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Michela Spataro and Paolo Biagi (edited by)

A Short Walk through the Balkans: the First Farmers of the Carpathian Basin and Adjacent Regions
Società Preistoria Protostoria Friuli-V.G., Trieste, Quaderno 12, 2007: 25-38


The neolithisation of the Balkans:

a review of the archaeobotanical evidence

SUMMARY - The Neolithisation of the Balkans: a review of the archaeobotanical evidence. Minimal emphasis has hitherto been
placed on the potential for analysing archaeobotanical datasets to explore the origin and spread of Neolithic farming; in this paper we
present the results of such analyses which are based on the amalgamated records from c. 250 southwest Asian and European aceramic
and Early Neolithic sites. We demonstrate the similarity of crop diversity on sites at the origins and at the focus of the earliest dispersal
events and also the notable disparity in diversity between Early Neolithic sites in the different regions of the Balkans, once farming
spread further westwards towards central Europe. We account for these variations in the ‘crop package’ in terms of both the routes of
contact via which farming reached southeast Europe and also climatic factors that predetermined which species were better suited to
cultivation according to the different regions.

Riassunto - La Neolitizzazione dei Balcani: una revisione.delle testimonianze archeobotaniche. Poca attenzione è stata finora posta
alle possibilità che possono derivare dai risultati delle analisi archeobotaniche per studiare l’origine e la diffusione dell’agricoltura. In
questo lavoro vengono presentati i risultati di queste analisi, basati sulle informazioni raccolte in circa 250 siti aceremici e del Neolitico
antico dell’Asia sud-occidentale e dell’Europa. Vengono dimostrate le somiglianze nelle diverse modalità di coltivazione nei siti ubicati
alle origini ed al centro del fenomeno di dispersione più antica, ed anche la notevole disparità nelle differenze che si notano tra i siti
del Neolitico Antico nelle diverse regioni balcaniche, una volta che la l’agricoltura si diffuse più ad occidente, verso l’Europa centrale.
Queste variazioni vengono interpretate come ‘pacchetti di coltivazione’ sia come percorsi di contatto attraverso i quali l’agricoltura ha
raggiunto il sudest europeo, sia come fattori climatici che predeterminavano quali specie erano più adatte alla coltivazione a seconda
delle diverse regioni.


In this paper we consider the spread of the earliest crops into Europe and assess the significance of simi-
larities and differences between the use of domestic species found on aceramic sites in southwest Asia and on
Early Neolithic sites in the different regions of the Balkans.
Our aim is to increase understanding of the subsistence systems that supported the earliest Neolithic
populations of southeast Europe. We discuss the ancestry of the agricultural strategies practiced in the Bal-
kans, and identify the specific changes in crop use that occurred as part of the Neolithisation process in this
Our dataset consists of archaeobotanical records from c. 250 southwest Asian and European aceramic
and Early Neolithic sites.
Charred plant remains (with very few taxa preserved by mineralisation, waterlogging or as impressions)
identified at each site (and phases of each site) were recorded in a database; records include the complete
range of plant types found on the sites, e.g. crops as well as wild and weed taxa.
All the information is taken from published reports in which the archaeobotanical samples were assigned
to phased and dated contexts.
The records in the database are thus both spatially and chronologically referenced (for more details about
the database see Colledge et al., 2004; 2005).
** Institute of Archaeology, UCL, London, UK
** Department of Anthropology, Trent University, Ontario, Canada

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The evolution of the founder crops

