Cultural Diffusion Was the Main Driving Mechanism of the Neolithic Transition in Southern Africa

It is well known that the Neolithic transition spread across Europe at a speed of about 1 km/yr. This result has been previously interpreted as a range expansion of the Neolithic driven mainly by demic diffusion (whereas cultural diffusion played a secondary role). However, a long-standing problem is whether this value (1 km/yr) and its interpretation (mainly demic diffusion) are characteristic only of Europe or universal (i.e. intrinsic features of Neolithic transitions all over the world). So far Neolithic spread rates outside Europe have been barely measured, and Neolithic spread rates substantially faster than 1 km/yr have not been previously reported. Here we show that the transition from hunting and gathering into herding in southern Africa spread at a rate of about 2.4 km/yr, i.e. about twice faster than the European Neolithic transition. Thus the value 1 km/yr is not a universal feature of Neolithic transitions in the world. Resorting to a recent demic-cultural wave-of-advance model, we also find that the main mechanism at work in the southern African Neolithic spread was cultural diffusion (whereas demic diffusion played a secondary role). This is in sharp contrast to the European Neolithic. Our results further suggest that Neolithic spread rates could be mainly driven by cultural diffusion in cases where the final state of this transition is herding/pastoralism (such as in southern Africa) rather than farming and stockbreeding (as in Europe) ​
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