Palynology and the study of the Mesolithic–Neolithic transition in the British Isles
J. B. Innes, J. J. Blackford, 2017. "Palynology and the study of the Mesolithic–Neolithic transition in the British Isles", The Archaeological and Forensic Applications of Microfossils: A Deeper Understanding of Human History, M. Williams, T. Hill, I. Boomer, I. P. Wilkinson
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The transition from Mesolithic hunter-gatherers to Neolithic agriculturalists was one of the most important turning points in human history. The economic base, material culture, population levels, settlement patterns and world views were transformed, along with significant changes in the ways in which people interacted with the landscape, including impacts upon the vegetation cover. The rate and process by which Mesolithic economies and societies were replaced by those of the Neolithic in Britain’s mid-Holocene forested landscape is difficult to discover by archaeological methods, unless it involved the rapid immigration of high numbers of fully Neolithic farmers. Before the transformation was completed and Neolithic societies were established everywhere, there could well have been an extended period of time during which early settlers introduced domesticated animals and other elements of Neolithic-style economy and land use. Mesolithic groups could well have co-existed with these pioneer agro-pastoralists and continued with their foraging strategies as the transition progressed until finally supplanted. Such early agriculturalists might be hardly visible in the archaeological record but, as vegetation is a sensitive indicator of environmental change, the introduction of new land-use techniques and their impacts should be discernable in the pollen and spore record. In this paper we examine the ways in which palynology has been used in Britain to investigate the transition from forager to farmer, illustrated by examples from three sites in NE Yorkshire. Palynological methodologies and problems are evaluated. Evidence suggests that late Mesolithic people were using fire to manipulate woodland and improve its food resources. The cultivation of cereals might have been an early agricultural introduction. There was a phase of forest farming in the later transition in which the woodland was managed and utilized rather than opened significantly. Woodland clearance and more intensive farming occur after the transition was completed.