Dialogues. Studies in the formation of the Linear Pottery Culture, eds A. LUKES & M. ZVELEBIL
This important volume illustrates well what BAR does best – the rapid publication of a conference session, with the responsibility for full editing given to two fully responsible editors! The conference was the 8th Annual Meeting of the European Association of Archaeologists, at Thessaloniki, in September 2002, the session was entitled ‘The origins of the LBK’ (with this reviewer acting as a discussant) and the editorial duet a dream team of the ever-youthful Marek Zvelebil and his then PhD student, Alena Jukes.
The editors’ aims were to summarise recent developments in research and fieldwork in the eastern part of the LBK distribution and to present it to a broader archaeological community. This meant research from Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, Poland and the Czech Republic. Almost all of the speakers in the session are represented in this volume; the key omission concerns what was perhaps the best paper in the session, on LBK archaeo-botany, by Amy Bogaard – part of her excellent PhD now itself fully published (Bogaard 2004). The papers are structured into three broad themes: Part 1 – theoretical constraints on the understanding of the LBK; Part 2 – the Earliest LBK and what came before; and Part 3 – perspectives on the Early LBK – life and times. The underlying rationale for the session and this volume is the task of moving on the agenda for the emergence of the LBK from the traditional Childean diffusion across the loesslands of Old Europe, reiterated byAmmerman and Cavalli-Sforza and still believed by the majority of European prehistorians, to a more complex and nuanced picture acknowledging the various contributions of both local foragers and intrusive agriculturalists to the spread of the ‘Neolithic’. The result is a LBK hardly recognisable from that of two decades ago, when Zvelebil was still maintaining the migrationist model for South East and Central Europe (Zvelebil 1986): indeed, Zvelebil’s sole reference to the Availability Model (p. 187) seems in itself so outmoded as to be out of place in this volume.
Not that all of the participants have suddenly rushed out and bought tickets to post-processual theme parks in Prague or Budapest. There are still vigorous traces of colonialist archaeology, whether in Neustupný’s defence of the migrationist model, Pavúk’s identification of Hoca Çesme as an Anatolian colony or Budja’s characterisation of Gura Baciului as a White-on-Red painted ware primary colony. And the same two authors, together with Pavlu and even Lukes (p. 21!), are unfortunately only too happy to give priority to typo-chronology over AMS or conventional 14C dates. With the greatest of respect to Juraj Pavúk, his opinion that the white-on-red painted ware at Hoca Çesme is earlier than that of Karanovo I is contradicted by the 14C dates, that clearly show the opposite! There is still a tendency amongst old LBK hands to assume a material analogue to indicate chronological parity, when we have to demonstrate duration of traits, not assume their contemporaneity. Budja’s invocation of a Milojcic-like early Monochrome – Impresso stage in Balkan foraging circles and prior to the development of painted ware is also subject to this criticism.
One major advantage of the volume is the near-total absence of environmental determinism, with the sole exception of Eszter Bánffy’s use of the Sümegi – Kertész Agro-Ecological Barrier model to ‘explain the northern limits to Late Starcevo settlement in Western Hungary’ (ie, Transdanubia) when a more useful alternative, following on from her otherwise excellent paper, is a moderate to high density of foraging settlement, some of whom were exploiting the Szentgál radiolarite for exchange to both North and South.
So what’s new? Surely not the reliance on points South and East for the source of domestic plants and animals? Yet the Czech environmental archaeologist Jaromir Beneš makes the startling observation that the suite of weed seeds found growing in cereal fields in Bohemia is little different from that discovered from far earlier arable fields next to Tell Abu Hureyra, in the Upper Euphrates valley. What does this mean for the spread of agriculture through Anatolia and the Balkans? Are we to infer the spread of an integrated suite of cereals and their weeds across huge areas and several ecological zones? I am not sure but this is surely a vital point for us all to address in future research. A related question emerges from the high-quality report by Berovec et alii on the large worked bone assemblage from Vedrovice, in which the conclusion is that there is a common way of choosing which bone tools to make for the whole of the European Neolithic. If this claim is true, what does it mean for cultural transmission on such a wide scale?
The key research on the emergence of the Earliest LBK is Bánffy’s work in Transdanubia, where interactions between (recently-identified) foraging groups and Starcevo-pottery-using communities, whose distributions can now be shown to extend further North and West than hitherto recognised, led to innovations, dated to the middle of the 6th millennium cal BC, that Bánffy terms ‘the earliest LBK’. Lenneis reports 14C dates for sites in Lower Austria, indicating coeval pottery and houses in the Danube valley. It is important to recognise that these communities have made only a partial selection of the total material culture assemblages available to them in the Starcevo–Körös distribution, ignoring many Balkan type-fossils, such as most of the figurines and lamps, pintaderas and labrets, bone spoons and slotted antler sickles, and also painted pottery. Thus we have what we could term a ‘Balaton filter’ – parallel to Jim Lewthwaite’s older idea about a Corse filter for the westward diffusion of the Impressed Ware assemblage (viz., only those elements of the Neolithic package that Corsican settlers accepted from their Italian forebears would have been available for further transmission westwards). While we may not have identified a reason for this radical simplification of material culture in Transdanubia itself, the Balaton filter would explain why so few of the classic Balkan material traits were found in Central Europe and points north west.
