View Full Version : Interactions Between Hunter-Gatherers and Farmers in Early Neolithic in the North European Plain

Thursday, January 6th, 2005, 11:07 PM
By Arkadiusz Marciniak

1. The paper is intended to challenge a long-temporal approach to interactions between prehistoric European hunter-gatherers and farmers along with its focus on migration, acculturation, adaptation, and subsistence. This kind of approach produces a coarse explanation of the interaction mechanisms, which is neither conclusive nor supported by a firm empirical evidence. Instead, I would postulate a non normative and “down-to-earth” interpretation of the European Neolithic, including farmers’ relation with local foragers, that leaves aside economic background of relations between these two communities. They should rather been addressed at the level of every day activities aimed at creating and maintaining group’s stability and identity. Accordingly, I would call for more anthropological perspective as more appropriate in capturing the nature of these contacts.

An instructive example of this kind of approach is provided by a comprehension of contacts between the Linear Band Pottery and Lengyel farmers and Mesolithic hunter-gatherers on the Northern European Plain, prevailing in Central European (Polish) prehistoriography. A debate concerning the Early Neolithic has been considerably biased towards the emergence of food production and the mechanisms of its introduction in various ecological zones in the Central European uplands and lowlands. This process is believed to have consisted of two elements: direct colonization followed by acculturation of local foraging communities and independent transformation of these indigenous groups. The former scenario is believed to be far more common than the latter.

The earliest Neolithic communities appeared in Central Europe around 5485/5415 B.C. (4600/4500 bc). They are represented by the Linear Band Pottery Culture (Linearbandkeramik - LBK), which is dated in this part of the continent from 5415 to 4580 B.C. (4500-3800 bc). The first farmers reached the lowlands of Central Europe in the second half of the sixth millennium B.C., that is shortly after they appeared in the loess uplands.

The LBK phenomenon is linked with rapid and swift colonization of a new territory by early farmers from the Southeastern Europe, who brought with them a whole array of new material culture including pottery, house forms, stone technology and who were characterized by a new social organization and practiced mixed-farming subsistence. The external origin of early farming is even more convincing considering that none of the characteristic features of their material culture, not to mention domesticates were found in the Mesolithic communities preceding their farming successors.

The colonization of the uplands and lowlands made possible contacts with local hunter-gatherers that inhabited certain regions in the Northern European Plain prior to the arrival of farmers. These contacts are believed to lead, in a long run, to acculturation of the indigenous communities. This kind of normatively understood interaction between new farmers and local foragers is undoubtedly the most common way of explaining these relations. This is even so, when the empirical evidence of contacts between early farmers and local hunter-gatherers is very limited and hardly conclusive. Thus, an acculturation explanation is to large extent taken-for-granted.

A lack of empirical evidence is especially evident in case of contacts between early LBK farmers and local Mesolithic hunter-gatherers. Thus, it is postulated that the process of acculturation of local foragers on the North European Plain have not occurred along with the LBK colonization. Accordingly, it is argued that early farmers and hunter-gatherers contemporaneously occupied and exploited different, mutually exclusive ecological zones and contacts between these two communities did not exist or was very limited.

2. The relations between these two communities are equally ambiguous in the next phase of the development of farming communities in Central Europe. This phase is associated with the late phases of the Danubian tradition such as the Late Band Pottery, Stroke Ornamented Pottery, Lengyel, Polgár, Hinkelstein, and Rössen cultures and emergence of the Trichterbecherkultur. These are dated from 4580 to 4020/3970 B.C. (3800-3300/3200 bc). It is when the Neolithization of all the lowlands is believed to begin by acculturation. It is argued that the process of interaction was very complex, had different timing and depended upon the intensity of expansion by the Neolithic communities due to the attractiveness of new areas to be colonized as well as on the efficiency of the hunting-gathering economic system and on the degree of isolation of local communities from the Neolithic neighbors. The first contacts did not lead to the quick disappearance of local foragers.

Further development of farming communities in Kujavia, who previously occupied exclusively rich black soils, involved moves into poorly fertile sandy soils or even dunes and is associated with the end of colonization of this region (the first phases of Late Band Pottery). It is clear that the first original and independent local lowland early farming system emerged only in the phase, i.e. the Brze Kujawski group of the Lengyel culture. The Neolithization of Kujavian sandy soils was fully conducted by TRB groups, which was partly contemporaneous to the Lengyel culture in Kujavia.

A postulated scenario links disappearance of local foragers with its immediate transformation into of a new Neolithic community, which the archaeological manifestation in the Polish lowlands is to be the TRB. In fact, however, this hypothesis is still more of an assumption than a firm conclusion despite intense searching of the Mesolithic roots of this culture. The formation of the TRB was undertaken within the old agricultural tradition, which does not mean that in a dynamic spread of this culture in the lowlands did not contribute local hunter-gatherers, who assimilated and adopted this system into their own traditions. Assimilation of local hunter-gatherers took place only in later TRB phases. Despite this ambiguous evidence, the TRB is regarded as the first indigenous food-producing culture on the North European Plain, with beginnings going back as early as circa 4400 B.C. (about 3600 bc). Later developments led to the creation of a real “Neolithic revolution” with regard to contacts with indigenous foragers.

