The rapid replacement of Mesolithic people by Neoltihic farmers in the Mediterrainean

Domestication and early agriculture in the Mediterranean Basin: Origins, diffusion, and impact
Melinda A. Zeder*
+Author Affiliations

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).

4 responses to “The rapid replacement of Mesolithic people by Neoltihic farmers in the Mediterrainean

  1. Hmmm. I may be somewhat outdated but the main argument against massive Neolithic colonization in the Middle and Western Mediterranean (the area of Cardium Pottery culture) was not the datations but the fact that most of these populations showed Cardium or Epicardial pottery, farming and sheperdry… but Epipaleolithic tools. There are some spots and even small regions (like Alicante province) that do look like colonies but most appear to keep using Epipaleolithic tools of geometric tradition (in France and Iberia – would be epi-Gravettian in Italy, I think).

    Does the article adress this issue at all? Wether the Neolithic is of older date or not may be less relevant, what matters in order to determine European origins is wether it appears replacement or aculturation. AFAIK, in the case of Mediterranean Neolithic, it is mostly the latter (but not only).

  2. Also, for a very good (IMO) genetic reasoning in favor of large Paleolithic pervivence, check M. Currat and L. Excoffier, 2005: “The effect of the Neolithic expansion on European molecular diversity” (doi: 10.1098/rspb.2004.2999, PMCID: PMC1602044). Unless 100% of European genetics is Neolithic, at least 50% must be Paleolithic.

  3. I’ll have a look when I can pry my seven year old off Everquest.

    You seem very well read on this subject Luis. Can you recommended any books/sources on this subject? I’m still in the process of researching this subject and I find myself short on some of the detailed stuff. I’ve got a reasonable overview from the genetics and bones, but I’m still sadly lacking on things like pottery and cultures in the med.

  4. I promise to take a look. Most of my readings are in Spanish, what probably is of no use to you. Nevertheless one of my most important reads came from the local library and is a translation from German, so probably it’s also translated to English. I’ll have to check the author and all that, and for that I need to go to the library.

    Even worse: I am right now in the process of ordering my room and that means that most of my books are piled up without almost any order. I could just find a manual of Spanish Prehistory (F. Jordá-Cerdá et al., 1989) that comments on lithic typology:

    “Neolithic lihic ergology is characterized by an industry on flakes, small flakes, sheets and small sheets, generally with limited retouch, with technical roots in the Epipaleolithic. (…) Mostly the types mentioned are pesent in the Epipaleolithic but increased variation is found regarding their functions (…)”

    “In Levante [Valencia and Murcia], of the four phases of Cocina [a type site], phase C corresponds to the Neolitized Epipaleolithic of stratum III (…). Phase D of Cocina belongs to an advanced Neolithic and even the beginning of Chalcolithic (…). The horizon of Mallaetes, partly contemporary of that of Cocina, is cahracterized by the microlaminar industry with microblades (…) and scratchers or Epigravettian tradition, without ever appearing the geometrical designs typical of Cocina”.

    Note: microlaminar and geometric are the two Epipaleolithic techno-cultures of Mediterranean Spain and Portugal. Geometric microlithism is generally associated or even assimilated to Tardenoisian (of mid-Western European origin), while the older Microlaminar instead relates to the Azilian culture of the Franco-Cantabrian region. So I am a bit surprised about the “Epigravettian” tag, as Azilian, as well as Tardenoisian, are actually Epi-Magdalenian – but well.

    “In Catalonia: few are the studies on the lithic industry of early Neolithic (…)”

    “In Andalusia, in general, the microlaminar industry is dominant, being rare the geometrical types and the blunt retouch in microsheets (…). Among Andalusian sites is worth mentioning, for the knowledge of the lithic industry, Nacimiento cave, which in phase II, belonging to Neolithic, has a laminar industry (15%) with marked presence of geometrics (31%) (trapeces and triangles), microburins, (…)”

    These just to mention the area most exposed to potential Neolithic immigration. Other books I have read are coincident in this general lithic continuity and that seems also the case in Italy and SE France. Another author (from memory) mentions that some coastal sites show apparent colonization but these are not majoritary anywhere. Instead aculturation of Epipaleolithic natives seems the rule almost everywhere.

    Also worth translating is some stuff on burials:

    “There seems to be no external input in the burial practices of early Spanish Neolithic (…) as the individual burial in phoetal position, surrounded by stones and with presence of ochre, along with no or very scarce burial presents, persists in the Neolithic without any disruption”.

    The periodization mentioned instead seems obsolete now, as it has been pushed back several centuries. An issue remains though: the Andalusian Neolithic (of uncertain origin, maybe North African?) seemed older than Cardium Pottery (that affects mainly the East of the peninsula, with only limited intrusions into Andalusia or Portugal). What I wonder is that, if CP has been pushed backwards in time, what happens with this original Andalusian Neolithic and its influences in Portugal? Per this manual, Andalusian Neolithic would be dated to “the sixth milennium”, its influence in Portugal to c. 5000 BCE, Cardium Pottery to c. 4700 BCE and Portuguese early dolmens (origins of Megalithism probably) to 4800 BCE. So which are the reviwed dates for the pre-CP Neolithic phenomenons in southern Iberia? This paper’s dates seem to refer only to CP and that makes me wonder.

    Also I wonder what are the reviewed dates for Epipaleolithic and so on. Specially as Aurignacian has also been recently pushed back some 5,000 years. I mean: it means all dates I know from late 20th century sources seem to have been pushed back this decade. Andalusian Neolithic would still be older than Eastern Iberian CP or am I missing something?

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