1. Introduction

For over two decades, archaeologists have centred on the demarcation of 'agricultural frontier zones' (Dennell 1985; Zvelebil 1986; 1996; 2004) in order to decipher the contexts of culture change that coincided with the Mesolithic-Neolithic transitions of Europe. It is now widely accepted that the trajectories and tempos of the transition to agriculture were dependent on local ecological conditions, pre-existing Mesolithic social networks, and the socio-economic strategies of Early Neolithic populations (Bogucki 2000; Price 2000; Zvelebil 2000, 63). The current state of knowledge is allowing researchers to move away from preconfigured demic diffusion or indigenous innovation models to examining the neolithisation of Europe as a dynamic relationship between regional socioecological contexts of contact and cultural transmission between hunter-gatherers and early agriculturalists (cf. Zvelebil 2004).

Figure 1. Palaeoecological zones of the Scheldt basin
Figure 1: Palaeoecological zones of the Scheldt basin

Few regions of Europe display as much small-scale socioecological and cultural complexity during neolithisation processes as the Scheldt river basin (northern France and Belgium) (Figure 1). This region attests to both the colonisation of indigenous hunter-gatherer landscapes by Linearbandkeramik ('LBK'; or, Rubané) and Groupe de Blicquy agropastoralists, and the gradual acquisition of pottery and agriculture by local hunting-fishing-gathering groups (cf. Crombé et al. 2005; Crombé and Vanmontfort 2007). The tempo of these processes depended on the particular ecological zones of the Scheldt basin (Crombé et al. 2005), which manifested an archaeological record of divergent trajectories between the middle Belgian loess belt and the northern 'Sandy Flanders' region.

While research into the neolithisation of the Scheldt basin has only just begun, many interesting questions have already arisen from the current state of the archaeological record. One of the most significant questions at the moment centres around the specific socioecological processes which would have enabled the various hiatuses in cultural transmission and change between the loess and sandy environmental zones. What kinds of social and ecological processes were at play in manifesting the 'stationary frontier' (see Zvelebil 1996) at the Mesolithic-Neolithic interface in the Scheldt basin?

The current archaeological record from 5300-4000 BC only allows a partial view into the types of interaction that could have taken place between indigenous hunter-gatherer and early agricultural populations at the Mesolithic-Neolithic interface (e.g. Crombé in press). In order to understand the relevant ecological and social contexts for these interactions a broader emphasis must be placed on later Mesolithic cultural landscapes in the middle and lower Scheldt basins. The construction of models for the transition to agriculture in this region requires a more holistic view of the ways hunter-fisher-gatherers produce, utilize, and maintain cultural landscapes.

Recent ethnoarchaeological work on temperate and boreal hunter-fisher-gatherer landscape enculturation (cf. Grøn 2005; Jordan 2003; Oliver in press) has established the appropriate framework for modelling prehistoric hunter-gatherer cultural landscapes and the diachronic social relations that were bound within them. The current article examines briefly two of these studies (Jordan 2003; Oliver in press) for their holistic approaches on the relationship between both ecological (seasonal movement and resource procurement practices) and socio-cultural (social interaction and the division of familial group spaces within the larger cultural group) structures of forager societies living in northern forest environments. It is argued that this ethnoarchaeological information establishes a thorough palette - as a 'structural anology' (cf. van Gijn and Zvelebil 1997) to help construct models of contact and cultural transmission in the Scheldt basin from the Late Mesolithic-Middle Neolithic (7000/6600-4000 BC). This study aims primarily to examine the relative ecological zones encompassing the Mesolithic-Neolithic interface, and how these zones established the cultural landscapes that conditioned the neolithisation processes of this region. Specific focus will be placed on the importance of territoriality for social relations within hunter-fisher-gatherer groups, and the subsequent ways that this socioecological strategy affects cultural transmission processes with agricultural populations.


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Last updated: Wed Oct 3 2007