New evidence on the earliest domesticated animals and possible small-scale husbandry in Atlantic NW Europe

Philippe Crombé, Kim Aluwé, Mathieu Boudin, Christophe Snoeck, Liesbeth Messiaen, Dimitri Teetaert

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The distribution of the first domesticated animals and crops along the coastal area of Atlantic NW Europe, which triggered the transition from a hunter-gatherer-fisher to a farmer-herder economy, has been debated for many decades among archaeologists. While some advocate a gradual transition in which indigenous hunter-gatherers from the very beginning of the 5th millennium cal BC progressively adopted Neolithic commodities, others are more in favor of a rapid transition near the end of the 5th millennium caused by a further northwest migration of farmers-herders colonizing the lowlands. Here, radiocarbon dated bones from sheep/goat and possibly also cattle are presented which provide the first hard evidence of an early introduction of domesticated animals within a hunter-gatherer context in NW Belgium, situated ca. 80 km north of the agro-pastoral frontier. Based on their isotope signal it is suggested that these first domesticates were probably not merely obtained through exchange with contemporaneous farmers but were kept locally, providing evidence of small-scale local stockbreeding in the lowlands maybe as early as ca. 4800/4600 cal BC. If confirmed by future in-depth isotope analyses, the latter testifies of intense contact and transmission of knowledge in this early contact period, which is also visible in the material culture, such as the lithic and pottery technology. It also implies direct and prolonged involvement of farmer-herders, either through visiting specialists or intermarriage, which follows recent genetic evidence demonstrating much more hunter-gatherer ancestry in early farmer's genes in western Europe compared to central and SE Europe.

Originele taal-2English
Aantal pagina's15
TijdschriftScientific Reports
Nummer van het tijdschrift1
StatusPublished - 18 nov 2020


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