Axis 2

Axis 2 | Archaeology of sedentary societies and nomadic pastoralists in the Old World (Near and Middle East, Europe, Africa) – ASEPAM

The aim of this research axis is to record the mechanisms and modalities underlying the establishment of the first sedentary, agrarian or pastoral societies and their long-term evolution in different key geographical areas of the Old World (Near and Middle East, North and Sub-Saharan Africa, Europe), where members of the UMR are strongly involved in fieldwork and research programs. The focus of the first three sub-axes is chronological. They investigate (1) the emergence, consolidation or instability of sedentary life, which appeared at the end of the Pleistocene in the Near East; (2) the different modalities and rhythms of ‘neolithization’ in the three key areas. The processes involved are necessarily polymorphic and lead us to question the interpretative concepts used and the criteria on which they are based; (3) the developments in the Metal Ages, the evolution of social configurations and cycles of expansion or contraction of socioeconomic exchange networks. The fourth sub-axis, (4) is transversal and exploratory, and resolutely grounded in collective reflection. It examines the notion of the Anthropocene and how sedentary, agrarian and pastoral societies have changed our ways of inhabiting the world: structuring of space, time, and relationship to non-humans.

This sub-axis focuses on sedentary hunter-gatherer societies. The Natufian societies of the Near East are among the oldest known (late Pleistocene / 13500-9500 Cal BC) and serve here as a basis for collective thought on the interaction of several technical and symbolic systems involved in a new dynamic of domestication of the environment. Most of the collective work focuses on the emblematic site of Eynan – Ain Mallaha (Israel), excavated between 1955 and 2005. The site is located in the Houleh Valley, at the crossroads of exceptional ecological niches auspicious to continuous occupation throughout the Natufian period. Mallaha thus serves as a privileged laboratory for understanding the long process of sedentarism using different proxies such as architecture, land settlement, land use, the exploitation of resources, technical and symbolic production, and funerary behaviour. Thanks to the high quality of the available archives (J. Perrot and F. Valla collections), the interpretation of the site can be constantly revisited in the course of scientific debates. The resolutely palethnological objectives of the excavation, carried out under the direction of F. Valla and H. Khalaily, offer incomparably precise and finely contextualised data for the very end of the Natufian period. The final phase of this period provides us with a unique opportunity to analyse the social substratum and evaluate how Near Eastern societies became Neolithic.
Based on this Natufian experience, this sub-axis offers an ideal comparative dimension for approaching long-term processes of sedentarization, which were also an essential component of the way of life of other hunter-gatherer societies. We focus here on the case of the last coastal European Mesolithic groups, the first so-called Neolithic communities in the Near East still essentially dependent on wild resources (PPNA), or the Neolithic populations who migrated rapidly to Europe from the seventh millennium onwards. In these multiple historical configurations, the usual binary oppositions (nomadism/sedentarism, agriculture/hunting and gathering) fail to describe the possible spectrum of intermediate configurations. The aim here is to take into account the diversity of practices linked to storage, the management of wild animal and plant populations, seasonality or production of places, in order to shed light on the transformations at work in such socioeconomic dynamics. 

In this sub-axis, the aim is first of all to document the mechanisms underlying the establishment of the Neolithic in key cultural areas (Near East, North and Sub-Saharan Africa, Europe) based on all the available studied components, including various productions, architecture and settlement patterns, territories and land use, funerary practices, etc. These abundant data should contribute to the identification of the characteristics of each cultural area, using a cross-investigative and comprehensive approach to study themes centering on the evolution of the technical system and the transition of subsistence economies.
For example, in the Near East, many researchers describe the seventh millennium as a period of rupture linked to the arrival of new populations of potters. Today, this question of discontinuities crystallises scientific debate. The members of axis 2 are involved in several field operations (Beisamoun, Munhata, Sha’ar haGolan, Nahal Zippori 3) in order to contribute to the debate on these artefactual or real hiatuses that may also be detected in other contexts. Insofar as our research focuses on different terrains, we are in a position to shed new light on the contribution of local hunter-gatherers to the development of the Neolithic. In this way, the notion of a ‘Neolithic package’, which takes root in the Near East and is transferred to Europe, does not apply to Africa. The various African regions witness the acquisition of domesticates and pottery at varying rates according to diverse processes of economic and cultural integration and development (work of the IRN-DECAPAN). The Near Eastern and African Neolithic are marked by an evolution towards pastoralism, but this occurs much later in Balkan (Franchthi) and temperate Europe (LBK pottery). Finally, we propose broadening our perspective even further, by including other works on distant regions, such as those on the Atacama Late Archaic period at Tulán (Chile), which shows surprising analogies with the Old World for the establishment of the Neolithic.

