The Origins of Agriculture in Europe

The Origins of Agriculture in Europe

The Origins of Agriculture in Europe

The Origins of Agriculture in Europe

Synopsis

The Origins of Agriculture in Europe takes a look at current ideas in the light of a considerable mass of literature and archaeological evidence; examining the transition to agriculture through the comparison of social and economic developments across Europe.In this volume, I.J.Thorpe manages to evaluate various alternative explanations in detailed examples, whilst also succeeding in addressing the broader theoretical questions which form the nucleus of contemporary debates. This clearly written and accessible text is an extremely valuable resource for students of European prehistory.

Excerpt

A steadily growing body of information exists for the latest Mesolithic and earliest Neolithic of northwest Europe. This is the result of the continuing interest in the transition to agriculture in the region, and the impact that differing interpretations of this 'event' have on our understanding of the Neolithic in general. A variety of alternative positions have been adopted relating to this material-an essential continuity with pre-farming populations, or radical population change; the Neolithic as a result of necessity or choice; a swift development of a fully fledged agricultural economy, or horticulture within a landscape little changed from the Mesolithic; monuments as a later addition, or as an integral element of the Neolithic. Although continuing excavations (a number of these undertaken as a part of projects specifically examining the transition; e.g. the Bally Lough Project [Green and Zvelebil 1990] in Ireland and the Saltbæk Vig Project in Denmark [Gebauer and Price 1990]) have had a significant impact on the information available, there has so far been little attempt to set this within a wider framework, especially one of comparative analysis.

One element fuelling a vigorous debate is unquestionably the impact of radiocarbon dating. Some twenty years ago broad brush dating schemes based on a small sample of dates smoothed out variation, allowing for the possibility of a steady rate of agricultural advance across the whole of Europe (e.g. Ammerman and Cavalli-Sforza 1973). It is now widely argued, however, that a distinct hiatus, lasting several hundred years, occurred in the spread of agriculture after leaving the loess belt and before it reached the fringes of northwest Europe.

Although this gap is generally agreed to exist, interpretations of it are theoretically inadequate or only sketchily outlined, and explanations for the renewed spread of a farming economy across Europe are at present piecemeal and highly unconvincing. One major problem in interpretation is that the two main areas of northwest Europe concerned-Britain and southern Scandinavia-have tended to be studied in isolation, a separation made more complete by the development of divergent national traditions of archaeological research.

This study attempts to redress the balance by examining the transition to agriculture through the comparison of sequences of social and economic . . .

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