Domestication and early agriculture in the Mediterranean Basin: Origins, diffusion, and impact
Melinda A. Zeder*
Archaeobiology Program, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC 20013
Edited by Jeremy A. Sabloff, University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Philadelphia, PA, and approved May 27, 2008 (received for review March 20, 2008)
The past decade has witnessed a quantum leap in our understanding of the origins, diffusion, and impact of early agriculture in the Mediterranean Basin. In large measure these advances are attributable to new methods for documenting domestication in plants and animals. The initial steps toward plant and animal domestication in the Eastern Mediterranean can now be pushed back to the 12th millennium cal B.P. Evidence for herd management and crop cultivation appears at least 1,000 years earlier than the morphological changes traditionally used to document domestication. Different species seem to have been domesticated in different parts of the Fertile Crescent, with genetic analyses detecting multiple domestic lineages for each species. Recent evidence suggests that the expansion of domesticates and agricultural economies across the Mediterranean was accomplished by several waves of seafaring colonists who established coastal farming enclaves around the Mediterranean Basin. This process also involved the adoption of domesticates and domestic technologies by indigenous populations and the local domestication of some endemic species. Human environmental impacts are seen in the complete replacement of endemic island faunas by imported mainland fauna and in today’s anthropogenic, but threatened, Mediterranean landscapes where sustainable agricultural practices have helped maintain high biodiversity since the Neolithic.
Also from Zeder:
Until the early 1990s Cyprus was thought to have been colonized ca. 8,500 B.P. by a derived offshoot of fully established Neolithic mainland cultures (48). The new sites, however, date 2,000 years earlier (10,500–9,000 B.P.) and document the arrival of early pioneers hypothesized to have originated somewhere in the Northern. Traveling the 60 km to Cyprus by boat, these colonists transported the full complement of economically important mainland fauna (50). including all four major livestock species (sheep, goat, cattle, and pig).
Recent archaeological evidence from the Aegean, for example, no longer supports a model of gradual in-place transition of ancestral Mesolithic cultures into Neolithic cultures (53–55). Instead, there appears to have been a sharp decline in Late Mesolithic population levels, combined with the sudden appearance of radically different Neolithic settlements in previously unoccupied locations. As on Cyprus, recent work in the Aegean argues for the arrival of maritime colonists who, at ca. 9,000 to 8,000 B.P., carried many components of the full Neolithic package (plant and animal domesticates, new lithic traditions, and, perhaps a bit later, pottery) . Following a leapfrog pattern, these seafaring pioneers established farming communities that selectively focused on favorable environments in coastal Greece and on various Aegean
They argue that Neolithic lifeways were introduced into the Italian peninsula ca. 8,000 B.P. by maritime colonists who first established farming villages on the Apulian ‘‘boot heel’’ region of southeastern Italy (Fig. 2). These traditions appear in northwest coastal Italy ~200–300 years later (ca. 7,800–7,600 B.P.). In southern France, a compelling case can be made for a marked geographic, ecological, and cultural break between interior Mesolithic settlements and coastal Neolithic colonies (58) Recent excavation of a coastal settlement in southern France, dating to 7,700– 7,600 B.P. and characterized as a beachhead colony of seafaring migrant farmers from mainland Italy, has yielded pottery, domestic sheep, einkorn, and emmer wheat (59).
Having discounted evidence for piecemeal cultural diffusion of various elements of Neolithic economy and their selective adoption by indigenous Mesolithic populations in the western Mediterranean, Zilha˜o (61, 62) has gone on to demonstrate that, as in other parts of the Mediterranean Basin, the Late Mesolithic of the Iberian Peninsula was a period of population decline and relocation.
Also as elsewhere, Neolithic settlements with apparently fully formed agro-pastoral economic systems suddenly appear in the Iberian Peninsula as coastal enclaves occupying limestone based soils abandoned by earlier Mesolithic peoples.
Thus it appears that none of the earlier models for Neolithic emergence in the Mediterranean accurately or adequately frame the transition. Clearly there was a movement of people westward out of the Near East all of the way to the Atlantic shores of the Iberian Peninsula. But this demic expansion did not follow the slow and steady, allencompassing pace of expansion predicted by the wave and advance model. Instead the rate of dispersal varied, with Neolithic colonists taking 2,000 years to move from Cyprus to the Aegean, another
500 to reach Italy, and then only 500–600 years to travel the much greater distance from Italy to the Atlantic
As far as I can tell this colonisation wave originated in Turkey, and spread far and wide, across the North of Africa (Capsian culture) and into Northern India (Harappans) and all over Southern Europe. This is supported by observations by C loring Brace that the neolithic population expansion seemed to have originated in the Eastern Med area, not from the Natufians of Israel/ Jordan. The set off point for the Francthi cave colonisation is thought ot be the Belbasi area in southern Turkey, but that is sometime before the later colonistation wave (about 500 years).