There is ongoing debate about a possible human population decline or contraction at the onset of the Younger Dryas (YD) at 12.9 ka. We used two methods to test whether the YD affected human population levels: (1) frequency analyses of Paleoindian projectile points, and (2) summed probability analyses of radiocarbon (14C) dates. The results suggest that a significant decline or reorganization of human populations occurred at 12.9 ka, continued through the initial centuries of the YD chronozone, then rebounded by the end of the YD. FREQUENCY ANALYSES: This method employed projectile point data from the Paleoindian Database of the Americas (PIDBA, http://pidba.utk.edu). We tallied diagnostic projectile points and obtained larger totals for Clovis points than for immediately post-Clovis points, which share an instrument-assisted fluting technique, typically using pressure or indirect percussion. Gainey, Vail, Debert, Redstone, and Cumberland point-styles utilized this method and are comparable to the Folsom style. For the SE U.S., the ratio of Clovis points (n=1993) to post-Clovis points (n=947) reveals a point decline of 52%. For the Great Plains, a comparison of Clovis and fluted points (n=4020) to Folsom points (n=2527) shows a point decline of 37%, which may translate into a population contraction of similar magnitude. In addition, eight major Clovis lithic quarry sites in the SE U.S. exhibit little to no evidence for immediate post-Clovis occupations, implying a major population decline. SUMMED PROBABILITIES: This method involved calibrating relevant 14C dates and combining the probabilities, after which major peaks and troughs in the trends are assumed to reflect changes in human demographics. Using 14C dates from Buchanan et al. (2008), we analyzed multiple regions, including the Southeast and Great Plains. Contrary to Buchanan et al., we found an abrupt, statistically significant decline at 12.9 ka, followed 200 to 900 years later by a rebound in the number of dates. The decline at the YD onset was more than 50%, similar in magnitude to the decline in Clovis-Folsom point ratios. While calibration and sampling factors may affect the trends, this abrupt decline is large and requires explanation. SUMMARY: Even though correlation does not equate with causation, the coeval YD decline in both points and 14C dates appears linked to significant changes in climate and biota, as represented by the megafaunal extinction. While the causes of the YD remain controversial, a human population decline appears to have occurred, at least across parts of North America. Furthermore, the YD onset is associated with the abrupt replacement of Clovis by regional or subregional scale cultural traditions, potentially reflecting decreased range mobility and increased population isolation. Projectile point distributions and summed probability analyses, we argue, are potentially useful approaches for exploring demographic changes at regional scales.
AGU Fall Meeting Abstracts
- Pub Date:
- December 2009
- 0410 BIOGEOSCIENCES / Biodiversity;
- 1105 GEOCHRONOLOGY / Quaternary geochronology;
- 1605 GLOBAL CHANGE / Abrupt/rapid climate change;
- 6022 PLANETARY SCIENCES: COMETS AND SMALL BODIES / Impact phenomena