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Plant gatherers, plant managers or agriculturalists? The importance of wild and domestic plants in Mesolithic and Neolithic Scotland

BISHOP, ROSEMARY,RHIANNON (2013) Plant gatherers, plant managers or agriculturalists? The importance of wild and domestic plants in Mesolithic and Neolithic Scotland. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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The breakdown of the traditional rigid distinction between ‘hunter-gatherers’ and ‘farmers’ has lead to increased interest into the different types of human-plant relationships that existed in hunter-gatherer and early farming societies during the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition. This thesis assesses the scale and nature of human-plant exploitation in Mesolithic and Neolithic Scotland. Following Zvelebil (1994), several plant exploitation models are tested using palaeobotanical evidence: 1) opportunistic and incidental wild plant use; 2) systematic and intensive wild plant use; 3) wild plant food management, husbandry or cultivation; 4) the cultivation of domestic plants. It is concluded that wild plant exploitation was most probably systematic and intensive in Mesolithic Scotland, but there is no clear-cut evidence to substantiate the suggestion that Mesolithic hunter-gatherers managed wild plants. The relative importance of wild and domestic plants in the Neolithic economy is difficult to establish due to differences in the deposition, preservation, recovery and recording of cereals and wild plants. However, the importance of agriculture in the economy appears to have varied considerably between different sites and areas. In the Northern Isles and Outer Hebrides, settled agricultural communities were present and wild plant collection was insignificant. In contrast, a mixed plant subsistence economy based on both wild plant collection and cereal cultivation was probably the predominant subsistence strategy in mainland Scotland, though it appears that some apparently contemporary groups cultivated cereals on a large-scale, and others primarily focused on the collection of wild plants. The absence of cereals in assemblages from the Inner Hebrides and the West coast mainland suggests a greater degree of continuity in Mesolithic and Neolithic subsistence strategies in this area than elsewhere in Scotland. Differences in the importance of arable agriculture in each region may reflect the density of settlement in the Mesolithic and the natural availability of wild resources in the environment.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Neolithic, Mesolithic, archaeobotany, Scotland, plant remains, agriculture, hunter-gathering
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Social Sciences and Health > Archaeology, Department of
Thesis Date:2013
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:21 May 2013 09:51

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