Northern Europeans initially rejected the practice of farming while the rest of the continent was embracing the transition from foraging during the Neolithic period (New Stone Age), an international team of researchers has found.
Their findings, which have been published in the academic journal PLOS ONE, offer a ‘new wrinkle’ in the history of a major economic milestone that moved civilizations away from hunting and gathering as a means of survival to agriculture.
Lead author, Dr. Solange Rigaud, a researcher at CIRHUS (Center for International Research in the Humanities and Social Sciences) in New York City, said:
“It also reveals two different cultural trajectories that took place in Europe thousands of years ago, with southern and central regions advancing in many ways and northern regions maintaining their traditions.”
Examples of personal ornaments used by the last European foraging societies. (Image: nyu.edu)
Other co-authors included Professors Francesco d’Errico and Marian Vanhaeren from the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) in France. Prof. d’Errico also works at the Institute for Archaeology, History, Cultural Studies and Religion, University of Bergen, Norway.
Examining the ornaments people used
In order to study how Northern European societies developed, the researchers concentrated on the rejection or adoption of ornaments – specific types of bracelets and beads worn by different populations. Farmers and hunter-gatherers had different ornaments.
This approach has proven useful for understanding the spread of specific practices. Previous studies have shown a link between the adoption of specific ornaments and the embrace of survival methods.
This is the first study to use ornaments to trace the adoption of farming in Northern Europe during the Early Neolithic period, i.e. from 8,000 to 5,000 BCE (BCE = BC).
Anthropologists have long known that the first farmers came to Europe about eight-thousand years ago, starting off in Greece and marking the beginning of a major economic revolution on the continent – the transition from foraging to farming over the next 3,000 years.
How the pathways of the spread of farming during those millennia developed, however, are not so clear.
To explore this process, the research team examined over 200 bead-types found at more than 400 sites in Europe over a 3,000-year period.
Previous studies have associated foraging and farming populations with the creation and adornment of discrete types of pendants, bracelets and beads.
Examples of personal ornaments used by the first European farming societies. (Image: nyu.edu)
Dr. Rigaud and colleagues traced the adoption of ornaments associated with farming populations in order to determine how the transition from foraging and hunting to agriculture spread across Europe.
Ornaments showed southern Europeans adopted farming first
They found that the spread of ornaments associated with farmers – human-shaped beads and bracelets made of perforated shells – stretched from eastern Greece and the Black Sea shore to the Brittany region in France, and from the Mediterranean Sea northward to Spain.
However, these farmer-type ornaments were not found in the Baltic region of northern Europe, which appeared to hold on to the decorative wear typically used by hunter-gatherer populations – perforated shells instead of beads or bracelets found in the farming communities.
Dr. Rigaud said:
“It’s clear hunters and foragers in the Baltic area resisted the adoption of ornaments worn by farmers during this period. We’ve therefore concluded that this cultural boundary reflected a block in the advancement of farming–at least during the Neolithic period.”
The study was funded partly by the Fyssen Foundation, the Maria Sklodowska-Curie COFUND Action, and the French Ministry of National Education Research & Technology.
Citation: “Ornaments Reveal Resistance of North European Cultures to the Spread of Farming,” Solange Rigaud, Francesco d’Errico and Marian Vanhaeren. PLOS ONE. Published 8 April, 2015. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0121166.