Neolithic settlers colonized Spain from N. Africa

Neolithic settlers colonized Spain from N. Africa

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The Neolithic period, around 10,000 BC in the Middle East, a time when the nomadic economy became permanent, founded on farming and breeding, could have arrived on the Iberian peninsula through a third route of expansion - North Africa. This is according to a study carried out by the Autonomous University of Madrid, the University of Seville and the Higher Council of Scientific Research (CSIC) and other Spanish, Portuguese and American universities. The study has been published in the journal "Quaternary Research".



Stone Circle in Cromeleque dos Almendres [Credit: ANSA]

Until now, two routes had been traditionally accepted: one identifying a first expansion of the northern margin of the Mediterranean sea, and the second, by sea, which reached the Balearic islands from Cyprus. The new research, though, highlights a third route from North Africa, which would identify the Neolithic characteristics that are found in the south of the Iberian peninsula. 

As part of the project, researchers dated a number of organic samples of Neolithic provenance, such as domestic animals of cereal crops grown, which allowed them to establish that the Neolithic made its entry into southern Spain around 7,500 years ago, a similar date to other areas of the peninsula. But despite the temporal co-incidence, the material culture of the southern regions of the peninsula is very different to that which is documented in other Iberian areas, which suggests a phenomenon independent from the rest. Research shows that when Neolithic populations arrived, important changes were afoot in the climate and ecosystem of the western Mediterranean and surrounding area. 

The authors of the study have been able to reconstruct the changes beginning with figures from different high-resolution climate registers, both maritime and archaeological, including the replacement of fish species from the North Atlantic - such as salt cod - which at the time populated the Mediterranean side of Malaga (Andalusia) with other exclusively Mediterranean species, which are still to be found there today. The crisis caused by the climate change hit the Saharan Neolithic peoples especially hard, as is described in previous studies carried out on deposits, forcing them into a mass exodus from their settlements. 

Researchers say that environmental changes also had repercussions for Iberian Mesolithic populations, whose economy was based on hunting, gathering and sea resources. The study shows that this is also when the abandonment of the area's most significant pre-Neolithic deposits is registered. Environmental changes are thought to have pushed North African Neolithic populations to cross the Strait of Gibraltar and reach the south of Spain, where they quickly integrated themselves into the way of life close to that of production, farming and breeding, and hailing the start of a Neolithic stage marked by a unique cultural dimension. Researchers have identified the North African origin of the expansion of the Neolithic around the Algerian city of Oran, from where Neolithic settlers set out for the Iberian peninsula.