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Detecting seasonal movement from animal dung: an investigation in Neolithic northern Greece.


Recent archaeological investigations of prehistoric habitation in northern Greece have demonstrated the co-existence of two settlement types, namely the tell, considered until recently as the type-site of the Greek Neolithic (e.g. Sherratt 1983; Halstead 1989; Kotsakis 1999) and the extended or 'flat' settlement type (Andreou & Kotsakis 1986; 1994; Grammenos et al. 1990; Grammenos 1991; Pappa 1999). While the tell is characterised by mud-brick buildings erected and renewed on the same spot to form a mound, the flat sites are characterised by 'negative' features (i.e. pits and ditches) and by structures that drift horizontally over time, leaving broad spaces amongst them (Makriyalos: Pappa & Besios 1999; Apsalos: Chrysostomou et al. 2003; Galini: Toufexis 2005). Fields and grazing areas are thought to surround tells, while at flat sites they are assumed to be located among the structures of the settlement (Chapman 1989: 38; Andreou & Kotsakis 1994: 23).

Permanence of occupation has been considered an essential element of Greek Neolithic sites, particularly tells (Halstead 1999: 77-78; Perles 2001: 174). Some evidence, such as thin occupation levels and insubstantial structures (Whittle 1996: 52-54; Bailey 2000: 47-48) or indications of flooding (as at Platia Magoula Zarkou, van Andel & Runnels 1995; van Andel et al. 1995) has put this permanence into question. But these objections have been justifiably criticised (Halstead 1999: 77).

Flat sites, in regions further north, have been associated with non-permanent habitation (Kaiser & Voytek 1983: 234-35; Whittle 1996: 52-54; 2003: 7, 55; Bailey 2000: 41, 47-48, 57-58) and for Greece, interpreted as 'short-lived villages' as opposed to an occupation over many generations at tell sites (Perles 2001: 174, 176). The spatially discontinuous habitation pattern, thin deposits, and the horizontal, extended drift of structures have been attributed to the Neolithic farmers' need to move frequently to newly-cleared woodland as a means of coping with woodland regeneration in the fields (Demoule & Perles 1993: 364). But the flat sites have also been interpreted as year-round settlements, inhabited by a permanent population (Pappa et al. 2004: 37; Halstead 2005: 49, but see Pappa & Besios 1999: 192; Pappa et al. 2004: 40).

Permanence and seasonality of occupation can be considered two different ways for human societies to use space, though it has been rightly emphasised that all societies possess some degree of mobility (Bar-Yosef & Rocek 1998: 1-2). The issue at hand therefore concerns the form of mobility, not whether it existed. Despite general agreement that sedentism involves long-term residence at a single location by a group of people, there is disagreement over the duration of habitation necessary for a site to be considered sedentary (Kaiser & Voytek 1983: 323-24). Moreover, the means of distinguishing between different degrees of sedentism (e.g. Kaiser & Voytek 1983; Schiffer 1987; Kent 1999) in the archaeological record are problematic and need to be addressed with great caution (e.g. Rafferty 1995: 128-37; Hodder 1982: 60-61; 1987: 424).

Occupation at seasonal sites could correspond to habitation during only one season, to multi-season habitation taking place at certain periods of the year only, or on certain occasions. These occasions could have involved feasting (e.g. Wiessner 2001: 127-29, 133), seasonal hunting or wild fruit harvesting, and even 'widening the exchange of genes' (O'Connor 1998a: 3). Seasonal movement may also involve sectional mobility, whereby part of the community moves away from the settlement and fields in search of pasture (see Greenfield 1999: 15). The issue of seasonal movement in Neolithic Greece is far from resolved, although seasonal movement of herds in search of pasture has been suggested either as an opportunistic strategy to fatten specific categories of animals (e.g. Halstead 1996: 35) or as a more generalised practice in 'marginal' locations from the onset of the Late Neolithic (e.g. Halstead 2000: 120).

This paper uses archaeobotanical remains related to animal dung, from both tells and flat settlements in northern Greece as a basis for investigating land use practices at these two settlement types, using two examples of each (see Figure 1 for locations). The archaeobotanical analysis of dung provides insights into animal grazing patterns, allowing an interpretation of seasonal movement and permanence of habitation. Moreover it provides a valuable tool for highlighting underlying differences between two archaeologically visible ways of organising intra-settlement space.

