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Durham University

Department of Archaeology

Research Postgraduates

Publication details for Professor Peter Rowley-Conwy

Rowley-Conwy, P. (2004). How the West was lost: a reconsideration of agricultural origins in Britain, Ireland and southern Scandinavia. Current Anthropology 45(S4): 83-113.

Author(s) from Durham


Post-processual views of the transition to agriculture in NW Europe have sought to decouple ideology and subsistence economy, as a means of protecting the status of ideology as the sole cause of change. Ideology (as reflected in material culture and monument building) changed abruptly. To achieve the required decoupling, subsistence is therefore portrayed as changing slowly. This implies three things: (1) mesolithic foragers were gradually intensifying their subsistence economy; (2) neolithic people subsisted mainly on wild animals and plants, and were nomadic; and (3) subsistence change across the ideological transition was slow, continuous and seamless. Many other scholars, although not post-processualists, have also come to accept these three points. But as the post-processual view has become the consensus, the data from Britain, Ireland and southern Scandinavia have all been leading in completely the opposite direction: (1) there is no reason to think that mesolithic foragers were intensifying economically; (2) neolithic people subsisted mainly on cultivated plants and domestic animals, and were fully sedentary; and (3) the transition to agriculture was rapid and probably traumatic. The current consensus has consistently avoided incorporating these data into its explanatory framework.