Radiocarbon Dated Trends and Central Mediterranean Prehistory
Abstract: This paper reviews the evidence for long term trends in anthropogenic activity and population dynamics across the Holocene in the central Mediterranean and the chronology of cultural events. The evidence for this has been constituted in a database of 4608 radiocarbon dates (of which 4515 were retained for analysis following initial screening) from 1195 archaeological sites in southern France, Italy and Malta, spanning the Mesolithic to Early Iron Age periods, c. 8000 to 500 BC. We provide an overview of the settlement record for central Mediterranean prehistory and add to this an assessment of the available archaeological radiocarbon evidence in order to review the traditional narratives on the prehistory of the region. This new chronology has enabled us to identify the most significant points in time where activity levels, population dynamics and cultural change have together caused strong temporal patterning in the archaeological record. Some of these episodes were localized to one region, whereas others were part of pan-regional trends and cultural trajectories that took many centuries to play out fully, revealing prehistoric societies subject to collapse, recovery, and continuing instability over the long-term. Using the radiocarbon evidence, we model growth rates in the various regions so that the tempo of change at certain points in space and time can be identified, compared, and discussed in the context of demographic change. Using other published databases of radiocarbon data, we have drawn comparisons across the central Mediterranean to wider prehistoric Europe, and northern Africa. Finally, we include a brief response to the synchronously published but independently developed paper (Palmisano et al. in J World Prehist 34(3), 2021). While there are differences in our respective approaches, we share the general conclusions that large-scale trends can been identified through meta-analyses of the archaeological record, and these offer new perspectives on how society functioned.
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