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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Measurement of Population Growth and Decline During California Prehistory


The distribution through time of radiocarbon dates is an important source of information about regional population fluctuation. However, a number of factors affecting distributional patterns must be considered when inferring changes in relative population size. Because these factors often are difficult to control, fluctuation in a date distribution is best considered a source of hypotheses about population growth and decline that should be tested against other sources of data. Three date distributions pertaining to the Santa Barbara Channel mainland coast, the northern Channel Islands, and the Vandenberg region exemplify the potential of this approach. These areas show similarities that may be linked to the impact of environmental events affecting broad geographic areas, as well as to differences that appear to reflect the impact of differing environments on cultural development. Future use of radiocarbon date distributions will be enhanced if archaeologists make every effort to obtain dates for every site investigated, take greater care in selecting samples, and report dating results in a systematic format.

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