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Two southern European migratory routes expanded agricultural technology 9,000 years ago

Nearly 9,000 years ago there were two major migration routes across southern Europe, through which new technologies linked to agriculture expanded. An investigation led by researchers from the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas (CSIC) (Spain) at the Mila i Fontanals Institution (IMF-CSIC), in Barcelona, and published in the journal PLOS ONE, reveals this. The work reconstructs the migration routes of the Mediterranean thanks to the study of the first Neolithic harvesting sickles.

Two southern European migratory routes expanded agricultural technology 9,000 years ago
Complete sickles from the Central and Western Mediterranean: A) Wooden sickles from La Marmotta (Italy) (Rome, Italy);
B) Reaping knives from La Draga (Girona); C) Reaping knives from La Draga (wood) and from Costamar (antler);
D) Reaping knives from Egolzwil 3 [Credit: Mazzucco et al. 2020]

The results shed new light on the diffusion of the Neolithic and the first agricultural techniques along the Mediterranean, from the Aegean Sea to the Portuguese Atlantic coasts. This period, which saw the emergence of agriculture and animal husbandry, is considered to be the most revolutionary in the history of mankind.

Led by IMF-CSIC archaeologists Niccolo Mazzucco and Juan F. Gibaja, the study identifies a first maritime route through the Mediterranean, from the Balkans to the Iberian Peninsula, along which population groups moved as early as 6700 BC, and another less known and more northerly route through the Adriatic, along which they began to migrate in 5500 BC. " When they migrated," the authors explain, "these people brought with them new technologies and new ideas."

Scientists from the CNRS, the Free University of Brussels and the Museo della Civilta in Rome are also involved in the work.

"The sea route went from the Balkans, through southern Italy and the Gulf of Lion, to the south of the Iberian Peninsula around 5300 BC. On this route, groups of farmers had curved sickles, with small flint teeth inserted in a wooden handle, which were replaced with use and formed a serrated edge," explains Mazzucco.

Two southern European migratory routes expanded agricultural technology 9,000 years ago
Diagonally-hafted inserts: Crete- a) Knossos; Greece- b) Paliambella; c) Achilleion; d) Revenia; Italy- e) La Marmotta;
 f) Fornace Cappuccini; France- g) Peiro Signado; Spain- h) Guixeres de Vilobi; i) Castillejos de Montefrio;
Portugal- l) Vale Pincel I; m) Corticois. The red dots indicate the distribution of the glossy area
[Credit: Mazzucco et al. 2020]

The second route, hitherto unknown, left the Balkans and passed successively through the Adriatic, northern Italy and southern France, until it reached the Iberian Peninsula, especially along the whole of the northern part, around 5200 BC. "On this second route," adds Mazzucco, "the harvesting tools that were spread out were characterised by blades of flint that were wider and longer than those of the first sickles. This type of blade was produced through more complex manufacturing processes and, as it wore down, it was resharpened with a few simple taps".

The work is the result of more than ten years of research and the study of nearly 50,000 lithic pieces from 80 deposits in European countries such as Greece, Italy, France, Spain and Portugal, dating from 7000 to 5000 BC. Among them are emblematic sites such as Knosos, in Crete, where the first phases of occupation were studied "long before the construction of the Minoan palace", the lake settlement of La Draga, in Banyoles (Girona), and the underwater settlement of La Marmotta (Rome).

The exceptional preservation conditions of these last two sites have yielded complete tools, in which the wooden parts and even the resins used to fix the lithic pieces have been analysed. At the other sites, the study focused on those stone pieces, more than 1,500, that formed part of Neolithic sickles. The analysis of the microscopic traces documented in these sickles has made it possible to discover how they were made and used, as well as the manner in which the harvest was managed in relation to the maturity of the cereals or the use that was to be made of the seeds and stems.

Two southern European migratory routes expanded agricultural technology 9,000 years ago
Geographical framework of the study and studied sites: 1) Knossos; 2) Sarakenos; 3) Franchthi; 4) Revenia-Korinou;
5) Paliambela-Kolindros; 6) Rachmani; 7) Achilleion; 8) Platia Magoula Zarkou; 9) Sidari; 10) Torre Sabea; 11) Lokvica;
12) Trasano; 13) Susak; 14) Favella della corte; 15) Pokrovnik; 16) Danilo-Bitinj; 17) Konjevrate; 18) Rasinovac; 19) Krivace;
20) Vrbica; 21) Masseria Candelaro; 22) Passo di Corvo; 23) Masseria Pantano; 24) Ex-Palestra GIL; 25) Masseria Acquasalsa;
26) La Starza; 27) Marcianese; 28) Colle Cera; 29) Catignano; 30) Sammardenchia; 31) Piancada; 32) Fagnigola; 33) San Marco
di Gubbio; 34) La Marmotta; 35) Fornace Cappuccini; 36) Cialdino; 37) Casalecchio di Reno; 38) Mileto; 39) Savignano sul Panaro;
40) Lugo di Grezzana; 41) Fiorano Modenese; 42) Rivaltella; 43) Bazzarola; 44) Campo Ceresole; 45) Isorella; 46) Ostiano Dugali;
47) Cala Giovanna; 48) Sergnano; 49) Brignano Frascata; 50) Pizzo di Bodio; 51) Su Coloru; 52) Arene Candide; 53) Alba;
54) Fontbregoua; 55) Mourre de la Barque; 56) Baratin; 57) Mas de Vignoles; 58) Peiro Signado; 59) La Draga; 60) Plansallosa;
61) Jean Cros; 62) San Pau del Camp; 63) Guixeres de Vilobi; 64) Costamar; 65) El Barranquet; 66) Cova de l’Or;
67) Cova Sarsa; 68) Mas d’Is; 69) Los Cascajos; 70) Abrigo de la Dehesa; 71) La Lampara; 72) Revilla del Campo;
73) Casa Montero; 74) Cueva Nerja; 75) Castillejos de Montefrio; 76) La Vaquera; 77) Murcielagos de Zuheros;
78) Castillo de Dona Mencia; 79) Corticois; 80) Vale Pincel I [Credit: Mazzucco et al. 2020]

The work has shown which sickles were the first to be spread by Neolithic settlers in the Mediterranean, their geographical distribution and how they evolved over time as a result of the adaptations of groups of migrants to the recently occupied territories. "From a lithic piece, we can reconstruct what they looked like, what shape they had, how they had been used and for what type of crop, normally wheat or barley", explains Juan Gibaja.

"The study of the diffusion of agriculture has generally been approached through the analysis of the seeds of cultivated cereals, since a wide variety of cereal seeds are recovered from archaeological sites. But this great variability is the result of very diverse factors, such as environmental conditions and the adaptation of the cultivated cereal to a climatic zone, making it more difficult to identify routes of dispersion from its study. On the other hand, the analysis of lithic pieces allows us to provide new information, given that, due to their mineral nature, these pieces are usually better preserved and are usually easy to find and detect in an archaeological excavation. Their study has allowed us to follow the path of the Neolithic communities from a different perspective", adds Gibaja. 


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