Institute of Archaeology


Cultural Evolution of Neolithic Europe (EUROEVOL)

The last 25 years have seen the rapid emergence and growth of a new high-profile interdisciplinary field, the evolutionary study of human culture, which has produced novel ways of understanding human cultural and socio- economic behaviour. In particular, it has produced mathematical and computer simulation models derived from evolutionary biology that integrate adaptation with culture and history to give a new understanding of human cultures and societies.

The field has seen a great deal of theoretical development and some empirical work, however, there has been no substantive attempt to bring the different sub-fields of cultural evolutionary theory and method together in an integrated fashion and apply them to large-scale case-studies in history or prehistory to address specific questions concerning the links between demographic, economic, social and cultural patterns and processes. The aim of this project is to do that for the first time and in doing so to provide the basis for a new account of the role of farming in transforming early European societies, c.6000-2000 calBC, focusing on the western half of temperate Europe, where the available data are best, and integrating culture historical patterns, for example in monuments, with demographic, economic and social processes.

The region selected for this study is the western half of temperate Europe, including Germany, France, the Low Countries, the Alpine region, southern Scandinavia and Britain, for the period c.6000-2000 BC, the time of the appearance and development of Europe's first farming societies, when major social, cultural and economic changes took place.

The specific questions that guide the research include the following:

  • how did regional population patterns change c.6000-2000 cal BC
  • what are the links between subsistence, climate change and social institutions, on the one hand, and population patterns on the other, and do the population patterns reflect periods of economic growth and decline
  • to what extent were population fluctuations the main source of cultural change
  • what links are there between cultural patterns in space, for example monumental and ceramic traditions, and the nature and extent of social interaction
  • is it possible to identify the existence of long-standing cultural 'cores' subject to 'descent with modification' in different times and places, or is a model of different distinct cultural 'packages' more appropriate?

The basis of this project is the creation of standardised, spatially-referenced datasets (e.g., botanical faunal, material culture, 14C dates) designed so it's possible to explore relationships beyond local traditions instead focusing on broader scale patterns of exchange and influence within western Europe, from the late Mesolithic until the early Bronze Age. All spatial and chronological data will be managed using standard GIS packages and relational databases.

Related outputs

  • The Institute of Archaeology hosted a one-day conference on 31 March 2015 to report the most up-to-date results from the EUROEVOL project.
  • Manning, A. and Timpson, A. 2015. Response to comment on 'The demographic response to Holocene climate change in the Sahara' Quaternary Science Reviews 110:172-175
  • Manning, K. Timpson, A., Colledge, S., Crema, E., Edinborough, K., Kerig, T. and Shennan, S. 2014. The chronology of culture: a comparative assessment of European Neolithic dating approaches. Antiquity 88, 342: 1065-1080.
  • Timpson, A. Colledge, S., Crema, E., Edinborough, K., Kerig, T., Manning, K., Thomas, M. G. and Shennan, S. 2014. Reconstructing regional demographies of the European Neolithic using 'dates as data': a new case study using an improved method. Journal of Archaeological Science 52: 549-557.
  • Lechterbeck, J. Edinborough, K., Kerig, T. Fyfe, R., N. Roberts and Shennan, S. 2014. Is Neolithic land use correlated with demography? An evaluation of pollen-derived land cover and radiocarbon-inferred demographic change from Central Europe. The Holocene, doi:10.1177/0959683614540952
  • Colledge, S. and Conolly, S. 2014. Wild plant use in European Neolithic subsistence economies: a formal assessment of preservation bias in archaeobotanical assemblages and the implications for understanding changes in plant diet breadth. Quaternary Science Reviews 101: 193-206.
  • Manning, K. and Timpson, A. 2014. The demographic response to Holocene climate change in the Sahara. Quaternary Science Reviews 101: 28-35.
  • Crema, E., Edinborough, K., Kerig, T., Shennan, S. 2014. An Approximate Bayesian Computation approach for inferring patterns of cultural evolutionary change. Journal of Archaeological Science 50: 160-170.
  • Crema, E., Kerig, T. and Shennan, S. 2014. Culture. space and metapopulation: a simulation based study for evaluating signals of blending and branching. Journal of Archaeological Science 43: 289-298 
  • Shennan, S. et al. 2013. Regional population collapse followed initial agriculture booms in mid-Holocene Europe. Nature Communications. 4:2486 doi: 10.1038/ncomms3486
  • Kandler, A. & Shennan, S.J. 2013. A non-equilibrium neutral model for analysing cultural change. Journal of Theoretical Biology 330:18-25
  • Shennan, S.J. 2013. Demographic Continuities and Discontinuities in Neolithic Europe: Evidence, Methods and Implications. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 20 (2):300-311
  • Woodbridge J, Fyfe RM, Roberts N, Downey S, Edinborough K, Shennan S.J. 2012. The impact of the Neolithic agricultural transition in Britain: a comparison of pollen-based land-cover and archaeological 14C date-inferred population change. Journal of Archaeological Science 2012.
  • Edinborough, K.S.E.. et al. Cultural Evolution of Neolithic Europe: The 4year ERC - Project EUROEVOL at UCL, London. Presented at MESO 2010: The Eighth International Conference on the Mesolithic in Europe, Santander, Spain. September 13-17, 2010
  • Kerig, T., et al. EUROEVOL: Zur kulturellen Evolution des neolithischen Europa. Presented at Mitteleuropa im 5. Jahrtausend vor Christus. International conference Muenster, Germany. October 6-8, 2010