The earliest domesticated plant species (the ‘founder crops’: Zohary, 1996) first appear on Aceramic
Neolithic sites in southwest Asia, and from there they spread by human agency, via coastal Mediterranean and
inland Anatolian routes, into Europe (Colledge et al., 2004). The complete ‘crop package’ of the eight founder
species - three cereals: emmer (Triticum dicoccum), einkorn (Triticum monococcum), hulled barley (Hordeum
vulgare); four pulses: lentil (Lens culinaris), pea (Pisum sativum), chick pea (Cicer arietinum) and bitter vetch
(Vicia ervilia); and flax (Linum usitatissimum) - have been identified on many Levantine pre-pottery Neolithic
(PPN) sites (Garrard, 1999; Zohary and Hopf, 2000; Colledge, 2001). However, the package was not adopted
in its entirety in the different regions of Europe; certain crops were cultivated preferentially, influenced by both
climatic and cultural factors (Halstead, 1989; Bogucki, 1996; Colledge et al., 2005; Bakels, 2007).
Genetic studies of modern populations have formed the basis of research on the ancestry of the founder
species (Salamini et al., 2004). Central to these studies have been the attempts to determine the frequency and
location of the domestication events, which gave rise to the earliest domestic crops. Certain authors favour
monophyletic origins for the crops and suggest that domestication took place only once (or at most very few
times, e.g. Zohary, 1996; 1999; Heun et al., 1997). Others, however, are proponents of polyphyletic origins,
whereby each species was domesticated more than once and in different locations (Jones et al., 1998; Allaby,
2000; Allaby and Brown, 2003). Location has proved to be an equally contentious issue; for example, the
results of DNA analyses seem to be at odds over whether the founder crops evolved in the southern Levant
(e.g. Jordan, Israel, Palestinian Territories) or the northern Levant (e.g. Syria, southeast Anatolia) (Heun
et al., 1997; Nesbitt, 1998; Nesbitt and Samuel, 1998; Zohary, 1999; Özkan et al., 2002). Corroborative
archaeobotanical evidence provides a means of resolving uncertainties over how many times and where
domestication events took place, but the question of whether or not domestic taxa can be confirmed as the
‘earliest’ at certain pre-pottery Neolithic sites in southwest Asia has proved to be no less controversial (for
example, see Nesbitt, 2002).
The chronological framework for domestication, or domestication events, is fundamental to our under-
standing of the dynamics of the spread of crop-based agriculture beyond southwest Asia. Estimates vary on the
rate at which domestication would have taken place once wild crops were under cultivation. Recent research,
which is based on an assessment of the relative proportions of domestic-type and wild-type wheat and barley
chaff in archaeobotanical assemblages from early sites in the Levant, indicates that domestication (e.g. whereby
the end result is cereal crops with tough rachises) was a long process, possibly taking between 1000 and 1500
years (Tanno and Willcox, 2006; Fuller, in prep.). In this scenario, cultivation that did not involve preferential
selection of the mutant tough rachised plants may have continued for a considerable length of time without any
signs of the morphological changes in the cereal ears that are associated with domestication (see Willcox, 2004
for a discussion of the development of large grained wild cereal ‘crops’). On the basis that greater proportions
of indehiscent (i.e. tough rachised) spikelets are indicative of the emergence of a fully domestic crop, the earli-
est sites which meet this criterion in the two studies cited above are dated to the late/final PPNB (c. 7500-6400
cal BC). This is a much later date for the evolution of the founder crops than has previously been assumed (for
example, see Harris, 2002; Nesbitt, 2002; Colledge et al., 2004).
In contrast, on the basis of experimental harvesting of wild einkorn, Hillman and Davies (1990; 1991) cal-
culated that cereal crops could have been domesticated within 200 years, or perhaps as rapidly as 20-30 years,
provided that certain harvesting prerequisites were met (e.g. if the wild cereals were harvested partially ripe, if
they were gathered by uprooting or sickle reaping, and if new fields were sown each year). On the assumption
that cultivation leading to domestication began in the Late Epipalaeolithic (Moore et al., 2000; Hillman et al.,
2001), Hillman and Davies’ ‘short gestation’ model (Colledge et al., 2004) places the evolution of domestic
crops within the time-frame of the PPNA. As we consider below, this is more compatible with what is currently
known about the timing of the spread of Neolithic farming westwards.

The dispersal of the founder crops

Domestic cereal and pulse species have been identified in southwest Asia from as early as c. 9500 cal BC
and there is evidence, mainly in the form of charred remains, with very few instances of impressions in plaster
or daub, for the full suite of founder crops on many sites by the early/middle PPNB (i.e. between c. 8700 and
7500 cal BC: Garrard, 1999; Zohary and Hopf, 2000; Colledge, 2001).

