EUROFARM: comparison and modelling of early farming and associated technologies in Europe

Marc Vander Linden, David Orton, Ivana Pandžić, Milan Đurđević, Bojan Vujinović, Ljubica Srdić, Jacqueline Balen, Stašo Forenbaher, Dušan Mihailović, Dejan Gazivoda, Terry Hopkinson, Gary Marriner, Tonko Rajkovača, Charles French & Preston Miracle


The shift from foraging to farming is a defining moment in human history. Unsurprisingly, it is also one of the most scrutinised archaeological processes, from Childe's 'Neolithic revolution' to the recent contribution of genetics. In the European case, most of the literature revolves around evaluation of the respective role of local foragers and of incoming Neolithic farmers. Despite several theoretical and empirical limitations, the debate remains mostly set in these terms (e.g. Fort 2012). Alternatively, approaches that consider what is spread, and how, are starting to cast fresh light on this transition (e.g. Coward et al. 2008).

After their initial establishment in the Greek Peninsula during the seventh millennium cal BC, farming practices diffuse across Europe following two main routes, inland and maritime. The inland stream initially corresponds to the Starčevo-Körös-Criş complex across the Balkans and, from 5600 cal BC onwards, then expands across continental Europe as the Linearbandkeramik culture. The maritime stream is associated with the Impressa complex in the Adriatic and Tyrrhenian seas, and the French Mediterranean coast, and then with the Cardial culture across the western Mediterranean Basin. Differences between the streams are marked in terms of pottery assemblages and are also perceptible in other traits (e.g. Bocquet-Appel et al. 2012). Yet, the formal characterisation of these differences remains to be undertaken, as does the elucidation of the mechanisms at play in creating and maintaining the coherence of each stream.

Project aims
Figure 1
Figure 1. EUROFARM research area. Pink: Impressa complex. Green: Starčevo-Körös-Criş complex.
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The EUROFARM project focuses on the processes of cultural transmission associated with the spread of farming across Europe. This is investigated through comparison, within and between both streams of neolithisation, of four technological innovations: farming practices, landscape use, pottery and lithics.

The transmission of innovations depends upon several factors, including the identity of the actors involved, the context of their interaction, and the nature of the innovation being transmitted. The archaeological literature dedicated to early farming mostly focuses on the first two factors (i.e. the respective roles of and contact between foragers and farmers), while few studies have addressed the way farming techniques are transmitted and acquired. Furthermore, for each technological innovation, the manner of transmission will likely differ significantly, if only because of differences in abilities and knowledge required by the actors.

Analytical work will characterise the cultural recipe of each technological innovation (Mesoudi & O'Brien 2008). Given the variety of studied technologies, it is expected that a complex set of elements are involved in their transmission, which makes any comparison difficult. Cultural recipes allow us to overcome this limit by focusing upon the structure of the sequences of actions involved. This comparative stage will evaluate the patterning in the four technological innovations, their modes of transmission, and their relative weight in shaping both inland and maritime streams.

Our objectives are thus to:

  • describe the neolithisation of Europe in terms of transmission of technological innovations;
  • compare formally the structure of the two main streams of diffusion of farming across Europe;
  • add to our documentary knowledge of the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition in a key—yet overlooked—region of Europe.
Research area and pilot data
Figure 2
Figure 2. Prehistoric sites surveyed in northern Bosnia (2006–2010). The site of Kočićevo is indicated by a red star.
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The EUROFARM research area is the western Balkans (Figure 1). With the geographical origins of both streams of neolithisation proving elusive, this constitutes the best region to carry out the investigation. It is the first area where the two streams are discernible and the only one where they are present in such close geographical proximity. Our knowledge, however, of the local Mesolithic-Neolithic transition remains limited in comparison to other parts of Europe, especially for Bosnia and Herzegovina. A combination of fieldwork, analysis of museum collections, and re-evaluation of the literature is planned for the countries of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia.

Recent field activity conducted by the universities of Cambridge, Leicester and UCL, in collaboration with several Bosnian institutions, has started to address this gap. Six survey seasons targeting the alluvial terraces of tributaries of the Sava River have led to the identification of dozens of prehistoric sites, ranging from Palaeolithic to Iron Age with a strong Neolithic component (Figure 2). Small-scale excavations have been undertaken at several locations, notably the site of Kočićevo. Located on a palaeo-riverbank, this site has yielded archaeological features and a rich material culture dated to 4800–4500 cal BC (Figures 3 and 4).

