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11 April 2015
Northern Europeans slow to adopt farming in the Neolithic

According to a team of researchers, northern Europeans in the Neolithic period initially rejected the practice of farming, which was otherwise spreading throughout the continent. "This discovery goes beyond farming," explains Solange Rigaud, the study's lead author and a researcher at the Center for International Research in the Humanities and Social Sciences (CIRHUS) in New York City. "It also reveals two different cultural trajectories that took place in Europe thousands of years ago, with southern and central regions advancing in many ways and northern regions maintaining their traditions."
     The researchers - that include Francesco d'Errico, a professor at France's National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and Norway's University of Bergen, and Marian Vanhaeren, a professor at CNRS - focused on the adoption or rejection of certain types of beads or bracelets worn by different populations to understand the spread of specific practices. Previous scholarship has shown a link between the embrace of survival methods and the adoption of particular ornaments. However, the new study marks the first time researchers have used ornaments to trace the adoption of farming in this part of the world during the Early Neolithic period (8,000-5,000 BCE).
     It has been long established that the first farmers came to Europe 8,000 years ago, however, the pathways of the spread of farming over the next 3,000 years are less clear.
To explore this process, the researchers examined more than 200 bead-types found at more than 400 European sites over a 3,000-year period.
     Their results show the spread throughout Central and Southern Europe of ornaments linked to farmers: human-shaped beads and bracelets composed of perforated shells. By contrast, the researchers did not find these types of ornaments in the Baltic region of northern Europe. Rather, this area held on to decorative wear typically used by hunting and foraging populations - perforated shells rather than beads or bracelets found in farming communities.
     "It's clear hunters and foragers in the Baltic area resisted the adoption of ornaments worn by farmers during this period," explains Rigaud. "We've therefore concluded that this cultural boundary reflected a block in the advancement of farming - at least during the Neolithic period."

Edited from Popular Archaeology (8 April 2015)

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