New methods for reconstructing geographical effects on dispersal rates and routes from large-scale radiocarbon databases

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We introduce a methodology for reconstructing geographical effects on dispersal and diffusion patterns, using georeferenced archaeological radiocarbon databases. Fast Marching methods for modelling front propagation enable geographical scenarios to be explored regarding barriers, corridors, and favoured and unfavoured habitat types. The use of genetic algorithms as optimal search tools also enables the derivation of new geographical scenarios, and is especially useful in high-dimensional parameter spaces that cannot be characterized exhaustively due to computer runtime constraints. Model selection is guided by goodness-of-fit statistics for observed and predicted radiocarbon dates.We also introduce an important additional model output, namely, modelled phylogenies of the dispersing population or diffusing cultural entity, based on branching networks of shortest or 'least cost' paths. These 'dispersal trees' can be used as an additional tool to evaluate dispersal scenarios, based on their degree of congruence with phylogenies of the dispersing population reconstructed independently from other kinds of information.We illustrate our approach with a case study, the spread of the Neolithic transition in Europe, using a database from the literature (Pinhasi, Fort and Amerman 2005). Our methods find support for a geographical model in which dispersal is limited by an altitudinal cut-off and in which there is a climate-related latitudinal gradient in rate of spread. This model leads to a deceleration in front propagation rate with geodesic distance, which is also consistent with models of the propagation of the Neolithic transition under space competition with pre-existing populations of hunter-gatherers. Our genetic algorithms meanwhile searched the parameter space and found support for an alternative model involving fast spread along the northern Mediterranean coast and the Danube/Rhine riverine corridor. Both these models outperformed the geography-free Great Circle distance model, and both also outperformed another, almost geography-free, model that constrains dispersal to land to and near-offshore coastal waters. The adjusted coefficient of determination for modelled and observed radiocarbon dates for first arrival supports the GA-derived model; the shortest path network analysis, however, gives greater support to the model with altitudinal cut-off and latitudinal gradient in dispersal rate, since it produces branching 'dispersal trees' that are more congruent with these archaeological sites' clade memberships (as defined by archaeological material culture).




Silva, F., & Steele, J. (2014). New methods for reconstructing geographical effects on dispersal rates and routes from large-scale radiocarbon databases. Journal of Archaeological Science, 52, 609–620.

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