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Neolithic North African communities delayed move to domesticated grains

last modified Jan 18, 2016 08:17 AM
Study of Neolithic stone tools from Haua Fteah cave show evidence of gradual transition between nomadic and settled lifestyles
Neolithic North African communities delayed move to domesticated grains

Cenchrinae starch granules from the Haua Fteah archaeological tools compared to modern starch granules of Cenchrus biflorus.

New analysis of Neolithic grinding tools from the Haua Fteah cave in Northern Libya, has revealed microscopic plant residues in their pitted surfaces, thought most likely to be from wild Cenchrinae grasses.

The research carried out by Giulio Lucarini, (McDonald Institute of Archaeological Research) in collaboration with Anita Radini (University of York) and Huw Barton (University of Leiceter) provides new evidence that communities continued to process wild grains despite the likely availability of domesticated ones.

"Haua Fteah is only a kilometre from the Mediterranean and close to well-established coastal routes, giving communities there access to commodities such as domesticated grain, or at least the possibility to cultivate them. Yet it seems that people living in the Jebel Akhdar region may well have made a strategic and deliberate choice not to adopt the new farming practices available to them, despite the promise of higher yields but, instead, to integrate them into their existing practices," says Lucarini.

The grinding tools come from a collection held by the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (MAA), which were deposited by Cambridge archaeologist Sir Charles McBurney following an excavation of the cave in the 1950s.

Says Lucarini: "Archaeologists talk about a 'Neolithic package' - made up of domestic plants and animals, tools and techniques - that transformed lifestyles. Our research suggests that what happened at Haua Fteah was that people opted for a mixed bag of old and new. The gathering of wild plants as well as the keeping of domestic sheep and goats chime with continued exploitation of other wild resources - such as land and sea snails - which were available on a seasonal basis with levels depending on shifts in climatic conditions," 

"People had an intimate relationship with the environment they were so closely tuned to and, of course, entirely dependent on. This knowledge may have made them wary of abandoning strategies that enabled them to balance their use of resources - in a multi-spectrum exploitation of the environment."


Posted 18/01/2016

An Oral History of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research