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Title: Assessing the nature of early farming in Neolithic western Asia : a functional ecological approach to emerging arable weeds
Author: Green, Laura
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2017
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Research on the origins of agriculture in western Asia has placed great emphasis on the location and pace of domestication. However, much less attention has been given to reconstructing the specific nature and social implications of early cultivation practices across the agricultural transition, and to the potentially varied land management strategies involved. By employing a functional ecological approach to the interpretation of arable 'weed' taxa associated with early cultivars, this research addresses this gap in archaeobotancial research by enabling detailed analysis of the growing conditions and farming methods involved in early plant cultivation in western Asia. The core methodology analyses the functional ecological attributes (e.g. leaf area and thickness; canopy dimensions; stomatal density and distribution) of the relevant arable weed taxa isolated from archaeological contexts to determine the specific growing conditions of early crops and hence the nature of management practices. Functional attributes are morphological or behavioural characteristics that predict species' potential in relation to major environmental variables, such as soil productivity, disturbance and moisture. Statistical analysis incorporating these attributes is used to explore variation amongst early cultivation contexts and compare them with weed survey data from contrasting (semi-)arid modern regimes, including a recent study of traditional cereal farming in Morocco. Ecological 'signatures' were determined using the isolated weed dataset from four well documented and contextually rich Pre-Pottery and Pottery Neolithic sites, which were strategically selected to explore agricultural strategies from its initial stages through to the established Neolithic, as well as to exploit detailed sample-by-sample data and extensive in situ deposits. The sites investigated are PPNA Jerf el-Ahmar and PPNA/EPPNB Dja'de in northern Syria, PPNB Tell Aswad in southern Syria, and PPN-PN Çatalhöyük in Central Anatolia. Refined identification of selected weed genera at these sites enabled more accurate indications of their arable ecologies. The results generated suggest that early farming practices were highly variable within sites, reflecting the specific affordances of local climate and surrounding landscapes, but relatively labour-intensive in comparison with later urban agrosystems. Furthermore, there are indications for greater cultivation intensity over time, as households became more autonomous.
Supervisor: Bogaard, Amy ; Charles, Mike Sponsor: Arts and Humanities Research Council
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Archaeology ; Western Asia ; Archaeobotany ; Neolithic ; Weed ecology ; Early farming