Franchthi cave, Greece; indications of acculturation rather than outright colonization by Neolithic farming groups migrating from the Near East

In this post we present information on Franchthi cave, Argolis, Greece, extracted from three official publications.


Abstract Franchthi Cave in southern Greece preserves one of the most remarkable records of socioeconomic change of the Late Pleistocene through early Holocene. Located on the southern end of the Argolid Peninsula, the area around the site was greatly affected by climate variation and marine transgression. This study examines the complex interplay of site formation processes (material deposition rates), climate-driven landscape change, and human hunting systems during the Upper Paleolithic through Mesolithic at Franchthi Cave based on the H1B faunal series. Building on earlier work, we establish the full spectrum of the meat diet using taphonomic evidence, and we analyze these data for trends in socioeconomic reorganization. Foraging patterns during the Aurignacian and “Gravettoid” occupations at Franchthi were terrestrial and already rather diversified in comparison to Middle Paleolithic diets in southern Greece. Hunting shifted abruptly to a mixed marine-terrestrial pattern during the Final Paleolithic, and fishing activities intensified though the Mesolithic. The zooarchaeological data indicate two consecutive trends of increasing dietary breadth, the first within an exclusively terrestrial context, and the second as marine habitats came into use through the end of the Mesolithic. The intensity of the human occupations at this site increased in tandem with intensified use of animal and plants. Comparison to the inland site of Klissoura Cave 1 indicates that the trend toward broader diets was regional as well as local.


Introduction Franchthi Cave on the Argolid Peninsula of the Peloponnese was visited by humans over a span of more than 30,000 years. The massive archaeological sequence in this cave includes two of the most important cultural transitions in prehistory -the reorganization of foraging societies associated with social and economic intensification during the Late Pleistocene (Paleolithic through Mesolithic), and the shift from a foraging to a farming-herding (Neolithic) way of life.

The Franchthi Cave sequence presents a fascinating range of subsistence and environmental extremes through time. Because the small Argolid Peninsula projects into the Aegean Sea, the locality was directly affected by marine transgression towards the end of the Pleistocene. With global warming, shorelines were reconfigured, water tables rose, and habitat structures and biotic diversity altered (e.g., van Andel and Lianos, 1983). Early reports on the Franchthi faunas by Payne (1975, 1982) suggested that human foraging strategies underwent a dynamic evolution as well.

This paper presents the first results from a larger, on-going study of the Franchthi Cave faunas.


Conclusion We conclude that the interaction of profound landscape change and human foraging pressure accounts for the main trends in animal exploitation from the Upper Paleolithic through Upper Mesolithic periods at Franchthi Cave. New economic systems evolved not only because sea level was rising, but also because this and adjacent areas of Greece were experiencing declines in preferred (highest-yield) meat supplies.

The Mediterranean Sea is potentially a rich source of food, but this is true only if the capture costs for fish can be overcome with technology, which also has costs.

The intensity of the occupations in Franchthi Cave increased in tandem with an intensified use of animal and plant resources. As terrestrial food sources declined, the foragers of the southern Argolid turned to the sea, first setting their sights on low-cost, highly accessible prey types and later pursuing littoral and large deepwater fish alike. Hunter-gatherers were experiencing similar strains on traditional food supplies in the interior lands. This fact implies that foragers could not abandon the Argolid as local terrestrial resources became impoverished. At Franchthi, human diet breadth expanded twice over the course of the Upper Paleolithic-Mesolithic, first on land, and later via marine foraging, culminating in skilled harvesting of some of the largest and most powerful fish in the Aegean Sea.

(Source: “On the evolution of diet and landscape during the Upper Paleolithic through Mesolithic at Franchthi Cave (Peloponnese, Greece)”, by Stiner MC, Munro ND)


Abstract Two deeply stratified cave sites in southern Greece show how the relations between material input rates and human prey choice may reflect local site function and regional food supply effects simultaneously. The Upper Paleolithic through Mesolithic faunas at Klissoura Cave 1 and Franchthi Cave on the Argolid Peninsula (Peloponnese) provide clear evidence of diet expansion with time, based on increasing use of costly small animals. These cases also reflect, albeit to very different degrees, variation in occupation intensity as determined from sediment and artifact accumulation rates. Centrality is a critical issue for residential sites, and consistency (or the lack of it) in use provides a relative indication of site “importance” in the overall territory of foragers. Changes in site importance explain much of the variation in material inputs in Klissoura Cave 1, with the heaviest use of the site during the Upper Paleolithic and lighter use in the later periods. Small game data from Klissoura 1 nonetheless present a single general trend toward greater resource intensification with time. At Franchthi Cave, the intensity of occupations of the cave increased in tandem with intensified use of animal and plant resources. The parallel trends are explained by greater temporal consistency in the central importance of the latter site on the Pleistocene and early Holocene landscape.


