Research Plan and Research Cluster of the German Archaeological Institute

Cluster 1: From sedentariness to the complex society: settlement, economy, environment


N. Benecke, H. Parzinger, M. Reindel


The development of a sedentary lifestyle by communities which theretofore had been hunter-gatherers, in combination with the domestication of plants and animals, marks one of mankind's most momentous evolutionary steps towards the emergence of complex societies. The course and intensity of this process were often influenced by the natural surroundings. Settlement, economy and environment are therefore the decisive factors that determine the dynamics and the direction of the development. Against the background of the cultural circumstances of the Old World, the phenomenon of sedentarization is regarded as being closely connected with the transition from a hunter-gatherer mode of subsistence to a productive mode (agriculture and animal husbandry) with the simultaneous appearance of the first ceramic vessels and polished stone tools. This process, by the end of which these key characterstics are all in place, is generally termed 'Neolithization'. However, the details of this development are still largely unknown and are in urgent need of clarification.

The earliest forms of permanent settlement and the first domestication of plants and animals are known from the Near East (the so-called Fertile Crescent) from the 10th millennium BC. From there this early agrarian means of subsistence and way of life spread from the 7th millennium BC onwards. Scholars postulate four 'classical' routes by which this diffusion took place: firstly from the Levant via Cyprus and Anatolia to Greece and via the Balkan peninsula and the Carpathian Basin into central and northern Europe, secondly from the eastern Mediterranean along the Mediterranean coast via southern Italy and southern France as far as Spain and northwest Africa, thirdly via eastern Anatolia and the Transcaucasus into the east European Steppe and - somewhat further to the east - via northern Iran to central Asia, and fourthly via Egypt to north Africa.

The causes and mechanisms of this diffusion have been the subject of considerable controversy for a long time. Different positions are based on a differing assessment of the significance of the phenomena of migration, communication and autochthony. The question of whether sedentariness and agriculture were the result of migration or autochthonous development has been at the forefront of the debate right from the start. Later, under the influence of processual archaeology and systems theory, the ecological approach was increasingly adopted as an explanation of the phenomenon. As a result of post-processual trends attention then shifted to social aspects. The models and hypotheses became ever more complex and multifaceted in the process. They reflected the prevailing theoretical approaches of the day, but the result remained more or less unchanged: today we are still debating the question of whether it was migration or climate change and population pressure that triggered the Neolithization of large parts of the ancient world. It is beyond doubt nowadays at any rate that the environment exerted a significant influence on the process; and yet the extent of the ecological impact is still hard to gauge. Thus it is also debatable how crucial the connection was between available natural resources and the adoption of a sedentary way of life.


With the move away from a research perspective focused exclusively on the Near East and ancient Europe, and towards the inclusion of other parts of the world - a move that the DAI made decades ago - it became clear that theories based on various Neolithization waves originating from the Fertile Crescent are not applicable everywhere. Other cultural centres where at least some of the characteristics of an early agrarian mode of subsistence came into being may be observed in East Asia, in the central Sahara, South America and elsewhere and appear in some cases to have commenced at a similarly early date; however, a workable chronology still has to be devised if a comparative assessment of the phenomenon is to be undertaken on a global scale.

The recent excavations at Göbekli Tepe in south-eastern Anatolia, revealing sacred monumental architecture in a locality where foraging still predominates, have provided new impulses for research into the establishment of communities and the beginnings of agricultural production; and these impulses have in turn thrown up a number of new questions concerning the transition from hunter-gatherer communities to farming cultures. By contrast, pottery manufacture, still unknown in Göbekli Tepe, appears in the forested areas of north-eastern Europe, which however lack firmly established settlements and a productive mode of economy. In the areas inland from the Moroccan coast, originally sedentary groups appear to return to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. These few examples demonstrate that the beginnings of sedentariness and the emergence of a productive mode of economy did not always coincide, and indeed that the development could lead in contrary directions. Even in those areas of the Near East and south and central Europe which display fully Neolithic culture early on, the process was more complex than many have assumed thus far.

