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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Utah mesolithic

Science Daily (press release, no known paper).

People inhabiting southern Utah's Escalante Valley used hand mills some 10,000 years ago to grind seeds to make flour. This kind of economy is generally considered Mesolithic¹ (transitional from Paleolithic hunter-gatherer to Neolithic "production" economy) in other contexts and it is very revealing to find ancient Native Americans doing the same that their contemporaries in West Asia, North Africa or China were doing about that same time.

Hunt continued however but it's very possible that the millers of Utah were already creating the conceptual and economical scenario for the eventual Neolithic revolution (farming) in America.

Update: Julien Riel-Salvatore has a nice article on these findings.


¹ Note: I follow the school that uses the term Mesolithic only for cultures that do display that transitional economy, other contemporary cultures that do not show any sign of transition towards Neolithic are best called Epipaleolithic. However I must mention that others use the term Mesolithic indiscriminately for all post-Glacial pre-Neolithic cultures.


Millán Mozota said...

About the note: that's a good&brief explanation for the epipaleolithic/mesolithic terms&confusion.

Va_Highlander said...

We generally do not speak of a mesolithic era in the North American archaeological record. Paleolithic culures, like the Clovis complex, were succeeded by those of the archaic period, variously subdivided but generally marked by the advent of similar food-processing activities. In my region, I believe the gathering and processing of hickory nuts dates to about the same time frame as this seed grinding out in Utah.

I am unsure what epipaleolithic might mean in the North American context.

Maju said...

Well, the concepts were surely conceived in the Euro-Mediterranean context, where the post-Glacial period includes a Fertile Crescent Mesolithic, clearly preparing the way for full Neolithic, could easily be contrasted with a European Epipaleolithic, showing no apparent signs of any transition to agriculture.

This distinction seems to be favored more in continental Europe (French, German and other languages) than in Britain.

Much of the same happens with the term Chalcolithic (sometimes Eneolithic) in reference not just to mere use of copper but of an increase of social complexity after the Neolithic proper. In England they go direct from Neolithic to Bronze Age, ignoring that all that period of Stonehenge, etc. is totally Chalcolithic in socio-economical character.

But the distinction is even more clear with the Epipaleolithic (extension of Paleolithic) and the Mesolithic (prelude of Neolithic). I understand that in America the distinction between Paleolithic and Epipaleolithic makes little sense because findings almost exclusively belong to the post-glacial period.

However the development of socio-economical behaviors leading to a distinct and surely independently developed American Neolithic should be considered on their own category. And grinding wild grain with specialized tools to make flour, which could be then stored for a long period, certainly warrants this label - at least in my opinion.