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About the Author
Penny Spikins is Lecturer in Prehistory in the Department of Archaeology, University of York. She has published on a broad range of topics in prehistoric archaeology and directed the West Yorkshire Mesolithic Project and the Searching for Submerged Sites Project in Northern England, and has carried out research in Argentina.
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Cambridge University Press
978-0-521-85503-7 - Mesolithic Europe - Edited by Geoff Bailey and Penny Spikins
Mesolithic Europe: Glimpses of Another World
Mesolithic Europe1 holds a special place in our imagination. Perhaps more than any other region and period, it is unique in conjuring up a strange sense of both ‘otherness’ and familiarity. The people who lived here were in many ways fundamentally different from ourselves. As hunters and gatherers, their experience, worldview, and knowledge could not be further from ours. In our imagination, we can conjure up images of how these people might have looked or felt, but even some of the most basic elements of their existence or perception, something far more knowable in later periods, are things of which we know little. The physical world in which they lived is somehow more tangible but, like its people, familiar and yet fundamentally distinct from our own experience. This was a place with landscapes that were vast and, to our minds, untamed, familiar to our experience at a local scale, yet at the same time extending over seemingly immense territories with swathes of dark forests, mountains, and relentlesslyrising seas.
Bounded by the Ural Mountains in the East, the Atlantic Ocean in the North, andtheMediterranean in the South, Europe covers an area of over 10 million squarekilometers (Figure 1.1). It houses some of the most varied and distinctivelandscapes within any comparable-sized region anywhere in the world, landscapes ranging from Mediterraneanwoodlands to Artic Tundra and across 40 degrees of latitude. In this volume, we pass by the Aegean islands of the eastern Mediterranean to the shores of northern Scandinavia and northern Russia, acrossthe mountainous backbone of Europe, the intricate network of lake basins around the Alpine fringe and in the north andeast the vast windswept plain that extends almost unbroken from lowland Britain to the Siberian border interruptedonly by great river systems such as the Rhine, the Danube, the Dniepr, and the Don,and across offshore islands and archipelagos in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic.
Mesolithic people carry a real significance for many. In some regions, the Mesolithic holds aspecial importance as the time of first settlement, of hardy and intrepid coloniserswho carry a symbolic presence for the region. About a third of the European land mass and much of its higher mountainslopes and offshore islands was occupied by human settlement during the Postglacial for the first time in humanexperience. In other regions, the Mesolithic might appear to be the phase of human history within which the first signsof ‘settling’ of society into increasingly familiar environments and habits can be found, with enduringties between people and place. For all, however, the Mesolithic carries a sense of fascination.
Alongside the ‘otherness’ of Mesolithic Europe, knowledge and understandingbrings a sense of rational or even perhaps ‘scientific’ familiarity. The very notion of‘Mesolithic Europe’ as a definable period and region with boundaries of some kind makes us feel that thisworld is knowable, almost manageable. We can define and analyse its limits, and the ways in which environments change.We can reconstruct how people made and used flint tools, follow them genetically,reconstruct and understand what they ate and how they moved around. In the different spheres of environment,subsistence, settlement and society, we can come to an understanding of theMesolithic world. By building up our knowledge in this way, the ‘other world’ of Mesolithic Europe ismade familiar. In some senses, we can even ‘know’ the world of Mesolithic people in a depth that theythemselves could not perceive or understand. We can see how societies, activities, resources, and settlement systemschanged not only over generations but also millennia. We can ‘understand’ or at least approach themechanisms creating change, something far beyond the perceptions of Mesolithic people themselves.
This opening chapter gives an introduction to this world, to some of the history of concepts ofthe Mesolithic, issues, directions and ideas that draw together research on the period, and suggests furthercomplementary frameworks. Each chapter of the volume paints a picture of environments, people, and changes in eachdifferent region. The narratives of the Mesolithic in each region, each grounded in their own historical and researchtrajectory, reveal different insights about the period. Finally, the concluding chapter brings together a comparativeoverview in a broad summary of the leading features of the Mesolithic and emergent areas of new and futureresearch.