New research results from DAI activities in various parts of the Old World show that the term 'Neolithic', when too strictly applied, does not do justice to the actual developments associated with sedentarization. If we also consider archaeological findings from the New World, the dilemma becomes even clearer. For example, on the coasts of North and South America permanent settlements emerged at an early date as a consequence of plentiful food resources, but there is no indication of farming and ceramic production at those sites. In the Andes region, town-like settlements existed with monumental architecture but without any kind of pottery. This might call to mind developments exemplified by Göbekli Tepe, but in fact the two phenomena have little in common. In any event to evaluate these processes from the viewpoint of Neolithization in its Old World sense, that is, from the standpoint of economic innovations, especially farming and animal husbandry, would be to limit one's perspective very appreciably.

The decisive and momentous step taken by human society in highly diverse natural and cultural environments and in conditions that differed greatly, too, was the development of sedentary communities, which in many instances in fact preceded the transition from a foraging mode of economy to a productive one. The sedentary way of life ushered in new forms of living together, which ruptured existing social structures and brought new ones into being, as may be discerned from types of settlement and from various indications of social hierarchies, division of labour, etc. In terms of research, concentrating on the process whereby permanent settlements came about has the advantage that the object of investigation becomes easier to ascertain in the archaeological find assemblages and thereby easier to compare in the global perspective. Once early settlements have been located, the factors which were of crucial importance for their emergence may be investigated in a targeted manner. Comparative research will presumably reveal that sedentarization took place in the most varied of circumstances, with availability of food, access to resources, specificities of location, climatic conditions and much more being of equal importance. And yet irrespective of the given natural and cultural environment, the change that underlies sedentarization was nowhere static, but rather thoroughly dynamic and led in due course to the emergence of complex societies.

Content-related aspects

The need to undertake a comparative analysis of the general circumstances of sedentarization in the highly diverse natural and cultural environments of the Old and New World - the primary aim of this research cluster - is acute, and thanks to new scientific approaches it might also enliven the debate about the beginnings of the Neolithic in the Near East and ancient Europe and contribute to a critical re-evaluation of existing models and hypotheses. This is the only way of arriving at an enhanced understanding of the matter. A number of excavations conducted by the DAI in various parts of the Old and New World are looking into similar questions and hence more or less ideal conditions are in place for such a project.

The questions posed by all the projects grouped within this cluster are clear: how strong was the ecological influence on man's cultural development really, especially with regard to sedentarization and the adoption of a productive mode of economy? What induced people to abandon foraging, practised for thousands of years, in favour of agriculture - a more labour-intensive method of subsistence, and a riskier one in view of the greater dependency on the climate? Were the forms of human society and economy indeed primarily dependent on the natural environment, or might certain cultural factors have played a similar significant role, which could possibly even lead to a relativization of ecological determinacy? After the adoption of a sedentary way of life and the transition to agriculturalism, man continued to impact on his environment, transforming it in all manner of ways, which could have had repercussions for himself. This in turn leads to the question of how Neolithic man organized the use of resources available in the vicinity of permanent settlements to ensure their continued existence - and his own survival. From the projects grouped within this cluster it is possible only to develop models for very specific historic situations, or might mechanisms be discernible which, given certain conditions, display a certain regularity, or indeed inevitability, and are therefore generalizable?

Interdisciplinary aspects

A research such as this, it is essential for the potential of modern archaeo-scientific methods to be fully exploited - as indeed occurs already in virtually all of the projects in this cluster. It is a matter of urgency that interdisciplinary cooperation is further intensified, however, and that we work towards the development of new scientific procedures and methodology. This includes for instance the use of precise dating methods (radiocarbon dating, dendrochronology, thermoluminescence, etc.) as a basis for a comparative survey of diverse cultural spheres, the utilization of existing geophysical prospection methods and the development of new ones for the purpose of ascertaining the size and structure of settlements and agricultural areas, the application of archaeozoological and archaeobotanical research for the reconstruction of a population's economic basis and nutritional habits, the use of geo-sciences in climate and landscape history, conducting materials analyses on ceramics, stone, etc., palaeopathological investigations of human skeletal material to establish malnutrition and diseases typical of sedentarized populations compared to hunter-gatherers, isotope analysis to quantify the mobility of humans and animals, and so forth. Altogether the prospects are very good for receiving support through the Federal Ministry of Education and Research programme 'New natural-science methods and technologies in the humanities'.

