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From: Alan R <>
Subject: Re: [DNA] Ellen's paper
Date: Sun, 10 Dec 2006 12:01:58 +0000 (GMT)
In-Reply-To: <mailman.4603.1165703393.29920.genealogy-dna@rootsweb.com>


Ellen and list

I would not disagree with anything you have said.
Only thing I would note is how much a year or two or
one or two new sites can alter the picture of the
Mesolithic or Early Neolithic periods. For example,
the old early (narrow blade) and late (broad blade)
chronological division of the Mesolithic period is
increasingly looking to be a misnomer as we now have
almost as early dates for 'late' as for 'early'
technology thanks to new finds, particularly the very
well dated one at Cramond in Scotland. It looks like
we are looking at either a cultural or functional
rather than chronological division.

In terms of sedementism or otherwise, it has recently
been suggested on the basis of the very similar dating
of the most substantial Mesolithic houses found in the
British Isles-Mnt Sandal in Ireland, Howick in NE
England and East Barns in SE Scotland (and perhaps
some others) that there was an at least several
centuries long very sedentary phase beginning around
c. 8000BC (calibrated) or just after.

That that was not the only phase of the Irish
Mesolithic that featured sedentism is shown by the
fact that my own archaeological consultancy has been
involved in two digs in the last 8 years that
uncovered two substantial rectangular houses dating to
the later Mesolithic in the north of Ireland. I think
someone else has found yet another one of similar form
and date elsewhere in Ireland too. They date to c.
5000BC if my memory serves me correct and are too
early to relate to contact with farming communities
unless the locals were undertaking journeys way beyond
what anybody has been proposed. These houses were a
serious shock in terms of solidity and shape and
require a serious rethink.

I think the analysis of human bones at Ferriter's Cove
in SW Ireland has hinted at coast-focused sedentism at
that site. As you note, the Irish Mesolithic diet had
to be very fish-based due to the lack of large
mammals. The only large mammal known to have been
available and exploited was the wild pig and there is
also good evidence of fowling.

A riverine migratory fish based economy has been
suggested for Ireland but the entire coast of all but
the very late Mesolithic is submerged and I strongly
suspect marine or at least shoreline exploitation was
very important throughout. Its unlikely much evidence
will ever be available for this but someone pointed
out recently that without wild cattle, sheep and deer,
the Mesolithic Irish would have had to seek new
strategies to cloth themselves in the grim Irish
climate and that, although processing plant fibres
would not be impossible, the most likely leather
substitute available would have been sealskin.
Classic Irish Late Mesolithic finds from Rathlin
Island show that sea worthy boats capable of crossing
the notoriously rough sea between the north Irish
coast and that island were available in Ireland as in
the Hebrides.

In terms on genetics and whether the introduction of
farming saw a big influx of population, it is true
that the jury is still out. Most people would place
the beginning of the Irish Neolithic c. 4000BC
calibrated (=c. 3200bc uncalibrated) but there is at
least one cattle bone from a Mesolithic site (think it
was Ferriter's Cove) and some controversial hints of
cereals in pollen cores long predating 4000BC. This
is odd as plant and animal domesticates of these types
were unavailable even to trade except a very
considerable distance away on the continent.

The one feature everyone agrees with is the extreme
insularity and apparent isolation of Ireland in the
last 3000 years or so of the Mesolithic period, with
only the Isle of Mann (considered an overspill from
Ireland) providing any parallels for Ireland's
macro-blade technology. This, along with the lack of
wild versions of the main farming animals (other than
pig), has traditionally been sited as evidence that
the locals were in no position to receive and adopt
ideas such as farming and this is often sited to
support the idea that there must have been at least a
good number of Neolithic incomers. However, the
evidence of early cattle imports and cereal has
complicated the picture.

There is no dispute that Neolithic technology and
farming spread from the middle east/ Asia minor/ SE
Europe in a westerly and north-westerly direction, so
genetic clines would be expected to reflect that,
although I think the picking up of local genes from
anywhere on the path of the wave of advance would have
made the genes of any settlers very different from the
farming origin area by the time the far NW was
reached. I believe that Neolithic settlers simply
must have come to Ireland even if they were small
numbers of pioneers that the locals quickly copied.
However, if the Irish Neolithic settlers were largely
an overspill of Neolithicised Mesolithic people from
western Britain then they may have been R1bs
themselves and undetectable except perhaps at
sub-clade level.

One other thing I would observe as relevant to the R1b
debate is that Oppenheimer's dual origin idea of
Neolithic culture arriving in the British Isles from
two directions-from the east(LBK) and Mediterranean
(Cardial) is not reflected in any modern books I have
read. These were the directions of movement on the
continent but neither culture is clearly duplicated in
the British Isles which are in fact fairly homogeneous
in the early-mid phases with no hints at a dual
origin. For example, the earliest domestic pottery in
Ireland is identical to that from northern England and
flint technology is also extremely similar. Arguably
slightly later 'court tombs; have many specific
features in common with similar tombs throughout
Britain including not just other megaliths but also
earthen long barrows in SE England. The similarity
throughout the British Isles in the early-mid
Neolithic is striking. LBK and derived cultures are
thought the more likely sources for the Neolithic of
the British Isles as a whole but the very quick
development of insularity has make Neolithic origins
rather hazy.

No separate Atlantic input is apparent in the
early-mid Neolithic period. There may have been some
shadowy high status later contact along the Atlantic
route about 1000 years or so into the Neolithic era
but by then the brief window of demographic advantage
that the introduction of farming is thought by many
(not all) to have brought may have passed.

I could write about these interesting issues for hours
but the bottom line is the jury is sill very much out.
Archaeology is now understood to be poor at
definitively identifying/ distinguishing between
population movements, movement of ideas, social
changes and trade. At the moment, it is far more
likely that genetics will help resolve archaeological
debates than the other way around. Hence some
archaeologists interest in genetics-archaeology is a
magpie discipline!

n.b. to all on the list-note that a mix of calibrated
dates BC, uncalibrated dates bc and BP dates are used
on this list. In this early period, correction by
calibration pushes uncalibrated dates back about 1000
years. Calibrated dates are conventionally upper case
BC while uncalibrated dates are lower case bc. BP
means 'before present' (confusingly 'present' is a
date in the 1950s) but if you subtract 2000 then you
get an uncalibrated bc date. I find it best to use
calibrated BC dates as they are closest to correct but
practice varies greatly.

Alan


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