Rapid mid-Holocene warming triggered the onset of a farming society in Northern Europe

15 November 2017

Stephen Shennan

An international multi-disciplinary research team, including the Institute's Stephen Shennan, have recently presented the results of their detailed studies on temperature development during the Holocene in the Baltic region.

The transition from hunter-gatherer-fisher groups to agrarian societies is arguably the most significant change in human prehistory. In an article for the journal Scientific Reports, the international team of geologists, geochemists, archaeologists, fishery biologists and ecosystem modellers outlined the temperature record which revealed explanations for simultaneously occurring human demographic and cultural changes in this period - the temperature history providing an explanation for the later transition from hunter-gatherer-fishing-groups to farming society (the Neolithic revolution) in the Baltic area.

According to Stephen, who analysed population development during this period, the results of temperature development are comparable to archaeological findings:

  • "From shortly after 6.000 years BP we recognize a sharp increase in the population density parallel to the warming phase. We also see by the archaeological evidence that this goes with the onset of farming in the western Baltic Sea region. With the significant increase in temperature, the scene was set for successful farming and an expansion of agrarian groups from the South. Our study suggests a rapid human reaction within only two to three generations to these new opportunities emphasizing the remarkable plasticity humans can demonstrate in response to climate change".

The study highlights the importance of multi-disciplinary research in the understanding of human history.

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