Topic: Turning to farming
Archaeologists are investigating islands around Britain to find out why our ancestors gave up
being hunter-gatherers 6,000 years ago and turned to farming.
Academics from the universities of Southampton and Liverpool
are hoping to shed new light on the long-standing debate about whether the
change around 4,000BC was due to colonists moving into Britain or if the
indigenous population gradually adopted the new agricultural lifestyle
The experts will be excavating three island groups in the
western seaways – the Channel Islands, the Isles of Scilly and the Outer
Hebrides – to understand what sailing across this area would have been like in
Fraser Sturt, from the Centre for Maritime Archaeology at the University of Southampton,
said: “How people changed from hunter-gatherers to agricultural lifestyles is
one of the big questions in archaeology.
“We know that the first signs of domestication occurred in
the Middle East around 10,000BC and reached France by 5,000BC. However, it
appears to be another 1,000 years before Neolithic farming activities reached
“We are investigating why this happened by looking at
changing social practices, possible environmental impacts and the nature of
maritime technology and communication.”
Recent archaeological findings, such as French pottery in
Scotland, suggest that colonisation from the continent could be one possible
explanation for this shift in lifestyle.
Studies show that the first colonists are likely to have
travelled across the western seaways, but there has been very little excavation
of the islands to prove this theory.
Duncan Garrow, from the University of Liverpool’s School of
Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology, added: “Archaeological findings, such as
the bones of farm cattle from the fifth millennium BC and European pottery, and
advances in radiocarbon techniques have given new life to the theory that
European colonists settled in Britain and brought farming practices with them.
“To understand how possible this could have been, however, we
need to turn our attention away from the mainland and towards the seas that form
an important travel link between the islands around Britain.
“We are excavating on the Channel Islands, Isles of Scilly
and in the Outer Hebrides, which form part of an important maritime zone that
surprisingly has been given little scholarly attention in the past.
“We are constructing a database of all known fifth and fourth
millennium occupation sites in and around each island group and starting a
programme of radiocarbon dating to understand the chronology of activity within
the western seaways.
The project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research
By Martin Halfpenny