Investigating seasonality: the archaeozoological approach

Archaeobotanical and archaeozoological remains are potential tools in the investigation of seasonality, as has been emphasised in papers addressing the issue of permanence of habitation on tells and extended sites in northern Greece (Pappa & Besios 1999: 192; Pappa et al. 2004: 22-24, 40; Halstead 2005). Most recent work has focused on the archaeozoological record, where the season at death is indicated by animal remains (e.g. Pupicina Cave in Croatia: Miracle & Forenbaher 2005), but only in general terms (i.e. autumn, autumn/winter) and recognising that season of slaughter and season of habitation are not the same thing (O'Connor 1998b: 9-10; Forbes 1998: 28-29; Halstead 2005: 40). In Neolithic northern Greece, the archaeozoological evidence is interpreted as indicating that animals were kept close to the sites on a year-round basis (Pappa et al. 2004; Halstead 2005). For Makriyalos, there is some evidence that slaughter took place especially during autumn and winter (Pappa et al. 2004: 22; Halstead 2005: 48, Figure 5.3) but this cannot be taken to suggest its absence during other periods (Halstead 2005: 48). The archaeozoological evidence published from Makriyalos represents, however, specific episode(s) of large-scale meat consumption in the context of feasting (Pappa et al. 2004) rather than the year-round 'normal' household meat consumption (if such a thing existed in the Neolithic); and unless Neolithic inhabitants held such feasts on a monthly basis (which seems unlikely), this evidence provides information on seasonality of feasting rather than seasonality of habitation at the site, though the two could be related.


The contribution of archaeobotany

Plants are good potential indicators for seasons of habitation, thanks to their seasonal fruiting cycle. Such a straightforward association, however, is impeded by the fact that plants can be stored and humans tend to store them (e.g. Adams & Bohrer 1998: 131; O'Connor 1998a: 2). The cultivation of crops, evidenced through the archaeobotanical remains, tends to be associated with permanent occupation (e.g. Rafferty 1985: 134), although the existence of transhumant pastoralists who practise agriculture is reported both ethnographically and in ancient written sources (e.g. Riehl 2006). Thus finds of Neolithic crops on northern Greek sites (i.e. the glume wheats einkorn, emmer and the 'new' wheat type [Jones et al. 2000] as well as a variety of pulses like lentil, pea, grass pea, bitter vetch [Renfrew 2003; Valamoti 2001; 2004; Valamoti & Jones 2003]) is taken to imply that people needed to be present throughout most of the year in order to tend the fields (see Halstead 1999: 78).

Another means of determining the season of habitation is through the study of plant remains contained in animal dung (see Ackeret & Jacomet 1997; Charles & Bogaard 2005: 101-2). Dung has been identified in Neolithic houses and caves, in Greece (Karkanas in press) and elsewhere in the Balkans (e.g. Miracle & Forenbaher 2005: 274), burnt on many occasions. The presence of dung in some of the archaeobotanical assemblages from the four sites examined, Makriyalos (Pappa & Besios 1999), Apsalos (Chrysostomou et al. 2003), Mandalo (Kotsakis et al. 1989; Papaefthymiou-Papanthimou & Pilali-Papasteriou 1997) and Makri (Efstratiou et al. 1998), suggested a new method of inquiry for investigating seasonality of Neolithic habitation in the region.

Dung on Greek archaeological sites is recognised mainly in three ways: first, when it is charred; secondly, using micromorphology; and thirdly from the archaeobotanical analysis of crop-processing, species ecology and spatial variation of sample composition. Thus the presence of dung was confirmed by finds of charred dung pellets at Mandalo (Valamoti & Jones 2003) and soil micromorphological analysis at Makri (Karkanas & Efstratiou 2003). At Mandalo (Valamoti & Jones 2003: 24-26), dung was also indicated by samples that contained crops and weeds deriving from different stages of crop-processing (see Charles 1998: 115-18), the low height of the wild seeds, the inclusion of wild species from nonarable habitats (see Charles 1998: 114-15) and spatial differences between samples. At Makri (Valamoti 2004: 62, 67), the presence of dung was inferred from the co-existence of glume bases, fig seeds and wild/weed seeds (many of which were from non-arable habitats) in the samples. At both these tell sites, there were indications that grazing took place during the summer months in arable (Makri and Mandalo) and non-arable (Makri) habitats.

