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Northern European hunter-gatherers resisted agricultural revolution

Crops and livestock have been a part of the human experience for thousands of years. But, for some of our Neolithic forebears, agriculture was at first a tough sell.

Farming began its spread across Europe over 10,000 years ago. But the transition wasn’t instantaneous: according to a new study, northern Europeans initially resisted the practice in favor of traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyles.

Researchers from the Center for International Research in the Humanities and Social Sciences (CIRHUS) – a collaboration between France’s National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and New York University – used bead ornaments to trace the cultural (and agricultural) attitudes of Neolithic Europe. Their findings were published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE.

The Neolithic era, which began around 10,200 B.C., refers to the last part of the Stone Age. In the previous era, the Mesolithic, human populations were almost exclusively hunter-gatherers. But as stone tools and other technologies improved, so began the spread of farming and the domestication of animals. Unfortunately for archaeologists, this transition was poorly documented. Nobody knows exactly how and where this agricultural lifestyle fanned out, particularly in Europe.

To find out, researchers looked to an inconspicuous source – ornamental beads and bracelets. CIRHUS researcher Solange Rigaud led an extensive analysis of 224 bead types found in over 400 European sites, both Mesolithic and Early Neolithic. They may only look like knickknacks, but Dr. Rigaud attests that they have profound cultural meaning. Body ornaments, she says, can express “symbolic codes,” ones that change as populations move, mix, and trade.

“We therefore consider personal ornaments as a reliable proxy for reconstructing cultural diversity and change in past societies,” Rigaud said.

Read full original article: Did Northern Europeans resist the rise of agriculture?

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