Dispersal and the Movius Line: Testing the effect of dispersal on population density through simulation

Iza Romanowska, Clive Gamble, Seth Bullock, Fraser Sturt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)
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It has been proposed that a strong relationship exists between the population size and density of Pleistocene hominins and their competence in making stone tools. Here we focus on the first ‘Out of Africa’ dispersal, 1.8 Ma ago, and the idea that it might have featured lower population density and the fragmentation of hominin groups in areas furthest away from the point of origin. As a result, these distant populations in Central and East Asia and Europe would not be able to sustain sophisticated technological knowledge and reverted to a pattern of simpler stone-knapping techniques. This process could have led to the establishment of the ‘Movius Line’ and other long-lasting continental-scale patterns in the spatial distribution of Lower Palaeolithic stone technology.

Here we report on a simulation developed to evaluate if, and under what conditions, the early ‘Out of Africa’ dispersal could lead to such a demographic pattern. The model comprises a dynamic environmental reconstruction of Old World vegetation in the timeframe 2.5–0.25 Ma coupled with a standard biological model of population growth and dispersal. The spatial distribution of population density is recorded over the course of the simulation. We demonstrate that, under a wide sweep of both environmental and behavioural parameter values, and across a range of scenarios that vary the role of disease and the availability of alternative crossing points between Africa, Europe and Asia, the demographic consequence of dispersal is not a gradual attenuation of the population size away from the point of origin but a pattern of ecologically driven local variation in population density. The methodology presented opens a new route to understand the phenomenon of the Movius Line and other large-scale spatio-temporal patterns in the archaeological record and provides a new insight into the debate on the relationship between demographics and cultural complexity. This study also highlights the potential of simulation studies for testing complex conceptual models and the importance of building reference frameworks based on known proxies in order to achieve more rigorous model development in Palaeolithic archaeology and beyond.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)53–63
Number of pages11
JournalQuaternary International
Volume431 Part B
Early online date9 Feb 2016
Publication statusPublished - 28 Feb 2017


  • Movius Line
  • Lower Palaeolithic
  • Hominim Disersal
  • Pleistocene Population Dynamics
  • Simulation


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