The Neolithisation of Britain and Ireland: arrival of immigrant farmers from Continental Europe and its impact on pre-existing lifeways - NMS Research Repository
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The Neolithisation of Britain and Ireland: arrival of immigrant farmers from Continental Europe and its impact on pre-existing lifeways



Britain and Ireland located, in the north-west corner of Europe and separated from the Continent since the 7th millennium BC by the sea (and much longer in the case of Ireland), were among the last areas in Europe where an agricultural - more specifically, agro-pastoral - lifestyle became established. There was a gap of around a millennium between its appearance on the near Continent and its spread to the archipelago. The reason for this delay and the question of agency in the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition (as well as the characterisation of the transition process) have long been debated, even though all must agree that the domesticated plants and animals involved - various kinds of wheat, barley, flax and probably some legumes, plus cattle, sheep, goats and pigs - must have been imported in boats across the sea. Regarding agency, the debate revolves around whether the prime movers for the change had been the indigenous hunter-gatherer-fisher groups in Britain and Ireland, or else immigrant farmers from various point along the coast of northern and north-western France. This contribution sets out the background, sketching a picture of fifth-millennium Late Mesolithic communities in Britain and Ireland and of contemporary farmers across the water, and examining the process of demographic and ideological change affecting those farmers which could have led to some groups choosing to relocate, ending up in Britain and Ireland. It then outlines the novelties which accompanied the establishment of an agro-pastoral lifestyle in Britain and Ireland - that is, a range of radically new, alien practices, traditions and technology that can be traced to the Continent - and reviews the chronology of the appearance of these novelties. The principal interpretative models are then summarized. The author's own model of a multi-strand process, featuring several episodes of small-scale population movement from different parts of northern and north-western France to different parts of Britain and Ireland between c. 4300 BC and c. 3800 BC, undertaken for different reasons and with differing outcomes, is presented as offering the best fit with the currently-available data. In this model, the indigenous groups are neither passive nor victims: they chose whether to adopt the new lifestyle or not, and in the case of the earliest dated domesticated animals on the archipelago (cattle of the Late Mesolithic camp at Ferriter's Cove, south-west Ireland), it appears that the indigenous groups did not, choosing instead to hunt and eat the farmers' cattle. Other later encounters between indigenous groups and immigrant farmers seem to have resulted in a fairly rapid adoption of the farming lifestyle and disappearance of the subsistence strategies based solely on the use of wild resources.


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8 Jan 2019
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