|Long-term Cypriot trends in cereals (vs. wild plants)|
Cyprus (black squares) vs. the
mainland (above). Below: proportion of deer
out of consumed meat (below)
Saturday, 20 June 2020
On the Anti-Neolithic of Cyprus
Cyprus is the first place that we know that crops and livestock were spread to by human action. This even took place before domestication. Morphologically wild wheat and barley, cattle, sheep and goat that appear wild. Cats that were presumably following mice that were stow-aways with grain stores on those early boats; early meaning ~9000 BC. But despite this very early start on the path to agriculture, Cyprus throughout the Neolithic and into the Bronze Age appears decidely unagricultural, what I might dub an anti-Neolithic. This is evident due to the accumulation of archaeobotanical and zooarchaeological evidence, that my colleague Leilani Lucas has been compiling and analyzing for several years, and which is summarized and discussed in our new Journal of World Prehistory article.
Cyprus is perhaps quintessentially an island, in the sense of demonstrating evolutionary patterns that work differently from the large land areas and populations of the mainland. So years ago her work demonstrated that in terms of morphological change, domestication processes seem to be happening faster on Cyprus, with much higher rates of grain size increase in wheat. But this does not mean that wheat became quickly important or even that the overall economy was especially agricultural. Instead it appears that cereals (and other crops) remain a minor, rather than dominant, part of the economy for millennia (see left). This is in contrast to the mainland Fertile Crescent where increasingly morphological features of domestication are accompanied by a trend towards increasing use of cereals and dominance of wheats and barley out of all plant remains. If agriculture as an economic change is properly decoupled from domestication (and genetic change), then these trends clearly do not go together on Cyprus. The same is clear in the faunal record. Despite the early translocation of mammals, including livestock or potential livestock (like cattle) but also wild game (like boars and deer), it is hunted game, especially deer, that dominate bone assemblages. Cattle even plausibly go extinct and get reintroduced to Cyprus. For fully agricultural economic systems one perhaps needs to look at transformations from the Middle to Late Bronze Age, driven by Cyprus getting more central to a world system of trade, in which cultivation of "cash crop" fruits became important. In this context continued hunter-gatherer economic activities lost ground to the food and economic production activities that transformed the wild fringes to investment agriculture.
Thus despite material culture that we class as Neolithic (and Bronze Age) the economy looks rather anti-Neolithic.
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