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Los Primeros Grupos Neolíticos de la Cuenca Extremeña del Tajo by Enrique Cerrillo Cuenca
Archaeopress 2005, (BAR S1393), 188pp 44 b&w illustrations, 23 tables ISBN 1 84171 831 9 (£30)

During the twentieth century the adoption of agriculture in the Iberian Peninsula was viewed consistently from caves and the coast. Stratigraphic excavations at the Coveta de l’Or and the Cueva de la Sarsa in Valencia, and sites such as Carigüela de Piñar, the Cueva de Los Murciélagos and the Cueva de Nerja in Andalucía established a broad sequence of Neolithic occupation, characterised initially by plant and animal domestication and the adoption of impressed pottery. Although less well contextualised material was also known from Portugal and north-east Spain, the Neolithic was, until the 1990s, mainly known from coastal regions and not the central Meseta plateau, which appeared to be devoid of occupation by agriculturalists until the fourth and third millennia BC. It is no surprise that, along with other areas of the western Mediterranean, the adoption of agriculture was viewed in terms of diffusion or colonisation around the coastal regions.

While fieldwork and publication, along with more systematic and critical use of radiocarbon dating, has developed our understanding of the nature of early agricultural settlement in the coastal regions (e.g. the identification of open-air settlements and the diversity of settlement systems), it is the interior that has produced the main surprises. These have been the outcome of more extensive field survey projects, coupled with excavation, since the 1990s, and include the recognition of open-air and cave occupations as early as in the coastal regions (at least within the limits of radiocarbon dating). Particularly notable have been the fieldwork projects of the University of Valladolid in the north-east of the plateau and of the University of Alcalá de Henares in the centre-west. What is now clear is that the agricultural colonisation of the central plateau began in the early Neolithic and that the view of such colonisation in Iberia as being solely of caves and coasts has to be discarded. Inevitably this has implications for our understanding of the processes by which agriculture was adopted in the peninsula.

This publication by Enrique Cerrillo is the book of the thesis undertaken at the University of Alcalá de Henares. Whereas the thesis brought together Cerillo’s own fieldwork in a synthesis of the entire Neolithic in the region of the middle Tagus, for this book he has focussed more on the early Neolithic. This allows him to present the debate on models of agricultural adoption in the peninsula, the details of research by him and other scholars on the key sites of El Conejar (a cave) and Los Barruecos (an open-air settlement), and how our understanding of the Early Neolithic finds its contexts in our current knowledge of both late hunter-gatherers and later Neolithic agriculturalists.

As in other regions of Europe the debate on the spread of agriculture in Iberia uses a variety of evidence to try and place the process somewhere on the spectrum between entirely human colonisation and entirely indigenous adoption. The presence of hunter-gatherer groups in peripheral regions such as Valencia has encouraged acceptance of the ‘dual model’, by which plant and animal domestication and pottery appeared first in enclaves of new population and then were variably adopted by indigenous groups. The notion that agricultural adoption was solely down to change within indigenous groups has been countered effectively by Zilhão’s critique of the taphonomy and radiocarbon dating of sites claimed as examples of this process, as well as by the absence of any reliable evidence for local domestication. The absence of evidence for a network of hunter-gatherer groups in interior Spain has also been used to support the interpretation of ‘leaps’ by which agriculture and pottery spread through coastal enclaves from the north-east to the south-west of the peninsula. The interpretation of genetic (both modern and ancient) and anthropological data on population continuity from indigenous hunter-gatherer groups to agriculturalists, especially in Portugal, is the subject of debate at present.

Cerrillo brings together evidence from his own (El Conejar), and other, sites to show that there was occupation in interior Spain by hunter-gatherers through the main lithic industry stages of the Upper Palaeolithic from the Solutrean to the Epipalaeolithic. Rather than there being an absence of Epipalaeolithic assemblages in interior Spain, it now seems more likely that lithic materials from surface sites may have been attributed to the Magdalenian, thus creating a cultural ‘gap’. Cerrillo notes evidence for interaction between such Epipalaeolithic sites, but also acknowledges the fact that there is currently a chronological gap of some two millennia between the latest occupation and that of early agricultural communities at El Conejar. This is still a bar to preference of a more interactive model of agricultural adoption across the peninsula, rather than a spread of enclaves of agriculturalists around its peripheral regions.

After presenting his methodology and the environmental context of his study area, Cerrillo focuses attention on the key sites with Early Neolithic occupation at c. 5000-4800 cal BC. The methodology is that of the thesis as a whole, but for this book the presentation of GIS is not really of relevance, as the location maps used in the text are often murky and show little that could not be better illustrated by conventional cartography. The absence of in text references to figure numbers does not help the reader, nor do the figure captions, which do not always mention the site from which the material comes. Some figures are also over-reduced. Cerrillo is open about the reliability, or otherwise, of the evidence from these Early Neolithic sites and highlights their value in enabling study of the typological and chronological variation in pottery assemblages in interior Spain (with their scarcity of cardial impressions). Environmental and economic data are as patchy as some of the cultural data, but they do enable the proposal of an Early Neolithic in which cereal agriculture and mobility were practised with a low environmental impact. The hypothesis is that cereal cultivation and livestock grazing were more intensive during the Middle Neolithic, with more permanent settlements, and a consequently greater amount of vegetation clearance.

The book ends with a chapter of synthesis, setting the sequence from the Epipalaeolithic to Later Neolithic in the study area within its broader context. Its value could have been improved by the addition of maps with site names for each period.

Cerrillo’s work is a valuable contribution to work on the adoption and spread of agriculture in interior Spain. More thought could have been given in places to its presentation, as it could to its audience. The rapidity of publication of BARs has attracted Spanish archaeologists during the last two decades, especially for newly completed PhD theses and works which, for a variety of reasons, may not be as easily published in their own country. However there is also a wider audience in English-speaking countries. The provision of a one page English abstract is really too short to cater for this audience.

Bob Chapman
The University of Reading

Review Submitted: September 2006

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

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