A craniometric study of population dynamics and social organisation in the European upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic

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Brewster, Ciarán
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University College Cork
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The purpose of this study is to explore aspects of social organisation during the Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic periods using craniometric data. Different hypotheses were tested using geometric morphometrics, alongside traditional craniometric data. The clustering of individuals from the same site, as well as a correspondence to an isolation-by-distance model—particular in the Mesolithic samples—points to population structure within these groups. Moreover, discontinuities in cranial traits between the early Upper Palaeolithic and later periods could suggest that the Last Glacial Maximum had a disruptive effect on populations in Europe. Differences in social organisation can often result from cultural norms regarding post-marital residence. Such differences can be tested by comparing cranial data to that of geographic information. Greater variation in male cranial traits relative to females, after controlling for location, suggests that the overall pattern of residence during the Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic was one of matrilocality. It has been suggested that coastal occupation was density dependent and these populations show a greater degree of sedentism than their inland counterparts. Moreover, it has been proposed that coastal areas were not continuously occupied until the Late Pleistocene due to spatial restrictions that would adversely affect reproductive opportunities. This study corroborates the pattern seen in cranial traits corresponded with that of a more sedentary population. The results are consistent with the hypothesis that coastal populations are more sedentary than inland populations during these periods. This study adds new information regarding the social dynamics of prehistoric populations in Europe and sheds light on some of the conditions that may have paved the way for the transition to agriculture
Upper Palaeolithic , Mesolithic , Craniometrics , Social organisation , Population dynamics
Brewster, C. 2014. A craniometric study of population dynamics and social organisation in the European upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.