26 –
SW Asia: pre-pottery Neolithic sites/phases (n=44)

Fig. 1 - Percentage of Pre-Pottery Neolithic sites/phases in southwest Asia with evidence for the listed cereal and pulse species, and

Fig. 1 is a comparison of the range and frequency of occurrence of crops (including the founder species and
also later or secondary domesticates) present on a total of 44 aceramic sites (or phases of sites) recorded in our
database (with dates ranging from c. 9500-7000 cal BC and located in Jordan, Syria, the Palestinian Territories,
Israel and Anatolia). The most common species are hulled barley, the two glume wheats (einkorn and emmer),
pea, lentil and bitter vetch, which all occur on over 50% of the sites. The remaining founder species (chick pea
and flax), together with free threshing wheat (Triticum aestivum/durum), naked barley (Hordeum vulgare var
nudum), grass pea (Lathyrus sativus) and rye (Secale cereale), are recorded on far fewer sites.
Recently excavated sites (i.e. since the early 1990s) on Cyprus have produced evidence that has revo-
lutionised previously held ideas about both the settlement of the island and also the routes and timing of the
initial dispersals of the founder crops from their origins (Peltenburg et al., 2001; Colledge, 2004; Colledge
and Conolly, 2007). Of greatest significance are the archaeobotanical data, which indicate a very early date
for the seaward migration of Neolithic farmers from southwest Asia. There are eight Aceramic Neolithic sites
on Cyprus (assigned to the Cypro-PPNB and late Aceramic Neolithic/Khirokitian, dating from the mid 9th to
the 6th millennia cal BC) with evidence of preserved plant remains. Table 1 is summary of the range of crops
identified at the sites, including not only the founder species but also later additions to the spectrum of plants
that were cultivated in the Early Neolithic (e.g. free threshing wheat and naked barley, and two pulses: grass
pea and faba bean, Vicia faba). The order of sites in the table (from the top) is approximately chronological
from earliest to latest (for relative chronologies see Peltenburg, 2003: 87, table 11.3).
The earliest archaeobotanical evidence on Cyprus is from the sites of Perekklisha-Shillourokambos and
Kissonerga-Mylouthkia (both excavated within the last decade and a half). A very limited spectrum of taxa is
represented in the assemblages from the earliest phase at Perekklisha-Shillourokambos (PSI: Early Phase A; for
C dates see Guilaine, 2003) dated to the Cypro-Early PPNB (equivalent to the Levantine EPPNB); the status of
the cereal ‘crops’ at the site is equivocal and Willcox (2001) records only wild/domestic glume wheat grains and
chaff and wild barley (Hordeum spontaneum). The identifications were made from impressions of plant remains
in pisé and the difference in mode of preservation between Shillourokambos and a majority of the southwest
Asian sites (and, more significantly, also the other Cypriot aceramic sites) could account for the relatively poor
representation of taxa (including crop species) at the site. The phase IA samples from Kissonerga-Mylouthkia

– 27
Cereals Pulses

28 –
?wild domestic

wild/domestic barley
wild/domestic emmer
hulled barley
naked barley
free threshing wheat
bitter vetch*
grass pea*
faba bean*
Cypro-Early PPNB Kissonerga-Mylouthkia IA ● ● ● ● ● Murray , 2003
[c. 8700-8200 cal BC] Perekklisha-Shillourokambos I Willcox, 2001
● ●
Cypro-Middle/Late PPNB Perekklisha-Shillourokambos II ● ● Willcox, 2001
[c. 8200-7400/c. 7400-6600 cal Perekklisha-Shillourokambos III Willcox,2001
● ● ●
BC] Kissonerga-Mylouthkia IB Murray, 2003
● ● ● ● ●
Kalavassos-Tenta ● ● ● ● ● ● Hansen, 1978; 1979; 2005
Ais-Yiorkis ● ● Simmons and Espinda, pers. comm.
Khirokitian Khirokitia [east, west & ‘small’ trenches] ● ● ● ● ● ● ● ● ● Waines and Stanley Price , 1977; Miller, 1984; Hansen, 1989; 1994
[c. 6600-5000 cal BC] Cape Andreas-Kastros van Zeist, 1981
● ● ● ● ● ● ●
Dhali-Agridhi ● ● ● ● ● Stewart, 1974
Kholetria-Ortos ● ● ● ● Simmons, pers. comm.
[* the domestic status of the pulses and flax has not been confirmed in all cases]

Table 1 - Presence of crop species on aceramic Neolithic sites in Cyprus.

