The Romanian Mesolithic and the transition to farming. A case study: the Iron Gates

The Romanian Mesolithic and the transition to farming. A case study: the Iron Gates

The transition from foraging to agriculture in the last few decades has become a subject increasingly studied in academia. More complex research involving a large number of disciplines has made possible a substantial reevaluation of older concepts, but has also raised new questions and controversies. With the growing body of data from different regions of the world, it has become apparent that agriculture developed independently in more areas than was previously thought, and that the process of its geographic diffusion was much more complex than initially envisioned. The important role played by pre-Neolithic populations has come to be accepted by a growing number of archaeologists. The social and ideological implications associated with the adoption of agriculture have become more relevant, involving an association of causal factors with aspects other than economics. Regardless, questions such as why agriculture and how did it spread remain unanswered to a large degree. Most unfortunate, the body of knowledge related to the spread of agriculture in Europe
was constrained by a relative neglect of the Mesolithic period. This situation persists in many parts of the continent. Most of the data and studies come from the northern lands of Europe where many Mesolithic sites were discovered. On the other hand, the scarcity of sites in south and southeastern Europe focused most of the research on one of the richest Mesolithic archaeological locations on the continent: the Danube “Iron Gates” canyon.

A pdf with  plenty of information on the arrival of the Neolithic into Europe. It’s suggesting independent domestication of pigs in various European locations, but I don’t think it means pristine domestication, probably later ones by people already farming.

Anyone curious after reading it, Neolithic farmers made a substantial genetic ontribution to Southern Europe, but not much to Northern Europe; overall it’s about 20% (if memory serves). The ‘wave of advance’ theory of the Neolithic seems partially true, but only in Southern Europe. The paper concludes:

Besides pottery, there is no evidence for other developments associated with a food production economy. Of an extreme importance is a future pottery petrographic and chemical analysis by the excavated levels at least for Icoana and Schela Cladovei, in order to determine the earliest level with Starčevo ceramics at each site. Although all Mesolithic sites in the canyon proper are presently under water, it is not excluded that more sites may still exist on the islands of Ostrovul Banului and Ostrovul Corbului. The stratigraphy of the sites on both banks of the Danube need to be clarified and re-interpreted.

Claims for the practice of agriculture during the Mesolithic do not stand up to scrutiny, and in the archaeological strata associated with the appearance of Starčevo Neolithic in the area, agricultural implements are almost absent. There is also no evidence of domestic animals besides dog. It has been shown (A. Dinu et alii , this volume) that during Late Mesolithic no local domestication of European wild pig took place along the Lower Danube frontier between Starčevo Neolithic and the local Mesolithic cultures. It is not clear at this point when Starčevo domestic Asia Minor pigs showed up at Iron Gates, but it is more probable that it happened after 5500 BC.  Subsequently, if a replacement of the Starčevo Asia Minor domestic pigs took place in the following centuries, it is clear that Mesolithic Iron Gates played no role in wild pigs domestication North of the Danube.

As shown by the radiocarbon dates, contact between the Mesolithic and the Early Neolithic groups was chronologically possible. Still, there are no clear signs of influences in between these groups (economic exchanges, ideology religion etc.).

There is stll to be clarified the problem of the Mesolthic communities disapperance and the origins and way of penetration of the Early Neolithic.

Seeming to put the dampers on the idea of Mesolithic agriculture in Europe. However, 8,000 year old pots in Hungary and Switzerland show the remains of milk products in them , which essentially proves dairying was going on at the time then. It’s looking like the domestication of goats and sheep go back a very long time (12,000 years or more), probably somewhat longer than domesticated cattle. Another ‘however’ is that pottery appears after farming, and about 5,500 BC towns with metallurgy are found in the Balkans, so I find it hard to think that farming wasn’t in this area by then.

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5 responses to “The Romanian Mesolithic and the transition to farming. A case study: the Iron Gates

  1. Anyone curious after reading it, Neolithic farmers made a substantial genetic ontribution to Southern Europe, but not much to Northern Europe; overall it’s about 20% (if memory serves). The ‘wave of advance’ theory of the Neolithic seems partially true, but only in Southern Europe.

    Only in SE Europe: in the Balcans (and probably at a later date, Chalcolithic-Bronze, in southern Italy and maybe some areas of Iberia).

    The case for the Balcans is one of: (a) lack of important (or even total lack) of late Paleolithic/Epipaleolithic sites (with few exceptions like Lepenski Vir) and (b) rather clear expansion (probably demic) of Sesklo-derived Neolithic by demic means. There may have been absorption of natives but the dominant force was surely demic expansion of agriculturalists up to SE Hungary.

    The case for Central and Western Mediterranean Europe is one of: (a) aboundance of Epipalolithic, (b) an original East Adriatic/West Balcanic Neolithic core (Cardium Pottery), (c) some spots of clear colonization and (d) many and wide areas of clearly cultural neolithization (continuity of local Epipaleolithic tools).