Introduction Archaeological sites form through the interaction of geogenic and anthropogenic processes (Goldberg and Sherwood, 2006). The degree of interdependence of these processes varies considerably, and this fact has broad-reaching consequences for interpretations of site function, occupation intensity, and economic change. For better or worse, site formation processes can reflect several scales of geological and behavioral phenomena at once. From the human standpoint, site formation processes may be structured by anything from site-specific occupation intensity and activity diversity to large-scale demographic patterns. Untangling the signatures of geogenic and anthropogenic inputs therefore is one of the most complex problems faced by archaeologists.

This paper investigates site formation processes and trends in prey choice during the Upper Paleolithic through Mesolithic periods at two deeply stratified sites -Klissoura Cave 1 and Franchthi Cave- on the Argolid Peninsula in southern Greece. More of these kinds of sites would be desirable, but even a comparison of two provides useful insights. The first goal is to determine the general nature of site use (function) from features, technological and other evidence of activities, and to explore relative changes in the intensity of the human occupations over time based on material inputs and bone burning rates. A second goal is to determine from the zooarchaeological data which of the dietary changes represented temporary adjustments to local conditions (null model) as opposed to more fundamental reorganization (evolution) of technology and economy. The third goal is to explore the relation between occupation intensity and diet breadth through time at the two sites, beginning with the expectation that high material inputs and broader diets should co-vary because of greater demands on local resources.

Analyses of sediment and cultural inputs over long periods can indicate variation in the tempo and character of site formation. Lack of such variation may imply consistency in the use of the site as a residential hub. Centrality is a critical issue for residential sites, and in this sense indicates consistency over time in the “importance” of the sites relative to other places visited by people in their territory.

The analysis of diet breadth focuses on small game use, as this is where the greatest dietary shifts tend to occur in foraging economies (Stiner, 2001; reviewed by Bird and O’Connell, 2006).


Franchthi Cave (FC) Franchthi Cave is one of the largest Paleolithic-Mesolithic sites in southern Europe, and its pre-Neolithic cultural deposits span ca.39-8 kya. The cave occurs in a limestone headland on the southwestern shore of the Argolid Peninsula. FC is about 50-60km south of the Klissoura Gorge sites, and its Paleolithic and Mesolithic deposits partly overlap the cultural chronology of KC1. The modern shoreline lies only 11 m below the cave entrance, but the relationship between the site and the sea fluctuated dramatically from the Late Pleistocene through early Holocene ( Jacobsen, 1969; van Andel and Lianos, 1983; van Andeland Sutton, 1987; Jackson, 1994; Lambeck, 1996). Dramatic shifts in subsistence paralleled the environmental changes (Payne, 1975,1982; Stiner and Munro, 2011).

Geogenic processes dominated the formation of the sedimentary layers that contain the Upper Paleolithic; cultural inputs were low in comparison to sedimentary inputs (Farrand, 2000). Anthropogenic processes are much more apparent in the formation of the Epipaleolithic and later layers, and particularly those dating to the Mesolithic.

The Upper Paleolithic occupations were smaller and probably short-lived in comparison to those of the Mesolithic. However, the range of foraging activities on site suggests mainly residential encampments throughout the Upper Paleolithic through Mesolithic (Stiner and Munro, 2011).

The Upper Paleolithic occupations in FC coincided with a generally cool dry climate, steppe vegetation (Hansen, 1991; summarized in Perlès, 1999) and greater land exposure. Lower atmospheric moisture during glacial conditions suppressed forest growth on the peninsula, and coastal plains were considerably larger than today. The post-LGM occupations at FC coincided with a milder, more humid climate and Mediterranean garrigue vegetation (Hansen, 1991; Perlès, 1999). Melos obsidian occurs in FC only after about 11 ka BP (Perlès, 1987), when marine transgression was well underway, implying that sea-worthy boats were used for its exploitation.