This sub-axis brings together work on metallurgical societies. Major social transformations generate new interactions, leading to the creation of exchange networks as diverse in the goods in circulation and the geographical scope of the network, as by the actors involved and the strategies implemented by elites. From the Horn of Africa to Central Africa and West Africa, from Southeast Asia to the Indus, from the Near East to Europe, the aim here is to understand the origin, nature, organisation and consequences of these social transformations, with diversified regional dynamics. The main questions revolve around the raw materials, technical traditions and innovations, but also the economic basis, the circulation of objects and ideas, and the political organisations. Continuities, discontinuities and transitions form the baseline for privileged interaction cycles within and/or between cultures. Under the more or less important influence of elites, certain cycles lead to the expansion and diversification of networks, a more intensive exploitation of natural resources, the circulation of food surpluses, and even the disruption of the evolutionary trajectories of technical traditions. Other cycles witness the erosion of power, with major consequences for the societies, the existing equilibriums and transformed landscapes. These rhythms raise the question of the identities of those involved and, from there, the study of the circulation of individuals, groups or even ideas within territories that still remain to be precisely defined. This necessary re-interpretation of areas and temporalities adopts an anthropological approach based on the diversity of material culture (metallurgy, pottery, lithic and bone industries, architecture, etc.) and brings us closer to the core of societies: to daily life, based on the relationship between the producer and the consumer, between ways of doing things and the function of the finished object; but also the function of natural or constructed sites, in order to approach the domestic sphere, the specialist sphere, the power and its symbols.

The notion of the Anthropocene brings together unprecedented time scales in historical analysis and places the Neolithic at the heart of contemporary public debates about the roots of the current ecological crisis as resulting from the neolithic economic, demographic and technical upheavals. Regardless of the relevance of the notion of the Anthropocene or its transposition to ancient periods, this transverse sub-axis intends to respond to the intellectual challenge questioning the modern opposition between Nature and Culture. We propose to do this by exploring variability in structuring space and time, socialising with non-humans (animals, plants, the mineral world, spirits) or shaping the landscape. The challenge will be to explore the most reliable archaeological manifestations in order to better understand past ways of inhabiting the world, humanising environments, and the long-term transformation of these interdependent relationships. In particular, we will focus on physical and symbolic borders and the permeability of these borders by attempting to identify specific actions and the underlying socio-cultural norms. Three fields of analysis will be explored. (1) Anthropisation of areas and soils (buildings, village, landscape). Architectural techniques and forms, the structuring of inhabited spaces and their outskirts (roads, crops, pastures, cemeteries, places of worship, etc.), will be analysed to assess the antiquity of the imprint left by humans on their physical environment in order to erect spatial, semantic and memorial markers. (2) ‘Wild’ and ‘domestic’ spheres (uses, hybridity, representations). The diverse means of environmental exploitation and how they are distributed in the territory will be approached here by studying all the available materials (earth, stone, bone, shells, pigments, plants, metals), selected materials (some/all), transformed or non-transformed materials, and their contextual distribution (habitat, discard, burials, etc.). (3) Spirits, ancestors, divinities (frontiers between worlds, ritual practices, transmission and powers). Here we will attempt to bring to light relations between the living and the invisible. Representations of transmorphic beings, as well as the materiality of burials can shed light on the norms underlying pictorial or material settings. The location and implementation of these burials provide insights into the role of each individual in the construction of authority and the collective memory.

