Changes in the 'connectedness' and resilience of paleolithic societies in Mediterranean ecosystems

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Human predator-prey relationships changed dramatically in the Mediterranean Basin between 250,000 and 9,000 years ago. Many of these changes can be linked to increases in Paleolithic human population densities. Small game species are particularly diagnostic of increases in human hunting pressure and are a major source of evidence for demographic change after 40045,000 years ago. Biomass-corrected data on prey choice also indicate increasing use of those species that possess higher reproductive efficiencies. Step-wise, apparently irreversible shifts in human predatory niche are apparent in the Mediterranean Basin, beginning with the earliest Upper Paleolithic in the east and spreading westward. Evidence of demographic pressure and greater use of resilient prey populations is followed by technological innovations to exploit these animals more efficiently. The zooarchaeological findings suggest that Middle and Lower Paleolithic reproductive units probably were not robust at the micropopulation scale, due to the rather narrow set of behavioral responses that characterized social groups at the time, and thus localized extinctions at the micropopulation level were likely to have been common. Upper Paleolithic groups were the quintessential colonizers and, in addition, uniquely good at holding on to habitat gained. Upper Paleolithic archaeological "cultures" had shorter histories of existence than those of earlier periods, but they were even more widespread geographically. The demographic robustness of the Upper Paleolithic systems may stem from wholesale strategies for evening-out or sharing risk and volatility in technology. Micropopulations were larger and often denser on landscapes, more connected via cooperative ties, and thus more robust.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)693-712
Number of pages20
JournalHuman Ecology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2006


  • Demography
  • Diet breadth
  • Foraging efficiency
  • Human evolution
  • Hunting
  • Mediterranean Paleolithic
  • Subsistence risk

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Sociology and Political Science


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