Humanities and Arts

Statistical Inference of Prehistoric Demography from Frequency Distributions of Radiocarbon Dates: A Review and a Guide for the Perplexed

  • 0

© attribution CC-BY

copyright icon





The last decade saw a rapid increase in the number of studies where time–frequency changes of radiocarbon dates have been used as a proxy for inferring past population dynamics. Although its universal and straightforward premise is appealing and undoubtedly offers some unique opportunities for research on long-term comparative demography, practical applications are far from trivial and riddled with issues pertaining to the very nature of the proxy under examination. Here I review the most common criticisms concerning the nature of radiocarbon time–frequency data as a demographic proxy, focusing on key statistical and inferential challenges. I then examine and compare recent methodological advances in the field by grouping them into three approaches: reconstructive, null-hypothesis significance testing, and model fitting. I will then conclude with some general recommendations for applying these techniques in archaeological and paleo-demographic research.