Ancient communities resisted farming practices

Posted by ap507 at Jan 06, 2016 10:20 AM |
Stone tools reveal delay in move to domesticated grains

Issued by University of Leicester Press Office on 6 January 2015

Research involving the University of Leicester has uncovered new evidence of lifestyles thousands of years ago.

Dr Huw Barton, of the School of Archaeology and Ancient History, collaborated with colleagues in Cambridge and York to study people living up to 8000 years ago in north Africa.

The research, led by the University of Cambridge, yields new evidence about people living at a time seen as a turning point in human exploitation of the environment, paving the way for rapid expansion in population.

Dr Barton said: “The results of this study are quite exciting as they show a departure from the generally accepted argument that the Neolithic represents a major revolution in the ways people were making a living in the early Holocene.

“The use of wild grasses as a supplementary food resource has now been documented from the late Pleistocene (up to 30,000 years ago) in Italy and at similar time periods in the Near East and China. While it is unclear just how much people relied on wild grasses at these times is uncertain and definitely a major target for future research. Until this evidence (all of it derived from the analysis of ancient starches) it was widely assumed that wild grasses were not consumed until relatively late in human history, ie. during the Neolithic when sedentary hunter-gatherers were forced to broaden their diet to include foods normally ignored, ie. small-seeded grasses.

“This research adds another layer to that story showing that the arrival of new plants from other places (ie. cereals such as wheat and barley) may have been actively resisted in favour of local food items. Potentially representing a strong cultural preference for certain ways of doing things and of preferred foods.”

Around 11,000 years ago, during the early phase of the geological period known as Holocene, nomadic communities of Near Eastern regions made the transition from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to a more settled farming existence as they began to exploit domesticated crops and animals developed locally. The research in Northern Libya and Western Egypt is increasingly revealing a contrasting scenario for the North African regions.

The new research reveals that the surfaces of the stone tool grinders show plant use-wear and contain tiny residues of wild plants that date from a time when, in all likelihood, domesticated grains would have been available to them. These data are consistent with other evidence from the site, notably those from the analysis of the plant macro-remains carried out by Jacob Morales (University of the Basque Country), which confirmed the presence of wild plants alone in the site during the Neolithic. Together, this evidence suggests that domesticated varieties of grain were adopted late, spasmodically, and not before classical times, by people as they moved seasonally between naturally-available resources.

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