4. Discussion

The construction of models for the neolithisation of the Scheldt basin must begin with outlining the various ecological and social factors that created the archaeological record from 5300-4000 BC. The evidence presented here connects both aspects in order to outline, or propose, a model that seeks to explain the current lack of archaeologically identifiable evidence for contact and cultural transmission between the last hunter-fisher-gatherers and the first agriculturalists of the middle and lower Scheldt basin. While partially speculative due to the further work required for such a complex model, some noteworthy patterns do appear.

Due to the changing climate, vegetation, and hydrological conditions during the Atlantic period, Late and Final Mesolithic settlements were concentrated mostly around bodies of water, often near rivers, streams, and marshy areas. The middle Scheldt basin reveals diverse foci of land use on sandy (primarily), sandy-loamy, and loess soils (Van Assche 2005). Unfortunately, all other interpretations of social organisation are speculative at the moment. The lower Scheldt basin, on the other hand, has evidence of aggregated concentrations of settlement along riversides, streams, and marshes, most likely referring to a decrease in annual and/or seasonal mobility (Crombé et al. in press). Broad-scale social territorial patterns in the later Mesolithic, such as 'style' and raw material distributions, suggest that by the time of the arrival of the Linearbandkeramik and Groupe de Blicquy populations (c. 5300/4200 BC) indigenous hunter-fisher-gatherers had already established diverse cultural landscapes structured by various forms of social networks and resource procurement strategies. The colonisation of select areas within the loess region by LBK and Blicquy settlements likely had a great effect on the hunting-fishing-gathering groups of these areas, yet it is possible that small numbers of them continued to live among the agriculturalists on the river valleys (Crombé and Vanmontfort 2007). The latter point, however, awaits further research. In the lower Scheldt basin, hunter-fisher-gatherers eventually acquired pottery from neighbouring (agricultural?) groups, but continued their traditional subsistence and land use practices (Crombé et al. 2005). The transition to agriculture coincided with the spread of an entirely new cultural tradition throughout the Scheldt basin, a millennium after the first appearance of agriculture.

If enclosures do in fact represent hostilities between hunter-gather and agricultural populations (Golitko and Keeley 2007; Keeley and Cahen 1989), these hostilities lasted for a small part - in a spatially limited area - of the entire neolithisation process. Furthermore, the hostility hypothesis does not take into account the relative structures of social organisation within both hunting-fishing-gathering and farming cultures, and the way internal organisation conditions the nature of external contact. This is where an applied hunter-gatherer ethnoarchaeological method is useful, because it allows for greater insight on the processes establishing the archaeological record (cf. Grøn 2005). The ethnoarchaeological evidence referenced above (e.g. Jordan 2003) shows how, despite centuries of colonial rule and contact with other external agricultural groups, the general social organisational structures of hunting-fishing-gathering peoples remain consistent. This evidence highlights the significance of resource procurement territoriality for social mediation between single and multiple household groups, and the way it conditions annual and/or seasonal movements within sociohistorically structured cultural landscapes.

The current state of the archaeological record in the Scheldt basin legitimises a model where later Mesolithic resource procurement territoriality resulted in the production, consumption, and maintenance of cultural landscapes that remained consistent in the lower Scheldt basin despite the colonisation of the loess region by early agriculturalists. At the Mesolithic-Neolithic interface, hunter-fisher-gatherer territoriality mediated the possible interactions with farmers, and subsequently, the possible cultural transmission processes that resulted. Agriculture was not a socially and ecologically beneficial addition to seasonal resource procurement strategies within the increasingly marshy later Atlantic environment. These factors led to limited contact with Early Neolithic populations, contacts which did not comprise the needed socio-structural intensity for the transmission of the entire cultural 'package' of the agriculturalists. As an aside, it is important to note that recent research on cultural transmission in prehistoric hunter-gatherer populations suggests that particular cultural items are transmitted in different ways between cultures based on the meaning of those items in terms of ethnic and/or social group identity (cf. Croes et al. 2005).


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Last updated: Wed Oct 3 2007