CSH Workshop: “Modeling Neolithic Crises”

Oct 17, 2019 | 9:30Oct 18, 2019 | 17:00

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This workshop is organized by Peter Turchin, CSH External Faculty.


Room: Salon


As our knowledge of Neolithic populations increases and becomes more quantitative, several research teams have proposed that the population dynamics of groups that switched from foraging to agriculture and animal husbandry do not fit the idea of a monotonic increase towards carrying capacity, as was envisioned in early models (Ammerman and Cavalli-Sforza 1973). In particular, research by Stephen Shennan’s group (Shennan et al. 2013, Shennan 2018) has documented recurrent population collapses following initial agriculture booms in mid-Holocene Europe. Detailed regional archaeology supports the idea that there were repeated cycles of social complexity linked with population dynamics in, for example, Central Europe (Gronenborn et al. 2018). A similar pattern of recurrent population cycles has also been documented in Southwestern United States (Kohler, Cole, and Ciupe 2009).

This workshop will address the possible causal explanations of Neolithic cycles. We will focus on three hypotheses: (1) exogenous forcing of population ups and downs due to climate variability, (2) an endogenous boom-bust dynamics resulting from feedbacks between population and agriculture (i.e., resulting from soil exhaustion), and (3) an endogenous cycle between population and warfare. For a simple model of the third hypothesis see (Turchin and Korotayev 2006).

Our approach will combine model development (which will translate each hypothesis, as well as their combinations, into a suite of agent-based models) with two empirical case-studies: (a) SW Germany (Detlef Gronenborn) and (b) SW US (Tim Kohler, Kyle Bocinsky, Stefani Crabtree). However, during this first workshop we will focus on the European case-study, leaving SW US for a follow-up workshop in 2020.



Ammerman, A, and L L Cavalli-Sforza. 1973. “A population model for the diffusion of early farming in Europe.” In Institute of Archeology Research Seminar, edited by C Renfrew, 343-357. London: Duckworth.
Gronenborn, Detlef, Hans-Christoph Strien, Peter Turchin, and Rolf van Dick. 2018. “Social Diversity, Social Identity and the Emergence of Surplus in the Western-Central European Neolithic.” In Surplus without the State: Political Forms in Prehistory, edited by Harald Meller, Detlef Gronenborn and Roberto Risch, 201-222. Halle: Tagungen des Landesmuseums Vorgeschichte.
Kohler, Timothy A, Sarah Cole, and Stanca Ciupe. 2009. “Population and Warfare: a Test of the Turchin model in Pueblo Societies.” In Pattern and Process in Cultural Evolution, edited by Stephen Shennan, 277-295. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Shennan, Stephen. 2018. The First Farmers of Europe: An Evolutionary Perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Shennan, Stephen, Sean S. Downey, Adrian Timpson, Kevan Edinborough, Sue Colledge, Tim Kerig, Katie Manning, and Mark G. Thomas. 2013. “Regional population collapse followed initial agriculture booms in mid-Holocene Europe.” Nat Commun 4. doi: 10.1038/ncomms3486.
Tóth, Géza, Bartosz Kozlowski, Sylvia Prieler, and David Wiberg. 2012. Global Agro-Ecological Zones (GAEZ v3.0): User’s Guide.
Turchin, Peter, and Andrey Korotayev. 2006. “Population Dynamics and Internal Warfare: a Reconsideration.” Social Science and History 5(2):121-158.


Oct 17, 2019 | 9:30
Oct 18, 2019 | 17:00


Complexity Science Hub Vienna
+43 1 59991 600
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CSH Vienna
Josefstaedter Straße 39
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+43 1 59991 600
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