(broadly contemporary with PSI) comprise a diverse range of both domestic and wild species. Three of the
founder crops (hulled barley, einkorn, and emmer) were identified (lentil and flax could not be assigned with
certainty as domestic species; Murray, 2003) and the presence in the samples of harvesting or processing waste
(e.g. field weeds and chaff) provided further confirmation of the status of both the cereal crops and farming by
the middle of the 9th millennium cal BC, a short time after they evolved on the Levantine mainland.
The Cypriot evidence indicates that the spread of Neolithic farming beyond its origins was rapid. From
the archaeobotanical data it is apparent that there was no significant reduction in the range of crops that were
cultivated in the Early Neolithic, an indication of the successful transport of grain stocks and the requisite tech-
niques to ensure productive harvests by the colonising farmers. Calibrated dates for the earliest occurrences of
domestic cereals on the island (table 2) appear to show that the initial dispersal via the Mediterranean was as
early as, if not earlier than the mainland route via Anatolia (Colledge et al., 2004: s40-41; Perlès, 2005). The
first evidence of domestic cereals in southeast Anatolia is dated to the early-mid 9th millennium cal BC (table
3). Two or three centuries later crops had spread further to the west, and at Aşıklı Höyük, the earliest farming
community yet known in central Anatolia, levels with domestic glume wheats are dated to c. 8300 cal BC.

The Neolithic crop package in the Balkans


Farming and the founder crops reached southern Europe at about 7000 cal BC (Halstead, 2000; Perlès,
2001; Colledge et al., 2005). The range and relative frequency of occurrence of the domestic species on the
earliest sites in Greece (fig. 2; a total of 12 initial (Aceramic) and Early Neolithic sites and/or phases, with dates
ranging from c. 7000-6000 cal BC) and on aceramic sites in southwest Asia are remarkably similar. Hulled
barley, einkorn, emmer, pea and lentil are the most common domestic species (present on over 50% of the sites)
and other crops occur on a minority of the Greek sites. The diversity of crops used in the two regions are also
comparable as demonstrated by the percentages of sites with five or more crops (southwest Asia: 73%, Greece:
75%; fig. 4) and by the mean number of crops per region (southwest Asia: 5.88, Greece: 5.75; table 4). There
is little difference, therefore, in the diversity of domestic species grown between the regions where the founder
crops evolved and where the crop package was adopted once farming had reached southeast Europe. Taxa
identified on the early Greek sites are all based on records of plant remains preserved by charring and although
in some instances sample sizes are small the representation of the crop repertoire appears to be as complete as
that in southwest Asia, where there are far more sites and samples included in the comparisons.
In an earlier paper (Colledge et al., 2004) we suggested the results of more comprehensive quantitative
analyses of assemblages of crops (both domestic and wild) and weeds were indicative of links between Greece
and the southwest Asia (more specifically the southern Levant), via Cyprus. The similarities in composition of
much larger suites of taxa between sites in the eastern Mediterranean and the southern Balkans are in accord,
therefore, with the findings we report here, which are based on crop species alone. This is consistent with similar
conclusions made by Perlès who, on the basis of comparative studies of the material culture in these regions,
proposes that Greece was colonised by processes originating in the Levant and the southern Anatolian coast
via the southern route of a two-fold east-west expansion of the Neolithic (Perlès, 2005). Certain commodi-
ties, which included crops, would have been transferred by the Neolithic migrants, thus resulting in a pack-
age common to both the origins and the focus of the colonisation. Bogaard argues that the farming practices,
which gave rise to comparable crop (and weed) packages must also have been similar, thus that there was also
transmission of husbandry techniques (Bogaard, 2004; 2005). On the basis of detailed analyses of crops and
weed assemblages she concludes that the same ‘general’ system of intensive, small-scale cultivation (Bogaard,
pers. comm.) characterised Neolithic farming in Greece and a majority of southeast Europe (Bogaard, 2004:
51; 2005, 182), and from the available evidence it seems likely that this was a mode of production which had
originated in southwest Asia (Bogaard, 2005: 188).