The ‘Story’ of the Mesolithic
Human origins and prehistory inevitably form a ‘story’ of the past (Stoczkowski 2002, Joyce et al. 2002), with powerfulmetaphors for who we are today. Different dialogues and narratives compete for our acceptance, and it is perhaps in theMesolithic period more than any other that different frames of reference, or perhaps lenses through which we see thearchaeological evidence, come most into play. These different understandings are more than just ‘theoreticalstandpoints’ but, rather, perceptions and viewpoints that colour and define not only our interpretations butalso our sense of what ‘the Mesolithic’ is, or what it might have meant to have experienced life in thosetimes. Different stories of the Mesolithic and its place in history both merge and conflict to create our currentunderstanding.
Some long-standing stories permeate our sense of what the Mesolithic might mean, how itmight be interpreted or what is ‘allowed’. One of the deep-seated concepts of the Mesolithic is asa time of cultural stagnation – passive societies in which little changed and social relationships were uncontested. The most likely root for such ideas lies in a long-standing view of Mesolithic societies as being dominated by their environment. In fact, we only need to look back to the earlier decades of the twentieth century to understand how Mesolithic societies may have been disenfranchised from discussions of social and cultural changes. The prevailing view of the Mesolithic at this time was that memorably expressed by Gordon Childe, who viewed Mesolithicsocieties, sometimes with undisguised contempt, as impoverished descendants of the Palaeolithic, gripped by ‘astate of helpless barbarism’ (Childe 1925: 1) and contributing nothing to later Europeancivilisation. Sir Mortimer Wheeler wrote in a similar vein about the inhabitants of Mesolithic Star Carr (Tolan-Smith this volume) – and in the same year as the finalpublication of the Star Carr excavations by Grahame Clark (1954) – as ‘as squalid a huddle ofmarch-ridden food gatherers as the imagination could well encompass’ (Wheeler 1954: 231). For these authors, Europeancivilisation began with the spread of Neolithic societies from the Near East, aprocess that supposedly erased the preceding hunter-gatherers of Europe (Zvelebil 1996c). Even Grahame Clark, excavator of Star Carr andpioneer and champion of Mesolithic studies in Britain, was forced to concede with evident reluctance in 1952 that thearchaeological evidence for the coastal Mesolithic peoples of Northwest Europe hardly contradicted the notion of‘a low level of culture’ (Clark 1952: 63).Image not available in HTML version
Figure 1.1. Map of Europe showing major topographic features and key sites. The dashed line shows the maximum extent of the continental ice sheet during the Last Glacial (© G. Bailey).
The concept of passivity has been echoed equally in understandings of the cultural relationshipbetween the Mesolithic and the Neolithic as in that of the relationship with theenvironment. Even from the start of the first use of the label ‘Mesolithic’ in Clark’s (1932: 5) definition of the period as ‘betweenthe close of the Pleistocene and the arrival of the Neolithic’ (Rowley-Conwy 1996), the period appears to be caught betweentwo apparently inexorable and inescapable events, the first environmental and the second cultural. In the south ofEurope where Mesolithic occupation followed that of the Palaeolithic, the term ‘Epipalaeolithic’ (a continuation or culmination of the Palaeolithic) has been widely used and stillappears today (cf. Straus this volume, Valdeyron thisvolume, Pluciennik this volume, Bonsallthis volume). In the north,however, the term Mesolithic highlighted the apparent dynamism and distinctiveness of societies that succeeded inexpanding into new areas. Further north again (Bjerck this volume), the terms Older and Younger Stone Age aremore commonly used. In each region, we can see how the narratives of the origin of Mesolithic societies influencedunderstanding of the nature of the period itself.
