Feast or famine was the rule for Europe’s first farmers, archaeologists report. A population bust followed boom times in early agriculture from France to Ireland, a catalog of radiocarbon dates reveals.
Farming first moved into Europe from Greece around 8,500 years ago, spreading to Ireland and northern Europe over the next several thousand years. The switch from hunting and gathering to farming was a giant step forward for humanity, but the results from early Europe point to tough times for early farmers.
"Likely it played out in stark terms of soil degradation, probably ending in disease and warfare," says anthropologist Sean Downey of the University of Maryland in College Park, a co-author of the new Nature Communications journal study. “It’s fairly depressing and Malthusian, what happened.” Read more.
Archaeologists in southern subtropical China have uncovered evidence for the first time that people living in Xincun 5,000 years ago may have practised agriculture -before the arrival of domesticated rice in the region.
Current archaeological thinking is that it was the advent of rice cultivation along the Lower Yangtze River that marked the beginning of agriculture in southern China.
Poor organic preservation in the study region, as in many others, means that traditional archaeobotany techniques are not possible.
Now, thanks to a new method of analysis on ancient grinding stones, the archaeologists have uncovered evidence that agriculture could predate the advent of rice in the region. Read more.
The first evidence of agriculture appears in the archaeological record some 10,000 years ago. But the skills needed to cultivate and harvest crops weren’t learned overnight. Scientists have traced these roots back to 23,000-year-old tools used to grind seeds, found mostly in the Middle East.
Now, research lead by Li Liu, a professor of Chinese archaeology at Stanford, reveals that the same types of tools were used to process seeds and tubers in northern China, setting China’s agricultural clock back about 12,000 years and putting it on par with activity in the Middle East. Liu believes that the practices evolved independently, possibly as a global response to a changing climate. Read more.
AVDAT, Israel — For thousands of years, different groups of people have lived in the Negev desert, building stone walls and cities that survive to this day. But how did they make their living?
The current thinking is that these desert denizens didn’t practice agriculture before approximately the first century, surviving instead by raising animals, said Hendrik Bruins, a landscape archaeologist at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.
But new research suggests people in this area, the Negev highlands, practiced agriculture as long ago as 5000 B.C., Bruins told LiveScience. If true, the finding could change historians’ views of the area’s inhabitants, who lived in the region in biblical times and even before, he added. Read more.
BATTIR, West Bank — In this scenic Palestinian village in the West Bank hills near Bethlehem, just south of Jerusalem, a week is said to last eight days, not seven. That is because Battir’s eight extended families take daily turns watering their crops from the natural springs that feed their ancient agricultural terraces, a practice they say has worked for centuries.
The water flows through a Roman-era irrigation system down into a deep valley where a railway track — a section of the Jaffa-Jerusalem railway built in Ottoman times — roughly marks the 1949 armistice line between the West Bank and Israel. The area is dotted with tombs and ruins upon ruins of bygone civilizations.
When the World Heritage Committee of Unesco — the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization — meets in St. Petersburg, Russia, over the next two weeks, this pastoral area will be thrust into the spotlight at least momentarily as the villagers and conservation experts fight to save what they say is a unique living cultural and historical landscape. Read more.
The oldest agricultural settlement ever found on a Mediterranean island has been discovered in Cyprus by a team of French archaeologists involving CNRS, the National Museum of Natural History, INRAP, EHESS and the University of Toulouse. Previously it was believed that, due to the island’s geographic isolation, the first Neolithic farming societies did not reach Cyprus until a thousand years after the birth of agriculture in the Middle East (ca. 9500 to 9400 BCE).
However, the discovery of Klimonas, a village that dates from nearly 9000 years before Christ, proves that early cultivators migrated to Cyprus from the Middle Eastern continent shortly after the emergence of agriculture there, bringing with them wheat as well as dogs and cats.
The findings, which also reveal the early development of maritime navigational skills by these populations, have been published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS). Read more.
DNA studies of four skeletons reveal how agriculture spread in Europe during the Stone Age.
A group of researchers have discovered that some migrants introduced agriculture in Europe. The researchers discovered the four skeletons on the island of Gotland in Sweden. DNA analysis revealed that one of the skeletons was of a female farmer, who lived during the Stone Age, 5,000 years ago.
"The Stone Age farmer’s genetic profile matched that of people currently living in the vicinity of the Mediterranean, on Cyprus, for example," said Pontus Skoglund, researcher at the Uppsala University, in a statement.
The study also revealed that the other three remains were hunters, who belong to the same age. Read more.
Humans may have undergone a gradual rather than an abrupt transition from fishing, hunting and gathering to farming, according to a new study of ancient pottery.
Researchers at the University of York and the University of Bradford analysed cooking residues preserved in 133 ceramic vessels from the Western Baltic regions of Northern Europe to establish whether these residues were from terrestrial, marine or freshwater organisms.
The research led by Oliver Craig (York) and Carl Heron (Bradford) included an international team of archaeologists from The Heritage Agency of Denmark, The National Museum of Denmark, Moesgård Museum (Denmark), Christian-Albrechts-Universität, Kiel (Germany) and the Archäologisches Landesmuseum, Schleswig (Germany).
The project team studied ceramic pots from 15 sites dating to around 4,000 BC– the time when the first evidence of domesticated animals and plants was found in the region. The research, which was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, is published online in the latest edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Read more.