The Neolithic Transition and European Population History

By Crombe, Philippe; Van Strydonck, Mark | Antiquity, September 2004 | Go to article overview

The Neolithic Transition and European Population History


Crombe, Philippe, Van Strydonck, Mark, Antiquity


In volume 295 of Antiquity M. Gkiasta et al. (2003) discussed the results of two sets of analysis carried out on a "new" database of radiocarbon dates: one for the whole of Europe examining the spread of the Neolithic, and one regional approach looking at the relation between Mesolithic and Neolithic dates. Although we are convinced of the potential of both approaches, we do have some major comments on the methodology.

First of all the analyses were conducted on a highly incomplete database. As the authors state on their p. 48, the analysed database currently includes over 2600 samples. Many of them, however, had already been collated in Gob's Atlas of [sup.14]C dates (1990). Although the authors have included new dates, we do not believe that this has been done very systematically. For the Belgian territory, for example, virtually all the dates used in the article were those published by Gob--16 Mesolithic dates and 30 Neolithic dates. The authors justify this by referring to the bad state of publication and public availability of radiocarbon dates in Europe. This certainly does not hold for the Belgian territory. In the last decade over a hundred new Mesolithic and Neolithic dates have been produced, the majority published in journals available world-wide such as Radiocarbon (Van Strydonck et al. 1995; 2001a), Antiquity (Crombe et al. 2002), Archaeometry (Cauwe et al. 2002) proceedings of the international congresses such as [sup.C] and archaeology (Crombe et al. 1999) and The Mesolithic in Europe (Crombe 1999), and the IRPA- datelists (Van Strydonck et al. 2001b; Van Strydonck et al. 2002). The authors assert that these "shortcomings" to the database probably do not affect their conclusions. This is a rash and provocative statement, which minimises all recent progress in absolute dating of the European Mesolithic and Neolithic. We believe that for the Belgian situation a hundred new dates can make a difference. In recent years, for example, these new dates have allowed a thorough revision of Mesolithic chronology (Crombe 1999; Van Strydonck et al. 2001 a) and a refinement of the (early) Neolithic chronology (Jadin & Cahen 2003). This will certainly also be the case for the other study-areas in Europe.

We also have questions about the way the radiocarbon dates have been selected in this study. On p. 48 it is mentioned that the same criteria as Gob used in his 1990 publication were applied to exclude dates from the datelist. However, Gob's criteria are not always very clear and sharply defined. Although he claims that his judgements are largely based on parameters such as sample quality, sample treatment and the degree of association between the dated sample and the archaeological material and/or feature, we do observe in his publication a number of contradictions and inconsistencies. For instance, some well-associated dates are rejected, while some badly associated samples are accepted. To illustrate this we would like to refer to two Belgian examples. A first example concerns the Late Meolithic site of Brecht "Moordenaarsven 2" (Gob 1990: 58), which is dated by three dates on charcoal ranging between 6270[+ or -]120 BP and 7990[+ or -]110 BP. Although all three have a bad spatial association, two dates are accepted as reliable without further comment by Gob, while the third one has been rejected. At the LBK-site of Darion (Gob 1990: 58), on the other hand, from a total of six charcoal dates (ranging between 6145[+ or -]145 BP and 6770[+ or -]75 BP), two are eliminated by Gob. Yet, all six dated samples had a good spatial association with the archaeological material, as they were retrieved from pits and postholes. Similar inconsistencies can be observed in the datelists for other European countries in Gob's atlas of 1990. We believe that many of these judgements are guided by typological criteria. As such, dates that fall outside the typo-chronologically expected time-range are rejected from the inventory.

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