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Research Groningen Institute of Archaeology Research Finding Suitable Grounds

Food for thought

The transition from hunter-gatherer to agricultural economies appears as a sharp transition in much of the archaeological record. Lowlands in the Netherlands provide a rare example where the transition to agriculture appears as a longer and drawn-out transition, where the adoption process spans several centuries and intermediate stages of adoption (mixed economies) are archaeologically and culturally well resolved. In the slow adaptation theory, aspects of the agricultural economy are mixed with a continuation of subsistence based on hunting and gathering. This hypothesis, however, may be biased by the research history and the exceptional preservation state of the (waterlogged) sites from the period. This slow adaption theory is challenged by new theories that stress the suitability of the lowlands for crop cultivation, and by discoveries of preserved tilled horizons in archaeological sites from the period. The mode and speed of the agricultural transition in the Dutch lowlands are therefore under debate.

The results of our project are set to form a major geoarchaeological and archaeobotanical contribution to this discussion. Determining the suitability of the fluvial lowlands for crop cultivation and new insights in the mode and speed of the adoption of cultivation in the Dutch lowlands creates a comparative framework with the emergence of early farming in North Western Europe in general. Moreover, we expect new insights into the potential role of river valleys and other lowlands in the spread of agriculture, and on the effects of the introduction/adoption of farming on other subsistence strategies, especially hunting and fishing.

Comparing and confronting our new data with the results of previous excavations and the prevailing “slow adoption model” will show to what extent this model needs to be reconsidered or even rejected. Subsequently, the implications for the European narrative of the spread of agriculture will be explored, with attention for both the human factor and the role of the landscape. Finally, a discussion will be initiated to what extent hunting and fishing could play a role in a fully agrarian society, taking into account existing archaeological data and the role of landscape.

Last modified:10 January 2022 1.50 p.m.