The importance of wild resources as a reflection of the resilience and changing nature of early agricultural systems in East Asia and Europe
We examine the changing importance of wild starch rich plant staples, predominantly tree nuts, in early agricultural societies in East Asia and Europe, focusing on Korea, Japan, and Britain. A comparative review highlights variations in the importance of wild plant staples compared to domesticated crops. The Korean Middle to Late Chulmun periods (c. 3,500–1,500 BC) was characterized by a high reliance on nuts alongside millet. This declines with the transition to rice agriculture, but remains significant during the Mumun period (c. 1,500–300 BC). In Japan, the arrival of rice and millets in the Yayoi Period (c. 1,000 BC−250 AD) saw continued evidence for high levels of reliance on wild resources, which declines only in the Kofun and early historical periods. In Early Neolithic Britain (c. 4,000–3,300 BC) cereal agriculture is accompanied by high evidence for wild plant foods. But during the Middle to Late Neolithic (3,300–c. 2,400/2,200 BC) cereals were abandoned on the mainland with hazelnuts becoming a prominent plant staple. Agriculture returned in the second half of the 3rd millennium BC, followed by a strong decline in wild plant food use during the Middle to Late Bronze Age (1,700–700 BC). Such patterns have previously been attributed to the slow adoption of farming by indigenous peoples, with a continued reliance on wild resources. In light of evidence demonstrating that the dispersal of agriculture was largely driven by a mixture of demic-diffusion and introgression of hunter-gatherers into agricultural groups, a reinterpretation of the role of wild foods is needed. It is argued that the relative importance of wild plant staples provides an indicator of the stability and dependability of agricultural and social systems. A heavy reliance on wild foods in early agricultural societies is tied to the slow adaptation of domesticated crops to new environments, where agricultural and social landscapes are yet to be firmly established, and social systems that could mitigate for poor harvests and storage were often absent. The retained lengthy persistence of wild plant staples in East Asian subsistence systems compared to the British Isles likely reflects differences in the ecological and labor demands for rice compared to Western Asiatic cereals.
Stevens, C. J., Crema, E. R., & Shoda, S. (2022). The importance of wild resources as a reflection of the resilience and changing nature of early agricultural systems in East Asia and Europe. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 10 https://doi.org/10.3389/fevo.2022.1017909
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Bayesian analyses of direct radiocarbon dates reveal geographic variations in the rate of rice farming dispersal in prehistoric Japan
The adoption of rice farming during the first millennium BC was a turning point in Japanese prehistory, defining the subsequent cultural, linguistic, and genetic variation in the archipelago. Here, we use a suite of novel Bayesian techniques to estimate the regional rates of dispersal and arrival time of rice farming using radiocarbon dates on charred rice remains. Our results indicate substantial variations in the rate of dispersal of rice within the Japanese islands, hinting at the presence of a mixture of demic and cultural diffusion, geographic variations in the suitability of its cultivation, and the possible role of existing social networks in facilitating or hindering the adoption of the new subsistence economy.
Crema, E. R., Stevens, C. & Shoda, S. (2022). Bayesian analyses of direct radiocarbon dates reveal geographic variations in the rate of rice farming dispersal in prehistoric Japan. Science Advances, 8(38), https://doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.adc9171
[URL] [Data and R Scripts] [pdf]
A Bayesian approach for fitting and comparing demographic growth models of radiocarbon dates: A case study on the Jomon-Yayoi transition in Kyushu (Japan)
Large sets of radiocarbon dates are increasingly used as proxies for inferring past population dynamics and the last few years, in particular, saw an increase in the development of new statistical techniques to overcome some of the key challenges imposed by this kind of data. These include: 1) null hypothesis significance testing approaches based on Monte-Carlo simulations or mark permutations; 2) non-parametric Bayesian modelling approaches, and 3) the use of more traditional techniques such as correlation, regression, and AIC-based model comparison directly on the summed probability distribution of radiocarbon dates (SPD). While the range of opportunities offered by these solutions is unquestionably appealing, they often do not consider the uncertainty and the biases arising from calibration effects or sampling error. Here we introduce a novel Bayesian approach and nimbleCarbon, an R package that offers model fitting and comparison for population growth models based on the temporal frequency data of radiocarbon dates. We evaluate the robustness of the proposed approach on a range of simulated scenarios and illustrate its application on a case study focused on the demographic impact of the introduction of wet-rice farming in prehistoric Japan during the 1st millennium BCE.