There have been various challenges to the concept of Mesolithic peoples as rather impoverishedcommunities. In the 1980s, there was a radical transformation when the material record of certain coastal Mesolithicsocieties, particularly those on the coastlines of Northwest Europe, was interpreted as indicating large sociallycomplex communities living in permanent villages. Drawing on ethnographic analogies with societies of the NorthwestCoast of North America, these communities, with material evidence typically associated with later periods, such asspecialist task groups, food storage, social ranking, cemeteries, and high levels of populationdensity on a par with early farming societies(Rowley-Conwy 1983, Renouf 1984), were seen as sufficiently densely populated and organised to resist the invasion of farming communities. ‘Complex’ Mesolithic communities were seen as socially powerful rather than stagnant. Unsurprisingly, the concept of rising social complexity became an appealing characteristic of the whole period and the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition a new source of stimulus for Mesolithic studies (Zvelebil 1986c, Price 2001). The origins of the Neolithic were extended into the Mesolithic and discussions focussed on progressive intensification or diversification of resources, and a move towards agriculture.
Extrapolating the origins of social complexity to certain contexts in Mesolithic Europe marked a powerful departure from ideas of small, marginalised groups apparently ‘going nowhere’. However, subtlebut pervasive parts of the narrative remained intact. ‘Complexity’ was built on dense, productive coastalresources that were available all year. ‘Complex’ societies were still inexorably and rather passivelybuilt on seasonal resources and subsistence relationships, with concerns about their logistic organisation takingprimacy over social interpretations. This meant that the ‘story’ of the Mesolithic was still one in whichsociety and social change were determined by environments. Ironically, discussions of social changes in complexsocieties rather contributed to the relegation of many of the societies of Mesolithic Europe as ever more‘passive’, as societies outside of maritime locations became rather ‘left out in the cold’of discussions of social changes. The lack of dense resources, and the self-fulfilling and apparentlyuncontested arrival of the Neolithic, in some ways further disenfranchised‘simple’ Mesolithic hunter-gatherers.
Challenges to ways of interpreting the Mesolithic have come from various sources. A longhistory of research from the time of Grahame Clark and beyond (1932, 1975, 1980), three decades ofinternational meetings (Kozlowski 1973, Gramsch 1981, Bonsall 1989, Vermeersch andVan Peer 1990, Larsson et al. 2003), and new approaches and overviews(Mellars 1978, Zvelebil1986c, Price 1987,Conneller 2000, Young2000a, Bevan and Moore 2003,Milner and Woodman 2005, Conneller and Warren 2006) provide healthy disagreements over issues and approaches.New approaches to themes with a deeply entrenched traditional stance such as subsistence (Milner 2006), and technology (Warren 2006), are being developed, manyof which move beyond environmental determinism and readdress interpretations to incorporate views of experience andperceptions. Even the narrative of increasing complexity has gradually become deconstructed (Bonsall thisvolume). A gradual intensification of resources and amove towards agriculture has also been seen as being rather simplistic, witharchaeological evidence for a decline in social complexity suggesting that a progression towards complexity is far frominevitable (Rowley-Conwy 2001).
Approaches to the Mesolithic continue to be contested. However, as valuable as new perspectivesand vigorous debate may be, we might pause to wonder if the large scale narrative has really changed. We have overviewsof the Palaeolithic, usually as part of a global synthesis, for example, Gamble(1986, 1993, 1999) or of theNeolithic and later, for example, Bradley (1984), Whittle (1985,1996), Hodder (1990) and Thomas (1991), but,with the exception of Mithen (2003), little attempt to pull together any large scaleunderstanding for the Mesolithic. The evidence, particularly for so-called simple societies, often dominated bysurface lithic scatters, might be that which is at fault, falling almost naturally into a passive extension ofartefacts from environments and perhaps too meagre to address any large scale social questions of interest.Nonetheless, Conneller and Warren (2006) argue that it is not the material remains of Mesolithicsocieties that are to blame for the limitations of interpretations but, rather, the need for new approaches andunderstanding. Without confronting the narrative of rather passive societies, the questions asked in the Mesolithiccan, on the one hand, become overly practical, related to the technicalities of subsistence and settlement or, on the other hand, reach out to incorporate perceptions and experience that often end updrawing on what Strassburg (2003: 543) has called ‘banalphenomenological truisms’. Young (2000b: 1) concluded that the discipline was still‘waiting for the great leap forwards’. A long-standing story of Mesolithic hunter-gatherersso immersed in their environments and nature, both ecologically and ideologically, as to be almost socially inert seemsto retain a strong hold on our imaginations.
