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Re-assessing island colonization and exploitation in the Late Pleistocene-Early Holocene Mediterranean

Author(s): John Cherry ; Thomas Leppard

Year: 2016

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In 1981 one of us (Cherry) first attempted to tease out spatial and temporal patterning in the colonization of the Mediterranean islands by human communities. Since the 1980s, slowly accumulating evidence has suggested that the Mediterranean islands were sporadically exploited by hunter-gatherer-fishers (HGF) during the Epipalaeolithic and Mesolithic. Here, adapting principles from island biogeography, we seek to establish whether or not these patchy data exhibit patterning. We suggest that the non-permanent exploitation of larger and ecologically-robust islands (such as Crete and Sardinia) indicates that, while humans were clearly capable of reaching the Mediterranean islands prior to the Neolithic, their general reluctance to do so can be explained in terms of the variable environmental attractiveness of the insular Mediterranean. Tending to be relatively small, dry, and biologically depauperate, the Mediterranean islands were largely inhospitable to mobile HGF groups requiring extensive territories with diverse and robust biotas. Sedentism only became a widely viable strategy in the insular Mediterranean with the development in the Neolithic of what we might regard as ‘terraforming’ – that is, the introduction of cereals, pulses, and ovicaprids, all tolerant of xeric environments.

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Re-assessing island colonization and exploitation in the Late Pleistocene-Early Holocene Mediterranean. John Cherry, Thomas Leppard. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Orlando, Florida. 2016 ( tDAR id: 403155)


Arizona State University The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation National Science Foundation National Endowment for the Humanities Society for American Archaeology Archaeological Institute of America