chapter  8
19 Pages

Intimate connection: bodies and substances in flux in the early Neolithic of central Europe

WithDaniela Hofmann

In central Europe, the Neolithic is defined as the point when an economy largely based on agriculture and animal husbandry replaces hunting and gathering. This shift is also associated with a greater degree of sedentism and is largely contemporary with the introduction of pottery. As such, the beginning of the Neolithic is a watershed in terms of categorization – both by researchers, and regarding the emic categories we impute to people in the past. The Neolithic is a time of new technologies, most notably pottery production

and stone polishing, but also woodland clearance, the keeping of domestic plants and animals, and the creation of buildings. Regardless of whether we see the Neolithic as introduced by colonists, adapted by indigenous hunter-gatherers, or a mixture of the two (for discussion, see, e.g., Kienlin 2006; Scharl 2004:57-84; Zvelebil 2004), in central Europe the change is generally characterized as both rapid and profound. However, for this area, worldviews and ontologies are not often explicitly problematized (but see, e.g., Whittle 2003, 2009). One well-known attempt is Hodder’s (1990) statement that this new material culture and economy was not just about new ways of production, but also about a new way of defining humanity itself in relation to nature, or taming the ‘wild.’ Although rarely formulated with such clarity elsewhere, this categorization between human and animal, culture and nature, and self and other is part and parcel of many more recent narratives. These stress how the new Neolithic communities variously struggled against foragers, bad harvests, climatic fluctuations, and population pressure, ultimately unsuccessfully (e.g., Farruggia 2002; Golitko and Keeley 2006; Gronenborn 2006, 2010; Schade 2004). In all these models, Neolithic farmers act on the world from the outside, battling against its adverse conditions. This contribution focuses on a smaller scale of social interaction, taking the

treatments of individual human bodies as its starting point. I suggest that new

material practices were also used to negotiate the continuous connections, equivalences, and transformations which embedded people in their worlds. This does not mean that the Neolithic world was one without categories, but that these had to be defined and maintained against a world in constant flux and were therefore temporary and open to change. In central Europe, the Neolithic begins with the Linearbandkeramik culture or LBK

(ca. 5600-4900 cal BC), which eventually covers an area from Hungary to the Paris Basin and Ukraine, and from south of the Danube into the northern European plain (Figure 8.1). The modalities of its appearance and spread remain debated, with some arguing that the speed at which it becomes established could only have been achieved by an influx of colonists (e.g., Ammerman and Cavalli-Sforza 1984; Lüning 1988; Svoboda 2008; for an overview, see Scharl 2004:57-89), a position recently strengthened by aDNA analysis (Haak et al. 2010). In addition, the archaeological record for the preceding Mesolithic is scanty in many parts of central Europe and suggests small-scale, highly mobile populations. This stands in stark contrast to the LBK way of life, which is centered on wooden longhouses up to 30m long or more (e.g., Coudart 1998) and the intensive farming of cereals, probably in small, carefully maintained garden-style plots (Bogaard 2004, 2012). Although hunting remains important at some sites, domesticated animals – cattle, pig, and sheep/ goat – are now exploited. The fast spread of the LBK culture has a distinct aura of imposition, of stamping a new way of life onto a yielding environment, in spite of the risks that may be associated with such an undertaking (e.g., Bogucki 1988).