By contrast at the sites of Makriyalos and Apsalos, both flat sites of the extended type, the assemblages are dominated by glume-wheat chaff consisting mainly of the glume bases (Figures 2 and 3) of einkorn and 'new' wheat type, nearly completely devoid of wild/weed seeds (Valamoti 2004; 2006). This glume-wheat chaff is found in most samples in a very fragmentary state, unidentifiable to species, which is compatible with the state of preservation of einkorn glumes and spikelets surviving in dung after having been experimentally fed to goats; however, further work is needed before the distinction between digested and undigested chaff is reliably detectable (Valamoti & Charles 2005). At these two sites, dung could have been a possible source of the charred glume bases as these are often mixed with dung to be used as fuel (Barnard & Kristoferson 1985), or are a component of dung (used as fuel) after being fed to animals (Valamoti & Charles 2005). At Makriyalos, the co-occurrence of glume-wheat chaff and fig seeds in some of the samples was used as an indication for the possible presence of dung in the samples, following similar observations on the material from Makri (Valamoti 2001; 2004). Alternatively, but perhaps less likely, this chaff could have originated from fuel consisting of dehusking by-products only. Micromorphological analysis, which could demonstrate the presence of dung, even when this is not macroscopically identifiable (cf. Karkanas 2006), would have probably resolved the issue; neither site has, however, been investigated in this respect.

Wild/weed seeds are also absent from the vast majority of the Makriyalos and Apsalos samples, contrary to what one would expect to find among burnt crop-processing waste including glume-wheat dehusking by-products (Hillman 1984; Pena-Chocarro 1999). It is therefore probable that weeds were not present in the glume-wheat crop in the first place, perhaps as a result of the harvesting method or of careful weeding (Hillman 1981; Pena-Chocarro 1999), i.e. from labour-intensive husbandry practices characterising small-scale agricultural production (Halstead 1995; Simms & Russel 1997; Valamoti 2006). Besides inferences on scale of production, this near absence of wild/weed seeds in the assemblages implies a general paucity in the wild flora represented in the samples. As suggested above, the burnt chaff dominating the assemblages could have originated from dung burning.



On the assumption, therefore, that dung is one very likely source of plant material in the samples, the paucity of wild/weed seeds observed leads to some interesting observations on seasonality of habitation at these two sites. First, it would suggest the use of dung which was produced, during those months, when annual species are not in seed i.e. late autumn, winter and/or early spring, implying in turn grazing during this time of the year. Secondly it would indicate that dung produced in the summer and therefore containing wild/weed seeds was not used, suggesting absence of the animals from the settlement during late spring and summer (cf. Valamoti 2004: 128). On these grounds, seasonal movement of herds from extended sites such as Makriyalos and Apsalos would seem plausible.


The archaeobotanical evidence for grazing practices, based on dung-derived charred seeds of wild/weed species, from four Neolithic sites in northern Greece dated between the Middle and the Final Neolithic (Makriyalos, Apsalos, Mandalo, Makri), provides a tool for the investigation of seasonal movement in the Greek Neolithic. At Mandalo, a Final Neolithic site (end of the fifth millennium BC), the grazing pattern identified fits the model suggested for the Early Neolithic by Halstead (2000: 121), whereby stubble and fallow fields were grazed. At Makri, a Late Neolithic site (second half of the sixth millennium BC), various niches of the environment seem to have been grazed, i.e. a wide range of open habitats (Valamoti 2004: 124-25), while the archaeozoological evidence demonstrates a balanced proportion of sheep/goat, cattle and pig, matching Halstead's model for the Late Neolithic (Halstead 2000: 121). At Mandalo and Makri, both classified as tells, the wild/weed seeds occurring in samples containing dung, suggest the presence of animals near the settlement during the summer months, as seeds of annuals and perennials, fruiting in summer, are present (Valamoti & Jones 2003; Valamoti 2004). Animals could graze outside the settlement during the day, being brought back at night.

