New Historian

Northern Europe Resisted Farming, Ornaments Reveal

Neolithic jewellery from Bretagne, France1

<![CDATA[Farming came into Europe from the Near East some 8,000 years ago but it seems that the northern parts of the continent resisted the new lifestyle for several centuries, as suggested by an in-depth study of personal ornaments worn by the first European farmers and the last hunter-gatherers. The study, by a team including researchers from New York University and Bordeaux University, collected a large sample of beads, shells and animal teeth used as personal decorations by the ancient inhabitants of Europe, and analysed them with regard to material, method of suspension - perforation or grooves - and size, among other factors, explains one of the study's authors, Solange Rigaud. The database, which was built over a period of three years, included artefacts from more than 400 Neolithic dig sites across Europe, spanning a period of three millennia. These sorts of jewellery worn by the hunter-gatherer and farming communities in Europe, says Rigaud, speak volumes about the shift in economic and cultural practices over the centuries, since decoration styles and materials are subjected to significant changes resulting from migration and interactions between different communities. The researchers found that the types of beads used as personal decoration by the first farmers in Europe multiplied and were adopted most rapidly in the Mediterranean, where farming, which began 11,000 years ago in the so-called Fertile Crescent - spanning the area from the Nile delta to Mesopotamia and to Anatolia, in Asia Minor - spread first, after entering the continent via the Bosphorus. It seems that the warmer the climate, the more likely people were to adopt this new sedentary lifestyle, so farming was quickly adopted from Greece and Bulgaria to what is today Brittany in France. The Baltic region, Scandinavia, and parts of western Russia, however, continued relying almost exclusively on hunter-gathering for around three more centuries. The spread of new bead types across the southern parts of Europe reaffirmed what researchers already suspected - that new farming communities migrated west from the Near East, bringing their cultural practices with them, as well as personal decoration patterns. It seems that the local hunter-gatherer societies adopted these patterns alongside the new farming practices. In the northern regions mentioned above, however, even after the introduction of agriculture, the farmers continued using the ornaments worn by their hunter-gatherer ancestors, suggesting the contact between the new farmer arrivals and the locals was much scarcer than in the south. This delayed the large-scale adoption of farming, which played such a crucial role in human evolution, giving people control over nature and making it work for them, setting the foundations of a production economy. The reasons for the northern European resistance to agriculture remain unclear, although it has already been established that agricultural lifestyle adoption did not go smoothly across Europe - there is evidence that it was first adopted, then dropped in some parts of the continent, and its ultimate success followed a series of population rises and declines, as well as the emergence of a number of other economic factors such as rising labour costs related to food supply in certain regions, which encouraged local farming, Rigaud notes. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons user: Vassil]]>

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