On Neolithic sites to the north of Greece there are significant differences in crop diversity. The data for Bul-
garia (fig. 2) derive from records of charred plant remains from ten early Neolithic sites and/or phases (Karanovo

– 29
Kissonerga Mylouthkia IA dates (taken from Peltenburg, 2003: 83)

Laboratory Radiocarbon
Calibrated date BC Material dated
number age
1 sigma 2 sigmas

charred cereal from well 116, fill 123 (20.75-20.55

AA-33128 9235±70 BP 8550-8290 8630-8280
m asl)

charred cereal from well 116, fill 124 (19.75-19.80 m

AA-33129 9110±70 BP 8450-8240 8540-8200 asl), immediately below the layer in which the sample
for AA-33128 was taken

charred barley grain from well 116, fill 124 (19.75-

OxA-7460 9315±60 BP 8690-8450 8740-8320 19.80 m asl), immediately below the layer in which
the sample for AA-33128 was taken

Table 2 - 14C dates for domestic cereals at Cypro-EPPNB Kissonerga-Mylouthkia phase IA.

I/II), which range in date from c. 6000-5500 cal BC. The most frequently occurring species in southwest Asia
and Greece are equally as common on the Bulgarian early Neolithic sites but, in addition, free threshing wheat,
naked barley and grass pea are also present on a majority of the sites. Bulgaria has the highest percentage of
sites with five or more crops (and the highest mean number of crops per site; fig. 4 and table 4), and therefore
exhibits greater crop diversity than is manifest in southwest Asia and in the other regions of the Balkans.
In recent syntheses of archaeobotanical data recorded from Bulgarian early Neolithic sites, Marinova stresses
the climatic/environmental idiosyncrasies of the country, which in part may account for the distinctiveness of
the crop package we highlight here (Marinova, 2007). She points out that the environment of Bulgaria is conti-
nental but with a strong Mediterranean influence (i.e. transitional between the east Mediterranean and Europe),
so that crops introduced from the south and east would have had to adapt to these new conditions. Not all the
founder species were suitable for cultivation in the region and Marinova makes reference to chick pea, which
was common in the south but didn’t become an established crop throughout the entire country. In contrast, the
greater frequency of occurrence of free threshing wheat (or more specifically hexaploid bread wheat, which is
more common in our study area than the tetraploid species) compared to Greece, which has a Mediterranean
climate, could be due to its enhanced tolerance of more continental conditions (Zohary and Hopf, 2000: 51-58;
see also Colledge et al., 2005: 149). The glume wheats, which are better suited to Mediterranean conditions,
are present on equally high proportions of the Bulgarian sites and so the range of cereal crops is greater on these
sites in comparison with other regions, for example, where the climate favoured cultivation of either the founder
species or the secondary domesticates. Husbandry practices would likewise have been modified according to
the prevailing climatic conditions in the different areas of Europe. However, in this instance Bogaard suggests
that the weed assemblages from the Bulgarian Early Neolithic sites, rather than the crops alone, are more in-
formative about patterns of land and resource management, and that their composition is consistent with what
would be expected for intensively cultivated fields (Bogaard, 2005: 182).
Significantly, Marinova states that archaeobotanical data from the Bulgarian early Neolithic sites are in-
dicative of connections with northern Greece and Anatolia and the data presented here also support this claim.
Archaeobotanical evidence from early Neolithic sites in the region of Anatolia immediately to the east of
Bulgaria (i.e. in northern and central/south central Anatolia) is sparse and our comparison is limited to just six
aceramic phases from a total of four sites (Aşıklı Höyük, Can Hasan III, Çatalhöyük [pre-levels XIIA, XIIB
and XIIC/D] and Hacilar). Nevertheless, it is clear that the range of crops represented on the Anatolian sites is
comparable with that for the Bulgarian sites (fig. 3), for example, free threshing wheat and glume wheats are
equally as common and the full suite of pulse species is present, all of which (including chick pea) are found
on a majority of the sites. The two regions mirror each other in terms of the diversity of crops to the extent that
the proportions of sites with more than five crops and the mean number of crops per site are also similar (for
Anatolia: 83% and 8.50, respectively).
It is relevant here to highlight the presence of rye in the Bulgarian Early Neolithic. Rye has been identified
on very few southwest Asian Early Neolithic sites but finds on Anatolian sites outnumber those in other areas
(e.g. at aceramic Can Hasan III, Hillman identified rye grains in 35 of the 41 samples he examined; Hillman,

