This dissertation uses a comparative approach to investigate long-term human- environment interrelationships in times of climate change. It uses Geographical Information Systems and ecological models to reconstruct the Magdalenian (~20,000- 14,000 calibrated years ago) environments of the coastal mountainous zone of Cantabria (Northwest Spain) and the interior valleys of the Dordogne (Southwest France) to contextualize the social networks that could have formed during a time of high climate and resource variability. It simulates the formation of such networks in an agent-based model, which documents the processes underlying the formation of archaeological assemblages, and evaluates the potential impacts of climate-topography interactions on cultural transmission. This research then reconstructs the Magdalenian social networks visible through a multivariate statistical analysis of stylistic similarities among portable art objects. As these networks cannot be analyzed directly to infer social behavior, their characteristics are compared to the results of the agent-based model, which provide characteristics estimates of the Magdalenian latent social networks that most likely produced the empirical archaeological assemblage studied.
This research contributes several new results, most of which point to the advantages of using an inter-disciplinary approach to the study of the archaeological record. It demonstrates the benefits of using an agent-based model to parse social data from long- term palimpsests. It shows that geographical and environmental contexts affect the structure of social networks, which in turn affects the transmission of ideas and goods that flow through it. This shows the presence of human-environment interactions that not only affected our ancestors’ reaction to resource insecurities, but also led them to innovate and improve the productivity of their own environment. However, it also suggests that such alterations may have reduced the populations’ resilience to strong climatic changes, and that the region with diverse resources provided a more stable and resilient environment than the region transformed to satisfy the immediate needs of its population.