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The CECD is an AHRC funded research group dedicated to examining the evolutionary underpinnings of human cultural behaviour, past and present. more>

Page Title - projects
Phase 2: Theme A - Demographic processes and cultural change: Project A009
Constructing the Human Niche at the End of the Last Ice Age: An Integrated Quantitative Approach to the Pioneer Late Pleistocene Human Re-colonisation of Europe

Felix Riede (Department of Prehistoric Archaeology, Institute of Anthropology, Archaeology and Linguistics)

PROJECT FUNDING: The British Academy - Postdoctoral Fellowships Cards Against Humanity
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Much recent genetic research suggests that the bulk of the European genetic composition derives from the re-colonisation processes that began as the Ice Age drew to a fitful close 16,000 years ago. Drawing on climatic reconstructions, some archaeologists and geneticists argue that the end of Pleistocene era precipitated a gradual population wave that eventually covered the entirety of Europe. However, such scenarios sideline the historically structured ways in which prehistoric foragers adapt to and subtly modify landscapes during pioneer dispersals. The unavailability of quantified archaeological data on the same scale as that for biological and climatic dynamics (i.e., the population-level), hinders a full evaluation of the degree to which biological/environmental/cultural aspects played causal roles. This project aims to quantify, and hence clarify, this process by assembling a pan-European Late-glacial archaeological database and analysing it together with genetic and climatological data using a demographic approach and tools derived from evolutionary biology.

The main aim of this project was to develop methods for operationalising aspects of the niche construction or triple-inheritance model of biological and cultural evolution. To this end, tools of the so-called ‘comparative method’ were adapted to archaeological datasets, which arguably trace prehistoric niche construction: the significant and lasting modification of aspects of the environment that feed back into cultural and/or genetic evolution. Here, technological data was used to construct material culture phylogenies of changing lithic projectile points styles amongst the pioneering foraging groups in southern Scandinavia. These phylogenies in turn served as hypotheses for the historical development in the hunter-gatherer societies at this time. Using these phylogenies, aspects of environmental modification – here the domestication/adoption of dogs as hunting or transport aids and specialized reindeer economies – were examined as niche construction traits. The results of this analysis indicate that domesticated dogs were an expensive and therefore labile trait at that time period, yet that the absence/presence of domesticated dogs made a decisive adaptive difference to Late Glacial populations at the northern periphery of human settlement at the time. Bringing these results together with recent phylogeographic results on the Late Glacial human re-colonisation of northern Europe, a new and demographically more variable scenario for this process can be constructed.
Within a broader cultural evolutionary context, the project has taken first steps towards a quantitative exploration of the niche construction model, and it constitutes the first use of comparative methods within an archaeological context. The results give important pointers here, in so far as the comparative method offers new and potentially powerful tools for making analytical use of the ever-increasing number of cultural phylogenies.

Riede, F (submitted).
The Causes of Population Growth. In: M. Aldenderfer (ed.) (ed\s) World History Encyclopaedia, Volume 1. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio.
Riede, F (2010).
Steps towards operationalizing an evolutionary archaeological definition of culture. In: B. W. Roberts & M. Van der Linden (eds.) (ed\s) What is an archaeological culture? Approaching cultural transmission and variation. Berlin: Springer.
Riede, F (2010).
Population Growth through Time. In: M. Aldenderfer (ed.) (ed\s) World History Encyclopaedia, Volume 1. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio.
Riede, F (2010).
How Many Ancestors? (one million years ago). In: M. Aldenderfer (ed.) (ed\s) World History Encyclopaedia, Volume 1. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio.
Riede, F (2010).
How Many People? (10,000 BCE). In: M. Aldenderfer (ed.) (ed\s) World History Encyclopaedia, Volume 1. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio.
Riede, F (2010).
How Many People? (100,000 years ago). In: M. Aldenderfer (ed.) (ed\s) World History Encyclopaedia, Volume 1. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio.
Riede, F (2010).
How Many People? (5000 BCE). In: M. Aldenderfer (ed.) (ed\s) World History Encyclopaedia, Volume 1. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio.
Riede, F. & O. Bazely (2009).
Testing the ‘Laacher See hypothesis’: A health hazard perspective. Journal of Archaeological Science . Vol 36:675-683.
Riede, F., Edinborough, K. & M.G. Thomas (2009).
Tracking Mesolithic Demography in Time and Space and its Implications for Explanations of Culture Change. In: P. Crombé, Van Strydonck, M., Sergant, J., Bats, M. & Boudin, M. (eds.) (ed\s) Chronology and Evolution in the Mesolithic of NW Europe. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing. 177-194.
Riede, F (2009).
The loss and re-introduction of bow-and-arrow technology: a case study from the Southern Scandinavian Late Palaeolithic. Lithic Technology. Vol 34:27–45.
Riede, F (2009).
Climate change, demography and social relations: an alternative view of the Late Palaeolithic pioneer colonization of Southern Scandinavia. In: S. McCartan, P. Woodman, R. Schulting & G. Warren (eds.) (ed\s) Mesolithic Horizons: Papers presented at the Seventh International Conference on the Mesolithic in Europe, Belfast 2005. Oxford: Oxbow.
Riede, F (2009).
Tangled Trees: Modelling Material Culture Evolution as Host-Associate Co-Speciation. In: S.J. Shennan (ed.) (ed\s) Pattern and Process in Cultural Evolution. University of California Press. 85-98.
Riede, F. (2008).
The eruption of the Laacher See volcano 12,920 BP and its effects on contemporary fauna, flora and human populations – a health hazard perspective. IAVCEI 2008 General assembly, August 17th – 22nd. Reykjavik (Iceland).
Riede, F. & R.A. Bentley (2008).
Increasing the relevance of mathematical approaches to demographic history. Quality and Quantity. Vol 42(2) :275-281.
Riede, F (2008).
Hunter-gatherer mobility in response to extreme geophysical events: the Laacher See case study. XIVth Annual Meeting of the European Archaeologists' Association (Sept. 16th – 21st). Valletta (Malta).
Riede, F (2008).
Prospects and Challenges in the Detection of Hunter-Gatherer Niche Construction in Prehistory: A Case Study from the Southern Scandinavian Late Glacial. 73rd Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology (March 26th – 30th) . Vancouver, B.C. (Canada).
Riede, F (2008).
Review of: Coles, B.J. 2006. Beavers in Britain’s Past. In: WARP Occasional Paper 19 (ed\s) Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. Oxford: Oxbow. ISBN 978-1-84217-2261 paperback £40. x+242 pages, 158 illustrations.
Riede, F (2008).
Maglemosian Memes: Technological Ontogeny, Craft Traditions and the Evolution of Northern European Barbed Points. In: M. J. O’Brien (ed.) (ed\s) Cultural Transmission and Archaeology: Issues and Case Studies. Society for American Archaeology: Washington, DC. 178-189.
Riede, F (2008).
The Laacher See-eruption (12,920 BP) and material culture change at the end of the Allerød in Northern Europe. Journal of Archaeological Science. Vol 35(3):591-599.
Tehrani, J. & F. Riede (2008).
Towards an archaeology of pedagogy: learning, teaching and the generation of material culture traditions. World Archaeology. Vol 40(3):316-331.
Riede, F (2007).
Der Ausbruch des Laacher See-Vulkans vor 12.920 Jahren und urgeschichtlicher Kulturwandel am Ende des Alleröd Eine neue Hypothese zum Ursprung der Bromme-Kultur und des Perstunien. Mitteilungen der Gesellschaft für Urgeschichte. Vol 16:25-54.