Franchthi Cave

Hunters at FC exploited large and small animals in roughly consistent proportions (NISP) throughout the Upper Paleolithic-Mesolithic sequence (Stiner and Munro, 2011). Two ungulate species were especially important -red deer and European wild ass, depending on local climate. Aurochs, wild pig, and wild goat were hunted more sporadically. The range of small game animals is quite diverse from the beginning of the Upper Paleolithic (Aurignacian) but becomes even more so after the Last Glacial Maximum. Increased diversity after the LGM coincides with a shift from an exclusively terrestrial mode of hunting to a mixed marine-terrestrial mode during the Late Paleolithic and Mesolithic. Terrestrial small game animals were hare, hedgehog (Erinaceus sp.), ground birds (partridges and great bustard), Mediterranean spur-thighed tortoises, and pondturtles (Emys orbicularis or possibly Maurmys sp.). Of the small mammals, only hares were consistently important in the diet. Game birds were important during the Upper Paleolithic, particularly in the driest periods, but they decline dramatically thereafter.

Marine resources came into importance in the second half of the FC sequence and included both shellfish and fish. The onset of fishing is accompanied by notable increases in other previously rare prey on land and sea, such as great bustard, land snails, marine shellfish (mostly limpets and turbans), and pond turtles. Edible shellfish appear in the faunas very soon after pond turtles, as do dense concentrations of land snails. Tunny fishing begins only at the very end of the sequence.

The land snail accumulations in the Final Paleolithic and Mesolithic layers are particularly dense and resemble the escargotières reported elsewhere on the Mediterranean rim.

Although the majority of the cultural horizons in the FC series appear to represent residential camps, the cultural inputs clearly accelerate in the later periods.

Small game diversity rose and fell with the rate of cultural inputs to sediments.

The expansion into marine resources mid-way through the cultural sequence effectively reset the progression, opening up an entirely new range of foraging possibilities. Foragers seized upon these new possibilities in a step-wise fashion, following the predictions of a prey choice model for expanding dietary breadth in response to the decline of highest-ranked resources. The occupations of FC grew more intense with time and so did pressure on local food supplies.


Concluding discussion

FC was a central place throughout much of its occupation history. The intensity of site use and probably the size of forager groups increased in the later periods (Perlès, 1999). There is also plenty of evidence for increasing pressures on local food supplies, with a historical interruption mid-sequence brought about by post-glacial warming and marine transgression. As foragers turned to the encroaching sea for food, they set their sights first on low-cost, highly accessible prey types. Later, they pursued near-shore and large deepwater fish alike.

The intensity of the occupations of FC, as measured from material input rates, increased in tandem with intensified use of animal (and plant) resources. The apparent harmony between the faunal record of diet change and material inputs in FC permits a relatively straightforward analysis of economic evolution during the Late Pleistocene and early Holocene.

(Source: “Material input rates and dietary breadth during the Upper Paleolithic through Mesolithic at Franchthi and Klissoura 1 Caves (Peloponnese, Greece)”, by Mary C. Stiner, Natalie D. Munro, Britt M. Starkovich)


Abstract The multi-period (~38,000–6000 cal BP) site of Franchthi Cave, located in the Argolid peninsula of southern mainland Greece, is unique in the Eastern Mediterranean for preserving a long archaeological sequence extending from the Upper Palaeolithic through to the end of the Neolithic period. In this paper, we present new anthracological (carbonized fuel wood waste) evidence from Franchthi Cave with which we reconstruct the changing ecology of woodland vegetation in its environs during the late Pleistocene and the early-mid Holocene. The integrated archaeobotanical record (charred wood and non-wood macro-remains) demonstrates that in the Lateglacial the now-submerged coastal shelf of the southern Argolid peninsula was covered by steppe grassland vegetation dominated by junipers, almonds, cereals and legumes. The rapid climatic amelioration that marked the start of the Holocene brought about the disappearance of juniper and the expansion of deciduous woodland, cereals and lentils. This woodland-grassland biome bears no analogues in the modern and historical vegetation ecology of the Aegean basin. Instead, it is directly comparable to the steppe woodland biomes exploited by late Pleistocene and early Holocene hunter-gatherers in Southwest Asia, and points to the convergent evolution of late Pleistocene and early Holocene plant exploitation strategies between the two regions. Continuous sea-level rise during the early Holocene led to the gradual extinction of this unique palaeohabitat, which acted as the catalyst for the selective introduction of domesticated cereal crops at Franchthi Cave in the early 9th millennium cal BP. Our meta-analysis of the non-wood archaeobotanical data puts into question the concept of the wholesale introduction of a crop “package” by pioneer settler groups arriving from the East. It is proposed instead that selective cereal crop introduction formed part of a complex pattern of sociocultural interactions that brought together indigenous and immigrant groups into new communities.


