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Mesolithic Hunter-Gatherers in the Carpathian Basin and the Spread of Agriculture in Europe, William J. Eichmann

Mesolithic Hunter-Gatherers in the Carpathian Basin and the Spread of Agriculture in Europe, William J. Eichmann

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Published by: ArchaeoinAction on Oct 15, 2010
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05/24/2012

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 Mesolithic Hunter-Gatherersin the Carpathian Basin 
 and the Spread of Agriculture in Europe
By William J. Eichmann..................................................................................
University of Wisconsin, MadisonArchaeological Institute of thewjeichmann@freemail.huHungarian Academy of Science1014, Úri u. 49, Budapest  Advisers: Dr. Eszter Bánffy and Dr. Róbert Kertész
..................................................................................
eminal research in the 1970’s resulted in the recognition that events in Transdanubia(western Hungary) during the 6 
th
millennium B.C. were pivotal to the spread of agriculture to north central Europe. Two perspectives have figured prominently in thedebate: 1) agriculture was directly spread by migrating agricultural populations; and 2)agriculture spread through the adoption of agricultural practices by indigenous hunter- gatherer populations. In Hungary the spread of agriculture has primarily been approached  from the perspective of the first farmers (Neolithic). Limited archaeological evidence from Mesolithic hunter-gatherers during the Early Holocene (~10,000-6,000 B.C.) in theCarpathian Basin has made it difficult to consider their role in the entire process. It is argued that the complex process of agricultural spread may be more comprehensible if research is specifically directed toward identifying long term evolutionary trends in Mesolithic hunter-gatherer society. This paper provides a summary of extant evidence fromthe Mesolithic and Neolithic in Hungary, with an emphasis on Transdanubia, and presents  some of the preliminary results of recent research on the Mesolithic 
.
161 
Introduction
 The prehistoric spread of agriculture was the impetus for one of the mostsignificant reorganizations of humansociety. In the middle 7
th
millenniumB.C. the first agricultural societies(Neolithic) in Europe appeared inGreece, and by the early 4
th
millenniumB.C. nearly the entire European
 
continent was more or less dependent on theby-products of domestic animals and plants. The Neolithic is often associated with thefirst ceramics and a more sedentary life in villages. Within the past quarter century theCarpathian Basin, and Transdanubia inparticular, has been identified as one of themore important regions for understandingthe Neolithization of Europe. Archaeology,as a discipline, developed in Europe duringthe mid to late 19th century (Trigger 1989). This long research tradition has produced anunprecedented volume of data for examiningthe spread of agriculture in Europe. V. Gordan Childe, an influential early dis-cussant, characterized the spread of agricul-ture as a revolutionary event in whichNeolithic societies demographically invigor-ated by a more efficient productive economy spread rapidly across the European conti-nent from an initial foothold in Southeast-ern Europe (Childe 1929). He consideredthat most important innovations of culturalimport, and especially agriculture, derivedfrom South West Asia or the Orient and were transmitted throughout Europe alongthe Danube corridor. Childe, an open Marx-ist, presented views that were at the timequite novel and contradictory to researchers who, often with strong nationalist senti-ments, advocated local origins for agricul-ture in Europe. Subsequent research hasconvincingly demonstrated that, as Childehad originally proposed, the earliest centerof agricultural origins relevant to Europe was indeed located in South West Asia (Bar- Yosef and Meadow 1995; Harris 1996). Thebasic route of agricultural expansion inEurope was theoretically established fromSouth West Asia, across the Anatolian Pen-ninsula, up the Balkan Peninsula, throughthe Carpathian Basin, and progressingnorthwards unto the North European Plain. Two basic mechanisms have been enlistedto explain the spread of agriculture: 1.) Migration – spread of agricultural societiesthrough movement of agriculturalists; 2.)Diffusion – indigenous hunter-gatherersadopt items, ideas and practices associated with agricultural society (domestic plantsand animals, pottery, etc.). Migration andDiffusion represent the ends of a variagatedspectrum of mechanisms, recently summa-rized by Zvelebil (2000), including folk migration, demic diffusion, elite dominance,community infiltration, leapfrog coloniza-tion, exchange in frontier zones, and region-al exchange. Apart from the slipperiness indefining and distinguishing between hunter-gatherers and farmers during transitionalstages (e.g. see Gronenborn 2003: 86; Smith2001), it certainly the case that agriculturespread through a variety of mechanisms withdifferent underlying causes at different timesand places. Determining which mechanismdominated in particular situations hingesupon the extent to which we can recognizecontinuity or discontinuity amongst differ-ent categories of archaeological evidence. Inorder to address the issue of continuity wemust incorporate a substantial understand-ing of long-term trends in the cultural evo-lution of the different peoples involved inthe process. In the case of the Transdanubiathis would include both early agricultural-ists, the Early Neolithic Starçevo cultureand Middle Neolithic Linearbandkeramik culture (LBK), in addition to the indigenousLate Mesolithic hunter-gather population. An informed examination of the transitionto agriculture in the Carpathian Basinshould consider both the long-term evolu-tionary trajectories of Mesolithic hunter-gatherers of indigenous origin and Neolith-ic agriculturalists of indeterminate indige-nous or exogenous origins. Unfortunately, with rare exceptions (see Kertész 1996b,
162 
Student Conference 2004
 
