The Neolithic (c. 6200–4900 BC) in the Struma River Valley: Characterizing Change to the Human Ecological Niche from Species Distribution Models
Keywords:Neolithic, agriculture, Maxent, ecological niche modeling, Bulgaria, Greece
During the Neolithic Period (c. 6200–4900 BC) of the Struma River Valley, early agricultural populations progressively settled in the region until reaching a maximum occupation in the Late Neolithic. The ecological characteristics of the Struma River Valley are particularly heterogeneous along its north-south gradient and also vertically along the valley slopes, suggesting that early agricultural populations may have needed to adapt to this distinctive and localized ecological setting. In this paper, I apply an approach based on maximum entropy species distribution modeling (Maxent) in order to characterize diachronic change in the ecological distribution of Neolithic archaeological settlements in the Struma Valley. The Maxent procedure essentially determines the characteristics and extent of what may be interpreted as the human ecological niche. A diachronic interpretation of the results demonstrates that there is a significant degree of niche conservatism in the Struma Valley all throughout the Neolithic Period—with the majority of settlements generally located on favourable agricultural terrains. However, notable instances of settlement proliferation led to an expansion of the human ecological niche to also include less favourable agricultural terrain over time. The potential implications of such an expansion—among which demographic increase and improvements in agricultural practices likely played a critical role—are subsequently discussed.
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