» Home > In the News

Reassessing the Neolithic

24 September 2013

Current World Archaeology 61 also has a piece by Prof Bill Finlayson, on the Levant. Just ten years ago the consensus view was dominated by some big names and the view of the Neolithic was untrammelled by doubt. There was a clear succession from hunter gatherer to farmer – a view perpetuated on archaeology and history by social evolutionary theories (in the classroom). Now, as archaeological research has expanded and is not entirely eurocentric in outlook, the understanding of the processes has opened the drawbridge and the Neolithic revolution is being looked in a more realistic manner rather than in the idealogical lense that outdated theories dictated. The Late Pleistocene and early Holocene are being looked at afresh – and this will eventually impact on our understanding of the Late Palaeolithic cultures as a whole. The idea of the spread of farmers from a small core zone is no longer tenable. There was an effloresence of change and innovation across SW Asia (the Fertile Crescent) goping back as early as 20,000 years ago (at least). It is now realised there was a very long period of polyphetic cultivation of wild plants as well as a very long history of the management of wild herds of animals. The research, up to now, has been been confined to the Levant and Anatolia, but the same kind of thing is self evident in Europe, the Americas, East Asia (and greater Asia) and even in Africa south of the Sahara. It was a world wide phenomenon whether we are talking about the predecessors of the people that came to inhabit the Nile Valley, the proto-Maya (and semi cultivation of forest) or even the British Isles (Mesolithic management of red deer and the deliberate encouragement of hazel – for its wood as much as its nuts). Finlayson is optimistic. He says the next ten years promise to be exciting – with the publication of ongoing research and the use of stable isotope analysis. We are now in an intellectually stimulating phase of research, a reassessment of human history. An interesting observation to make that seems to show that scientists that become boxed in by boundaries that are self inflicted or imposed by others, as an ideology or otherwise, can be amazingly prolific once released from them. Climate scientists should take notice – but probably won't.

Skip to content