Introduction Across the Mediterranean basin the period between the end of the last Ice Age at ~20 ka BP and the early Holocene (~11.7–8.2 ka BP) was marked by dramatic environmental transformations caused by the twin impacts of postglacial climatic amelioration and sea-level rise (SLR). Globally, this period was characterized by high SLR rates (~12–15 mm/yr) which increased significantly (≥40 mm/year) during Meltwater Pulse-1A (MWP-1A) spanning the first 500 years of the Greenland Interstadial-1 (GI-1 ~14.5–12.9 ka BP). The impact of these global events was particularly pronounced in the southern Aegean where current models of postglacial relative SLR project a vast amount of land inundation to have occurred between ~15–9 ka BP. However, little is still known about how climate change and SLR affected terrestrial biomes in the southern Aegean during the Lateglacial and the early Holocene. A major issue for reconstructing the evolution of late Palaeolithic and Mesolithic lifeways during this critical period is the extent to which the inundation of the coastal shelf zone affected the biotic resources exploited by hunter-gatherers for food and fuel. Terrestrial and near-shore pollen records dating to the Lateglacial and the start of the Holocene are virtually absent from the southern Aegean due to poor organic preservation and the low chronological resolution of the few available sequences. Furthermore, marine offshore pollen sequences cannot capture local-scale terrestrial vegetation dynamics due to their very large catchment areas (see, for example, the study published by Triantaphyllou et al.). There are thus no palaeobotanical data from the southern Aegean with which to reconstruct the evolution of terrestrial plant ecologies and people-plant interactions associated with these major environmental transformations.

Although recurrent field surveys in the Aegean have increased significantly the number of late Palaeolithic and Mesolithic sites known from this area the number of excavations remains comparatively low (see recent overviews by Sampson and Çilingiroğlu et al.). Additionally, in the southern Aegean most late Palaeolithic and Mesolithic sites sampled for archaeobotanical remains have produced scanty non-wood but more abundant wood charcoal macro-remains. In general, poor archaeobotanical preservation is accentuated in coastal open-air sites and shallow caves/rock-shelters, due to their sedimentary environments (characterized by marked seasonal fluctuations in soil moisture) which severely hinder the preservation of fragile charred plant remains. A notable exception to this situation is Franchthi Cave (FC).

FC is unique in the Eastern Mediterranean for preserving a long archaeological sequence extending from the Upper Palaeolithic through to the Mesolithic and the Neolithic periods (~38,000–6000 cal BP). Its stratigraphy spans two key periods that witnessed major socioeconomic transformations in the history of humanity: the population expansion and intensification of economic activities that took place after the end of the Last Glacial Maximum, and the transition from foraging to farming that characterized the first half of the Holocene. FC provides several distinctive advantages for palaeovegetation reconstruction including adequate preservation and sampling of archaeobotanical remains, alongside a reasonably robust radiometric chronology that permits correlating its archaeological sequence to regional and global SLR models and palaeoclimatic archives. FC thus affords a research framework that, to date, remains unique in the southern Aegean with which to reconstruct the evolution of the regional late Pleistocene and early Holocene vegetation ecologies and prehistoric plant use.