Mesolithic Europe – A Complex Tapestry
Could we rewrite a narrative of the Mesolithic, to write a ‘social story’ of theperiod? ‘Mesolithic Europe’ encompasses over five thousand years across a vast territory, that isover two hundred generations of very different people living in dynamic and changing environments. It might seemreasonable to resist any attempt to pigeonhole such diverse societies into some broad plan. In fact,Kozlowski (2003: xxi) goes so far as to conclude that therange of societies and environments is so great that there is no shared attribute (apart from chronology) that canreliably define the entire Mesolithic formation. Any attempt to draw together such varied societies, to seek comfortfrom some unproblematic perspective, a great (and simple) leap, may of itself be flawed. Mesolithic communities were diverse and varied, perhaps there is no more to say than that these are the only terms on which we can study them.
Diversity and variability are certainly a key theme in this volume. The contributions illustrate a ‘tapestry’ of Mesolithic Europe, which is complex and varied with remarkably different societies falling under the blanket term of ‘Holocene hunter-gatherers’. Societies as diverse as specialised maritime seal hunters, small groups in varied woodland environments, elaborately symbolic settlements such as the Iron Gates of the Danube, early colonisers of barren landscapes, all occupy their place in ‘the Mesolithic’. Each local society has its own distinctive feel. This diversity is increasingly being recognised even at the end of the period and into the Neolithic. Patterns of population replacement, coexistence or assimilation show regional and local differences across Europe (Gkiasta et al. 2003, Perrin 2003, Bentley et al. 2003). The pattern ofdietary changes, although contentious (Milner et al. 2004), also appears to beregionally and locally varied (Lidén et al. 2004). Similar patterns of differing regionaltrajectories also affected the transition to the Neolithic in other areas of the world, such as China (Li Lui 2004). Thematerial evidence for Mesolithic Europe reminds us of a complex, multicoloured tapestry.
Like a tapestry, however, there are discernible patterns in this evidence, and threads linkdifferent societies as we view Mesolithic Europe as a whole. There is more to the material evidence of MesolithicEurope than simply wide-ranging diversity. As humans, we naturally seek stories and metaphors to understandpatterns around us. However much we might welcome complexity and diversity, without finding other means to interpretlarge-scale patterns, we are left with our old narratives to structure understanding.
A Structure behindDiversity?
Making sense of the tapestry of Mesolithic Europe is a challenge. We would be mistaken toderide or dismiss ecological and environmental models. Even when environments are stable,hunter-gatherer communities are strongly influenced in their lifestyles andmovements by their environments and the rhythm of the seasons, and Holoceneenvironments in contrast were complex and constantly varying. In some cases, thedynamics of Holocene environments would have had immediate and far-reaching effects on localhunter-gatherer groups. Mesolithic Europe was a world in which there were towering glaciers, cataclysmic floods,tsunamis, and rising and falling seas. There is evidence for various sudden and cataclysmic events, which would haveleft a trail of effects on human societies. Dolukhanov (this volume) describesinterpretations of a cataclysmic ‘Flood’ of the Black Sea at around6100 cal BC, which would have rapidly inundated more than 100,000m2 of land with its Mesolithic inhabitants, and allegedlyaccelerated the dispersal of early Neolithic farming into Europe. At around the same time, the Storegga tsunamioff the coast of Norway would have been equally devastating and may have caused cataclysmic effects on coastalpopulations, with 10 m high waves potentially devastating boats, equipment, andfood supplies. Moreover, because this happened in autumn, there would have been little time for survivors to preparefor the harsh winter. In the Baltic region, there were fundamental changes to the freshwater Ancylus Lake, which became linked to the ocean through the straits of Øresund, Storebælt, and Lillebælt (Bjerck this volume).
