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The Neolithisation of Denmark - 150 years of debate, edited by ANDERS FISCHER and KRISTIAN KRISTIANSEN
J.R. Collis Publications, Sheffield. 2002. 398 pages, 196 text figures, 17 tables. ISBN 1 85075 697 X hard cover (£60.00)

Denmark is one of the core regions of Stone Age discoveries and the development of ideas about Mesolithic and Neolithic societies. The køkkenmøddinger were a hot issue in the international debate in the later 19th century, palynology was developed there, and the registration of human impact in the primeval forests in the pollen record discovered and explained. Later Scandinavian models for Mesolithic societies and their transition to farming were seen as representative for a far wider region, if not for the whole of Europe. As such British scholars, like Grahame Clark, Peter Rowley-Conwy, Marek Zvelebil, showed and still show a keen interest for the Scandinavian Mesolithic in particular, perhaps as a result of the material poverty of this period at home. Nowhere else in Europe comparable evidence for the Later Mesolithic was and is available, and so the European Mesolithic became more or less a clone of the Danish.

Neolithisation of Denmark gives us an original, exciting and impressive overview of 150 years of research. The initiative for this volume was taken by Kristian Kristiansen around 1980. Selection and translation of the papers took place in that time, but fund raising apparently was not successful and so the project was temporarily abandoned, to be resumed in the mid 1990’s by Anders Fischer as the primary editor. We must be grateful to both editors for their initiative and endurance, since it would have been very regrettable if this book never would have come out.

It is a massive volume: 22 chapters comprising almost 400 pages. Most chapters are introduced by Anders Fischer, with a specification and legitimation of each selected paper. Each introduction has a historical photo as frontispiece, some of these well-known, others are new, at least for me. A cartoon is used when such a document fails as well as for the more recent contributions.

The book opens with two introductory papers by the editors, one of these an historical review by Kristiansen. He uses the case of the research by the four successive Kitchen Midden Commissions as a basis to reflect the proper conditions for productive interdisciplinary research relations. Archaeologists and natural scientists should be firmly rooted in the basics of their discipline, is his conclusion. On the other hand: it seems that the great innovators often have a talent or instinct to do the right thing without knowing it at the time. That is perfectly demonstrated by the following chapters.

Then follow 11 reprints or translations of carefully selected ‘classical papers’, all by archaeologists or palaeobotanists of fame. Most of these have been originally published in Danish and were as such not easily accessible for an international audience. I still remember that Beckers Mosefunde lerkar fra Yngre Stenalder has been a main stimulus for me to acquire a basic knowledge of Danish! Now are these key papers presented for the first time in English, papers that illustrate the leading role that these Danish pioneers have played in the discovery and understanding of the later stone age and the environmental impact of the earliest farmers.

The first topic is the kitchen midden discussion, illustrated with five papers by Steenstrup, Worsaae Sophus Müller, Johannes Petersen and others. They cover the period 1851-1922. Next are six chapters devoted to the work of what I would call the first post-war generation, published between 1948 and 1967. The chapters are in strictly chronological order, which means that we jump a bit from one subject to another. Two papers are by Carl Johan Becker, one from his thesis on the bog pots (1948), the other is one from one of his settlement excavation reports, namely Store Valby. The first paper illustrates the careful registration of artefacts salvage in the course of the large scale reclamations of the first half of the 20th century, and its scientific spin off. Both are milestones in TRB research. The main body (four papers) of this section is, however, devoted to palynology and the debate between Troels-Smith and Iversen on the different types of landnam, that nowadays are indicated with their names. Presented are the papers on the TRB landnam by Iversen, including the original pollen diagrams; the arguments of Troels Smith to conceive the people of the Ertebølle Culture as immigrant farmers (a Bonde culture) and his paper on leaf foddering and the Elm Decline. The last in this series gives us the famous Draved Skov experiments and we see the scientist themselves involved in the debarking and chopping of trees, the burning of the shrubs and the sowing of primitive Stone Age cereals in the warm ashes, just like illustrated by photographs from Finland in one of the earlier papers. The paper ends that there were then, in 1967, two different impacts in the forests, that of the leaf fodderers, causing the Elm Decline possibly by the Ertebølle people, and that of the landnam by immigrant herdsmen. Today the last concept of immigrant herdsmen is completely abandoned, while agriculture seems to have played no role of any importance in Ertebølle.

The next five papers have been chosen from work that gave the state of art at the time of the initiative: papers by Jørgen Skaarup, Søren Andersen, Anders Fischer himself Carsten Paludan-Müller, and Peter Rowley-Conwey, all from the relatively short period 1974-1984. They represent the next generation, in majority students of Carl Becker. What do these papers have in common? Firstly they all concentrate not so much on the individual cultures, but more on the interrelations between Ertebølle and TRB. The last three explicitly in an explanatory way, in the processual approach of that time: population pressure (Fischer), food crisis (Paludan Müller) and an ecological crisis (Rowley-Conwy) are proposed as the prime mover of the transition to farming of the apparently successful affluent Ertebølle society.

The book would, however, have been very dated if Fischer had not added three chapters dealing with major research lines and projects of today: investigation of human remains (Pia Bennike and Verner Andersen), the continental contacts of Ertebølle (Lutz Klassen) and the spectacular submarine discoveries at the German side of the Baltic (Hartz, Heinrich and Lübke). The new German evidence, covering the intermediate region between the fully agricultural societies of continental Europe and the Danish core area, certainly is essential to develop new lines of understanding. Ertebølle pottery seems to start there several centuries earlier, perhaps even before 5000 cal BC at Schlamersdorf. The first domestic cattle, be it in low numbers, appear at the borders of the Baltic as early as 4700 cal BC at Rosenhof, some centuries after their first appearance at the mouth of the Oder river, and about 700 years before the introduction in Denmark. Sheep/goat follows at Wangels around 4150 cal BC. There are striking parallels now with the relations established on the basis of new evidence in the Netherlands. There are two situations we factually do not understand: first, why did it last so many centuries until agriculture spread to the north and, second, why did this happen in such a relatively short period around 4000 cal BC almost all over northern Europe, from Britain to the western Baltic?

In a final chapter Fischer gives us a fine overview of explanations for the transition to farming brought forward in the course of time under the significant title ‘Food for feasting?’ He argues that all earlier economic/ecological explanations factually fail sufficient evidence and that socio-economic arguments should be favoured, especially the new possibilities for sharing food at the times of harvest and slaughter, including the production of alcoholic drinks, like beer. This is well in line with the present day contextual approach. It leaves, however, the question unanswered why the transition took place after an ‘availability phase’ of almost a millennium, and then not gradually but apparently as a rather drastic change over a wide area, not only in southern Scandinavia, but in a very similar way for instance in Britain as well.

The historical flash back, as presented in this book, is a perfect starting point for new research on the transition from the Meso- to the Neolithic, not only in southern Scandinavia, but all over northern Europe. The great innovators of the past certainly are a source of inspiration for us.

Leendert P. Louwe Kooijmans
Institute of Prehistory, Leiden

Review Submitted: April 2004

The views expressed in this review are not necessarily those of the Society or the Reviews Editor.

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