Regional aspects

The DAI projects which form part of this research cluster are being carried out in different parts of the Old and New World, which we have divided into four major regions for the purposes of the cluster. Göbekli Tepe in south-eastern Anatolia and the central Orontes valley lie in the area where sedentarism and productive economy first arose - the so-called Fertile Crescent - and our research there is aimed at uncovering the origins of this process. Aruchlo, Kırklareli and Okoliste on the other hand are located in a primary diffusion area. At the Transcaucasian site of Aruchlo, the Near East's links with the region north of the Greater Caucasus mountain range are being investigated, while at Kırklareli it is the influence of Anatolia upon the Balkan peninsula which is of prime concern; at Okoliste the focus of research activities lies on contacts between the Adriatic coast and the central Balkan hinterland. Secondary diffusion area projects are underway at Ambrona on the Castilian plateau, in the inlying areas of the Moroccan coastal zone as well as in the forested regions of north-eastern Europe. The origins and progress of sedentarization are markedly different there compared to the Fertile Crescent and the primary diffusion area. It is possible, finally, to gain a global perspective by the inclusion of regions far beyond the Near East and ancient Europe which display fully discrete, autochthonous developments; among such projects are those at Palpa and Montegrande in southern Peru and at Llanos de Moxos in eastern Bolivia.


Im folgenden werden die einzelnen an diesem Cluster teilhabenden Forschungsprojekte noch einmal kurz beschrieben, insbesondere hinsichtlich der hier im Vordergrund stehenden Fragestellung. Weitere Informationen zu den Unternehmungen, insbesondere zu den in- und ausländischen Kooperationspartnern usw., sind den Ausführungen im Forschungsplan zu entnehmen, in dem die Vorhaben im Rahmen der Forschungsziele der jeweiligen Abteilung bzw. Kommission erläutert werden.

Besiedlungsgeschichte Melanesiens - Archäologische Erkundungen auf der Insel Malaita, Salomonen

Seit 2011 werden von der Kommission für Archäologie Außereuropäischer Kulturen Bonn Forschungen zur Besiedlungsgeschichte der Salomonen Inseln durchgeführt. In Zusammenarbeit mit dem National Museum der Salomonen und dem Ministry of Culture and Tourism finden derzeit archäologische Erkundungen auf der Insel Malaita statt.


Nasca-Palpa, Peru

The cultural and palaeoenvironmental history of the Palpa region, southern Peru, are being investigated in a cooperation between archaeologists and natural scientists. For the first time, the numerous geoglyphs of the Nasca and Paracas Cultures have been documented completely in an extended area.