We can scarcely imagine the ideological effect on local populations of these drastic changes.Of course, less dramatic changes also would have had perceptible effects and such dynamism and unpredictability intheir surrounding landscape would have been a major influence on how many groups understood their world.Bjerck (thisvolume) describes a drop in sea level of about 3 m percentury in parts of Norway such that the configuration of the coastline would have changed, altered fishing and huntinggrounds, and potentially blocked sea passages. Periodic transgressions of about 1 mare recorded at Vedbæk in Eastern Zealand (Blankholm thisvolume). Within many people’s lifetimes, there would have been noticeable changesin their surroundings, whether subtle or more significant in their effects. Population movements must have been common,and changing environments and landscapes must have influenced understandings and beliefs about the world.
The influence of environment is perhaps most complex at the regional and local scale.Holocene environments were uniquely structuredand differentiated, and in many cases remarkably different from those today despite broadly similar climaticconditions. Where dry scrub is common in much of the modern Mediterranean,Pluciennik (thisvolume) describes a mosaic of forest communities in southern France, southern Spain, andcentral Italy during the Mesolithic. Macchia, evergreen forests, and deciduous forests with lime and elm, would have been common, with alder-dominated forests along river and stream margins, as well as pine forest and heath interspersed with coastal and estuarine salt marshes and lagoons. Landscapes inregions such as the British Isles (Tolan-Smith thisvolume) would have been different from today’s, with lowlands dominated early on byforests of pine, birch, and hazel, and later by oak, elm,and lime. Landscapes and vegetation would have been much more patchy and diversethan those with which we are familiar today. The dynamics of vegetation competition and replacement followingPostglacial warming mean that conditions also would have been in flux throughout the period, with stable climaxcommunities only becoming established in many regions after several thousand years. Mesolithic communities wereintimately connected to their environment, and the complex dynamic of replacement of pine and birch by oak,hazel, and lime in regions such as Britain andGermany had clearly defined influences on large mammal communities and thus on hunting practices (Spikins 1999, Spikins 2000, Jochim and Tolan-Smith this volume).
The most obvious area of environmental influence onMesolithic societies is that of colonisations. Large-scale patterns of change in environments and resourcesundoubtedly influenced both new colonisations and population movements within inhabited Europe. Concepts of earlypioneers, hardy explorers of previously unused terrain and a ‘shifting up’ and gradual infilling pervadediscussions of all the regions, from new occupation of previously unoccupied landscapes in Scandinavia(Bjerck thisvolume), Scotland (Finlayson 1998, Hardy and Whickham-Jones 2002, Tolan-Smith thisvolume), islands such as Ireland (Tolan-Smiththis volume), Corsica(Valdeyron thisvolume, Pluciennik this volume), and Sardinia (Pluciennick this volume), to expansion to highaltitudes in the mountains of central Europe (Svoboda this volume). The motivations and processes behindcolonisation and how this relates to changing environments and landscapes can be surprisingly elusive, however. Inareas such as Ireland (Tolan-Smith this volume) or Corsica (Valdeyron thisvolume), colonisation reflects a complex relationship between environmental opportunity andhuman motivation, ingenuity and desire for exploration. Ethnographic evidence can provide further insight.Tolan-Smith (this volume) suggests several different stages inpopulation expansion in the British Isles, from initial colonisation of newregions to consolidation and infilling and further expansion following climatic changes. We might even begin to imagine the different social contexts of settlement with emphases on ‘exploration’ or ‘tradition’.
There is more to colonisation than simply a response to environmental changes, however. Bjerck illustrates the role of technological innovation in colonisation, the risk associated with pioneering settlement of Arctic landscapes and the technological component of specialised maritime occupation and its development. He attributes the delay in colonisation of the extreme north to the delay in developing specialised methods of marine exploitation, in particular the technological capacity for safe movement using sea craft that could be righted if submerged – particularly important in extremely cold seas. Without these innovations, Bjerck (this volume) describes northern coastal environments as ‘inaccessible as the moon’.