What is found further north and west – a long way further NW - indeed as far as the Rheinland – is the red radiolarite from Szentgál, in the Bakony Mountains North of Lake Balaton. It is the merit of Inna Mateiciuková to have synthesised the results of much chipped stone analysis so as to demonstrate exchange networks based on exotic lithics were vital not only to the Earliest LBK but also to Late Mesolithic foragers in Central Europe. Three lithic raw materials were basic - Szentgál radiolarite, Tokaj obsidian and Kraków Jurassic flint – but the first was the key material for the transition. Her experimental, technological and typological studies reinforce this basic raw material perspective of strong elements of lithic continuity across the forager – farmer ‘divide’. Clearly, one of the key materials underpinning their exchange relations were exotic lithics. But Neolithic exchange preferred a supply of novel resources and to exotic lithics was added a diversity of materials for polished stone tool and ornament production. Finally, a puzzle for over 50 years appears to have been solved by the discovery of amphibolite quarries in the Jizerské Mountains, in North Bohemia, securely dated to the Early Neolithic and from which 12 kg blocks were moved to nearby settlement sites.
Fundamentally new also is the analysis of Earliest LBK houses in Austria, where Lenneis presents some exciting results. Some of the earliest structures are the largest, such as House 1 at Mold, 37.5m in length and covering a floor area of 40,000 m2. The LBK long-house is as monumental and as fundamental a structuring element as any artifact created by any early farmers in Europe - as Marciniak observes, both a link to the ancestors and a place for creating current social identities. These identities would appear to be grounded in independent households, as Lenneis finds large gaps between the houses of the Earliest LBK settlements. If these are not gardens, the gaps may be places reserved for communal feasting, as proposed on the basis of animal bone deposition by Marciniak, as a way of integrating neighbours from ‘separate’ houses. Marciniak’s idea that domestic animals are used to create links with the ancestors, much like long-houses, is intriguing and underlines the symbolic importance of cattle and pigs for feasting, as distinct from sheep and goat for everyday consumption. As with Lukes for pottery, Marciniak emphasises deliberate and rapid deposition of animal bones, as a way of creating and maintaining the habitus. However, the idea of the habitus is taken too far when Marciniak claims (p. 132) that ‘the everyday routines of LBK communities remained almost frozen, leaving very little room for individual reflexivity and independence’. This is to commit the sin of relying on only half of what Pierre Bourdieu has written (viz., the stable, unchanging habitus), omitting the negotiations over power and resources that constituted his other main object of research. Nonetheless, Marciniak’s contribution is an excellent example of the social practices that can be inferred from animal bone deposition.
The other contributor who makes creative use of Bourdieu and the habitus is Lukes, who elaborates migrationist, indigenist and integrationist models on the basis of social action taken by the major contributors. An example is the integrationist model, where Mesolithic lifeways were integrated into the farming habitus established as a result of leapfrog colonisation. The farmers were dominant because they were able to use their symbols in public (houses, pottery, stone axes), while the foragers emulated the farmers in public discourse but expressed their ancestral identities and individual personhood in private, habitus-based practices.
Lukes wisely avoids a specific interpretation relying on patrilocal or matrilocal residence rules, that are notoriously difficult to justify. Mateiciuková is not so cautious, proposing breeding networks involving the movement of forager women into farming settlements (and occasionally the converse). Apart from the availability of many alternatives to this breeding scenario, as noted by Zvelebil, it is equally unwise to rely upon recent isotopic sourcing analyses by Price or Bentley, since their technique explicitly fails to identify a positive source for people but is more reliable for stating where they did not come from. Mateiciuková is also brave to invoke the Mesolithic and LBK psyche in her claim that the effect of Neolithic lifeways was felt on the Mesolithic soul before they impacted on Mesolithic material culture. This is a beautiful, if untestable, hypothesis for a lithics analyst, perhaps ultimately related to the germ of a Cauvin idea that ritual domestication precedes economic domestication. It deserves to be quietly dropped into the Vltava.
If there is a field of study where this volume lacks direction, it is, perhaps surprisingly, pottery (remember Krukowski’s description of the Neolithic as ‘pot prehistory’!). In this volume, two contributors (Pavlu and Tichý) suggest that Early LBK pottery is essentially homogenous, while a third (Nowak) uses ethnographic analogies for domestic production to argue for very marked variability. Indeed, Nowak concludes by denying any general ceramic evolution, positing, instead, a series of local stylistic developments supporting a leapfrog colonisation by a number of different small groups. It is pertinent to ask how specialists have measured local, regional and inter-regional ceramic variability, taking into account all of the relevant taphonomic issues. If we are to develop a fully integrated view of the Earliest and Early LBK, we shall need ceramic studies to match the quality of the lithic research.
Otherwise, this is a fine volume that admirably achieves its aims. It is clear that the emergence of the LBK is now unthinkable without significant contributions from local foragers, whether through pre-existing exchange networks of mates, artifacts and raw materials, or through the intimate knowledge of places and areas. Lukes and Zvelebil should be congratulated for assembling a group of researchers most of whom have a real contribution to make to the humanist, anthropological archaeology that is Zvelebil’s touchstone. This volume marks a significant contribution of Central European scholarship to European prehistory and I look forward to further excellent research from this group of scholars.
Review Submitted: September 2005
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