity of major rivers and coastlines. The model allows for the spatial variation in both the human mobility (diffusivity) and the carrying capacity, reflecting the local altitude and latitude. This approach can easily be generalised to include other environmental factors, such as the bioproductivity of landscapes. Our model successfully accounts for the regional variations in the spread of the Neolithic, consistent with the radiocarbon data, and reproduces a time delay in the spread of farming to the Eastern Europe, Britain and Scandinavia.


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