Colonialism versus indigenism?

One of the ambitions of this blog is to publicize and further discuss the reviews published in the European Journal of Archaeology.

In issue 8 (2) Marek Zvelebil reviewed two titles:

Albert J Ammerman and Paolo Biagi (eds), The Widening Harvest. The Neolithic Transition in Europe: Looking Back, Looking Forward. Boston, MA: Archaeological Institute of America, 2003, 343 pp., 46 ills., pbk, ISBN 1 931909 05 9. $35.00/£29.95. Available from Oxbow Books.

Anders Fischer and Kristian Kristiansen (eds), The Neolithisation of Denmark: 150 Years of Debate. Sheffield: J.R.Collis Publications, 2002, 398pp., 198 illus., hbk, ISBN 1 85075 697 X. £36. Available from Equinox Press.

Marek Zvelebil’s text is nearly eight pages long in print (we now no longer accept reviews of such length) and cannot be recapitulated here in a few lines. However, there is one notion that crops up a couple of times in this review and that has always appeared to me as being of particular significance in much of the recent debate about the origins of the Neolithic in large parts of Europe.

I am referring to the almost ideological debate of colonialism versus indigenism. Whereas the former appears to be advocated by the “wave of advance” model of demic diffusion, proposed most recently by Ammerman and Cavalli-Sforza, the latter is the critique of that model, emphasizing instead the role of indigenous populations in wide parts of Europe and now typically associated with the work of Marek Zvelebil. In his review of The Widening Harvest, Zvelebil rejects what he calls “the bogeyman of indigenism” (p. 184). He explains why:

“Early in the book, Ammerman identifies indigenism as the broader intellectual context against which the wave of advance model had to struggle: the spread of agriculture by demic diffusion ‘was seen in a negative light by most prehistorians in the years between 1965 and 1990′ [...], because the prevailing ‘paradigm of indigenism’ [...] prioritized developments within society as a ‘self-contained affair’ [...], seeking, in this case, to explain the origins of the Neolithic in Europe solely within the Mesolithic. Ammerman sees roots of indigenism in structuralism and nationalism, and regards it as an intellectually suspect example of antiquated thinking that has unfairly prejudiced the application of the ‘wave of advance model’. [...]

Zvelebil on the other hand claims:

“In actual fact, non-migrationist reconsideration of agricultural origins had nothing whatever to do with structuralism or nationalism. [...] The intellectual inspiration for reconsideration [of demic diffusion] came first from cultural ecology and anthropology – from the understanding of domestication as a long-term symbiotic process of great adaptive value, and from the acknolwedgment of cultural variability among hunter-gatherers following the Man the Hunter symposium in 1966 (published 1968). This programme was kick-started by the Palaeoeconomy School in the late 1960s [...]. Notions of local continuity then received further support in the 1980s from an unrelated source: post-modernist (post-processual) critique and theories that prioritized cultural particularism, societal variability and regional perspectives as opposed to broader inter-regional patterns.”

No doubt, this discussion will continue! Any comments, long or short, are welcome even on this blog.

The full review has been published as: Zvelebil, Marek (2005) Book Review Essay: Looking back at the Neolithic transition in Europe. European Journal of Archaeology 8 (2), 183-190.

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