Crema, E. R., & Shoda, S. (2021). A Bayesian approach for fitting and comparing demographic growth models of radiocarbon dates: A case study on the Jomon-Yayoi transition in Kyushu (Japan). PLOS ONE, 16(5), e0251695. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0251695
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Modifiable reporting unit problems and time series of long-term human activity
This paper responds to a resurgence of interest in constructing long-term time proxies of human activity, especially but not limited to models of population change over the Pleistocene and/or Holocene. While very much agreeing with the need for this increased attention, we emphasize three important issues that can all be thought of as modifiable reporting unit problems: the impact of (i) archaeological periodization, (ii) uneven event durations and (iii) geographical nucleation-dispersal phenomena.
Drawing inspiration from real-world examples from prehistoric Britain, Greece and Japan, we explore their consequences and possible mitigation via a reproducible set of tactical simulations.
This article is part of the theme issue ‘Cross-disciplinary approaches to prehistoric demography.
Bevan, A., Crema, E.R. 2021. Modifiable reporting unit problems and time series of long-term human activity. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. 376 :20190726 [URL] [Data and R Scripts] [pdf]
Inference from large sets of radiocarbon dates: software and methods
The last decade has seen the development of a range of new statistical and computational techniques for analysing large collections of radiocarbon ( 14 C) dates, often but not exclusively to make inferences about human population change in the past. Here we introduce rcarbon, an open-source software package for the R statistical computing language which implements many of these techniques and looks to foster transparent future study of their strengths and weaknesses. In this paper, we review the key assumptions, limitations and potentials behind statistical analyses of summed probability distribution of 14 C dates, including Monte-Carlo simulation-based tests, permutation tests, and spatial analyses. Supplementary material provides a fully reproducible analysis with further details not covered in the main paper.
Crema, E.R., Bevan, A., 2021. Inference from large sets of radiocarbon dates: Software and Methods, Radiocarbon. 63(1), 23-39 [URL] [Data and R Scripts] [pdf]
A multi-proxy inference of Jōmon population dynamics using bayesian phase models, residential data, and summed probability distribution of 14C dates
We introduce a new workflow for analysing archaeological frequency data associated with relative rather than absolute chronological time-stamps. Our approach takes into account multiple sources of uncertainty by combining Bayesian chronological models and Monte-Carlo simulation to sample possible calendar dates for each archaeological entity. We argue that when applied to settlement data, this combination of methods can bring new life to demographic proxies that are currently under-used due to their lack of chronological accuracy and precision, and provide grounds for further exploring the limits and the potential of the so-called “dates as data” approach based on the temporal frequency of radiocarbon dates. Here we employ this new workflow by re-examining a legacy dataset that has been used to describe a major population rise-and-fall that occurred in central Japan during the Jomon period (16,000–2,800 cal BP), focusing on the temporal window between 8,000 and 3,000 cal BP. To achieve this goal we: 1) construct the first Bayesian model of forty-two Jomon ceramic typology based cultural phases using a sample of 2,120 radiocarbon dates; 2) apply the proposed workflow on a dataset of 9,612 Jomon pit-dwellings; and 3) compare the output to a Summed Probability Distribution (SPD) of 1,550 radiocarbon dates from the same region. Our results provide new estimates on the timing of major demographic fluctuations during the Jomon period and reveal a generally good correlation between the two proxies, although with some notable discrepancies potentially related to changes in settlement pattern.
Crema, E.R., Kobayashi, K., 2020. A multi-proxy inference of Jōmon population dynamics using bayesian phase models, residential data, and summed probability distribution of 14C dates. Journal of Archaeological Science 117, 105136. [URL] [Data and R Scripts] [Request a Copy]