Environmental change also will have influenced population migration in occupied areas. Although the concept of migrations is unfashionable, large-scale changes in technology, in artefact types and distributions, and how these relate to environments and regions, have fascinated archaeologists studying the Mesolithic from its first recognition. Across all regions, we can document the movement of certain artefacts, such as Star Carr and Deepcar assemblage types in early Mesolithic Britain (Tolan-Smith this volume) or scalene or Montclus triangles in Late Mesolithic France (Valdeyron this volume). To some extent, shifts of groups with changing environments or changing subsistence practices can be seen as influencing movements and change in artefact styles (see Tolan-Smith this volume, Jochimthis volume). Microlithisation, the gradual reduction in size of microliths, a pattern common to Mesolithic Europe, also can be seen in terms of changing woodland types and changing technologies for medium and large game hunting. However, changes in artefact styles have other, more predominantly social explanations. Pluciennik (this volume) also suggests that microliths performed other functions, such as plant food processing, and microlithisation might have other explanations. Innovation, the spread of ideas, and the negotiation of stylistic identities between groups linked across areas of landscape are also key features of Mesolithic Europe. In some areas, there is a relationship between changes in lithic technology and changes in game resources, as in the British Isles (Tolan-Smith this volume), or the Upper Danube and Upper Rhine (Jochim this volume). In other areas such as southwest France (Pluciennik this volume), there is no consistent pattern, suggesting that relationships between groups and the spread of knowledge were important influences.
Other types of changes in artefacts also suggest a story of social changes, which remains to be uncovered. Increasing regionalisation of patterns of artefacts, both in terms of distinctive styles and increasingly regional networks of raw material procurement, require explanation. Increasing regionalisation can in part be explained by a fragmentation of increasingly complex and dense woodland environments throughout the Mesolithic (Spikins 1999, Spikins 2000). Other explanations include an increasing intensification of subsistence. However, in many areas, arguments for increasing territoriality (Gendel 1984, 1987) seen in stylistic or assemblage distinctions in artefacts such as stone axes in west Norway (Bjerck this volume), distinctive types of microlith styles in different regions of Denmark (Blankholm this volume) or other elements of material culture such asrock art traditions, have proved more supportable than a focus on intensification perse (Arias 2004). The social context of regionalisation is,nevertheless, difficult to address, given the complex relationship between what might be seen as defined‘territories’ and ethnicity (Bergsvik 2003). Insight has been gained from considering the spreadof techniques of manufacture rather than by focusing on final form, for example, the spread of blade techniques andchanges in platform preparation in Norway (Bjerck this volume, see also Warren 2006).
A particularly interesting argument for a relationship between environment and society lies inthe apparent connection between social complexity and maritime and lakeside environments (Mithen 1994).Similarities appear in societies in which there are rich maritime or lakeside resources from the far north to theMediterranean. In the far northern latitudes, where for four months of the yearthe sun does not set, the icy cold but resource-rich northern sea was the focus of settlement for maritime hunter-gatherers such as those atVega in northern Norway. Here we see settlements with pit houses, with people using elaborate seagoing vessels in theirspecialised focus on marine foods, probably associated with sealhunting (Bjerck 1995, Bjerck this volume). Further south, otherstructured settlements echo the theme of marine or lakeside focus. At Tågerup in Sweden, large houses were constructed in a ‘village’ at the confluence of tworivers, with permanent structures such as jetties and moorings for boats(Zvelebil thisvolume). Coastal and lakeside regions also provide evocative glimpses of societies for whomthe sea and water played an important economic and symbolic role. We see richly symbolic pendants of amber and animal teeth, wooden artefacts such as bows, decoratedpaddles, canoes, and leisters in evidence from submerged sites in the Baltic(Blankholm thisvolume). Rock art sites such asNämforsen in Sweden offer fascinating glimpses of symbolism associated withimages of elk, boats, fish, and birds thatshow commonalities with the cosmological system of the modern Khanty, and appear to mark an important locus for ritual,aggregation and exchange (Zvelebil this volume). Riverine resourcesalso appear to have been particularly influential in the development of settlements such as Lepenski Vir and Vlasac in the Iron Gates (Bonsall this volume). Here, in relative isolation from the rest ofEurope, we see an apparently ‘sacred’ site at Lepenski Vir, comprising houses with plastered floors,carved figurines, and neonates interned under the floors.