    The case for Central Europe is one of: (a) aboundance of Epipaleolithic, (b) a transition into Lineal Pottery culture in Northern Hungary (area of Paleolithic and Epipaleolithic presence) and (c) a rapid expansion of this (Western) Lineal Pottery cuture along the Danub, Rhin, Elbe, Vistula and back eastward along the eastern Balcans (Cucuteni and Boian-Maritza). There’s no clear data supporting assimilation of natives other than genetic, what is a problematic issue in itself.

    The case for Atlanic Europe (not just Northern Europe, SW Atlantic Europe is about the same) is one of: (a) relative aboundance of Paleolithic/Epipaleolithic settlement, (b) long persistence of foraging economies, sometimes with subneolithic artifacts (pottery in a hunter-gatherer context), (c) varied Neolithic influences that only very gradually make the natives change their lifestyle. The situation varies a lot depending on each area’s peculiarities but in genera suggests that the humid Atlantic climate was not too favorable for agriculture, allowing for a much longer transition, fundamentally done by local natives. The main exception would SW Iberia, where Neolithic had a rapid implantation (Mediterranean climate).

    The case for Eastern Europe is confuse. The important Dniepr-Don culture has been argued both to be a coloniation or (as I believe) a local transition by Epigravettian natives; they colonized the Baltic and had an impact in all Northern Europe (in the early Chalcolithic) before IE expansion. There’s no clear pattern to explain the origins of the cultures along the Volga in the Neolithic transition (proto-IE and proto-Uralic).

    However, 8,000 year old pots in Hungary and Switzerland show the remains of milk products in them , which essentially proves dairying was going on at the time then.

    Hmmm. Looks too early to me. May there be a problem with datations? Particularly I am unaware of anybody living in Switzerland at the time (maybe in the border with Germany?).

    Another ‘however’ is that pottery appears after farming…

    Not in Europe (nor in Japan, where it’s actually much older than farming).

    and about 5,500 BC towns with metallurgy are found in the Balkans

    IMO that date is too early. Balcanic Chalcolithic (metallurgy of soft metals like copper) is more like 3500 BCE – maybe a little earlier in some spots? In West Asia though copper was used long before (mostly for ornaments) but was not yet casted but just hammered.

    • Sorry overall in Southern Europe it’s about 20%. Pottery appears after farming overall in that area- Anatolia and the near East where farming a long time before pottery appeared (pre pottery Neolithic).

      The dairy products were either sheep or goat. These got domestcated a lot earlier than cows. The spread of the Neolithic was pretty uneven in its technology. Also, the 7,500 for copper working is quite accurate. I like to keep tabs on ‘the oldest’ examples of stuff, and the oldest smelted copper object is a 7,500 year old axe head from Serbia.
      http://mathildasanthropologyblog.wordpress.com/2008/05/27/copper-metallurgy-who-discovered-it/

      Just a personal question Luis.. how can you spend such huge amounts of time leaving comments here and at Dienekes? Do you ever sleep? :)

  2. Sorry overall in Southern Europe it’s about 20%.

    Sorry, what does this mean?

    The dairy products were either sheep or goat. These got domestcated a lot earlier than cows.

    That’s true for West Asia but we should have found bones or something else related with Neolithic if these datations for Switzerland and Hungary are correct, right?

    I remain sceptic.

    I like to keep tabs on ‘the oldest’ examples of stuff, and the oldest smelted copper object is a 7,500 year old axe head from Serbia.

    That is interesting really. And news to me. Even that the Vinca-Dimini-Can Hassan were metallurgists is new to me too. Though I guess that copper metallurgy did not arise in one day… not even in one millenium.

    Do you ever sleep? :)

    Yeah, I do – and pretty well. But I am deeply interested in prehistory, so I dedicate some time everyday to learn and discuss. I don’t have kids: that helps. :-)

    • Sorry, what does this mean?

      It meant I wasn’t being very clear when I was typing. Me and the kids have been ill for three days an I haven’t been sleeping, I’m getting a bit clumsy with the text. I’ll edit it properly when I’ve slept on friday.

      axe head from Serbia

      Actually I checked the article, it was a chisel. See what I mean, I’m half asleep.

  3. Alexandru Dinu

    With regard to domestication of animals, pigs were domesticated in Europe, but not during Mesolithic. See Larson et al. 2007. Ancient DNA, pig domestication, and the spread of the Neolithic into Europe.
    At Iron Gates no other animals were domestic during Mesolithic except dog (see papers by Alexandru Dinu; László Bartosiewicz).
    No plants were domesticated either (despite some older extremely suspect pollen analysis by Carciumaru).
    Neolithic in the Northern Balkans and further into Tisza river plain and Transylvania was a demic spread process. In other parts of Europe, obviously the local Mesolithic groups had a great role to play.

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