The transition to farming – i.e. the transition between the Mesolithic and Neolithic – is one of the most important and fascinating episodes in human history. This transition is often defined by a major change in subsistence strategy. The archaeological record, however, shows that many, if not all, aspects of human life were changed: economy, technology, religious and symbolic behaviour, social organisation. As the chipped stone artefacts are the most abundant category of material evidence from this period, this project will study changing behaviours as reflected in the acts, the gestures of production, use and discard of chipped stone artefacts during the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition in perialpine Central Europe.
Two PhD projects will study the lithic technology and microscopic use wear traces of the assemblages from Arconciel/La Souche, Switzerland and Lutter/St-Joseph, France, under supervision and in collaboration with a number of researchers at various institutes, under the lead of the Dept. of Prehistory, UZH. While the excavation of Lutter/St-Joseph was completed in 2011, the excavation of Arconciel/La Souche started in 2007 and is expected to continue to the end of 2012.
The Mesolithic-Neolithic transition has – in comparison to other regions of Europe – seen very little attention during the past decades in the perialpine areas of Switzerland and its immediate surroundings. This is due to a relative lack of well-stratified and well-dated late Mesolithic sites, and an apparent “archaeological gap” in much of Switzerland during the 6th millennium BC. The two study sites have been excavated to modern standards, and each one consists of a number of well observed and absolutely dated occupational phases dating to the 7th and 6th millennium BC. They represent an unique opportunity to study this important prehistoric period. Both sites also have well-preserved archaeobotanical and archaeozoological remains, and indeed are the subjects of multi-disciplinary research projects.
It is possible to study with a single approach a number of assemblages spanning 2000 years from those two sites, crossing the traditional chronological division between the Mesolithic and the Neolithic, and thus also traversing the traditional methodological divide between students of the Mesolithic and the Neolithic.
It is expected that the project will provide new insights into a continuous sequence of artefact production, use and discard, reflecting the changing decisional and behavioural processes of people living in a period of human history characterized by major, complex, and all-encompassing changes in their natural and social environments.