Das Forschungsvorhaben mit dem Thema "Andentranssekt - Siedlungsdynamik zwischen Meeresküste und Altiplano der Anden" wird im Süden Perus durchgeführt. Die zentralen Anden sind ein Hochgebirge in den Tropen. Zwischen der Küstenwüste im Westen und den gletscherbedeckten Berggipfeln im Osten finden sich die unterschiedlichsten ökologischen Zonen, die im Laufe der Zeit einem klimatischen, landschaftlichen und kulturellen Wandel unterworfen waren. Das Untersuchungsgebiet umfaßt das Flußsystem der Täler von Palpa, einen geographisch scharf gegen die nördlich und südlich angrenzende Wüste definierten Raum mit Hunderten archäologischer Siedlungen. In den vier Hauptregionen Küste, Andenfuß, Täler und Hochgebirge haben sich Menschen im Laufe der Jahrtausende in verschiedenster Weise mit wechselnden Wirtschaftsformen an die Umwelt angepaßt. Unterschiedliche Kulturstufen sind durch jeweils abweichende Siedlungsstandorte und Siedlungsformen geprägt. Im Rahmen dieses Projektes soll exemplarisch der Prozeß der Seßhaftwerdung und Siedlungsentwicklung in Südamerika von ersten akeramischen Fischersiedlungen über frühen Bodenbau, Bewässerungswirtschaft bis hin zu komplexen Gesellschaftsformen untersucht werden. Bisherige Untersuchungen haben sich auf die Region am Andenfuß konzentriert. Durch eine Ausweitung in die Bergregionen und die Vernetzung mit dem Projekt "Montegrande" soll das gesamte Landschaftsprofil von der Meeresküste bis zu den Anden erforscht werden.


Montegrande, Südperu

Der Reichtum an marinen Ressourcen hat an den Meeresküsten des amerikanischen Kontinents zur Seßhaftwerdung ohne die gleichzeitige Entwicklung der Landwirtschaft geführt. Ackerbau entstand dort als sekundäre Wirtschaftsform zunächst in den feuchten Flußuferzonen und später - in Verbindung mit künstlicher Bewässerung - in den gesamten kultivierbaren Auen von Taloasen. Das in der Küstenwüste Südperus gelegene Mündungsgebiet des Rio Grande weist zwei benachbarte, aber deutlich abgrenzbare Naturräume auf: einerseits das eigentliche Mündungsgebiet, in dem Prospektionen Anzeichen für eine präkeramische Besiedlung und Muschelhaufen aus der Zeit um 4000 v. Chr. lieferten, und andererseits eine Talweitung etwa 3 km flußaufwärts, die für Bewässerungslandwirtschaft geeignet war und Siedlungsreste aus der Paracaszeit (800-200 v. Chr.) und nachfolgenden Perioden erbrachte. An diesen beiden Schlüsselstellen lassen sich früheste Wirtschaftsformen und deren Einfluß auf die Siedlungsentwicklung erforschen.


Archäologisches Projekt Moxos, Bolivien

Siedlungsplätze im nördlichen Tiefland Boliviens werden erstmals eingehend untersucht.

Das Projekt Llanos de Moxos widmet sich Siedlungsprozessen in einer Überschwemmungssavanne des südlichen Amazonasbeckens. Tropische Regenwälder galten bislang als natürliche, d. h. durch den Menschen nicht oder kaum veränderte geographische Großräume. Diese Lehrmeinung ist seit den 80er Jahren zunehmend ins Wanken geraten. Für das Amazonasgebiet wird gegenwärtig zu klären versucht, wie stark der Mensch dort die Umwelt gestaltet hatte. Zur Aufsiedlung des Amazonasbeckens und den darauf folgenden Kulturentwicklungen liegen bisher jedoch kaum archäologische Daten vor. Im Zentrum der Forschungen steht ein Randgebiet des Amazonasbeckens, die Llanos de Moxos. In dieser ca. 110.000 km 2 großen Überschwemmungssavanne finden sich zahlreiche Reste von Kanälen, Dämmen, Wasserreservoirs und Hügelbeet-Komplexen. Allein das Ausmaß dieser Anlagen läßt auf die Existenz komplexer Kulturen mit seßhafter bäuerlicher Lebensweise in einer Region schließen, die heute auf Grund schlechter Böden als untauglich für Landwirtschaft gilt. Unklar bleibt ferner, zu welchem Zeitpunkt und unter welchen Voraussetzungen die "Kultur von Moxos" entstanden ist, doch auch ihre weitere Entwicklung und die Gründe für ihr Ende entziehen sich genauerer Kenntnis. Eine verläßliche Beantwortung dieser Fragen würde unsere Kenntnis der Siedlungsprozesse und Kulturentwicklungen im vorspanischen Amazonien erheblich verbessern.