The introduction of domesticated cereal crops and animals in the early 9th millennium cal BP has been widely interpreted as a manifestation of the displacement of local Mesolithic forager-fisher-hunter lifeways by an ex oriente arrived mature agricultural economy. However, radiocarbon dates recently obtained on crop seeds have also pinpointed the possibility that domesticated cereal crops were adopted in the first instance by indigenous Mesolithic groups. In this framework, it remains unknown whether crop introduction could have been motivated by the degradation and gradual extinction of traditionally used wild plant resources resulting from the inundation of the southern Argolid coastal shelf. The FC archaeobotanical record has provided tantalizing clues for the potential existence locally of Lateglacial and early Holocene palaeohabitats for which there are no analogues in the late Holocene regional vegetation history. This is suggested, for example, by the predominant presence in late Upper/Final Palaeolithic and Mesolithic botanical remains of Amygdalus (almond) and Pistacia (terebinth) nuts alongside wild-type cereals (Avena/oats, Hordeum/barley) and pulses (Lens/lentils). In effect, the closest archaeobotanical parallels to the FC pre-Neolithic plant-food spectrum lay not with the Mediterranean ecoregions of mainland Greece, the Aegean islands, and the western and southern Anatolian coasts but, rather strikingly, with the late Pleistocene and early Holocene botanical spectra originating in the steppe and open woodland-grassland biomes of continental Southwest Asia. However, the potential held by high-resolution archaeobotanical data for revisiting the diversity of the southern Aegean postglacial plant ecologies, and how the latter influenced local and regional pathways from foraging to farming, has remained largely unexplored.

This paper presents the results of the first application of anthracology to FC, on fuel wood macro-remains covering the timespan ~28,000–6000 cal BP. To enhance further the precision of the resulting palaeovegetation reconstructions, we integrated the new wood charcoal data with previously published non-wood (seed/fruit/nut) charred remains originating from the same botanical samples. In addition, we performed a multivariate analysis of the FC non-wood archaeobotanical data corpus originally published by Julie Hansen (including all botanical samples regardless of the availability of wood charcoal data). These integrative analyses permitted exploring in unprecedented detail the regional postglacial palaeohabitats in which arboreal and herbaceous floras co-existed, how and when they became established in the site hinterland, and how they were shaped by climate change and SLR during the long history of human habitation at FC. Crucially, they have also provided new insights into the ecological context of the first introduction of crop domesticates in the southern Greek mainland and illuminated further some of the more idiosyncratic aspects of FC Neolithic plant use.


Conclusions The first systematic application of anthracology at FC has revealed unambiguous differences in the nature and ecology of the vegetation environments proximate to the site during the Palaeolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic periods, which are closely related to climate change, and the rate and pace of the submergence of the coastal shelf by postglacial SLR. During the Lateglacial and the early Holocene fuel wood and plant-food procurement targeted the open grassland-woodland biome that dominated the still exposed coastal shelf of the southern Argolid peninsula. Late Palaeolithic and Mesolithic plant exploitation focused on the intensive harvesting of almonds (which also provided the bulk of fuel wood) and terebinth nuts supplemented by large-seeded annuals including oats, barley and lentils. This plant resource spectrum (with its emphasis on protein-rich nuts and legumes, and the reliance on almond wood as fuel) overlaps significantly with those known from a majority of late Pleistocene and early Holocene habitation sites located in the semi-arid steppe woodlands of continental Southwest Asia. In turn, such similarities point to the convergent evolution of pre-agricultural plant resource choice and exploitation strategies in Southwest Asia and the southern Argolid coastal shelf, due to the opportunities afforded to human foragers by the development of ecologically homologous plant niches. From ~28,000 to ~10,200 cal BP a prominent feature of the southern Argolid peninsula was the existence of large swathes of coastal plains that were well-watered by seasonal and permanent streams and karstic springs. Postglacial climate amelioration led to their progressive colonization by junipers, annual legumes and grasses, almonds and wild pears, alongside patches of terebinths and wild plums/cherries growing at more humid localities. Unlike the rugged topography and highly fragmented hinterlands of the southern Greek mainland, the coastal shelf zone comprised numerous well-drained large terraces and steppe-like undulating surfaces, which provided optimal environments for the development of savanna-like vegetation. This highly distinctive biome likely extended not only on the coastal plain proximate to FC but all around the present-day coastline of the southern Argolid peninsula.

