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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: 24 October 2021

Identifying Foragers and Farmers

Identifying Foragers and Farmers

(p.73) chapter 3 Identifying Foragers and Farmers
The Agricultural Revolution in Prehistory

Graeme Barker

Oxford University Press

One of the most exciting aspects of studying transitions from foraging to farming is the extraordinary range of evidence available, and the necessary interdisciplinarity of the exercise (Barker and Grant, 1999; Dincauze, 2000). The primary data for whether prehistoric people were living as foragers or farmers (or combining activities, as was often the case) have been collected by archaeologists, from their surveys and excavations. For much of the history of study, subsistence patterns were inferred principally from interpretations of artefacts, settlements, and associated structures. More recently, studies of artefact use have been strengthened by the application of techniques of physical and chemical analyses of food residues attached to them. A vital strand of research has been on the environmental contexts in which early farming took place. Such studies, of sediments, soils, and the microscopic flora and fauna they contain, have contributed reconstructions at a wide variety of scales, from regional climatic and environmental histories of late Pleistocene and Holocene climatic change to the landscapes of single occupation sites—the recognition of signs of animal stalling, for example. From the 1960s onwards, priority has also been given on archaeological excavations to the collection of the organic materials that survive in many conditions such as fragments of animal bone and seeds and other fragments of plants, waste discarded from the consumption of food that is the primary evidence for systems of subsistence. In certain conditions even faeces may survive, telling us about individual meals. Human teeth and bone provide further information about diet. Molecular biology is a new and exciting area of current research, with modern and ancient DNA (aDNA) being used to infer population histories and domestication processes (Jobling et al., 2004; M. Jones, 2001; Renfrew and Boyle, 2000). Further contributions have come from linguistics: studies of present-day languages have been used in support of theories about how farming was spread by new language groups (Bellwood and Renfrew, 2002). The art systems created by foragers and early farmers are yet another source of information, amongst the most intriguing for their potential insights about the beliefs of the people who created them. In short, there is a remarkably broad church of disciplines with contributions to offer, though integrating their findings can be challenging.

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