Liste des programmes de recherche en cours

  • North African Rock Art under new light: A Palaeosociology of the last Hunter-Gatherers and first Pastoralists (H2020-MSCA-COFUND-IF@ULB)
    Autres contrats européens (IF@ULB, Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 801505)
  • Prehistoric Worldviews: An archaeology of relational ontologies in North African rock art
    Autres contrats européens (Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 945408) + ANR (“Investissements d’avenir” ANR-11-LABX-0027-01 Labex RFIEA+)
  • Étude des parures du site de Franchthi, Grèce
    2006-en cours
    Financements ANR, INSTAP dans les années précédentes
  • CERASTONE : De la vaisselle en pierre à la céramique : Rythmes, causes et modalités d’une adoption tardive de la poterie au Levant Sud (7ème millénaire)
  • iNSTaNT
    Solène Denis, Gomart L.
    AP MAE/MSH Mondes
  • PCR : « Matières premières du Bassin parisien : les silex cénozoïques d’Ile-de-France » (Interrégion Centre-Nord )
    2018-en cours
    Ministère de la Culture
  • Conservation of the world’s largest earth enclosure: LIDAR analysis, documentation and preservation of Sungbo’s Eredo (Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation)
    Contrats financés par des associations caritatives et des fondations (ARC, FMR, FRM, etc.)
  • Les parures des premiers sédentaires au proche Orient : Innovations technologiques, symboliques et culturelles dans une organisation sociale complexe (Fondation Fyssen)
    Contrats financés par des associations caritatives et des fondations (ARC, FMR, FRM, etc.)
  • The technical exploitation of the bone at Einan – Ain-Mallaha (Upper Galilee); Issues to assess by crossing data from the archaeozoology and osseous technology (Fondation Irene Levy Sala CARE archaeological Foundation)
    Contrats financés par des associations caritatives et des fondations (ARC, FMR, FRM, etc.)
  • The Natufian site of Eynan – Ain Mallaha (Upper Jordan Valley, Israel). Study and publication of the materials of the excavations from 1996-2005 (Fondation Shelby-White and Leon-Levy de l’Université de Harvard, USA)
    Contrats financés par des associations caritatives et des fondations (ARC, FMR, FRM, etc.)
  • Matières premières siliceuses entre Rhin et Escaut: constitution d’une lithothèque aux normes internationales, (UFA, Manifestations scientifiques de l’Université franco-allemande)
    Scharl S., Solène Denis, Collin J.-P.
    Autres contrats européens
  • Exploring and dating the fauna from Beisamoun: a rare faunal assemblage from the 7th millennium cal BC
    Fanny Bocquentin Horwitz L.K.
    Levi Sala Care Archaeological Foundation
  • Le début de la sédentarisation en Mésopotamie méridionale (7e-5e millénaires); site de Tell el Oueili, Iraq
    2019-en cours
    Ministère de l’Europe et des Affaires étrangères (FSPI « Revitaliser le patrimoine de l’Iraq »)
  • Structure des premières mégapoles (3e-1er millénaires); site de Larsa, Iraq
    2019-en cours
    Ministère de l’Europe et des Affaires étrangères (FSPI « Revitaliser le patrimoine de l’Iraq »)
  • Formation des entités territoriales et échanges interculturels en Mésopotamie
    Régis Vallet, Johnny Baldi
    Ministère de l’Europe et des Affaires étrangères
  • Les sociétés proto-urbaines de Haute Mésopotamie (5e-4e millénaires)
    Ministère de l’Europe et des Affaires étrangères, Labex Les Passés dans le Présent
  • Tureng Tépé et l’Iran oriental, des origines à l’Age du Fer
    Régis Vallet, Julie Bessenay-Prolonge
    Fondation Shelby-White and Leon-Levy de l’Université de Harvard (USA), Labex Passés dans le Présent
  • Diffusion de l’Obeid et pratiques funéraires au 3e millénaire en Mésopotamie centrale
    Ministère de l’Europe et des Affaires étrangères