The loss of a large portion of the coastal shelf to SLR between the LGM and the start of the Younger Dryas at ~12,900 cal BP was counterbalanced by the dramatic expansion of grassland vegetation caused by the abrupt increases in temperature and precipitation that marked the start of the Holocene at ~11,700 cal BP. This climatic peak boosted the availability of dense, highly productive stands of annual grasses and legumes alongside nuts and fruits during the Mesolithic period, which is amply demonstrated by the extraordinary density and diversity of the FC Lower Mesolithic botanical assemblage. However, continuous (if slow-paced) SLR between ~11,700–9000 cal BP eventually led to the demise of these unique coastal palaeohabitats. Although isolated patches of grass and open woodland vegetation probably persisted along the coast, on the FC terrace and on the hills and inland alluvial plains, these could no longer sustain intensive, year-round human foraging for food and firewood. The deterioration of traditionally exploited plant resources was probably exacerbated further during the early 9th millennium cal BP by the increasing salinization of the Kiladha bay area due to saltwater upstream movement and intrusion of the aquifer via the coastal karst systems. Thus, it is likely that the introduction at ~8700 cal BP of domesticated emmer wheat and 2-row hulled barley could have been motivated, at least in part, by these irreversible shifts in local plant ecologies and palaeohabitats that brought about a significant reduction in the availability of hitherto exploited plant resources. The integrated wood and non-wood botanical datasets point to a complete shift in the ecology of fuel wood gathering and food production at the very beginning of the 8th millennium cal BP (possibly earlier, albeit no charcoal data are available from the Final Mesolithic and Initial Neolithic periods). As the FC coastline approached its modern configuration, fuel wood gathering targeted Mediterranean maquis woodlands that were also routinely cleared for the establishment of cereal crop fields. Cereal cultivation provided the bulk of plant-derived subsistence in the Neolithic period, with a concurrent significant reduction in the consumption of nuts and other fruit species gathered from the wild.

Whether or not the prehistoric inhabitants of FC cultivated wild cereals and legumes during the late Palaeolithic and the Mesolithic (e.g., as part of niche construction activities at times of plant resource abundance or, conversely, in response to cumulative resource stress caused by SLR) is a question that cannot be addressed at present without new excavation and primary archaeobotanical data collection. Despite the large scale and the intensity of sampling at FC in the 1970s, the large flotation mesh size used at the time has resulted, at best, in the sporadic recovery of certain elements of the small-seeded wild flora (e.g., Medicago seeds). This non-rectifiable recovery bias precludes a more precise evaluation of the floristic composition of the FC grassland vegetation and how it changed through time, including the ruderal floras associated with intensively gathered (and, potentially, managed) crop progenitor species such as barley, oats and lentils. A new program of carbon and nitrogen stable isotope analyses of crop progenitor and other large legume seeds could also help elucidating plant growth conditions including identifying the impacts of a range of possible plant management regimes (e.g., planting, tillage, watering, soil enrichment, etc). The hypothesis of cultivation without domestication at FC (and potentially other sites too) must therefore remain open to future empirical testing. However, it should also be noted here that the FC archaeobotanical record is compatible with the pattern of pre-agricultural plant exploitation known from early Holocene habitation sites in Southwest Asia in which the selective introduction of crop domesticates was preceded by long periods during which wild-type grasses and/or legumes were managed without evidence for local domestication events or even “predomestication” cultivation.

The meta-analysis of the previously published non-wood botanical dataset has re-affirmed the early introduction of a limited set of 2 domesticated cereal crops (emmer wheat, 2-row hulled barley) which took place soon after 9000 cal BP and was followed in later Neolithic phases by the introduction of einkorn wheat. Unlike previous studies concluding that domesticated lentils formed an integral part of a crop “package” imported into FC from the Near East, the present study has uncovered tantalizing hints suggesting that large-seeded legumes (including lentils) were not incorporated in the FC Neolithic agroecologies as crops. In turn, the apparent absence of pulse cultivars from the FC Neolithic cultivation systems (or their low-level contribution to them) points to a complete break with Mesolithic traditions of plant management, in which lentils held a prominent position. It also presents a poor fit with a pattern of long familiarity with the exploitation of large-seeded legumes that can be traced as far back as the Lateglacial. The non-wood botanical record thus appears to be in full agreement with the results of faunal analyses indicating the wholesale replacement of Mesolithic broad-spectrum prey choice by a domestic animal economy focused on caprine meat production. However, unresolved discrepancies remain between the (botanical and faunal) subsistence archaeology records and at least some material culture data categories (including chipped stone, marine mollusks and personal ornaments). The latter point to cultural continuities between the Final Mesolithic and the Initial Neolithic and have been interpreted as indicators of acculturation rather than outright colonization by Neolithic farming groups migrating from the Near East. A more productive way to address these apparent contradictions in the FC archaeological record is through the hypothesis that domesticated cereal crops were selectively introduced at FC, alongside herded caprines, as part of a complex pattern of cultural interactions that brought together indigenous and immigrant groups. The non-wood botanical data are strongly suggestive of the idiosyncratic nature of FC Neolithic crop choice. The fact that (unlike other Neolithic sites in Greece) einkorn wheat was introduced to FC only after the Early Neolithic has already been noted in previous publications. Seen in this light, the apparent exclusion of lentils from the core group of FC crop cultivars (even though lentils were already widely cultivated across Southwest Asia during this period) appears less extraordinary. In this context, it is no longer possible to speak of a single crop “package” that moved westwards as part of the toolkit of a group of pioneer settlers from the East. Instead, it may be more productive to explore the selection and use of specific cultivars as innovations that were negotiated between local and immigrant actors (e.g., individuals, kin groups or larger communities) and were incorporated to site- or area-specific social practices (e.g., through mate exchange networks). Such a hypothesis could be further explored through contextual analyses of the existing FC material culture record, alongside future fine-grained archaeobotanical sampling of closely controlled archaeological contexts.

