Alluvial Landscapes in the Temperate Balkan Neolithic: Transitions to Tells. (Notes & News)

By Bailey, D. W.; Andreescu, R. et al. | Antiquity, June 2002 | Go to article overview

Alluvial Landscapes in the Temperate Balkan Neolithic: Transitions to Tells. (Notes & News)


Bailey, D. W., Andreescu, R., Howard, A. J., Macklin, M. G., Mills, S., Antiquity


Introduction

Relationships among cultivation patterns, settlement location and hydrology are fundamental to the Neolithic. Recent research has expanded Childe's original explanations for transitions to food production based on water location and availability (Childe 1936). Critical are river-system geomorphology and floodplain dynamics. We report on our Romanian fieldwork and its consequences for understanding the 5th-millennium BC shift leading to temperate Europe's first tells.

Context

Sherratt highlighted interplays among cultivation, settlement and hydrology (Sherratt 1980). Early cultivators exploited low-lying, wet, open areas, and practised small-scale, intensive cultivation. Labour investment was low; seasonal flooding replenished soils that supported wide ranges of plants and animals. Cultivation and settlement were spread out and spatially restricted. Later cereal cultivation was more extensive, in drier areas away from water-courses, and relied on rain-fall to feed crops. Labour was more intensive, requiring tree-clearance (first with polished stone and, later, copper axes). New species (e.g. winter-wheats) and increased dependence on barley secured cultivation success; new exploitations of livestock, especially cattle, provided novel labour sources. Sherratt provided a model for cultivation, and suggested social and economic consequences for varying planting regimes, soil-types and water provision. Water-source was critical. However, the model was general, not differentiating between regions nor focusing on specific sites. Complexities of individual river-system hydrologies drew little attention.

Three subsequent papers provide refinement. Halstead (1989) documented differences in climate, vegetation, precipitation, seasonal acuity and economies, to distinguish the northern, temperate, from the southern, Mediterranean, Balkans. Northern subsistence preferred variation, mobility and dispersal of temporary settlement; tell villages do not appear until the 5th millennium BC. To the south, predictability conditioned longer-term habitation; tells appear from 6500 BC. Van Andel (van Andel et al. 1995) detailed river-history, alluviation and settlement in the Trikala basin (Thessaly), showing that early emmer farmers established permanent villages in floodplains and exploited regular floods that freshened silts for cultivation. Davidson (1986) studied site location and geomorphology in the Drama Plain (Macedonia) and demonstrated that, here, Neolithic tells sat both on top of older alluvium and in areas of flooding.

Halstead inserted a north/south divide into Sherratt's model; Van Andel and Davidson's work confirmed Sherratt's conclusions for the south and documented geomorphologies for particular settlements. Our fieldwork in Romania supports and refines Halstead's north/south distinction. We report on the consequences for understanding 5th-millennium BC land-use change and the emergence of tells along lower Danube tributaries and for shaping further work.

Objectives

The Southern Romania Archaeological Project (SRAP) is investigating Neolithic land-use in the Teleorman River (FIGURE 1). Fieldwork follows Howard and Macklin's integrated archaeogeomorphology (Howard & Macklin 1999). A major objective is to understand the middle--late Neolithic shift (from 4500 BC) to permanent tell villages, a transition occurring across the temperate Balkans at the beginning of the 5th millennium BC. Why did people abandon a life-style of short-lived occupations of pit-huts and simple, surface-structures in order to establish permanent villages? Existing explanations are limited to needs for defensive fortification (Morintz 1962) or, unsatisfactorily, interpret change within a culture-historical approach. A second SRAP objective is to understand tell abandonment at the end of the late Neolithic (from 4000 BC)? Again, existing explanations are limited; Gimbutas' (1977) invasion hypotheses linger unhelpfully. …

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