Tag Archives: mesolithic

Mesolithic mortuary ritual at Franchthi Cave, Greece

Mesolithic mortuary ritual at Franchthi Cave, Greece

Franchthi is a oddly important site as it seems to document an expansion from Southern Anatolia in the Mesolithic into SE Greece. What isn’t mentioned below is that lentils, bitter vetch, almond and pistachio appear rather suddenly at 13,500 BP, not seen before that date, which strongly suggests (to me) that they are being grown there, not native prior to that point. Oats appear later, by about 500 years.

The Mesolithic inhabitants of the cave based their livelihood on a wide spectrum of resources, hunting red deer, pigs, and a range of smaller prey, fishing, and collecting nuts, land-snails, shellfish, fruits, legumes, and, for the first time, cereals. Hansen (1991: 119) reports ‘a dramatic increase in the quantity and variety’ of recovered plant remains at this time. An enormous leap in the number of seeds recovered from Franchthi – from 697 seeds representing 19 species at the end of the Upper Palaeolithic to almost 28,000 seeds from 27 species in the Lower Mesolithic – suggests not only a diverse subsistence base but also considerable activity during this phase of use of the cave

Having read through the papers I have, I know that a swap from a hunter gatherer lifestyle to a farming one results in a decrease in marine protein and an uptake in terestrial animals, as well as a large increase in the amount of vegetable matter consumed. The main subject of the papers is the cremations, and remarks on the cultural similarities to Grotta dell’ Uzzo in Italy, which is something I’ll have to look up.

Palaeodiets of Humans and Fauna at the Spanish Mesolithic Site of El Collado

Palaeodiets of Humans and Fauna at the Spanish Mesolithic Site of El Collado

The first human stable isotope results from the Spanish Levant, from the Mesolithic (ca. 7500 BP, Mesolithic IIIA phase) site of El Collado (near Oliva, Valencia) provide evidence for the consumption of marine protein by humans, estimated at approximately 25% of the dietary protein for some individuals. Isotopic analysis of human remains from other coastal Mesolithic sites in Europe, particularly along the Atlantic coast, also shows significant consumption of marine foods, but the amount of marine food consumed by the El Collado humans was much less than at those sites. This may be because of a different dietary adaptation or because the Mediterranean is much less productive than the Atlantic.


Figure 1. Spanish sites with Mesolithic human remains. 1, Abric del Cingle Vermell (Catalonia); 2, Cueva de Los Azules I (Asturias); 3, Cueva de Balmori (Asturias); 4, Poza l’Egua (Asturias); 5, Cueva de Nerja (Malaga); 6, El Collado (Valencia); 7, Cueva de Colomba (Asturias); 8, Cueva de los Canes (Asturias); 9, Abrigo de Aizpea (Navarre); 10, Cuartamentero (Asturias); 11, Colombres (Asturias); 12, Molino de Gasparı´n (Asturias); 13, Cueva de Mazaculos II (Asturias); A, Asturias, with a series of closely located sites. On the basis of the lithic material, Aparicio (1992, 89) placed the Mesolithic occupation of El Collado between 10,000 and 6500 BC, with the phase of most intense utilization around 7500–6500 BC. Subsequently, two radiocarbon determinations made on human bone from burial 12 yielded the ages of BP and BP (Aparicio 7,570160 7,640120 1992; Pe´rez-Pe´rez et al. 1995), which calibrate to 6630–6250 BC (Stuiver and Reimer 1993; Stuiver, Reimer, and Reimer.

It seems that everyones ancestors ate a lot of seafood if they lived on the coast.

Using ancient DNA to examine genetic continuity at the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition in Portugal

Using ancient DNA to examine genetic continuity at the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition in Portugal

Two main mechanisms for the introduction of agriculture at the transition from the Mesolithic to the Neolithic in Portugal have been proposed: indigenous adoption and colonisation. Distinguishing between these mechanisms can be regarded as a question of genetic continuity or discontinuity at the transition. A genetic comparison of late Mesolithic and early Neolithic populations at the transition using ancient DNA is described here. Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) was extracted from human remains collected in several Mesolithic sites of the Sado estuary and from Neolithic cave sites. Phylogenetic analysis, based on the mitochondrial hypervariable region 1 (HVSI), and comparison with DNA from modern European populations was performed. The absence of mtDNA haplogroup J in the ancient Portuguese Neolithic sample suggests that this population was not derived directly from Near Eastern farmers. The Mesolithic and Neolithic groups show genetic discontinuity implying colonisation at the Neolithic transition in Portugal.

