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The wet, the wild and the domesticated: The Mesolithic–Neolithic transition on the west coast of Scotland

  • Rick J. Schulting (a1) and Michael P. Richards (a2)

Abstract

Models of the Mesolithic–Neolithic transition in Britain in recent years have tended to downplay the role of changes in the subsistence economy, emphasizing a very gradual adoption of new domesticated resources. This view has been particularly pervasive for the west coast of Scotland, which in the context of Britain presents a relatively marginal environment for farming. In this article, we challenge this too-quickly emerging orthodoxy through the presentation and discussion of both new and previously published stable isotope data and AMS dates. The palaeodietary information, while limited, strongly suggests a very rapid and complete change in the subsistence economy coincident with the earliest manifestations of the Neolithic on the west coast of Scotland early in the fourth millennium cal. BC. Whatever explanation is invoked to account for the transition needs to engage with the isotopic data. The possibility of colonization at some level needs to be seriously reconsidered.

Les modèles récents de la transition du méso- au néolithique en Grande-Bretagne ont tendance à minimiser le rôle des changements dans l'économie de subsistance, en faisant valoir une adoption progressive de nouvelles ressources domestiquées. Cet avis s'est surtout imposé pour la côte ouest de l'Ecosse, qui, dans le contexte britannique, représente un environnement plutôt insignifiant pour l'agriculture. Dans cet article, cette orthodoxie émergeant trop rapidement est mise en question à l'aide de données – nouvelles ainsi que déjà publiées – sur les isotopes stables et AMS. Notre savoir sur la paléo-alimentation, bien que limité, suggère expressément un changement rapide et complet de l'économie substantielle, allant de pair avec les premières manifestations du néolithique à la côte ouest de l'Ecosse au début du 4e millénaire av.JC. Toute explication évoquée pour rendre compte de cette transition doit être confrontée avec les dates isotopiques. De même, il faudra reconsidérer sérieusement la possibilité d'une colonisation à un certain moment.

Zusammenfassung

Modelle des Übergangs vom Mesolithikum zum Neolithikum in Großbritannien haben in den letzten Jahren dazu tendiert, die Rolle der Subsistenz-Ökonomie herunterzuspielen. Sie betonten eine allmähliche Annahme der neuen domestizierten Ressourcen. Diese Ansicht war besonders eindringlich für die schottische Westküste geäußert worden, die im britischen Kontext ein relativ marginaler landwirtschaftlicher Raum ist. Im vorliegenden Aufsatz hinterfragen wir diese zu schnell auftauchende Orthodoxie anhand von neuen wie auch bereits publizierten Stable-Isotope-Analysen und AMS-Daten. Die Informationen zu Paläodiäten weisen – wenn sie auch begrenzt sind – ausdrücklich auf einen sehr plötzlichen und kompletten Wechsel in der Subsistenz-Ökonomie, der mit den frühesten Erscheinungsformen des Neolithikums and der Westküste Schottland im frühen 4. Jahrtausend BC übereinstimmt. Welche Erklärung auch immer für die Veränderung herangezogen wird – sie muß mit den Isotopen-Daten abgeglichen sein. Die Möglichkeit einer Form von Kolonialisierung sollte erneut ernsthaft in Erwägung gezogen werden.

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