The Archaeology of People: Dimensions of Neolithic Life

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If there is no population pressure, nothing is changing, i. However, as highlighted by T. Malthus, human population is growing faster than food resources provided by agricultural production and obviously, faster than food resources provided by foraging. So, once population pressure is introduced, so is the evolution of human society. An infinite motion starts, leading from foraging to farming society, then to the development of cities and the emergence of states. The underlying mechanism is the following: when population grows, the demand of food resources increases.

To satisfy this additional demand, more food is gathered, new food resources are gathered while they were not before and people are trying to improve their labor productivity. All these changes in the food procurement strategy necessitate more cooperation among HG, more collective works, like groups contribution to larger-scale technologies or the formation of alliances to defend resources. Therefore, these changes imply the emergence of a class of non-food producers including chiefs, soldiers, traders, priests, craftsman ….

Although this class contributes, directly or not, to enhance the level of food resources, it also demands more food resources for their own consumption.

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Consequently the economy shifts to a second stage of development. Population pressure critics argue that because many societies possess methods for controlling fertility via delayed marriage, prolonged lactation, induced abortion or infanticide, the population level needs never reach any Malthusian limits, exceed carrying capacity or feel any of the supposed effects of an imbalance of persons to resources. Some authors 37 maintain that population pressure alone could not have played a critical role since there is no archaeological evidence of food crises prior to the development of agriculture.

The various theories of the Neolithic transition illustrated above and based on push factors, related either on climate change 21 or on population pressure, 36 are sharing a common thread: the transition to agriculture occurs when there is an excess demand for food resources. The latter can result from the negative impact of climate change on environment. It may also appear when population growth exceeds the carrying capacity of environment.

Alasdair Whittle

We therefore see that despite the diverse contributions of the economic literature in explaining the Neolithic Revolution, population pressure, in most cases, is the ultimate driving force behind the transition to agriculture. However this force is considered as a constraint. Indeed, people must adapt their strategy to get food in order to satisfy the excess demand, otherwise they die or at least some of them will die. In that case adaptation is considered as it is in biology, as a selection process, i.

We claim that even if there are facing some constraints, like the ones related to the environment, human societies largely decide their evolution. In other words, adaptation is largely endogenous in the social evolution. Therefore, the Neolithic transition can be the result of voluntary human adaptation, i. In order to illustrate our point of view we recall that, as it is usual in the biological evolutionist approach, evolution is assumed to transform most of the time - simple systems to complex domains and climate change is the perfect candidate for that purpose. In that case, the resulting ecosystems are worse than before, with greater scarcity of food resources, for example as a result of a drought.

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  • In order to survive, i. In that case, the resulting ecosystems support more abundant and diverse plants and animals. As a result, food procurement is easier for HG who therefore has more time for leisure and for experimenting with cultivation and the domestication of plants and animals. They may settle and have more children. More fundamentally, these alternatives demonstrate that in social evolution, opposite causes a negative or a positive shock may have the same consequence, i. Another case may also lead to agriculture from conscious adaptation, i.

    Such transformation may have occurred during the early Holocene. During that period, postglacial environmental transformations 38 have led to the diversification of food resources, i. In others words, social competition for prestige in HG societies occurred endogenously, without constraint and it led, by means of conscious adaptation, to the rise of agriculture.

    However this theory considers that farming was highly desirable from the earlier stages of agriculture development. In addition to the previous one, there are several others major problems with this theory about the Neolithic transition. One is that without explaining the underlying causes of competitive feasting, it fails to explain the development of agriculture and simply describes the process. Another problem comes from the fact that the surpluses needed for competitive feasting only became available as an outcome of food production not before.

    There is a debate among economists about whether economic development depends more on nature or on culture. This has led to the existence of two views or school of thoughts: for the first one, natural resource endowments Biogeographic and geographic conditions are the prime determinant of economic development while institutions are central to the second one. Of course each of these two views provides a different explanation of the Neolithic transition, i. After, 41 the various levels of economic development among societies were widely explained by differences in geographic and biogeographic conditions.

    Geographic conditions 42 include climate, latitude, soil, rain, orientation of continental axis … ; biogeographic conditions consist of edible plants and animals suitable for domestication and cultivation. They mainly refer to respectively large-seeded grasses and large mammals.

