2.2. Recent approaches to mesolithic mobility

Any researcher working in the field of mesolithic studies will have come across one or another of the models of forager settlement and mobility strategies. Elsewhere (Kador 2003; 2005, 108 - 110) I have discussed the most dominant of these models, frequently employed in mesolithic research in some detail, such as Binford's (1980) 'forager-collector model' or Clarke's (1972) 'upland-lowland' one (see also Mellars 1976). Therefore there is no need to delve into the history of mobility model building or outline the parameters of these models once again. Instead in this contribution I will primarily focus on more recent ways of approaching (hunter-gatherer) mobility and question the usefulness of these approaches to aid our understandings of early prehistoric people's movements and their daily lives more generally.

As I have outlined, mobility has for the past four decades maintained a constant presence within mesolithic research yet at the same time has remained on the sidelines as a subject of interest in its own right. In recent years a number of publications have rekindled the debate around mobility in mesolithic northwest Europe. In particular a special issue of the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology (Lovis et al. 2006 eds) has been dedicated entirely to 'Mesolithic Mobility, Exchange and Interaction'. Apart from this volume, mobility has also featured strongly in a number of other recent publications such as Brantingham (2006), Eriksen and Fisher (2002), Smith (2003) and Close (2000). However, the last two of these publications are primarily concerned with hunter-gatherer groups of prehistoric North America rather than mesolithic Europe and in general it is interesting to note that the reopening of the debate on mobility appears to be largely driven by researchers from a North American background. The approaches to mobility they advocate appear to be quite distinct from developments on the same front in northwest Europe, as recently reviewed by Wickham-Jones (2005). Yet the fact that these publications have brought hunter-gatherer and mesolithic mobility back on the agenda must be warmly welcomed. It opens up new opportunities to discuss this important practice and how it relates to other aspect of daily life in early prehistory.

Lovis et al. (2006) suggest that '[m]obility and interaction are always outcomes of multiple, sometimes congruent and sometimes conflicting, needs and decisions faced by hunter-gatherers' (Lovis et al. 2006, 271-272). This statement illustrates well the position assumed by many of the recent contributions to mesolithic movement and mobility. While it accommodates hunter-gatherers' social complexity and gives them the opportunity to make decisions, on a more careful reading it becomes clear that it actually represents people as passive recipients to outside factors, be they environmental stress, population pressure, resource availability, conflict etc. They then (are forced to) respond to these outside influences with which they are 'faced' through moving and/or interacting with others. The assumption would seem to be that their movements are merely a consequence of or response to other phenomena beyond their control and can thus serve as an index for these. This perception of the hunting and gathering populations of mesolithic (and indeed palaeolithic) Europe and prehistoric North America, as constantly responding to outside pressures lies at the heart of many of these recent studies of mobility. The ideas underlying these studies differ little from those put forward by Binford (1978; 1980) and they make no attempt to replace or rethink Binford's (1980) mobility models firstly formulated nearly three decades ago. Instead many of the authors appear to impose these models more or less directly onto their evidence even reusing Binford's original terminology.

'[M]ost of the authors make use of the collector-forager model of mobility organization in hunter-gatherer societies (Binford 1979, 1980; Kelly 1983), and a set of technological constructs such as embedded procurement, curation/expediency, and "gearing up"'
(Eriksen & Fisher 2002, 3).

In practice this means that these models and constructs derived from generally unidentified 'Western Hemisphere hunter-gatherer analogs' (Donahue and Lovis 2006, 254) serve as a straight jacket for the material and landscape evidence from early prehistoric central and western Europe, with discussions focussing on identifying 'logistical' and 'residential' sites and associated 'mobility strategies'. This has the effect that the contributions appear to add rather little to the questions they set out to tackle; how did people move in mesolithic Europe and what lies behind their bipedal expressions?


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