December 29, 2012

The expansion of Neolithic in Europe (synthetic maps)

This is relatively old material (2009) but the resuscitated Spanish-language blog Neolítico de la Península Ibérica has recently discussed and synthesized it. And I am sure that much of what is said in it is of great interest for readers of this blog, beginning with myself. Hence I'm including here some of the maps discussed there because they truly synthesize very well the big picture of European Neolithic as a discontinuous and highly irregular process.

Reference: Jean Pierre Bocquet-Appel, Detection of diffusion and contact zones of early farming in Europe from the space-time distribution of 14C dates. Journal of Archaeological Sciences, 2009. Pay per viewLINK [doi:10.1016/j.jas.2008.11.004]

Firstly a map of "vectors" of Neolithic influences/flows, showing some eight apparent zones of expansion:

The numbers may be misleading. The actual chronological order is (by oldest referenced C14 date, which must be calibrated BCE):
  1. Initial phase (Balcans essentially, roots in Thessaly):
    1. (1) Thessaly c. 7100 BCE → Sesklo culture
    2. (2) Hungary c. 6800 BCE → transition between Balcanic and Danubian Neolithic
  2. Main explosion (with Balcanic roots for both Danubian and Impressed-Cardial cultures but unclear for Megalithism):
    1. (8) West Iberia c. 5900 BCE → Megalithism (the ref. site, Cha de Carvalhal, is a mamoa or tumulus, cairn, usually with a dolmen inside)
    2. (6) Liguria c. 5800 BCE → Cardial Pottery Neolithic
    3. (5) SE France c. 5700 BCE → Cardial Pottery Neolithic
    4. (3, 4) Bavaria and Luxembourg c. 5400 BCE → Danubian Neolithic
    5. (7) SE Iberia c. 5300 BCE → Cardial Pottery Neolithic
  3. Late Atlantic offshoots (Atlantic, North Sea):
    1. (9) Ireland c. 4600  BCE → Megalithism
    2. (10) Scotland c. 4100 BCE → Megalithism
The exact chronology for Southern European Neolithic, very especially in Iberia, where some dates insist on being pre-Cardial, is yet to be properly determined but whatever the case it is older or contemporary from the more popular Danubian Neolithic of Central Europe.

Many details are obviously not addressed here, so always take this kind of general approaches with some caution: the devil is often in the details, and many details are missing here.

Still I do feel that the overall description of the process is quite realistic, notably when we also consider this other map that provides a much more clear cultural contextualization:

1.- expansion centers
2.- contact zones
3.- ecological/cultural barriers
4.- maritime expansion route from West Asia
5.- Painted Pottery Neolithic (Balcans)
6.- Eastern Lineal Pottery (Tisza)
7.- Western Lineal Pottery (Danubian Neolithic, LBK)
8.- Impressed Pottery (Adriatic)
9.- Cardial Pottery (Western Mediterranean)
10.- Adriatic contact zone
11.- Western contact zone

The maps are very educative if nothing else. However particular caution must be warned, not just about the many highly debatable details but very notably on the nature of Eastern European Neolithic, often not well described in these analysis, whose most representative culture is Dniepr-Don (located in the basins of these two rivers in Ukraine and Russia mostly) and whose genesis seems very locally rooted (what is emphasized by the persistence of hunter-gathering even after farming and herding and pottery have been consolidated). This culture was also very influential in its own way (alone or later with/under the maybe related Samara-Khvalynsk culture: proto-Indoeuropeans, whose ultimate origins remain in wait of archaeological work). 


  1. The 14C dates appear way to young, even if they are uncalibrated dates. Especially the dates for central europe are off by more then a millenia.

    1. You're right. The dates MUST all be (cal) BCE.

      The image reads "14C date" but I don't have the original paper (yet?) so I could not read the legend and I imagined they are raw BP dates but they just cannot be because they are some 2000 years too recent everywhere.

      Thanks. I'll correct that now.

    2. Original graph (from the source blog):

  2. Great map, you can actually visualize the flow of people in a more realist complexity!

    Do those vectors represent the typical movements themselves, or is it the sum of all movements to an area, ie a vector sum.

    For example, does the map say that people traced across the black sea? Does it say that the influence only went from Spain to Morocco?

    1. I haven't read the original paper so I can't say what they represent exactly but being an archaeological synthesis study, it seems obvious to me that they represent cultural flows expressed in material stuff.

      It is not "flow of people" although it may well be in many cases. Discerning that requires to pay attention to the details (and even then it may be very debatable) and that's beyond the scope of such a generic attempt.

      Some centers that I know for real do not appear: Brittany/West France (an important secondary center of Megalithism, key re. the Atlantic Islands), the Late Danubian center of Northern France (also important re. Britain), the original center of Impressed Pottery in the Adriatic, a possible second center of Balcanic Neolithic in Thrace, etc.

      Some centers are dubious also. I would have though the center of Portugal to be further South and never heard before now of Neolithic centers near Belfast or Aberdeen (but that's surely just my ignorance, I guess). The center of Liguria seems more important than I would have thought (wasn't Central Italy instead?), etc.

      So take all with a good dose of salt and other spices, please. The overall pattern is correct but the details are surely very debatable and may be a mere statistical byproduct of the samples selected before applying the analysis.

      Very especial caution must be placed to the edges, areas of lesser importance for the analysis meant here like Eastern Europe or North Africa. These areas don't seem to have been properly described or even attempted to. In fact:

      → If there is a very early Neolithic in some parts of Iberia it must have been because of North African influences (on the other hand, there are also a handful of coastal sites of Cardium Pottery in North Africa). The Neolithic of North Africa is not too well studied but it seems to be roughly parallel with that of Europe in chronology and ascribes mostly to Capsian (Gafsa) culture (which has Epipaleolithic roots, probably of proto-Berber language).

      → Eastern Europe is even worse described I think. While it may be true that the know-how arrived to the Pontic area across the Caucasus and the Black Sea, the most important element of the Dniepr-Don and other related cultures of the region seems to be their local Epipaleolithic roots and the high importance of hunter-gathering, only gradually decreasing (but also later expanding in NW direction to the Baltic: Pitted Ware, with a Neolithic-forager economy that some have confused with real late hunter-gatherers).

      These maps are no replacement for a proper knowledge of the relevant material prehistory (archaeology or whatever you want to call it) and their interactions. But may serve as basic guide.

      Notable I'd emphasize the chronological hiatuses at the eco-cultural barriers of the Middle Danube (an area where Balcanic Neolithics must have found late Epi-Magdalenian foragers) and the Adriatic. Unlike some ignorant models of European Neolithic: it was not a single steady wave but one wave, rest, another wave, rest... That was the actual process. Each "rest" implied cultural change (and probably assimilation with neighboring natives) prior to the next wave. Also there are major geographical cultural differences between the Central and Southern waves which are sometimes artificially flattened.


Please, be reasonably respectful when making comments. I do not tolerate in particular sexism, racism nor homophobia. Personal attacks, manipulation and trolling are also very much unwelcome here.The author reserves the right to delete any abusive comment.

Preliminary comment moderation is... ON (your comment may take some time, maybe days or weeks to appear).