Arts and Humanities Research Board
University College London
University of Southampton
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The CEACB held a conference entitled Pattern and Process in Cultural Evolution 14-16 September 2005 more>
The CEACB is an AHRC funded research group dedicated to examining the evolutionary underpinnings of human cultural behaviour, past and present. more>

Adaptive Mediation: The nature and rôle of the First Temperate European Neolithic.

Dr. John Nandris

A recapitulation of the concept of the First Temperate European Neolithic [FTEN or FTN] and its explanatory framework; with an examination of the methodological influence of the field methods developed for Compar­ative Ethno­arch­ae­ology.

The FTN was the most significant transmitter of early Neolithic adapt­ations to Temperate Europe. It mediates between the antecedent Early Neo­thermal, the early Greek and Anatolian Neolithic, and the emergence of the Linear­bandkeramik [LBK].

The FTN was a coherent and integrated phen­om­en­on, not a series of nationally based archaeological cultures. It was not un­differentiated, yet its component parts still continue to be discussed separately and without integr­ation. This isolationist tendency obscures the variety and significance of a phenomenon which was central to the emergence and establishment of the Neolithic not just for south-eastern but for the whole of Europe. The evidence of ethnoarchaeology deals analogously with phenomena which were in the historical period much more widespread in Europe than now. The successful nature and identity of European culture can not be dismissed as Eurocentric.

It is not enough merely to continue to describe the component elements of the FTN, such as its dating, or its technological and economic typologies. It needs to be placed in a more or less testable explanatory framework of long-term processes of change; and we need to ask the question “Change in what?”.

The Neolithic is nothing if not a mode of behaviour, and indeed there is ethnoarchaeological support for the view that the human group may be defined by “behaviour as if” the member belongs to the group. The archaeological remains of a culture are the tangible outcome of human behaviour. Comparative ethno­arch­ae­ology serves to integrate such behaviour with its material outcome, and to facilitate its archa­eo­l­ogical interpret­ation.

Archaeology is the study of long-term processes of change in human behaviour. Its bio-social dimension is of the greatest significance for us. This comprises both topics in social archaeology, and the more narrowly physical and biological emergence of the human species. Archaeology is not about the past. Like scientific endeavour, it is in good part the outcome of a consensus among its practitioners about important questions; such as what it is that constitutes the identity of a human group. Certainly not assemblages of sherds.

The economy of a culture is the means of exploiting the environment within a given set of behavioural premises, in course of which social and religious factors may play their part. The technology of culture is largely the means to economic ends but, like economic indicators, it can sustain non-utilitarian social functions, for example as social signals of status or identity. The changing bio-social medium integrates deliber­ative cultural choices made in technology and in the economic exploitation of the environment. Human choice not economic determinism lies at the centre of human behaviour.

The ever-changing environment is the setting for changes in the behaviour of plants and animals as well as of man, and itself constitutes a legitimate topic of research. Changes in the environment, economy, technology and the bio-social media have of necessity to be studied individually as special­isms. But a meeting such as ours should aim for an explanatory integration of current research into these media of long-term change in human behaviour.

A consistent trend from Palaeolithic times onwards has been to exploit the most readily accessible features of the environment, and having exhausted these to move down-market. The exploitation of plant resources, or the control of reproduction in animals, have their impact reciprocally on long-term change in the environment.

The chosen explanatory framework is reticulate. It is a network of operations rather than a hierarchy. It is analogous to the interdependence found in ecological relation­ships and the behaviour of plants and animals. It offers statistically-based rather than literalist understanding, and probabilistic rather than single-factor explanations. It is polythetic in nature and can accommodate “both-and” as well as “either-or” explan­ations.

Modes of behaviour corresponding to different reproductive strategies may be posited for archaeological cultures, by analogy with the adaptations of animal populations to diverse environmental states such as climax vegetation. The FTN can be interpreted as r- strategists, while later so-called “copper age” cultures, such as Cucuteni or Gumelnita, are better characterized as K- strategists and as Late Neolithic Climax cultures. These cases can best be understood in relation to the environments to which they were adapted.

The distribution of the FTN in south-east Europe may be understood in relation to its adaptations, eg., to Mediterranean and Temperate Europe, to the Adriatic and Steppic littorals of the Balkan Peninsula, to the intermediary adaptive zones, and to other issues such as its regional variation.

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