30 –
Earliest date(s)

region site 14
C date BP cal BC lab number context of dated material domestic cereals present at site context in which cereals were found
(charcoal unless stated)

SE Anatolia Cafer Höyük 9560±190 9250-8700 Ly-4436 level XII: east area layer J2a emmer chaff; emmer/einkorn grains & chaff hearths 126 and 127, and burnt layer

Cafer Höyük 8990±160 8340-7830 Ly-2182 level XII: 1978 base of sondage emmer chaff; emmer/einkorn grains & chaff hearths 126 and 127, and burnt layer

Cafer Höyük 8950±80 8270-7970 Ly-4437 level IX: east area layer J1a, hearth 124 einkorn grains sample 88 from hearth 124

Çayönü 9320±55 8700-8470 GrN-6243 Basal Pits sub-phase emmer grains; emmer/einkorn chaff basal pits (unspecified)

Çayönü 9275±95 8630-8340 GrN-6241 Channelled Building sub-phase: ch1-4 emmer/einkorn chaff channelled building (unspecified)

Çayönü 9250±60 8570-8340 GrN-8079 Basal Pits sub-phase: hearth emmer grains; emmer/einkorn chaff basal pits (unspecified)

Nevalı Çori 9261±181 8740-8280 Hd-16781-835 level I/II [material not specified] glume wheat spikelet forks (indet. category)* hearths, fill between stones in ‘cult building’

Nevalı Çori 9243±55 8560-8340 Hd-16782-351 level I/II [material not specified] glume wheat spikelet forks (indet. category)* hearths, fill between stones in ‘cult building’

Nevalı Çori 9212±76 8540-8310 Hd-16783-769 level I/II [material not specified] glume wheat spikelet forks (indet. category)* hearths, fill between stones in ‘cult building’

C Anatolia Aşıklı Höyük 8958±130 8300-7910 P-1240 base of site: burnt layer NW cut einkorn & emmer grains; emmer/einkorn chaff provenance unspecified

Aşıklı Höyük 8920±50 8240-7980 GrN-19116 phase 2C-A: square 2J, room FF einkorn & emmer grains; emmer/einkorn chaff provenance unspecified

Aşıklı Höyük 8880±70 8230-7950 GrN-19865 phase 2E/2D: area JY, dump/workshop einkorn & emmer grains; emmer/einkorn chaff provenance unspecified

Can Hasan III 8584±65 7660-7540 HU-11 trench 49L, near basal levels einkorn & emmer grains trench 49L

Can Hasan III 8543±66 7600-7525 HU-12 trench 49L, basal levels einkorn & emmer grains trench 49L

Can Hasan III 8470±140 7650-7320 BM-1664R trench 49L, sample 156F einkorn & emmer grains trench 49L

Çatalhöyük 8240±55 7360-7140 OxA-9778 pre XII.D [wheat grain dated] einkorn & emmer grains & chaff pre XII.C/D level

Çatalhöyük 8160±50 7250-7060 OxA-9777 pre XII.C einkorn & emmer grains & chaff pre XII.C/D level

Çatalhöyük 8155±50 7250-7060 OxA-9893 pre XII.D [wheat grain dated] einkorn & emmer grains & chaff level pre XII.C/D level

SW Anatolia Hacılar 8700±180 8200-7550 BM-127 level V: area Q, courtyard floor hearth emmer grains & chaff ashy layer at base of aceramic levels

Table 3 - Earliest 14C dates for sites in Anatolia with evidence for domestic cereals.