Figure 3
Figure 3. General view of the site of Kočićevo.
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Figure 4
Figure 4. Kočićevo: test pit with Neolithic finds (left) and corresponding 14C dates (right).
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Radiocarbon dates were also obtained for previously and recently excavated sites across the entire area, with a focus upon Bosnia and Herzegovina (Figure 5). While farming appears in parts of this country during the mid sixth millennium cal BC—already several centuries later than in the core areas of the two streams—the bulk of the dates point to the early fifth millennium cal BC. This suggests that there were successive episodes of expansion of farming practices into the area between the two early streams of neolithisation (see also Forenbaher & Miracle 2005).

Figure 5
Figure 5. Distribution of existing 14C dates for the Mesolithic and Early Neolithic periods in the EUROFARM research area (left); pilot 14C data for Mesolithic and Early Neolithic periods in the EUROFARM research area (right).
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Within the comparative framework of the EUROFARM project, the implications of this sequence are twofold:

  • both inland and maritime streams involved an initial phase in their respective core areas, followed by subsequent infilling phases, the exact pattern and tempo of which remain to be established. Did both streams follow similar trajectories and, if so, how can we account for these similarities?
  • As already suggested (Perić 1995; Hofmann 2012), these secondary episodes of farming expansion seem to correspond to the meeting and mixing of both inland and maritime streams. How can we account for this in terms of cultural transmission?

Similar situations can be observed in other European regions (e.g. Vander Linden 2011) pointing to the importance of cultural transmission in the neolithisation process. More work is needed, however, in order to characterise the types of cultural transmission at play, and whether or not the transmissions of multiple technologies (e.g. farming, pottery, etc.) are connected. Such investigation opens new paths to describe and unravel the complexity of local situations that constitute the neolithisation of Europe.


The EUROFARM project is funded by the European Research Council under the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme (FP/2007-2013) / ERC Grant Agreement n. 313716. Pilot data were obtained thanks to funding provided by the Heritage Office of the Republika Srpska; the Framework Programme 6 of the European Commission; St John's College, McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research and McBurney Laboratory, Cambridge; and the British Academy.


  • BOCQUET-APPEL, J.-P., S. NAJI, M. VANDER LINDEN & J.K. KOZŁOWSKI. 2012. Understanding the rates of expansion of the farming system in Europe. Journal of Archaeological Science 39: 531–46.
  • COWARD, F., S. SHENNAN, S. COLLEDGE, J. CONOLLY & M. COLLARD. 2008. The spread of Neolithic plant economies from the Near East to northwest Europe: a phylogenetic analysis. Journal of Archaeological Science 35: 42–56.
  • FORENBAHER, S. & P. MIRACLE. 2005. The spread of farming in the Eastern Adriatic. Antiquity 79: 514–28.
  • FORT, J. 2012. Synthesis between demic and cultural diffusion in the Neolithic transition in Europe. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 109(46): 18669–73.
  • HOFMANN, R. 2012. Style and function of pottery in relation to the development of Late Neolithic settlement patterns in central Bosnia, in R. Hofmann, M. Fevzi-Kemal & J. Müller (ed.) Tells: social and environmental space: 181–202. Bonn: Rudolf Habelt.
  • MESOUDI, A. & M. O'BRIEN. 2008. The learning and transmission of hierarchical cultural recipes. Biological Theory 3: 63–72.
  • PERIC, S. 1995. Butmirska kultura. Geneza I razvoj. Beograd: Posebna Izdanja Arh. Inst. 29.
  • VANDER LINDEN, M. 2011. To tame a land: archaeological cultures and the spread of the Neolithic in Western Europe, in B. Roberts & M. Vander Linden (ed.) Investigating archaeological cultures: material culture variability and transmission: 289–319. New York: Springer.


*Author for correspondence

  • Marc Vander Linden* and David Orton
    Institute of Archaeology, University College London, 31–34 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0PY, UK (Email:
  • Ivana Pandžić
    Museum of the Republika Srpska, Banja Luka, Djure Danicica st. 1, Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Milan Đurđević and Bojan Vujinović
    Zavičajni muzej Gradiška, Gradiška, Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Ljubica Srdić
    Republic Institute for Protection of Cultural, Historical and Natural Heritage, Vuka Karadžića 4/6, Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Jacqueline Balen
    Archaeological Museum, 19 Nikola Subic Zrinski Square, PO Box 13, 10000 Zagreb, Croatia
  • Stašo Forenbaher
    Institute for Archaeological Research, Ljudevita Gaja 32, 10000 Zagreb, Croatia
  • Dušan Mihailović
    University of Belgrade, Studentski Trg 1, Belgrade, Serbia
  • Dejan Gazivoda
    Centre for the Conservation and Archaeology of Montenegro, Bajova 150, Cetinje, Montenegro
  • Terry Hopkinson
    Department of Archaeology, University of Leicester, University Road, Leicester LE1 7RH
  • Gary Marriner, Tonko Rajkovača, Charles French & Preston Miracle
    Division of Archaeology, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3DZ, UK