At The Crossroads: Biocultural interactions in Neolithic Belgium and the peopling of Western Europe (At The Crossroads)
"At The Crossroads" aims to study the Neolithic period in Belgium, an area located at the heart of the migratory routes through Europe and Great Britain. Agriculture came to northwest Europe during the Neolithic through two waves: a western route following the Danube River and a southern route along the Mediterranean. Archaeological evidence suggests these two Neolithic cultures replaced the region's Mesolithic hunter-gatherers and subsequently came into contact. Whether this was direct (population replacement) or indirect (cultural diffusion) contact is unclear from the archaeological record alone. During the Neolithic, cultural changes are evident from archaeological culture as well as burial practice. The use of megalithic tombs and caves as cemeteries appears to diffuse from the Iberian Peninsula but archaeological materials suggest a close affiliation with groups from the northern Paris Basin. The end of the Neolithic is particularly important and signifies the dawn of metallurgy and stratified societies; in some areas Late Neolithic settlers form the genetic basis of modern populations. Morphological and genetic research has focussed on southern and western Europe, but (southern) Belgium, located at the crossroads for migrants to Scandinavia and the British Isles, has been unstudied. As such, a major gap exists in our understanding of this period and its legacy on current Europeans. This proposal responds directly to this challenge.The project focusses on skeletal and archaeological remains from five Mesolithic and 11 Neolithic burial sites, of which one is currently being excavated. The Mesolithic sites are caves. The Neolithic burial sites include rockshelters, caves, megalithic structures, and a flint mine. The three main overarching research questions are:1. What were the lifeways and health status of these people?2. The adoption of megalithic and cave burials during the Late Neolithic point to a southern origin of cultural practices but were these accompanied by population immigration or was this the result of cultural adoption by local groups?3. How are the Late Neolithic people related to the Mesolithic people who once lived a hunter-gatherer life in the region?These questions will be explored here through human skeletal and dental evidence. The study will be the first synthesis of all Mesolithic and Neolithic skeletal material from Belgium and will serve as a complement to other future studies on ancient DNA and archaeological analysis for the same sites.