– 31
Fig. 2 - Percentage of Early Neolithic sites/phases in the Balkans with evidence for the listed cereal and pulse species, and flax.

C&SW Anatolia: aceramic sites/phases (n=6)


% of sites/phases


























t te

l le





Fig. 3 - Percentage of Aceramic Neolithic sites/phases in central and southwest Anatolia with evidence for the listed cereal and pulse
species, and flax.

32 –
5 crops or more
4 crops or fewer

% of sites/phases 80




SW Asia Greece Bulgaria Fr Central
Yugoslavia/ Europe (LBK)

Fig. 4 - Percentage of sites/phases in the different regions with evidence of four crop species or fewer and with five or more crop species.

mean number of
crops per site/phase
SW Asia [n=44] 5.88
Greece [n=12] 5.75
Bulgaria [n=10] 7.90
C&SW Anatolia [n=6] 8.50
Fr Yugoslavia/ Hungary [n=9] 2.44

Table 4 - Mean number of crop species in the different regions.

1978) and so its presence on Bulgarian sites (where the domestic status is not assigned with certainty) and
not on others in the Balkans is consistent with the concept of a link between the regions. In Perlès’ two-fold
colonisation model the second route by which the ‘Neolithic’ reached the Balkans was via the north through
Anatolia thus the available archaeobotanical data for both Early Neolithic Greece and Bulgaria are in agree-
ment with her proposal.

Former Yugoslavia and Hungary

Archaeobotanical data for nine Early Neolithic (Körös/Starčevo) sites (dated between c. 6100-5500 cal BC)
from the Former Yugoslavia (i.e. sites to the north and east of the Dinaric Alps, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia,
Macedonia) and Hungary are given in fig. 21. Most noticeable is the fact that there is a much-reduced diversity
of crops in comparison with the Greek and Bulgarian sites; only a small percentage of the Körös/Starčevo sites
Comparable quantitative data from other regions in the Balkans were unavailable at the time we were compiling our records.

– 33
have five or more crops and the mean number per site is the lowest of all the regions in our study. Fewer of the
founder crops are represented and of the five that are recorded only hulled barley and emmer are present on a
majority of the sites. Two pulses, pea and lentil, are represented on a small minority the Körös/Starčevo sites,
whereas in Greece and Bulgaria five pulses are present, and certain species are as common as the cereals (i.e.
are present on over 50% of the sites).
The range and/or types of taxa represented on three out of the nine sites in the Former Yugoslavia and
Hungary are possibly limited because preservation of the plant remains was solely in the form of impressions
in pottery and daub. For example, it could be that they comprise only those species that were more valuable as
temper (relative to their usefulness for other purposes), and those of wider economic importance may be ‘missing’
from the archaeobotanical record. It is less likely, therefore, that the assemblages from the three Körös/Starčevo
sites represent the full suite of crops once used (e.g. only two cereals are represented at these sites). This may
explain in part the differences in crop diversity between these and other regions in the Balkans. However, only
seven crops in total are recorded from the Körös/Starčevo sites where preservation was by charring, which is
also a considerable decrease in overall numbers of domestic species represented in comparison with the Greek
(n=11) and Bulgarian sites (n=13). On the basis of these data (albeit limited), therefore, it would appear that
the reduction in crop diversity is not entirely due to taphonomic factors.
Recent excavations and analysis of charred assemblages from Ecsegfalva in the east Hungarian Plain
(Körös Culture: Whittle, 2000; Bogaard et al., 2007) produced a much more comprehensive list of plant taxa.
Interestingly, only two additional crop species (other than those already recorded in our database for sites in
the Former Yugoslavia/Hungary) were identified at the site (millet: Panicum miliaceum) and the ‘new’ glume
wheat type; Kohler-Schneider, 2003). From their study Bogaard et al. (2007) conclude similarly and state:
“it is possible to infer from the available evidence that there was a progressive narrowing of the crop spectrum
from the southern through to the northern Balkans”. They dismiss the suggestion that lack of rigour in methods
of recovery of the plant material (i.e. without the use of flotation) on the Körös-Starčevo-Criş sites may account
for the disparity between the different regions in the Balkans in light of the fact that flotation and sieving had
been used on very few of the Greek and Bulgarian sites. The authors also emphasise that the weed flora from
Ecsegfalva is representative of small-scale garden type agriculture and, therefore, adheres to the general trend
manifest throughout the rest of southeast Europe.