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    It should be noted that geographic and biogeographic conditions do not have separate influence; they have a combined influence on plants and animals. Indeed, every plant or animal has certain habitat and environmental preferences. As such, they can only be cultivated and bred within their tolerance limits. Some of the necessary conditions for agriculture to emerge are more easily identified when the diffusion of agriculture is studied rather than its origins.

    Indeed, in some areas the diffusion of agriculture has been hindered by geographical conditions hills, mountains, rivers, seas. In some others areas, it has even been stopped by disease - in sub-Saharan Africa, cattle herding was not possible due to the presence of tsetse fly or by ecological barriers such as the one that existed in the Carpathian Basin 44 where plants and animals reached in this place their tolerance limits and this stopped the diffusion of agriculture from the Balkans.

    Implicitly or not, these works consider that institutions only have second-order effects on the economic development. Organizations are made up of groups of individuals bound together by some common purpose to achieve certain objectives. On the basis of the previous definition, some authors 51 argue that the major impact of the environment on economic development runs through its long-lasting impact on institutions. Among the various forms of the latter, the implementation of private property rights is considered 52 to be one of the main necessary conditions for the Neolithic revolution to occur.

    To account for the difference of economic development among countries, various types of institutions have been defined: 53 inclusive ones favored economic growth whereas extractive ones lead - after a while - to crisis, economic and social collapses. Even though natural endowments were important in enabling agriculture to become established one should not conclude that geographic or biogeographic determinism existed.

    The Archaeology of People: Dimensions of Neolithic Life - Alisdair Whittle - Google книги

    Indeed, some resources were crucial at one point of time and of less importance later, due to innovation 17 or because they became more abundant through trade. Similarly, when we talk about necessary eco-geographic conditions, we immediately think of edible plants and animals suitable for domestication. However, a critical resource may not necessarily be a food resource.

    For instance, during the Neolithic period agriculture was highly dependent on stone tools, especially on stone axes used for forest clearance. Although they were not a staple food, stone tools were therefore a critical resource for the agricultural system indeed some of these stones especially obsidian were traded on several hundred kilometers from their origin area 54 which confirms that they were highly valuable. Therefore, resource endowments were important in enabling agriculture to become established while they were not unimportant for its sustainability; institutions assumed increasing importance after agriculture was established and were also important for continuing development.

    In other words, both factors were important but their relative importance varied along the development path of the agricultural system. For instance, human capital accumulation and intergenerational transmission of knowledge were also necessary conditions; 4 consequently a symbol system 18 was required for that purpose. According to a recent publication, 55 this combined influence of both factors could be explained through the following mechanism.

    If we consider any center e. Eurasia where initially agriculture emerged, we must distinguish between the core and the periphery of this region. In the core e. This is because the institutions implemented in the core were extractive. In the periphery e. Despite their later start, these countries are nowadays more developed compared to the Near-Eastern countries - because their institutions were inclusive from the beginning. Therefore, this third view assumes a degree of mutual causation between natural endowments and institutions.

    Historical Archaeology & Anthropological Sciences

    In other words, particular types of economic growth facilitated the development of particular institutions and social structures. However, with the introduction of metalworking, they became less valuable. Current evidence suggests that the Neolithic materialistic culture was introduced to Europe via western Anatolia; this is the so-called neolithization process.

    Genetic data suggest that no independent domestication of animals took place in Neolithic Europe and that all domesticated animals were originally domesticated in Southwest Asia.

    It is therefore widely accepted that the onset of agriculture in the Near-East triggered a cultural change that diffused farming and associated technologies across Europe starting about 10, years ago. The information provided by archaeological remains and the trajectory of straight and short line paths suggest the estimated speed of agricultural spread was approximately 1 kilometer per year.

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    Despite these evidences, the Neolithic diffusion or the neolithization process of Europe has always been a controversial issue, 57 , 19 not really solvable with known archaeological methods. Or did people from other places learn about innovations from trade or other relationships such as intermarriage? In other words, a major debate 58 in the study of earliest European farmers is whether they were colonists who settled in the major river valleys of North-Central Europe or whether they were local hunter-gatherers who adopted domestic plants and animals coming from the Near-East?

    Urban Life in Neolithic Anatolia

    However, it is now widely agreed that the introduction of agriculture and the simultaneous replacement of the Jomon culture by the Yayoi were the result of a major incursion from mainland Asia. Among these two alternative demographic scenarios proposed to account for the Neolithic transition, the first one was 21 and still is 59 the most popular in the academic literature. This scenario is called the demic diffusion model 22 or, more usually, the migrationist approach.