2002), there is almost no robust evidencebespeaking the existence of Mesolithic pop-ulations in Hungary.Strong evidence garnered from genetics of modern European populations (Richards2003; Richards, et al. 2000) andpalaeobotony (Schweizer 2001; Sümegi2004) suggest that Mesolithic hunter-gath-erers were present and partook in theneolithization of the Carpathian Basin andCentral Europe. However, minimal directarchaeological evidence for Mesolithichunter-gatherers has often prevented discus-sion from moving beyond hypotheticalstatements (e.g. Chapman 1985). This paperexamines the significance of Mesolithichunter-gatherers to the spread of agriculturein the Transdanubian region of Hungary andEurope in general. The following themesare high lighted: 1) the historical context andcurrent status of Mesolithic research inEurope and Hungary, with an emphasis on Transdanubia; 2) background to the originsand spread of Early Neolithic societies inEurope; 3) a more specific treatment of ourcurrent understanding of Early Neolithicsocieties in the Carpathian Basin, againemphasizing Transdanubia, and their role inthe transmission of agriculture to NorthCentral Europe; 4) possible directions forfuture research into Mesolithic hunter-gath-erer research in Hungary; and 5.) prelimi-nary results from research on the Hungarian Mesolithic by Róbert Kertész, Tibor Mar-ton, Eszter Bánffy, and myself. I argue that Mesolithic participants in the neolithizationof the Carpathian Basin have been under-represented for a variety of historical reasonsand insufficient research. The situation canbest be rectified through research aimed atrevision of poorly investigated sites of possi-ble Mesolithic origin in conjunction withprospecting for new sites.
 Mesolithic Hunter-gatherers and Their Dynamic Environment 
 The beginning of the Mesolithic period, or Middle Stone Age, is roughly coeval withthe shift from Glacial (Pleistocene) to non-Glacial (Holocene) climate in Europe,occurring at roughly 10,000 cal. B.C., or10,000 uncal. B.P. Changes in Climate hadsignificant impacts on European flora andfauna (Roberts 1989), as well as the humansdepending on these resources (Kozlowskiand Kozlowski 1979). The climatic and veg-etation changes that are associated withPleistocene-Holocene boundary have been well documented throughout Europe andHungary (e.g. Sümegi, Krolopp, et al. 2002);although the environmental changes associ-ated with the Holocene began earlier inHungary than the traditionally assigned dateof 10,000 B.C. Unlike many regions inEurope, the volume of archaeological evi-dence for Mesolithic hunter-gatherers insoutheastern Europe, and Carpathian Basinin particular, is conspicuously minimal dur-ing the Late Pleistocene and Early Holocene.Understanding the manner in whichhunter-gatherers adapted to dynamic cli-matic and environmental change is criticalto understanding the spread of agriculture. Traditionally, the long term evolutionary tendencies of southeastern EuropeanNeolithic societies are presented in painstaking detail. In Hungary Mesolithichunter-gatherers are generally only men-tioned when the two worlds collide, andeven then their behaviors and their very existance have remained primarily withinthe hypothetical realm.Research exploring the question of why agriculture may or may not have struck hunter-gatherers as an attractive subsistencestrategy has been explored in other parts of Europe and has significantly improved the
163 
Mr. William J. Eichmann. Mesolithic Hunter-Gatherers

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