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The Mesolithic - Neolithic Transition

Responsible for the view that the people of the Neolithic were agriculturalists that immigrated from elsewhere
Part of the post processual school of archaeology that has developed the opinion it was an idealogical shift
It was a period of a "new way of thinking" manifested in material culture such as pottery and burial rites
Rowley - Conwy
Idealogical approaches make a number of assumptions, slow process, still mainly hunter-gatherers, constant
Rowley Conwy
Processualists try to separate the economic change and the idealogical change
Case and Legge
You need a substancial organised agricultural population in order to build monuments
Rowley Conwy
In northwest of europe if subsistence was intensifying the population density might have allowed for monuments
Rowley Conwy
Relies on the population being artificially low before the transition to the Neolithic period is made
Rowley Conwy
Intensification varied, higher population in coastal regions which were easier to exploit for food sources
Hunter gatherer societies develop and then crash as they are dependant on availability and conditions, whereas agriculture guards against this
Hunter - gatherers had lesser fertility rates due to their nomandic existence
Plays down the economic importance of husbandry as just a symbolic part of feasting and ritual exchange
Rowley Conwy
Tended to interpret evidence as showing wheat cultivation of little importance in the Mesolithic, diet mainly contained wild apple/pear, weeds and nuts
Rowley Conwy
Hazelnuts more visible in size to excavators so more likely to take a sample, cereals are intended to be eaten so leave no trace, weeds are discarded in the process of preparing the crop and thrown on fire so preserved
Rowley Conwy
Thinks was mainly a cereal economy, only represented in its waste products
Thought there was a rapid shift from a mainly marine to mainly meat based diet - using the example of Ravgrav in Sweden
An inland population could only support itself through agriculture, which they were forced to develop due to the rise in sea level? In Denmark and Sweden can now see these transition sites above water
Mesolithic society was a pale reduction of what existed in the bounteous Ice Age, a cultural devolution period waiting for the Neolithic
Appearance of small specialized flint implements interpreted as tools to exploit aquatic resources
In the 1980's now deemed as an "essential prelude" to advances in the development of culture in the Neolithic
Period between 10,000 B.C.E and 8,000 - 5,500 B.C.E
Shouldn't try to develop a "Mesolithic Package" of what characterised the era, was simply the time before agriculture fully emerged
More than just an economic but a social advancement as well, neither approach does justice to the development
Due to Childe's orginal understanding of the era there has been a lack of interest in its research untill the last 20 years
Defined the technocomplex: the highest level of group cultures share the same general features, but different types of the same families of artifact, diffused and interlinking
Material culture is responce to common environmental, economical and technological factors
Retouched tools show deliberate signs of modification, into geometric shapes, transverse arrow heads, developing bow and arrow technology
Tools more efficient, had a narrower tip and a broader cutting edge
Believes was practices and equipment of a specific social group, loose the rich different presentations over Europe
Rowley Conwy and Zvelebil
Merely having access to domesticated resources does not mean you are dependant on them or a crisis in wild resources
Unsatisfactory as still implies necessary link between subsistence practices and other parts of culture, the transition is not limited to the existence of certain artefacts
Ammerman and Cavalli- Sforza
Early farming and the Neolithic are synomymous, used radio carbon determinations from only one region and inferred in others that cereals must have been used
Ammerman and Cavilli - Sforza
"Wave of advance" model, fuelled by population rise and gradual continuous expansion due to the reliability of agricultural subsistence
Importance of "frontier zones" between Mesolithic and Neolithic societies, developed where the spread of the Neolithic temporarily halted, demonstrated in a number of sites with pottery, stone points and domesticated bones far away from the loess country
Close contact necessay for artefacts to be shared and new skills learnt, through visiting or exchange of marriage partners? clearly aware prior to 400BC so what cause shift?
Hunting and gathering not just for food but part of experience and understanding of the landscape
Landscape embodies vital forces, patterns that link humans, animals, the supernatural and places
- landscape provides, animals are like a type of person who gives up flesh and energy for respect
Case Study
Star Carr - was revisited time and again, normally more short lived but a place where transformations could occur
- bones into artefacts to extend human agency e.g. antler frontlets whittled down to look like a young deer
- also ritual deposition of these items
Mesolithic landscapes human,animal,nature,spiritual and material connected
- Neolithic was introduction of husbandry into landscape that maintained most of its Mesolithic character, now negotiating relationships between the living and dead
Neolithic monuments were places for transforming the dead, circulated socially and not confined
e.g. Holm in Dumfries burnt down and re-built 8 times
Indicates elaboration of places where materials could be transformed into artefacts to enhance the human body, very often same placees as in Mesolithic
Case Study: Ascott-under-Wychwood
Was built on top of scatters of Mesolithic artefacts, cairn with a separate back chamber where remains were found and a forecourt where ritual activity could take place
- the at some point this was then blocked off so as the supernatural became increasingly separated from everyday life, after the first 5 centuries of the Neolithic
Destinctive break came by distancing the dead, anything supernatural became restricted to certain places
Used the same patterns of movement in the earlier Neolithic
Seems to be a switch from marine to other meats, shellfish associated with the Mesolithic so may be part of taking on a new Neolithic identity
- shellfish still there must have been deliberately avoided
Suggests idea that small group of colonists bought Neolithic ideas over by boat, this and the idea of invasion to not properly explain the disappearance of Mesolithic culture
- assumes Mesolithic people were not familiar with any aspect of Neolithic culture e.g. pottery
- relies on idea Britain culturally isolated after the disappearance of the land bridge in the mid Mesolithic
Combats criticisms, did expand and then stop, but this was a time of cultural hybiridation
- ethnographical studies show easy movement between groups and to adopt a new material culture
Hard to explain how mesolithic disappeared so fast, beginning of the Neolithic must have been period of vast expansion
Invasion required high level of social organisation, small independant migrations would not have caused such dramatic change
- indigenous population must have had a role, Neolithic must have been easy to adopt