Land and people, nature and knowledge : environment, subsistence and the sacred, in the transition to farming on Exmoor
thesisposted on 15.12.2014, 10:42 by Nicholas. Berry
The main subject of the thesis is the transition to agricultural in north-west Europe. The transition is studied primarily from the perspective of Mesolithic hunter-gatherer groups, and the thesis suggests that the significance of Mesolithic cultural practices and religious beliefs in the process has been underestimated. This is because the philosophical basis of many approaches establishes a theoretical division between models of Mesolithic and Neolithic communities both in terms of their respective cultural characteristics, and as a consequence in the way that they are studied. Alternative theoretical approaches that seek to overcome this intellectual division are assessed.;The study then considers ethnographic evidence of modern small-scale, non-industrial societies, concentrating on the relationship between people and the environment, subsistence practices and religious beliefs, and the integration of these factors with the landscape and sacred places. This prompts an analysis of current interpretations of religious beliefs in which it is argued that we may have missed their real significance. The theoretical and ethnographic evidence provides the framework for modelling prehistoric populations, and is then applied to data derived from fieldwork on Exmoor in south-west England.;The evidence from Exmoor is assessed in three parts: the record of the prehistoric environment; changing patterns of lithic raw material use during the transition; and a survey of Exmoor's unique prehistoric standing stone monuments. All these elements are placed in the context of the transition in the south-west, and more briefly as part of the transformations in north-west Europe. Concentrating on the relationship between land, people, their religious and cultural beliefs, new interpretations emerge of the significance of Neolithic material culture and the role of monuments in the transition to agriculture. It is also suggested that some aspects of the philosophical analysis of religious beliefs may have much wider implications.