It is clear that some Mesolithic groups survived in some regions long into the late Neolithic and even the beginnings of the Bronze Age. A good example is provided by a recently excavated site at Chwalim in Western Poland. Its inhabitants practiced hunting, a dominant element of economic activity. No signs of animal breeding and farming were registered. The flint assemblages clearly referred to Late Mesolithic material, indicating that the Subboreal inhabitants of this site remained hunter-gatherers of the Mesolithic type. However, the pottery that has been found at this site indicates contacts with the Globular Amphorae Culture (GAC).

The second scenario of contacts between farmers and local foragers, far less influential among Polish archaeologists that the previous one, involves transformation of the latter as a result of difficult to specify and as always ambiguous ‘influences’ from farming centers. Some authors believe that local hunter-gatherers had contacts with processes of transformation that took place prior to those precisely defined as farming ones.

3. What I would like to propose here is to look at relations between these two groups from a more anthropological perspective, which paradoxically is better grounded in empirical material. It is worth noting that material and biological evidence of these interactions is the debris of everyday activities and thus should not be treated exclusively as representation of the general economic systems that structures these activities. Consequently, small-scale events, as less distanced from the archaeological record, are to be given prime interest over long-term changes explaining prehistoric phenomena on a larger scale. I would argue that these relations are better understood as viewed from the perspective of social changes in farming communities at the microscale that involve also changes in relative openness to the external world. This might be achieved by application of a different social theory, appropriate to this level of analysis, which looks at individual and/or community through categories such as agency, habitus, memory and/or identity, acting at different social scales such as domestic space and/or setting.

When viewed from the perspective, it becomes clear that the LBK communities created a very distinct spatiality and temporality. They were caught up in a web of images, signs and symbols and they lived in what Lefebvre calls a logic of metaphor embodied in spatialization. Of special importance were the longhouses these communities lived in, which were a means for creating social identity and a sense of becoming, and is where the everyday day of inhabitants was linked with the timeless and stable world of ancestors, securing stability and security for them. Equally important social and symbolic resource for these communities was cattle, which provided metaphors for the creation of the group and its identity. They stressed and signified ties and relations with living and previous generations.

The process of identity construction had clearly collective character element and there was almost no room for individuality to be articulated independently. Local identity was produced and created within the framework of connections between places and people, movements and exchange of different character, comprising contacts with other Neolithic groups and local foragers.

A new light is shed upon relation between early farming communities and local foragers when we are aware that the former were different in many respects from what is commonly believed and taken for granted, namely settled people with domesticated herds of animals and small fields around their settlements – more or less how contemporary peasants are viewed. Domestic animals, and possibly also cultivated plants were not the dominant contribution to the diet of the Early and Middle Neolithic communities in Europe. Thus, by analogy we can expect that the subsistence of early farmers was, to a large extent, based upon hunting and gathering as well as upon plant cultivation, which was especially evident in the lowlands, where the supplementation of subsistence by gathering of wild plants may have been especially efficient, considering the high productivity of the lowland habitat.

4. The process of differentiation of early farmers was intensified along with the expansion of these communities and with inevitable and gradual regionalization. The relation between ideology, the nature of social grouping (morphology) and household composition (space organization) is a key for understanding what happened in the Middle Neolithic and why this process was differently designed in various regions and at different times. Previously dominant villages/settlements with longhouses that were the basic social units creating definable groups and comprised a community space for early farmers eventually lost their significance. They were replaced by households in the middle and late Lengyel groups. At the same time, communality was moved to the tombs, a phenomenon manifested in the emergence of long barrows. This transformation of communality from houses into burial spots led to a more flexible and diverse character of the domestic domain, which resulted in the long run in the dynamic development of TRB communities and their dispersal over vast regions.

Thus, the post-LBK period was marked by departure from a normatively understood space and community and at the same time an introduction of individual, gender and kinship identities, which relations with communal self-identity were less closely tied. The sense of identity was created with reference to neighbors, including local foragers, who were encountered at a given place. So rather than acculturating foragers they have been ‘acculturated’ by them. Due to local peculiarities, this led to the creation of a considerable mixture of local communities having common elements. This process was parallel to the emergence of the household as another social entity, both of which were mutually intertwined.

A translation between these two communities was a continuous process which was never neutral as it was undertaken from certain location and embedded in local tradition. A number of cultural phenomena were appropriated and recontextualized by the groups which emerged from the encounter between early farmers and local hunter-gatherers. This led to emergence of a cultural mosaic and various coexisting communities, which was a characteristic feature the Middle Neolithic in Central Europe.

5. In this paper I postulated a rejection of normatively and mechanistically understood long term changes explaining relation between prehistoric farmers and foragers in favor of more anthropological perspective focusing on everyday activities. Models referring to migration followed by acculturation and/or independent evolution of local communities turned out to be insufficient in capturing complexity of various factors at play in a given setting and thus explaining a wide variability among observed communities. A fine-grained perspective offers a more appropriate recognition of these interactions. It shows that difference in temporal scales between archaeology and social anthropology is not irremovable obstacle in studying these relations.

Source: http://www.abdn.ac.uk/chags9/1Marciniak.htm