A study of Mesolithic and Neolithic Mt DNA from sites inPortugal.


J shows iself to be absent from the Mesolithic and Neolithic samples, and there was some loss of diversity in less common Hg’s. There’s a fair difference between the Mesolithic and Neolithic samples, suggestin population discontinuity-probably a large amount of immgration at the start of the neolithic, although the lack of J suggests this wasn’t from the near East



It also mentions isotope studies on the bones show a very abrupt change from the Meolithic Maritime diet to the land based Neolithic diet, the same as in Britain.

Mesolithic Iberia pdf’s

The Mesolithic of Iberia


Re-thinking the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition in Iberia: a view from the West.

Bookmarked pdfs, for those interested. Unread by me as yet, they’ll have to wait until later!

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.

Possible evidence for Mesolithic agriculture in Europe.

Mesolithic agriculture in Switzerland? A critical review of the evidence.

February 2007.  

Accumulating palaeobotanical evidence points to agricultural activity in Central Europe well before the onset of the Neolithic, commonly dated at ca 5500–5200 cal BC. We reinvestigated an existing pollen profile from Soppensee with refined taxonomical resolution by further subdividing the Cerealia pollen type into Triticum t. and Avena t. because the sediments at this site currently provide the highest temporal resolution and precision for the period of interest among all sites in Switzerland. Our new results are in agreement with previous high-resolution investigations from Switzerland showing scattered but consistent presence of pollen of Cerealia, Plantago lanceolata, and other cultural plants or weeds during the late Mesolithic period (6700–5500 cal BC). Chronologically, this palynological evidence for sporadic agricultural activities coincides with a major break in material culture at ca 6700 cal BC (i.e. the transition from early to late Mesolithic). Here, we review possible arguments against palaeobotanical evidences of Mesolithic agriculture (e.g. chronological uncertainties, misidentification, contamination, long-distance transport) and conclude that none of these can explain the consistent pollen pattern observed at several sites. The palynological evidence can, of course, not prove the existence of pre-ceramic agriculture in Central Europe. However, it is so coherent that this topic should be addressed by systematic archaeobotanical analyses in future archaeological studies. If our interpretation should turn out to be true, our conclusions would have fundamental implications for the Neolithic history of Europe. Currently, it is intensely debated whether Central European agriculture developed locally under the influence of incoming ideas from areas where Neolithic farming had already developed earlier (e.g. southeastern Europe) or whether it was introduced by immigrating farmers. On the basis of our results, we suggest that agriculture developed locally throughout the late Mesolithic and Neolithic. Mesolithic trading networks connecting Southern and Central Europe also support the hypothesis of a slow and gradual change towards sessile agriculture, probably as a result of incoming ideas and regional cultural transformation.

Unfortunately I can’t reproduce the whole article here. But I have the conclusion..

Indications of agricultural activity during almost the entire late Mesolithic are recorded in many pollen profiles. It seems highly unlikely that the palynological evidence of cultivated plants and adventive weeds could have originated from sources other than Mesolithic agriculture in the region, though we cannot completely exclude this reservation. The archaeological evidence is still less clear. The few credible radiocarbon dates suggest a chronological framework for the late Mesolithic between 6700 and 5500 cal BC, and the beginning of the proper Neolithic (i.e. agriculture,livestock, pottery and stone axes) around the middle of the sixth millennium BC. There is no credible evidence of bones from domesticated animals (with exception of dogs) from late Mesolithic assemblages, whereas in the early Neolithic goat and sheep (imported animals) played animportant role.

Considering the general palaeovegetational patterns and their chronology, we postulate a connection between the occurrence of the earliest cereal and weed pollen and thes triking cultural change at the transition from the early tot he late Mesolithic.