At the two flat sites, Middle Neolithic Apsalos (first half of the sixth millennium BC) and Late Neolithic Makriyalos (second half of the sixth--first half of the fifth millennium BC), some form of mobility might have been practised in relation to animal husbandry. The possibly dung-associated glume-wheat chaff identified at these sites, lacking any remains of wild/weed seeds, suggests that animals were kept within the settlement during the winter months, when these plants are not in seed. This would have provided protection from predators and adverse weather conditions as well as caring for lactating females and new-borns (cf. sheltering of animals in pits in Nurguz, Anatolia, Makal 1954: 28). During the summer, the animals might have been taken outside the confines of the settlement to woodland and/or pastures at low or high altitudes in search of grazing/browsing. This practice could have involved movement of part, or most, of the population. Such seasonal movement could therefore be compatible with either permanent settlements (e.g. Anderson & Ertug-Yaras 1998: 100; Reinders & Prummel 1998: 86) or sites occupied on a seasonal basis (see Wace & Thompson 1914).

Seasonal movement at these sites might also have been associated with feasting occasions. At Makriyalos the remains of large scale feasting have been identified in at least one large pit, possibly involving the participation of people from a wide region (Pappa et al. 2004: 39). Age at death indicates that a large number of animals were killed between late autumn and winter, and consumed in this specific context (Pappa et al. 2004: 22-23; Halstead 2005: Table 5.3). This could reflect the season of feasting (rather than the season the site was inhabited) and consequently the presence of a larger group of people during that period at the site, perhaps associated with a gathering of the community after the summer grazing season. Tooth wear studies of sheep and goat mandibles from Makriyalos suggest grazing in a confined area and feeding on 'soft' substances and/or leafy hay (Mainland & Halstead 2005). Thus the archaeozoological evidence does not contradict the archaeobotanical indications for keeping of animals close to or within the site in winter for protection, grazing of young grass, feeding of glume-wheat chaff to animals and a possible movement of animals away from the settlement during the summer months in search of pasture.

Such movement of herds need not imply specialised pastoralism, which has been associated with specific socio-economic and environmental conditions (see for example Halstead 1996 for a review of the evidence). Transhumance does not seem to be restricted to present day Mediterranean environments: in central Europe livestock are sent away from the area of hay meadows and cultivated land to alpine pastures during the summer (Netting 1981), a practice described as Alpwirtschaft (Ackeret & Jacomet 1997: 238). Movement of animals away from the settlement, therefore, need not necessarily mean that lowlands were unsuitable for providing fodder due to environmental conditions, a view supported by various researchers investigating both past and present transhumance in circum-Mediterranean countries (e.g. Jarman et al. 1982: 150-1; Chalkea 1999: 183; Ruiz & Ruiz 1986; see also Hodkinson 1988: 38 and Halstead 1996: 21 for a review of the relevant literature). Some of the lowland areas would have been allocated to crop-growing; if clearance for creating pasture land was not practised, or only on a small scale, for most of the Greek Neolithic, as suggested by the dominance of woodland in pollen diagrams (e.g. Willis 1994a) and if animals browsed in the woods, as was practised for example in Switzerland (Ackeret et al. 1999: 180) and still is in parts of modern Greece, then browsing/grazing of the forested landscape might have required movement away from the settlement. Pollen diagrams from upland sites in northern Greece show a reduction in diversity and density of most tree taxa, as well as an increase in Hornbeam pollen (a species that flourishes in cleared and grazed woodland), suggesting possible human interference with natural woodland vegetation, due to pastoral activity, at around 5000 BC (Willis 1994b: 105-6). Such pastoral activity in wooded environments would have been practised prior to the time it eventually became visible in the pollen record.


This study demonstrates how Neolithic archaeobotanical assemblages from northern Greece can be used to investigate land-use practices in relation to settlement type. Grazing practices, as identified in the archaeobotanical study of the Greek Neolithic sites considered here, refer to areas beyond those immediately visible in the archaeological record. The paper highlights the significance of the archaeobotanical input as a tool for addressing the relationship between intra-settlement space and surrounding landscape, in the course of the daily and annual cycles of the settlers. It also draws attention to the need for interdisciplinary studies, the combined use of archaeobotanical and soil micromorphological analysis, in particular. Soil micromorphology provides the means for an accurate identification of dung in archaeological deposits, while archaeobotany provides the means to study useful seasonal indicators, in this case the presence or absence of seeds of wild/weed plant species.

