A simulation of the Neolithic transition in Western Eurasia


Farming and herding were introduced to Europe from the Near East and Anatolia; there are, however, considerable arguments about the mechanisms of this transition. Were it the people who moved and either outplaced or admixed with the indigenous hunter-gatherer groups? Or was it material and information that moved—the Neolithic Package—consisting of domesticated plants and animals and the knowledge of their use? The latter process is commonly referred to as cultural diffusion and the former as demic diffusion. Despite continuous and partly combined efforts by archaeologists, anthropologists, linguists, palaeontologists and geneticists, a final resolution of the debate has not yet been reached. In the present contribution we interpret results from the Global Land Use and technological Evolution Simulator (GLUES). This mathematical model simulates regional sociocultural development embedded in the geoenvironmental context during the Holocene. We demonstrate that the model is able to realistically hindcast the expansion speed and the inhomogeneous space-time evolution of the transition to agropastoralism in western Eurasia. In contrast to models that do not resolve endogenous sociocultural dynamics, our model describes and explains how and why the Neolithic advanced in stages. We uncouple the mechanisms of migration and information exchange and also of migration and the spread of agropastoralism. We find that (1) an indigenous form of agropastoralism could well have arisen in certain Mediterranean landscapes but not in northern and central Europe, where it depended on imported technology and material; (2) both demic diffusion by migration and cultural diffusion by trade may explain the western European transition equally well; (3) migrating farmers apparently contribute less than local adopters to the establishment of agropastoralism. Our study thus underlines the importance of adoption of introduced technologies and economies by resident foragers.
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