Space Competition and Time Delays in Human Range Expansions. Application to the Neolithic Transition

Space competition effects are well-known in many microbiological and ecological systems. Here we analyze such an effect in human populations. The Neolithic transition (change from foraging to farming) was mainly the outcome of a demographic process that spread gradually throughout Europe from the Near East. In Northern Europe, archaeological data show a slowdown on the Neolithic rate of spread that can be related to a high indigenous (Mesolithic) population density hindering the advance as a result of the space competition between the two populations. We measure this slowdown from a database of 902 Early Neolithic sites and develop a time-delayed reaction-diffusion model with space competition between Neolithic and Mesolithic populations, to predict the observed speeds. The comparison of the predicted speed with the observations and with a previous non-delayed model show that both effects, the time delay effect due to the generation lag and the space competition between populations, are crucial in order to understand the observations ​
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