The distinctive difference between these societies and those in inland areas is a common themerunning through the volume. In interior regions, typified by often-dense Holocene woodland, the evidence for occupation can be scarce, and for ritual or symbolic life scarcer still. We see similar elusive evidence with scattered sites andinterpretations of woodland hunting in Germany ( Jochim this volume), France(Valdeyron thisvolume), and Britain (Tolan-Smith this volume), and in the distinctivewoodland areas of the Mediterranean such as Greece (Pluciennik thisvolume). Postdepositional processes undoubtedly play a role in influencing the patchinessof the hinterland record, but it is difficult to escape the conclusion that such wooded environments were in generalless resource-rich and populations more mobile and organisationally ‘simpler’.Zvelebil suggests that these inland areas are typified by simple forager groupsexemplifying Ingold’s ‘forager mode of production’ (Ingold 1988, Zvelebil 1998). Distinctively different societies occupied manylakeside and marine locations and exhibited status differentiation and distinctions along dimensions of age and sex.Nonetheless, the relationship between environment, landscape, and society in Mesolithic Europe is far fromclear-cut. Each region, or even local area, has a distinctive mark, which reflects a subtle and individualengagement between resources, settlement, and belief, and that is also negotiatedthrough and affected by connections between groups at a larger scale.
The interpretation of apparently different degrees of social organisation in societies across the whole region and the extent to which this relates to environments ischallenging. Traditionally, social differences are seen as being driven by differences in settlement/mobility patterns. Drawing onethnography, the contrast between so-called delayed return and immediate return hunter-gatherers (Woodburn1980) has been seen as the structuring principleexplaining difference in Mesolithic society. In Woodburn’s model, ‘immediate return’ groups makefrequent moves of their main residential base, foraging on a daily basis to collect local food sources. Mobility ofthis kind has been seen as a classic hallmark of small-scale egalitarian societies in which resources areunpredictable and sparse, who might tend to show a kinship structure based onexogamy and wide-ranging alliance networks (Tolan-Smith this volume). ‘Delayedreturn’ hunter-gatherers, by contrast, appear to be associated withpredictable resource-rich environments where collecting food resources canbe organised using task groups, who forage away from the main residential base. These are the ‘logisticforagers’ in Binford’s terms (1980), in which throughorganised exploitation the returns on collection are ‘delayed’. The latter kind of movement involvesplanning and organisation, and typically use of complex technology such as fish traps and boats.
Applying these models appears to ‘make sense’ of much of the material evidencefor Mesolithic Europe. Several regions provide good examples of logistically organised societies that have been seen asexamples of ‘complexity’. Specialised maritime exploitation patterns as in Scandinavia provide oneexample, with certain clear-cut cases of organised procurement, such as specialised hunting sites for swans or whales in Denmark (Blankholmthis volume). Societies inthe Baltic show evidence for marking out of social distinctions and illustrate many instances of different socialgroups in burial (Zvelebil this volume). However, theassociation of resources and settlement withother changes, such as social stratification, intensification, the rise ofsedentism, and the appearance of cemeteries,is not altogether clear-cut. In northern Scandinavia, evidence suggests that a suite of social changes occurredthroughout the Mesolithic – a longer-lasting occupation of sites, the appearance of more distinctregional groupings, a widening range of species in subsistence, and an intensification in the use of symbols(Bjerck this volume). The progressive development of social organisation and the relationship between characteristics of social organisation and environments is increasingly being questioned in other regions. In southern Scandinavia, the concept of a progressive increase in sedentism, the rise of complexity, and the appearance of cemeteries is not borne out by close inspection of the material record (Blankholm this volume), although variety of grave goods at Skateholm and association of blade knives with some male burials at Bøggebaken does suggest increased social diversity and the rise of leadership and competition for power. For the Iron Gates, despite earlier interpretations, Bonsall (this volume) finds sedentism unlikely, and although some suggestions of high-status burial exist, social distinctions are hard to define. Across Mesolithic Europe, the relationship among ‘delayed return’ economies, ‘complexity’ discernible in evidence of increased sedentism, exchange relationships, and defined stratification in burial is often unclear.
