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Article | The environment of the last hunters-gatherers and first agro-pastoralists in the western Mediterranean region, between the Rhone and the Northern Apennines (7th - 6th millennium cal. BCE) : Attractiveness of the landscape units and settlement patterns

Battentier et al., Quaternary Science Reviews, 2017

Article | The environment of the last hunters-gatherers and first agro-pastoralists in the western Mediterranean region, between the Rhone and the Northern Apennines (7th - 6th millennium cal. BCE) : Attractiveness of the landscape units and settlement patterns

Janet Battentier, Didier Binder, Sebastien Guillon, Roberto Maggi, Fabio Negrino, Ingrid Sénépart, Carlo Tozzi, Isabelle Théry-Parisot, Claire Delhon

Abstract

In the north western Mediterranean, in the area between the Rhone River and the Northern Apennines, the last Mesolithic societies (Castelnovian) and the first Neolithic societies (Impressed Ware or Impressa) coexisted during the first half of the 6th millennium cal. BCE (Before Common Era). Linking the two settlement distribution patterns (mainly high lands and low lands for the Castelnovian versus Mediterranean coastal areas for the Impressa) to their specific environmental backgrounds during that period of coexistence enables us to document the attractiveness of the various available landscape units as a function of the subsistence practices (hunting, fishing and gathering versus agro-pastoralism). Pollen and charcoal data from 41 archaeological sites along with contemporaneous natural (off archaeological sites) sequences (hereafter referred to as “off-site sequences”) from three windows (Provence/Western Liguria, the middle Rhone valley/Prealps and Southern Alps, Eastern Liguria/Northern Apennines) were examined in order to reconstruct the vegetal landscape in the surroundings of the Mesolithic and Neolithic settlements between 6500 and 5400 cal. BCE. The importance of environmental versus cultural factors in the settlement preferences of both groups is discussed in order to document our reflection concerning non-consensual issues, such as the existence of interaction or avoidance behaviours or the sharing (or not) of parts or all of the territory and of its natural resources. The results notably highlight the expansion of fir forests that, based on ecological and accessibility criteria, could be considered as rather inauspicious for settlement and hunting as well as for pastoral activities. This expansion may have influenced the settlement patterns of both cultural complexes, leading populations to locate their settlements principally within landscape units that remained clear of extensive fir forests. It appears that, despite being motivated by the prevailing subsistence activities, the choice of an area of land for settlement is deeply guided by various other cultural factors which are less directly dependent upon natural resources. Thus, in an area providing a large range of possibilities, the landscape in which the groups establish themselves could be considered as just one of many cultural characteristics.

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