Project

Neomine: Supply and Demand in Prehistory?

Goal: Supply and demand in prehistory?
Economics of Neolithic mining in NW Europe

This project will analyse evidence for Neolithic quarrying and mining in Britain and North-west Europe to address the question: what economic factors, if any, influenced them? Targeted new radiocarbon dates and radiocarbon calibration models of these and existing dates will establish the periods of production activity at excavated quarry and mining sites. Using a quantitative approach, these will be related to independent evidence for population fluctuations, forest clearance, quarry/mine product distribution, social inequality and the introduction of metal production, to evaluate their impact on hard stone and flint production in terms of supply and demand at regional and inter-regional scales.
https://www.ucl.ac.uk/neomine

Methods: Spatial Analysis, Cultural Evolution, Lithic Analysis, Neolithic Archaeology, Radiocarbon Dating

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Project log

Kevan Edinborough
added 3 research items
The authors of this article consider the relationship in European prehistory between the procurement of high-quality stones (for axeheads, daggers, and other tools) on the one hand, and the early mining, crafting, and deposition of copper on the other. The data consist of radiocarbon dates for the exploitation of stone quarries, flint mines, and copper mines, and of information regarding the frequency through time of jade axeheads and copper artefacts. By adopting a broad perspective, spanning much of central-western Europe from 5500 to 2000 bc , they identify a general pattern in which the circulation of the first copper artefacts was associated with a decline in specialized stone quarrying. The latter re-emerged in certain regions when copper use decreased, before declining more permanently in the Bell Beaker phase, once copper became more generally available. Regional variations reflect the degrees of connectivity among overlapping copper exchange networks. The patterns revealed are in keeping with previous understandings, refine them through quantification and demonstrate their cyclical nature, with additional reference to likely local demographic trajectories.
We present and model new radiocarbon data for the Neolithic marshes of Marais de Saint-Gond Marne in France. We then provide the first radiocarbon-based synthesis of human activity in this region. The earliest flint mine pits dug in France were dated to between 7518 and 7356 cal BC (95% probability) in the Mesolithic period. A Neolithic sequence of activity has been reconstructed in detail for the mine and hypogeums in the Vert-la-Gravelle “La Crayère” site. Using summed probability distribution frequencies with new radiocarbon results from flint mines, hypogeum-burials and settlements, we show the peak of regional population is consistent with the advent of the hypogeum construction during the Néolithique récent/Néolithique final between 3650 and 2900 cal BC (95% probability).
Kevan Edinborough
added a research item
Due to a typesetting mistake, the images of Figs 2 and 3 were mistakenly switched. The original version has been corrected.
Kevan Edinborough
added a research item
Neolithic stone axeheads from Britain provide an unusually rich, well-provenanced set of evidence with which to consider patterns of prehistoric production and exchange. It is no surprise then that these objects have often been subject to spatial analysis in terms of the relationship between particular stone source areas and the distribution of axeheads made from those stones. At stake in such analysis are important interpretative issues to do with how we view the role of material value, supply, exchange, and demand in prehistoric societies. This paper returns to some of these well-established debates in the light of accumulating British Neolithic evidence and via the greater analytical power and flexibility afforded by recent computational methods. Our analyses make a case that spatial distributions of prehistoric axeheads cannot be explained merely as the result of uneven resource availability in the landscape, but instead reflect the active favouring of particular sources over known alternatives. Above and beyond these patterns, we also demonstrate that more populated parts of Early Neolithic Britain were an increased pull factor affecting the longer-range distribution of these objects.
Kevan Edinborough
added a research item
New radiocarbon ( ¹⁴ C) dates suggest a simultaneous appearance of two technologically and geographically distinct axe production practices in Neolithic Britain; igneous open-air quarries in Great Langdale, Cumbria, and from flint mines in southern England at ~4000–3700 cal BC. In light of the recent evidence that farming was introduced at this time by large-scale immigration from northwest Europe, and that expansion within Britain was extremely rapid, we argue that this synchronicity supports this speed of colonization and reflects a knowledge of complex extraction processes and associated exchange networks already possessed by the immigrant groups; long-range connections developed as colonization rapidly expanded. Although we can model the start of these new extraction activities, it remains difficult to estimate how long significant production activity lasted at these key sites given the nature of the record from which samples could be obtained.
Kevan Edinborough
added a research item
The extent to which non-agricultural production in prehistory had cost-benefit motivations has long been a subject of discussion. This paper addresses the topic by looking at the evidence for Neolithic quarrying and mining in Britain and continental northwest Europe and asks whether changing production through time was influenced by changing demand. Radiocarbon dating of mine and quarry sites is used to define periods of use. These are then correlated with a likely first-order source of demand, the size of the regional populations around the mines, inferred from a radiocarbon-based population proxy. There are significant differences between the population and mine-date distributions. Analysis of pollen data using the REVEALS method to reconstruct changing regional land cover patterns shows that in Britain activity at the mines and quarries is strongly correlated with evidence for forest clearance by incoming Neolithic populations, suggesting that mine and quarry production were a response to the demand that this created. The evidence for such a correlation between mining and clearance in continental northwest Europe is much weaker. Here the start of large-scale mining may be a response to the arrival by long-distance exchange of high-quality prestige jade axes from a source in the Italian Alps.
Peter Schauer
added an update
The Neomine project has gathered information about lithic mines, quarries and extraction points across Europe. These include sources of flint, stone, variscite and jadeite and were in use from approximately 6000 to 2000 BC. Sources of information have included literature reviews, personal correspondence and the 1999 edition of 5000 Jahre Feuersteinbergbau (Bochum: Deutsches Bergbau Museum). You can view the full size map on Google Maps here: https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=1I_JSu9iKsCUEAkshayIXVuuIQOQ&ll=50.108222353871675%2C8.891738999999916&z=4 and on our project website here: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/neomine/maps
Work on this resource is ongoing. For corrections, updates and any additional information, please contact us at ioa-neomine@ucl.ac.uk
 
Kevan Edinborough
added a project goal
Supply and demand in prehistory?
Economics of Neolithic mining in NW Europe
This project will analyse evidence for Neolithic quarrying and mining in Britain and North-west Europe to address the question: what economic factors, if any, influenced them? Targeted new radiocarbon dates and radiocarbon calibration models of these and existing dates will establish the periods of production activity at excavated quarry and mining sites. Using a quantitative approach, these will be related to independent evidence for population fluctuations, forest clearance, quarry/mine product distribution, social inequality and the introduction of metal production, to evaluate their impact on hard stone and flint production in terms of supply and demand at regional and inter-regional scales.