Equivalent developments can be observed in large parts of Europe. Agricultural adoption by indigenous hunter-gatherers as opposed to the partial or wholesale immigration of agriculturalists is a complex issue. Our combined palaeobotanical and archaeological evidences are in favour of the hypothesis of a gradual change, probably owing to incoming ideas and regional cultural transformation. In the Near East and in southern Europe (Greece, Italy), a pre-ceramic (or aceramic) Neolithic had developed before the onset of pottery-based agriculture. This innovation (cultivation of cereals without ceramic production) reached continental Greece at about the end of the eighth millennium BC and southern Italy at ca 7000 cal BC

Our systematic finds of pollen of cereals and weeds are younger than these dates (first clusters around 6600–6500 cal BC, although one single Triticum pollen grain occurred at ca 7800 cal BC at Soppensee).However, if they represent agricultural activities, such a rapid spread of agriculture across the European continent (reaching almost simultaneously Bavaria in the east and France in the west) could be explained by dynamic Mesolithic (exchange) networks transporting the idea of agriculture. Moreover, the material culture of the Central European late Mesolithic probably developed autochthonously, but with strong influences from the Mediterranean region. Given the striking change in material culture at 6700 cal BC we cannot, however, reject the hypothesis of an immigration of people from southern Europe that may have influenced local Mesolithic groups. Similarly, combined palaeobotanical and archaeological data (gradual increase of pollen indicative of agricultural activity over centuries, high continuity in silex culture) suggest that the proper Neolithic at ca 5500 cal BC developed autochthounously and that immigration of people as suggested for the loess areas of Central Europe was of minor relevance, which is corroborated by recent genetic results.

 Nonetheless, considering the disagreement with other palaeogenetic studies, more localised genetic samples are needed tothoroughly address this question.

The unambiguous proof for early (pre-ceramic) agricultural activities in Central Europe requires finds of cereal macroremains The lack of suchf inds in Switzerland is a consequence of two reasons. Owing to the (humid) climatic conditions resulting in very high biological activity and thus high decomposition ratesin the soils, such grains are seldom preserved in an archaeological context in Central Europe As a matter of fact, Swiss late Mesolithic archaeological excavations yielded no finds of any plants at all, except from charcoal and carbonised Corylus nutshells. Of course, this does not mean that other plant resources were not used by the late Mesolithic people. Instead, it rather mirrors poor preservation conditions and especially the complete lack of systematic archaeobotanical analyses. Given the palynological indications for agricultural activities, the inclusion ofarchaeobotanical, archaeozoological and palynological approaches is highly desirable for future archaeological investigations covering the late Mesolithic period. Indeed,cereal grains may have been occasionally charred (e.g. in orclose to a fire place). Unambiguous evidence such as cereal grains within cultural layers older than 5500 cal BC would imply the presence of a pre-ceramic Neolithic in Central Europe, which would correspond to what is currently called the late Mesolithic period.

One of the plants he names as being common is P. lanceolata, plantian (a wheat field weed). He suggests a moblile life where crops are planted and then left, which would definitely be very interesting. What really needs to be done is sift through the fire remains to find cereal grains.

Interestingly, someone else shares my view that Mesolithic Europeans could have been planting nut trees. Would this be a ‘Mesolithic revolution’?

From ‘The Cambridge World History of Food’.

During the Mesolithic, hazelnut bushes spread rapidly to many parts of Europe, as evidenced by pollen diagrams. This is in contrast to the vegetation development of the earlier interglacials. Hazelnuts are heavy, with low dispersal rates, so that it is very unlikely that the plant diffused unaided to all parts of northern Europe at the same time. Instead, it has often been assumed that hazelnuts were culturally dispersed by Mesolithic peoples (Firbas 1949: 149; Smith 1970: 81—96). Indeed, the distribution of these nuts is recorded by pollen analysis in the Mesolithic layer of Hohen Viecheln at the border of Lake Schwerin in northern Germany (Schmitz 1961: 29).

I suggest that someone takes a trip to the area around Francthi cave in Greece, and starts searching for lentil, almond, pistachio and vetch pollen. If it is absent before about 11,000 BP, that would more or less prove that those plants were imported and cultivated prior to grains, and it would place agriculture in Europe at 2,000 years earlier.

Early Eurasian ceramics.

Lets’s start by listing the known dates and locations… (source)

  • Fukui Cave, Japan (Jomon), calibrated at 13,900 BC to 12,300 BC.
  • Gaysia site, Amur river, Russia, calibrated at 14,050 to 13,200 BC.
  • Khummi site, Amur river, Russia, calibrated at 14,300 to 13,650 BC.
  • Odai Yamamoto 1 site, Japan, calibrated at 14,900 to 14,250 BC.
  • Ust-Karenga , nearer lake Baikal, calibrated at 11,800 to 10,500 BC.

This makes the oldest Jomon pottery now about 16,500 years old, Russian 16,000 years old

Given the distribution pattern of the pottery, i’d say it spread along the river pretty quickly. The Russian sites are in the Osipovka complex, and further west at the Ust-Karenga complex.