Tracing the Origin and Spread of Agriculture in Europe

Tracing the Origin and Spread of Agriculture in Europe
Ron Pinhasi1*, Joaquim Fort2, Albert J. Ammerman3

1 School of Human and Life Sciences, Whitelands College, Roehampton University, London, United Kingdom, 2 Departament de Fisica, E.P.S. P-II, Universitat de Girona, Campus de Montilivi, Catalonia, Spain, 3 Department of Classics, Colgate University, Hamilton, New York, United States of America

The origins of early farming and its spread to Europe have been the subject of major interest for some time. The main controversy today is over the nature of the Neolithic transition in Europe: the extent to which the spread was, for the most part, indigenous and animated by imitation (cultural diffusion) or else was driven by an influx of dispersing populations (demic diffusion). We analyze the spatiotemporal dynamics of the transition using radiocarbon dates from 735 early Neolithic sites in Europe, the Near East, and Anatolia. We compute great-circle and shortest-path distances from each site to 35 possible agricultural centers of origin—ten are based on early sites in the Middle East and 25 are hypothetical locations set at 5° latitude/longitude intervals. We perform a linear fit of distance versus age (and vice versa) for each center. For certain centers, high correlation coefficients (R > 0.8) are obtained. This implies that a steady rate or speed is a good overall approximation for this historical development. The average rate of the Neolithic spread over Europe is 0.6–1.3 km/y (95% confidence interval). This is consistent with the prediction of demic diffusion (0.6–1.1 km/y). An interpolative map of correlation coefficients, obtained by using shortest-path distances, shows that the origins of agriculture were most likely to have occurred in the northern Levantine/Mesopotamian area

Personally, I’d go for Zagros/southern Turkey, but it’s close enough. I’m okay with the ‘ time at which the spread began can be estimated, under the same hypothesis of linearity (straight fits in Figure 2), to fall within the interval of 9,000–10,500 years before present (BP; uncalibrated years) or 10,000–11,500 BP (calibrated years)’; as domesticates turn up at about 10,500 in Cyprus, which would suggest the expansion started prior to then, which would suggest domestication of animals could be as much as 11,500 years old in the Mesopotamian area. This also bring the temple at Gobekli Tepe into the very early Neolithic (11,500 BP), although the rye at Abu Hureyra is still a bit of a problem to a simple, single start to the Neolithic.

Pinhasi and Pluciennik [26], in their analysis of craniometric affinities between populations, point to the homogeneity between Çatal Höyük and early Neolithic Greek and south-eastern European groups. This homogeneity contrasts with the pronounced heterogeneity found among other Pre-Pottery Neolithic groups in the Near East. On the basis of these results, they hypothesize that a founder population from central Anatolia (represented by specimens from Çatal Höyük) spread into south-east and central Europe. The results of the shortest-path analysis of the POAs could be consistent with their position, since they suggest that Çatal Höyük falls in the region adjacent to the one with the maximum R-values

We concur with Özdoan’s assertion that “an unbiased reassessment of the evidence strongly implies that there were multiple paths in the westward movement of the Neolithic way of life” ([36], pp. 51–52). Aceramic Neolithic levels at sites on Cyprus (late ninth millennium BC [calibrated]), Crete and the Argolid (eight and early seventh millennia BC [calibrated]) are strongly suggestive of an initial population dispersal wave from one or more centers in the Near East [37]. At the present time, it is unclear whether farming reached south-east Europe by means of a secondary demic expansion from Anatolia or as a continuation of the initial dispersal involving Cyprus, Crete, and mainland south-east Greece. In any event, Figure 3B does provide, at this stage of research, spatial information regarding differing grades of likelihood for tracing the origins of agriculture.

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