The arguments for relating use of resources and settlement pattern to apparent social changes are not as straightforward as they might appear. Certainly, the concept of clear modes of settlement can be seen to be rather simplistic. Almost all hunter-gatherers use both immediate and delayed return strategies at various times (Kelly 1995, Spikins 1999, 2000) with a fluid transition between ‘mapping onto’ food resources and the organisation of specialist task groups. As Jochim (1991) illustrates, seasonal rounds in ethnographic societies are rarely clearly defined, with variation from year to year being the norm. Differences within regions arealso marked in ethnographic cases (Spikins 1999, Spikins 2000). Inrecent years, there also has been an increasing recognition of the fluidity of social changes.Rowley-Conwy notes that the appearance of what we might call‘complexity’ is a fluid process, which can be reversed (Rowley-Conwy 2001). The relationship between subsistencechanges and ideological changes also has become an area of much debate that remains to be resolved for theMesolithic-Neolithic transition (Rowley-Conwy 2004). A gradual rise of complexity throughintensification of exploitation patterns and increasing organisation of people andtime has become a hard principle to sustain, and there seems to be far more to the picture of different societies thanvariability in resource exploitation.
Of course, the ‘missing pieces’ of the tapestry of evidence in Mesolithic Europecompound the difficulties of distinguishing modes of society related to immediateor delayed return settlement systems, andeven more so of identifying or beginning to understand any transition between them. As many have argued (Coles 1998,Bailey 2004, Bailey andMilner 2002, Fleming 2004), the missing evidence from submergedprehistoric coasts may be crucial, as almost all our evidence of early Mesolithiccoastal societies has been submerged by rising seas and much Late Mesolithic evidence as well. It is precisely thecoastal locations where the most ‘organised’ societies tend to exist. For Britain, tantalising glimpsesof supposedly emergent complexity occur in early Mesolithic coastal settings, such as evidence for structures, whichmight have been occupied for an extended period, at Howick(Tolan-Smith this volume, Waddington et al. 2003) or glimpses of symbolism and exchange in the elaborate bead production at Nab Head in SouthWales (Tolan-Smith this volume). The ‘missing pieces’ of thetapestry not only frustrate interpretations but may even bias them towards certain types of sites.Blankholm (thisvolume) notes that discussions of southern Scandinavian social complexity frequentlycompare late Mesolithic coastal sites with early Mesolithic interior sites (with early Mesolithic coastal sites beingunderwater at depths that are largely inaccessible), creating a biased picture and artificially suggesting theappearance of more ‘complex’ societies over time.
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Table of Contents1. Mesolithic Europe - glimpses of another world Penny Spikins; 2. Innovating hunter-gatherers: the Mesolithic in the Baltic Marek Zvelebil; 3. Norwegian Mesolithic trends: a review Hein Bjerck; 4. Southern Scandinavia Hans Peter Blankholm; 5. Mesolithic Britain Chris Tolan-Smith; 6. New developments in the study of the Mesolithic of the low countries Leo Verhardt; 7. The Mesolithic in France Nicolas Valdeyron; 8. The Mesolithic of the Upper Danube and the Upper Rhine Michael Jochim; 9. The Mesolithic of the Middle Danube and Upper Elbe rivers Jiri Svoboda; 10. The Mesolithic of the iron gates Clive Bonsall; 11. The Mesolithic of European Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine Pavel Doluckanov; 12. The Mesolithic of Atlantic Iberia Lawrence Guy Straus; 13. The coastal Mesolithic of the European Mediterranean Mark Pluciennik; 14. Mesolithic Europe, overview and new problems Geoff Bailey.