A broadly comparable pattern of selective crop adoption has been recently proposed for interpreting the introduction of domesticated crop species at the site of Boncuklu in the Konya plain of central Anatolia during the 11th millennium cal BP. A key difference between Boncuklu and FC is that at the former crops were selectively incorporated as minor components in the local hunter-forager economy that (apart from nuts, hackberries and, possibly, some wetland plants too) exhibited no interest in the intensive exploitation of cereal crop progenitor taxa, despite their modelled wide distribution in the Konya plain during the early Holocene also suggested by their very sporadic presence in the Boncuklu botanical assemblage. By contrast, the introduction of domesticated cereal crops and herded caprines at FC in the early 9th millennium cal BP took place against a background of SLR-induced cumulative habitat erosion that led to the decimation of the traditionally exploited plant and faunal resources. Domesticated cereals and caprines thus acted as catalysts for the reorientation of the local economies, in what was by then a low-yield and ecologically highly fragmented Mediterranean coastal landscape that could no longer sustain the exploitation of wild plants and game as staple foods by human foragers. The deep history of such processes of selective plant resource adoption and spread can be traced in the increasing circulation of population groups, resources and knowledge in the Eastern Mediterranean during the early Holocene. Such movements were already underway during the “long” 11th millennium cal BP (exemplified by the transference of cultivars, animals and Anatolian obsidian into Cyprus, and of domesticated crop species into central Anatolia) and peaked with the intensification of maritime interaction networks (centered on Melian obsidian, cultivars and domesticated caprines) in the Aegean basin from the 9th millennium cal BP.

(Source: “The impact of environmental change on Palaeolithic and Mesolithic plant use and the transition to agriculture at Franchthi Cave, Greece”, by Eleni Asouti , Maria Ntinou , Ceren Kabukcu)


NovoScriptorium: It seems that studies on Francthi cave already provide enough evidence of an indigenous Neolithic revolution on the Greek peninsula rather than an introduced-from-somewhere-else one. We do not agree with the hypothesis,  mentioned several times in the last paper, that ‘locals and immigrants worked together as a unit’, both taking advantage of the agricultural advances, teaching one another peacefully. In no human society, ever, a massive population of foreigners was ‘welcomed’. Moreover, in those very hard times (with all those vast climate and geological changes), subsistence and survival would be priority. The ‘law of necessity’ would prevail, as always. Therefore, the supposed scenario of ‘migrations from the East’ (or from anywhere, really) would actually mean endless war and slaughtering (for land and resources); your death, my life. On the contrary though, from various excavated sites on the Greek peninsula, there appears to be a ‘cultural continuum’ spanning from the Neolithic up to the historical times, a fact that proves that there had been no violent replacement of population (or culture) in the crucial Neolithic Age. We conclude that only two possibilities allow the acceptance of the ‘immigrants’ idea in pre-Neolithic Greece:

a) if the ‘immigrants’ were directly related to the locals, i.e. if they were an older population of the same people that expanded and had to return due to extreme climate conditions

b) if the two populations were culturally close, with strong economic and friendship bonds

We ignore the possibility that the pre-Neolithic people could have been much more affectionate, sensitive, philanthropic, than we can imagine today.


Research-Selection-Comments for NovoScriptorium: Philaretus Homerides

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