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Productivity of Premodern Agriculture in the Cucuteni-Trypillia Area

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Anvar Shukurov, Dr Graeme Sarson, Dr Kate Henderson, Dr Robert Shiel

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Abstract

We present paleoeconomy reconstructions for premodern agriculture, selecting, wherever required, features and parameter values specific for the Cucuteni-Trypillia cultural unity (CTU; 5,400-2,700 BC, mostly the territory of modern Ukraine, Moldova, and Romania). We verify the self-consistency and viability of the archaeological evidence related to all major elements of the agricultural production cycle within the constraints provided by environmental and technological considerations. The starting point of our analysis is the paleodiet structure suggested by archaeological data, stable isotope analyses of human remains, and palynology studies in the CTU area. We allow for the archeologically attested contributions of domesticated and wild animal products to the diet, develop plausible estimates of the yield of ancient cereal varieties cultivated with ancient techniques, and quantify the yield dependence on the time after initial planting and on rainfall (as a climate proxy). Our conclusions involve analysis of the labor costs of various seasonal parts of the agricultural cycle of both an individual and a family with a majority of members that do not engage in productive activities that require physical fitness, such as tillage. Finally, we put our results into the context of the exploitation territory and catchment analysis, to project various subsistence strategies into the exploitation territory of a farming settlement. The simplest economic complex based on cereals and domestic and wild animal products, with fallow cropping, appears to be capable of supporting an isolated, relatively small farming settlement of 50-300 people (2-10 ha in area) even without recourse to technological improvements such as the use of manure fertilizer. Our results strongly suggest that dairy products played a significant role in the dietary and labor balance. The smaller settlements are typical of the earliest Trypillia A stage but remain predominant at the later stages. A larger settlement of several hundred people could function in isolation, perhaps with a larger fraction of cereals in the diet, only with technological innovations, such as manure fertilizer and, most important, ard tillage. The ard radically relieves the extreme time pressure associated with soil preparation for sowing. It appears that very large settlements of a few hundred hectares in area, found in the CTU region, could function only if supported by satellite farming villages and stable exchange networks. In turn, this implies social division of labor and occupation, suffficiently complex social relations, stable exchange channels, and so on: altogether, a proto-urban character of such settlements. A model is proposed for the lifetime of a farming settlement, assuming that it is limited by the soil fertility (the depleted resources model), that provides a lifetime estimate consistent with the archaeological evidence available (100-150 years). The model shows that the lifetime strongly depends on the fraction of the arable land area kept fallow. We also discuss, quantify, and assess some strategies to mitigate the risks of arable agriculture associated with strong temporal fluctuations in the cereal yield, such as manure fertilization, and increased fraction of cereals in the diet combined with producing grain surplus for emergency storage.


Publication metadata

Author(s): Shukurov A, Sarson G, Videiko M, Henderson K, Shiel R, Dolukhanov P, Pashkevich G

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Human Biology

Year: 2015

Volume: 87

Issue: 3

Pages: 235-282

Print publication date: 01/01/2015

Acceptance date: 01/01/1900

ISSN (print): 0018-7143

ISSN (electronic): 1534-6617

Publisher: Wayne State University Press

URL: https://commerce.wayne.edu/wsupjournals/humbiol/human-biology-back-issues/human-biology-volume-87-number-3-summer-2015.html


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