Tag Archives: neolithic revolution

Milk consumed over eight thousand years ago in Europe and the near East

Earliest date for milk use in the Near East and southeastern Europe linked to cattle herding

Richard P. Evershed et al.

The domestication of cattle, sheep and goats had already taken place in the Near East by the eighth millennium bc. Although there would have been considerable economic and nutritional gains from using these animals for their milk and other products from living animals—that is, traction and wool—the first clear evidence for these appears much later, from the late fifth and fourth millennia bc. Hence, the timing and region in which milking was first practised remain unknown. Organic residues preserved in archaeological pottery have provided direct evidence for the use of milk in the fourth millennium in Britain, and in the sixth millennium in eastern Europe, based on the δ13C values of the major fatty acids of milk fat. Here we apply this approach to more than 2,200 pottery vessels from sites in the Near East and southeastern Europe dating from the fifth to the seventh millennia bc. We show that milk was in use by the seventh millennium; this is the earliest direct evidence to date. Milking was particularly important in northwestern Anatolia, pointing to regional differences linked with conditions more favourable to cattle compared to other regions, where sheep and goats were relatively common and milk use less important. The latter is supported by correlations between the fat type and animal bone evidence.

More on early dairy farming. I’m having a milk-based study day today.


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).

Animal domestication is older than previously thought

NY times article

Like this surprises me much, I’ve said before that it was older than claimed. At least this map agrees with my points of domestication (I did something similar a few months ago). I’ve always maintained Southern Turkey was the origin point of the Western Neolithic revolution.

The invention of agriculture was a pivotal event in human history, but archaeologists studying its origins may have made a simple error in dating the domestication of animals like sheep and goats. The signal of the process, they believed, was the first appearance in the archaeological record of smaller boned animals. But in fact this reflects just a switch to culling females, which are smaller than males, concludes Melinda Zeder, an archaeologist at the Smithsonian Institution.

Using a different criterion, that of when herds first show signs of human management, Dr. Zeder finds that goats and sheep were first domesticated about 11,000 years ago, much earlier than previously thought, with pigs and cattle following shortly afterwards. The map, from her article in the August 11 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows the regions and dates where the four species were first domesticated. Other dates, color-coded as to species, show where domesticated animals first appear elsewhere in the Fertile Crescent.

The earlier dates mean that animals were domesticated at much the same time as crop plants, and bear on the issue of how this ensemble of new agricultural species – the farming package known as the Neolithic revolution – spread from the Near East to Europe.

Some experts say the technology spread by cultural diffusion, others that the first farmers themselves moved into Europe, bringing their new technology with them and displacing the resident hunter gatherers.

Dr. Zeder concludes that both processes were involved. A test case is the island of Cyprus, where the four domesticated species of livestock appear as early as 10,500 years ago, replacing native fauna such as pygmy elephants and pygmy hippopotamuses (large animals often get downsized in island settings).

Since Cyprus lies 60 kilometers off the Turkish coast, the suite of agricultural species must have been brought there on boats by the new farmers. That establishes one episode of colonization, and Dr. Zeder sees evidence for several others. The second map shows, in red circles, the dates when farming colonists’ enclaves were set up around the Mediterranean.

Dr. Zeder believes that in France and Spain the indigenous hunter gatherers adopted the new farming technology by cultural diffusion (shown as green dots). The farmers themselves settled the regions that are now Turkey and the Balkans (red dots) but in surrounding areas they integrated with indigenous peoples (blue dots).

Dr. Zeder says her evidence indicates that several waves of settlers spread the new farming technology through the Mediterranean. It’s yet not known what drove the expansion, or what the relationship was between the colonists and the native inhabitants. Studies of ancient DNA, she said, may help test her thesis that farming spread through a mix of colonization and cultural diffusion.

The logic that is used to observe the livestock arriving in Cyprus is similar to my dating of agriculture arriving at Francthi cave; essentially multiple crop plants make a simulaneous appearance in Francthi cave about 11,000 years ago (500 years before cereals are seen).

A nicely dated map/timeline of the expansion of farming (well, it’s a bit out, as Francthi in Greece was 11,000 BP)

I’m feeling moderately smug now. Told ’em so.

The neolithic Turkish origin of Indo-European languages

Indo-European languages came from Turkey
Anna Salleh, 27 November 2003   

Evolutionary biologists have waded into the stormy debate over when and where Indo-European languages originated.

Dr Russell Gray and PhD student Quentin Atkinson from the University of Auckland in New Zealand have calculated this group of 87 languages – as diverse as English, Lithuanian and Gujarati – arose between 8000 and 9500 years ago.

Their findings were reported in today’s issue of the journal Nature and support the theory that Indo-European languages arose around this time among farming communities in Anatolia, now known as Turkey.

The main competing theory to the Anatolian farmer theory is that these languages originated 6000 years ago among nomadic Kurgan horsemen sweeping down from the Russian Steppes. Some researchers say they spread their language and genes across Europe “through the sword” and through the use of horses and horse-drawn vehicles, Gray told ABC Science Online.

“People have been puzzled since at least Sir William Jones noticed in 1786 that Sanskrit, an ancient language in India, bore striking similarities to Greek and to Latin and to English. Where did all those languages come from and when did they split up?” he asked. “What we’ve been doing is to try and answer that question and in particular to test the two current major views about the origins of the European languages.”

While evidence of horse-drawn wheeled vehicles supported the “power of the sword” Kurgan theory, Gray said the fact that certain genes become rarer as you get further away from the Turkish region supported the “much kinder, gentler” Anatolian farmer theory.

“People have had huge arguments about that,” said Gray, who decided to try and settle the question using a technique from a branch of research called molecular phylogenetics. This computational and statistical method compares genes and builds family trees by inferring when different biological organisms diverged during evolution.

“Language like biological species diverge with time,” Gray said.

Using vocabulary and grammar instead of genes, the researchers used the same method to build a “family tree” of Indo-European languages. This was the first time methods like these have been applied to finding the roots of Indo-European languages.

Gray said his study came up with a root date that agreed with the Anatolian farmer theory “unbelievably closely”. The researchers checked and double-checked their findings: “We did everything we could possibly think of, like changing different assumptions, to try and see if we could get a different date range.”

Evolutionary biologist Gray said the findings were bound to inflame rather than settle the debate and said there had been some “fairly vigorous responses” to the findings so far: “Some linguists have been fairly kind of agitated I guess, having people come in from the outside and saying look we can solve these problems.

I can’t say I’m the least bit surprised.