Exploring the Mesolithic and Neolithic Transition in Croatia through Isotopic Investigations

By Lightfoot, E.; Boneva, B. et al. | Antiquity, March 2011 | Go to article overview

Exploring the Mesolithic and Neolithic Transition in Croatia through Isotopic Investigations


Lightfoot, E., Boneva, B., Miracle, P. T., Slaus, M., O'Connell, T. C., Antiquity


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Introduction

Isotopic evidence indicates that Mesolithic people in Europe tended to be heavily reliant on aquatic foods, while Neolithic subsistence was dominated by agricultural products (Tauber 1981; Richards & Hedges 1999; Schulting & Richards 2001; see also papers in Bailey & Spikins 2008 and Price 2000, respectively). The Neolithic 'package' consisted of farming and non-farming elements, including domesticated crops, such as emmer wheat and barley; domesticated animals, including sheep, goats, cows, pigs and dogs; the use of pottery; and the establishment of permanent settlements (Whittle 1996). However, this suite of elements was neither adopted in its entirety nor at the same rate in every region (Eriksson et al. 2008; Bocquet-Appel et al. 2009; Gkiasta et al. 2003; Forenbaher & Miracle 2005).

Various models have been proposed for the spread of agriculture from western Asia, most famously Ammerman and Cavalli-Sforza's (1973) 'wave-of-advance' model. In this theory, agricultural communities have a demographic and dietary advantage over foraging groups, as farming can support a larger population per land unit (Bocquet-Appe12002; Bellwood & Oxenham 2008). The strict application of this model calls for a near-complete population replacement throughout Europe. At the other end of the spectrum is the argument that indigenous forager peoples adopted farming with little or no population movement (Dennell 1983). Although in some areas one or other of these extreme models may be accurate, it seems most likely that in others a combination of the two occurred, with interaction between forager and farmer groups (e.g. Gregg 1988; Zvelebil & Lillie 2000; Robb & Miracle 2007).

However, it is becoming increasingly clear that the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition in Europe was heterogeneous in both its manner (e.g. Tringham 2000) and speed (e.g. Gkiasta et al. 2003; Forenbaher & Miracle 2005; Bocquet-Appel et al. 2009). Thus regional studies examining the diversity of responses to incoming subsistence regimes, technologies or peoples are of growing significance (cf. Liden et al. 2004). The Balkan Peninsula is of particular importance since farming is thought to have entered Europe via this region. Here we use temporal and spatial comparisons of carbon and nitrogen stable isotopes from bone collagen to investigate the dietary changes that took place during this transitional period in coastal areas of Croatia, and so assess the diversity in Neolithic adaptation.

The spread of the Neolithic in south-east Europe and Croatia

The Balkans have traditionally been perceived as having a low Mesolithic population density, and having been rapidly colonised by agricultural immigrants (e.g. van Andel & Runnels 1995). More recently, scholars have argued for the presence of foragers, with distribution maps suggesting an aquatic adaptation (Boric 2005). Models for the spread of the Neolithic in the Balkans have therefore come to include a role for indigenous foragers, with a complex, 'mosaic' pattern of transformation (Tringham 1971, 2000; Zvelebil & Lillie 2000).

Croatia is particularly interesting as there are two main distinct ecological regions: the Adriatic coastal zone (Istria and Dalmatia), where agriculture was spread by seafarers (Forenbaher & Kaiser 2005); and the inland Pannonian basin, which received agriculture via an overland route (Chapman & Muller 1990). On the Adriatic coast, the beginning of agriculture is closely paralleled by the spread of Impressed Ware pottery (e.g. Chapman & Muller 1990) and population change seems to have played a large role in the transition to farming (e.g. Biagri 2003). Other models suggest a scenario whereby there is a combination of population movement and indigenous adoption (e.g. Forenbaher & Miracle 2005). The earliest Neolithic in continental Croatia belongs to the Starcevo culture which appears suddenly in c. …

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