Introduction to Mesolithic mobility, exchange, and interaction: A special issue of the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology

  • Lovis W
  • Whallon R
  • Donahue R
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Abstract

The papers in this volume exemplify some of the many approaches being developed for the study of mobility, exchange, and interaction in prehistoric huntergatherer societies. We have focused here largely on the Mesolithicbroadly defined as the time period between the end of the Last Glacial and the onset of domestic food production. We have also focused specifically on Europe north of the Alps in an attempt to facilitate broad comparisons. We feel, however, that the utility and importance of the approaches and models developed in the papers assembled here transcend these particular foci. The Mesolithic spans a long period of time, from ca. 12,000 to 5000 B.P., across a large area of Europe, within which there was regional variation in rates of deglaciation, as well as in resource abundance, reliability, and predictability. It would be unwise, therefore, to assume homogeneity of mobility patterns, the contexts of exchange or trade systems, or of social interaction and contact during this period. What we do assume in this collection of papers, however, is that mobility, exchange, and social interaction were integral components of Mesolithic huntergatherer lifeways. We all know that there are multiple interdependent dimensions of huntergatherer behavior. No single analytic approach is capable of encompassing all of these dimensions, nor of providing an adequate explanation for the panoply of behaviors observed in the prehistoric past. While it is often convenient from a heuristic perspective to partition analyses topically or methodologically, each approach can be viewed as an independent test of the way we think huntergatherers operated in the past. We are constantly striving to bring our understanding of each of these dimensions into accord. When we find that there is accord between two or more of these dimensions, it provides increased weight that our reconstructions might actually be correct, or at least approximate what might have happened in the past. This is consistent with our fundamental premise that human cultural systems are in fact coherent. It is to this end that the current collection of papers is directed. To achieve what some might consider these rather ambitious ends we have enlisted a broad cross-section of Mesolithic researchersboth Europeans and North Americans who work in the European Mesolithic. Our goal was and continues to be to create a mutually beneficial and interactive forum for the cross fertilization of ideas and perspectives; one that transcends national boundaries, and indeed approaches. This volume is certainly enriched by the international breadth of the contributors. We have consciously selected a coherent set of approaches to our topic of mobility, exchange, and interaction in prehistoric huntergatherer societies. This coherence facilitates comparison of the rates, directions, distances and intensities of social mobility, and various forms of interaction. We are aware of the contributions being made by other approaches such as the study of social landscapes, and analysis of ancient DNA or stable isotopes in attempts to better understand both population level and geographic linkages among seemingly distinct social units. It is our mutual interest in the nature of regional adaptation and multiple scales of social interaction, however, that leads to a highly compatible set of analytical perspectives and models. In this enterprise, the studies presented in this volume span an enormous and representative area of Europe, from Ireland to the eastern Baltic, and from Scandinavia to southern Germany. While it would be foolish to argue that all of the Mesolithic societies that existed across this area over a time span of five millennia were the same, we do believe that the approaches reflected by the contributors provide important benchmarks for the way in which we can collectively approach the spatial organization of Mesolithic systems. Some of these directions are refinements of ongoing model building, and some break new methodological ground. All are compelling and, we believe, meet the goal initially set by us to advance our models and theoretical frameworks for understanding the role and importance of mobility and between-group interaction among the small-scale, post-glacial foraging groups of temperate Europe. Zvelebil casts perhaps one of the broadest nets of this group, synthesizing a myriad of different data sets associated with contact and exchange among later prehistoric huntergatherers (late Mesolithic and post-Mesolithic) in the Baltic Sea basin. He addresses issues of transport and communication as they relate to the exchange of a range of exotic materials organized at three levels or scales integral to strategies for social reproduction, mate exchange, and biological reproduction, as well as to the spread of technological innovations. A core-periphery model is employed to explore regional contacts and consequences of exchanges between early farming communities and hunter-gatherer groups. Sulgostowska explores Mesolithic mobility across a broad region encompassing the Sudety and Carpathian Mountains by synthesizing multiple analytic dimensions including site seasonality, dwelling structures, burial patterns, and the distribution of lithic raw materials. She employs this information to go beyond interpretation of basic subsistence strategies, extending it to issues related to the supplementation of resource shortfalls and the relationship this has to the procurement of non-utilitarian, exotic goods. This approach results in interpretations of the role of gift giving and exchange, group specialization, and the regional organization of spatially extensive exchange systems. Jochim continues his ongoing endeavor to understand the structure of settlement activities and site locations in the Early Mesolithic of southwest Germany, albeit in this context employing an approach that maximizes the use of disparate excavation, surface, and survey data to understand assemblage composition as a signature of mobility. His systematic assessment of lithic assemblage composition, based on both tool types and raw material sources, allows the placement of sites along the residentiallogistic continuum. His results accord well with those from other regions of Europe and England. Kinds approach to the Mesolithic of southwest Germany explores the use of cherts often found at great distances from sites, but within what he terms a huntergatherer macro-move. He employs site level data from the complex of occupations at Siebenlinden to explore the complexity of Mesolithic lithic procurement systems, particularly the mechanisms by which local and distant raw materials are transported between sites. He poses important propositions regarding the way in which local and non-local raw materials are mixed in different proportions in lithic assemblages. Fisher considers changes in the socioeconomic contexts of tool production from the Magdalenian to the Early Mesolithic in southern Germany. These changes reflect an increasing dispersal of food resources and retooling events on the landscape, and Fisher suggests that the technological changes that characterize the Pleistocene/Holocene transition took place under altered patterns of social interaction and communication. She argues that concentrated versus dispersed toolmaking presents conditions for the development of more formalized definitions of technological tasks and the spread of the skills necessary for the production of high quality blades from prismatic cores, while a wider variety of solutions for producing blanks for microlith production might flourish under conditions of highly dispersed toolmaking. Kimball, addressing the Irish Mesolithic, employs models of natural resource economics to introduce the concept of Later Mesolithic raw material sources as common-pool resources, and then uses this as a springboard through which to discuss the potential sociopolitical significance of private goods in Mesolithic society. These frameworks are used to explore the sociopolitical significance of cattle and, perhaps, polished stone axes, both of which might have been private goods that fostered intergroup alliances for generalized foragers (e.g., as part of marriage exchanges or ritual activities) or prestige opportunities for incipient trans-egalitarian foragers. The paper by Donahue and Lovis reassesses standing issues of settlement and mobility in the northern English Mesolithic through the application of systematically collected site assemblage information from the central uplands, and the sourcing of local and distant lithic resources. Their results allow reinterpretation of regional colonization, territoriality, and mobility with respect to the site of Star Carr and other sites in the eastern lowlands. Ultimately, they propose a model of upland colonization and settlement intensification in the region initially employing long distance logistic mobility that integrates upland and coastal zones. These outcomes are consistent with maximal band social groups, and relate well to some earlier work in the region. Huntergatherer mobility and the requirements for information and social contact are the focus of the paper by Whallon. He distinguishes such mobility from that related specifically to utilitarian, essentially subsistence, needs, and develops a model that relates the relative frequencies and distances of such movement to environmental characteristics of resource fluctuation and the scale of correlation, or synchrony, in such fluctuation. He further develops a heuristic model of the spatial organization of huntergatherer bands, which places non-utilitarian movements within a broader social context. These models allow an explanation for the changes in the frequencies of long-distance movement of exotic goods between the Upper Paleolithic and the Early Mesolithic of southwestern Germany and adjacent areas. These studies are, in part,

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