We demonstrate the similarities of the Neolithic crop packages between the regions at the origins in south-
west Asia and at the focus of the initial dispersal events (e.g. Cyprus and Greece), but also the differences in
diversity between regions of southeast Europe, namely the northern and southern Balkans, as farming spread
further into the continent. The increase in diversity in Bulgaria can be accounted for by the exploitation of crops
suited to both Mediterranean and continental climates, which include, for example, the founder crop cereals
and the full complement of Mediterranean pulses, and also free threshing wheat and other later domesticates
that are tolerant of continental conditions.
The decrease in diversity in the northwest (e.g. as exemplified in our study by the Former Yugoslavia/
Hungary) in comparison with the other regions of the Balkans is explained in part by the reduction in the range
of pulses used. This appears to be a change towards a crop suite more adapted to continental environments
(Halstead, 1989) and is entirely consistent with this area being a ‘watershed’ between the different climates
prevalent in the north and south. The reduction in diversity in the northwest Balkans represents a significant
modification to the ancestral crop package that has widespread implications for the subsequent character of
early farming in central European (e.g. from the evidence of the first farming settlements of the Linearbandk-
eramik Culture; whose origins appear to have been in Transdanubia in northern Hungary, southwest Slovakia
and Lower Austria, dating from c. 5600-5500 cal BC (Whittle, 1990).
In another study (Conolly et al., nd) we have examined in detail the loss of crop species and the resultant
increased homogeneity during the spread of Neolithic farming between the Balkans and central Europe and,
more specifically, whether this could be explained by ‘random cultural drift’ as explored by Neiman (1995),
Shennan and Wilkinson (2001) and Bentley et al. (2004), among others. We established that the rate of species
loss was too extensive to be accounted for by random changes associated with copying errors in transmission
(e.g. between one settlement and those derived from it). Our conclusions, therefore, were that (a) there was
some mechanism of selection that resulted in the loss of some species from the crop package (i.e. equivalent

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to what is known as ‘stabilizing selection’ in evolutionary biology), and (b) the mechanism of selection was
most likely to have been environmental (i.e. ‘natural’ to again use the terminology of biologists). This we feel
is also the most probable explanation for the loss of species in the northwest Balkans; both the nature and ex-
tent of the changes suggest to us that there is considerable external pressure on crop systems which results in
a rapid loss of those species that cannot tolerate or adapt to the continental climates as farming spread further
westwards across Europe.
An alternative explanation would be some form of cultural selection, whereby certain species were preferred
to the detriment of others due to the fact that they performed better in the cultural system within which they
were imbedded (e.g. as demonstrated by the evidence from the Linearbandkeramik settlements, see Bakels
1990; Kreuz 1990; Colledge et al., 2005, where the glume wheats may have been easier to transport and/or
process with the available technology, and thus were favoured above other wheat species). In the absence of
reliable archaeological evidence, which could be used to identify sources of cultural selection that operated
independently of environmental pressure, we thus conclude that the variation in the crop packages observed
between the southern and northern Balkans can most parsimoniously be accounted for by the differences in
climatic conditions (i.e. the increasingly temperate climate in the north) that reduced the effectiveness of some
crop species, resulting in a narrowing of the range of cereals and pulses in common use in the northwest region
of the Balkans.

The data presented in this paper were collected during a three years project sponsored by the AHRC ‘The origin and spread of Neolithic
plant economies in the Near East and Europe’, directed by Stephen Shennan and James Conolly. We thank Amy Bogaard for reading
and commenting on this paper.

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Authors’ Addresses:
SUE COLLEDGE, Institute of Archaeology, UCL, 31-34 Gordon Square – UK - LONDON WC1H 0PY

JAMES CONOLLY, Department of Anthropology, Trent University, 1600 West Bank Drive, Peterborough – ONTARIO K9J

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