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Neolithic societies were defined by the development of agricultural economies not only because part of their diet was obtained from cultivated plants, but also because crop-husbandry practices strongly affected people's lifestyles in a variety of ways. It is therefore unsurprising that the development and diffusion of agriculture can be studied from diverse perspectives and with different approaches, by analysing, for example, the macro- and micro-botanical remains of fruits and grains for morphometric and taxonomic variation (Colledge & Conolly 2007) and genetic history (Mascher et al.2016). Conversely, agriculture can be indirectly assessed through its impact on the environment and subsequent landscape modifications (Zanchetta et al.2013; Mercuri 2014). Yet another approach explores crop-husbandry practices as reflected in changing technology. New agricultural tasks required the adaptation of existing technologies and the adoption of new tools and practices, including querns, millstones and other grain-grinding equipment, as well as artefacts and structures for grain storage, cooking and processing.
The study of the Bom Santo Cave (central Portugal), a Neolithic cemetery, indicates a complex social, palaeoeconomic, and population scenario. With isotope, aDNA, and provenance analyses of raw materials coupled with stylistic variability of material culture items and palaeogeographical data, light is shed on the territory and social organization of a population dated to 3800–3400 cal BC, i.e. the Middle Neolithic. Results indicate an itinerant farming, segmentary society, where exogamic practices were the norm. Its lifeway may be that of the earliest megalithic builders of the region, but further research is needed to correctly evaluate the degree of this community's participation in such a phenomenon.
New data and a review of historiographic information from Neolithic sites of the Malaga and Algarve coasts (southern Iberian Peninsula) and from the Maghreb (North Africa) reveal the existence of a Neolithic settlement at least from 7.5 cal ka BP. The agricultural and pastoralist food producing economy of that population rapidly replaced the coastal economies of the Mesolithic populations. The timing of this population and economic turnover coincided with major changes in the continental and marine ecosystems, including upwelling intensity, sea-level changes and increased aridity in the Sahara and along the Iberian coast. These changes likely impacted the subsistence strategies of the Mesolithic populations along the Iberian seascapes and resulted in abandonments manifested as sedimentary hiatuses in some areas during the Mesolithic–Neolithic transition. The rapid expansion and area of dispersal of the early Neolithic traits suggest the use of marine technology. Different evidences for a Maghrebian origin for the first colonists have been summarized. The recognition of an early North-African Neolithic influence in Southern Iberia and the Maghreb is vital for understanding the appearance and development of the Neolithic in Western Europe. Our review suggests links between climate change, resource allocation, and population turnover.
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