The archaeobotanical analysis of probably dung-derived charred plant remains from both tells and extended settlements suggests variability in domestic animal grazing practices, adopted by the Neolithic communities inhabiting northern Greece, differences that may relate to site type. Despite the small number of sites investigated archaeobotanically and the problems related to the positive identification of a dung origin of the archaeobotanical material, there is a strong possibility that herds moved seasonally away from the flat sites between late spring and early autumn. Evidence from tells, on the other hand, suggests the presence of animals in close proximity to, or even within the confines of, the settlements during the summer months.

If these suggestions are confirmed by further research, the differences between tells and extended sites might be related to different lifestyles, contributing to the formation of different ways of relating to intra-settlement space and to the surrounding landscape. Such a hypothesis might be premature, given the current state of research, both in terms of the excavation and publication of Neolithic sites in the region. But since coastal and lowland sites are represented in each category, it seems unlikely that the differences could be attributed to variations in environment. Tells have been considered as reflecting a household individualisation process, whereby the household corresponds to an isolated unit within which storage and cooking take place, occupies the same area for many generations, intensifies production, generates surplus and claims authority through this continuous occupation of the same area (Kotsakis 1999). Flat, extended sites, by contrast, have been interpreted as settlements with a limited potential for surplus production and an emphasis on the communal rather than the individual (Andreou & Kotsakis 1994; Kotsakis 1999). Archaeobotanical data lend some support to these interpretations as tell settlements are predominantly grain-rich while extended sites are chaff-rich, the former corresponding to stored grain and the latter to refuse. This archaeobotanical evidence has been used to argue for a differential organisation of use of space in relation to plants in the two site types (Valamoti 2005). At tell settlements, the burning of houses resulting in destruction layers containing rich concentrations of burnt grain, could have been accidental, due to proximity of household hearths to stored crops. Alternatively, this burning of stored grain could have been intentional at tells (Valamoti 2004: 132; 2005: 264-65), either due to enemy aggression, generated by tensions resulting from the household individualisation process suggested for tell settlements, or a practice of house burning performed by the inhabitants themselves, like that suggested for house burning at Neolithic sites in the Balkans (Tringham & Krstic 1990: 588, 610). These conditions may not have existed at flat settlements in Greece, perhaps due to the 'location of cooking facilities outside storage areas, a lack of hoarding within individual households and possibly storage of surplus grain outside the confines of individual households, in communal stores not subject to intentional burning by virtue of their communal character, lack of household competition and small scale of storage' (Valamoti 2005: 265).

The archaeobotanical evidence examined in this paper seems to lend support to these interpretations of settlement pattern variability in Neolithic northern Greece. The indications from dung analysis for small-scale agricultural production and seasonal movement of herds at extended sites on the one hand, and evidence for grain storage and the keeping of animals at close proximity to the tells on the other, suggests differences in social organisation as well as land appropriation and surplus production (see Valamoti 2001: 231-35; 2004: 131-32; 2005).


I am grateful to the following excavators for entrusting me with the study of archaeobotanical material from northern Greece: M. Besios, A. Chrysostomou, N. Efstratiou, N. Kallintzi, K. Kotsakis, A. Papanthimou, A. Pilali, M. Pappa. I thank M. Charles, P. Halstead and G. Jones for stimulating discussions during the course of my PhD and A. Bogaard, S. Jacomet, P. Karkanas, S. Riehl and F. Tsimbiridou for providing useful references, S. Riehl in particular, for providing access to her 'in-press' manuscript on seasonality and archaeobotany. I also wish to thank M. Carver, M. Pluciennik and an anonymous referee for their very constructive comments on an earlier draft of this paper. The Institute for Aegean Prehistory (INSTAP) is gratefully acknowledged for generous financial support for the archaeobotanical study of the Apsalos archaeobotanical assemblage.

Received: 2 August 2006; Accepted: 7 November 2006; Revised: 17 November 2006


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Soultana Maria Valamoti, Department of Archaeology, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, 54 124 Thessaloniki, Greece (Email:
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Title Annotation:Method
Author:Valamoti, Soultana Maria
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Date:Dec 1, 2007
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