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The Agricultural Revolution in PrehistoryWhy did Foragers become Farmers?$
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Graeme Barker

Print publication date: 2006

Print ISBN-13: 9780199281091

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780199281091.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 26 October 2021

Transitions to Farming in Europe: Ex Oriente Lux?

Transitions to Farming in Europe: Ex Oriente Lux?

(p.325) 9 Transitions to Farming in Europe: Ex Oriente Lux?
The Agricultural Revolution in Prehistory

Graeme Barker

Oxford University Press

Ever since the speculations of the Victorians about the inexorable progress of Man from the savagery of foraging to agriculture and civilization, Europe has been one of the main theatres of debate about transitions from foraging to farming (Chapter 1). The dominant model in the twentieth century, first developed explicitly by Gordon Childe in The Dawn of European Civilization (1925) and The Danube in Prehistory (1929), has been that of ex oriente lux, ‘light from the Near East’. According to this theory, farming began in Europe because it was introduced by Neolithic farmers from South-West Asia, who brought with them domesticated plants and animals together with a new technology that included pottery and polished stone tools. They colonized a land thinly occupied by Mesolithic foragers except at the coastal margins. In southern Europe, the first farmers would have ‘taken to their boats and paddled or sailed on the alluring waters of the Mediterranean to the next landfall—and the next’ (Childe, 1957: 16). In temperate Europe, expansion was facilitated by ‘slash-and-burn’ (swidden) agriculture practised by the first farmers: they arrived at a particular location, cleared the forest, burnt the cut timber, and planted their crops, and then moved on after a few years. The first suite of 14C dates from European Neolithic sites obtained in the 1960s astonished archaeologists, because the (uncalibrated) dates of c.6000 bc from Greek Neolithic settlements such as Nea Nikomedeia and Knossos (Fig. 9.1) were 3,000 years older than Childe’s suggested date for the beginning of the European Neolithic: c.3000 BC. He established the latter by an elaborate process of cross-dating European prehistoric sites with historically dated cultures in the eastern Mediterranean, in turn dated by links to Pharaonic Egypt. At the same time, the 14C data appeared to confirm Childe’s ex oriente lux theory, because there was a clear trend of increasingly younger dates with distance from South-West Asia (J. G. D. Clark, 1965; Fig. 1.7). The dates of c .6000 BC in south-east Europe were in the same time-frame as dates for PPNB Neolithic settlements in South-West Asia, dates in central Europe and the Mediterranean were of the order of 4500 BC, and dates from Early Neolithic sites on the Atlantic margins of Europe were nearer 3000 BC.

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