Hunters, Fishers and Farmers of Eastern Europe, 6000-3000 B.C. (1971)

Instead of an abstract, I am providing the Preface to this book, as written in London 1971, so that you can see the point in time in my intellectual history that provided the context for its creation. Of course I am embarrassed by some of the ideas and statements in the preface (let alone the rest of the book) until I remember that this book and these ideas provided the point of departure for almost all my subsequent writing and professional career. Without it, I probably would never have ended up in USA. It was written in the two years (1969-1971) of my tenure as Research Assistant to Peter Ucko at the Department of Anthropology, University College London, where we taught modules on the History of Material Culture. Thus it was after completing my Ph.D. dissertation, and a post-doc Wenner-Gren fellowship in the Soviet Union (Leningrad) and before I took up my first position (Harvard University) in the USA. The content of the book combines the research that I did for my Ph.D. dissertation (on Southeast and Central European Neolithic) with the research that I carried out subsequently in the Soviet Union. However, the teaching, reading, and discussions that I participated in during my time at UCL provided a significant impact to thinking about how to interpret that content. One strand of (for me) mind-blowing interpretive paths was the use of ethnographic observations around material culture that had never been part of my archaeological training at Edinburgh. Another was my introduction to the hypothesis testing of Processual Archaeology research design that I began to pick up during the two conferences that were organized by Peter Ucko in the late 1960s. At the same time, my participation (until 1968) in the Bylany (Czechoslovakia) project and the contact trace research in Leningrad (USSR) under S.A. Semenov and G. L. Korobkova had alerted me to the wonders of experimental and quantitative research, which had not been part of my Edinburgh education.   If anyone has the patience to read the full text of this book, you will see a mix of all these archaeological traditions expressed in the text, including the application of some models on innovation and conservation that come straight from Stuart Piggott. So please read this book in light of this situated context. There are many other stories around its creation that could be told….

Ruth Tringham, San Francisco, January 2017


Tringham, Ruth (1971) Hunters, Fishers and Farmers of Eastern Europe, 6000-3000 b.c. Hutchinson University Press, London, UK (ISBN:0-09-108790). Reprinted (2015) by Routledge Library Editions, Abingdon, UK (ISBN:978-1-138-79971`-4)

Preface to the 1971 edition

In this book I have chosen to discuss a series of subjects and problems which most interest me, rather than write a systematic description of prehistoric cultural development of east-central Europe and the Danube basin from c. 6000-3000 B.C. A prehistory of this part of Europe is badly needed both for students and researchers, because the last one to be attempted, Gordon Childe’s Danube in Prehistory (1929), is now out of date. The chronological framework of the pre­historic cultures of this area and period has been set out in numerous studies, more recently with reference to radiocarbon dating evidence. The interpretation of some of the relevant evidence and its partial description does occur as part of Childe’s Dawn of European Civilisation and Stuart Piggott’s Ancient Europe. To write a prehistory of east-central Europe, however, from 6000-3000 B.c., including details of the chronological framework, cultural development, primary sources of evidence and interpretation of this evidence in terms of prehistoric cultural processes, would be a life­time’s work, and one which has not been attempted here. The primary sources of the mass of evidence of east European prehistory are generally hidden behind a barrier of unfamiliar languages and illegible scripts. It was not my aim, however, merely to act as the transmitter or interpreter of this evidence to ‘western Europe’ through a familiarity with the material and a knowledge of the languages. Nor would I wish to duplicate the work of my east European colleagues, or presume to offer them new information or evidence, or any different interpretation of the material in terms of cultural and chronological identification.

Instead, I have concentrated on the interpretation of the material in terms of prehistoric cultural processes, rather than its description or classification. I do not consider morphological classifications or typologies of pottery or stone tools, or the identification of cultures and their relative chronological position, to be the main end of prehistoric studies; they are rather the means to the interpretation of prehistoric material in terms of processes of social economic and technological development and the reconstruction of as much as possible of the ‘sum total of human activities’. In order that these processes may be intelligible to a wide audience, which includes not only students and specialist researchers in prehistory, but also those interested in every aspect of the study of Man, references to specific sites and finds and the discussion of complex archaeological problems of chronology and cultures have generally been kept out of the main text.

However, students seeking a guide to the complex material of prehistoric eastern Europe will find that this book exists on two levels in imitation of Stuart Piggott in his Ancient Europe. Details of the evidence and bibliographical references have been brought together at the end of each chapter. The general bibliography at the end of the book, containing works generally written in English, French and German, should be of interest to a wider audience. In general, all the bibliographical references have been chosen for their availability in ‘western’ libraries. For this reason, I hope I shall be forgiven for omitting certain references, especially of pre-war date, in rather more obscure journals. I hope that the notes and references may provide a useful starting-point for a number of research projects.

In addition, for those who prefer to read the ideas expressed in this book in their chronological and cultural context, I have pro­vided a pull-out chart (Fig. 41) of the cultural framework of eastern Europe in this period and two tables of the relevant radiocarbon dates (Figs. 39, 40), all of which were up to date at the time of writing. It should be remembered, however, that the theoretical position of many specialists in this field and the available information changes each month.

My main aim in this book is to interpret the available evidence of eastern Europe c. 6000-3000 B.c. in terms of human activities and cultural responses to changing environmental conditions and the diffusion of innovations in their way of life; in terms of the potential­ities of the environment and how these were exploited or rejected as sources of food and raw materials; and in terms of the factors responsible for the discovery, development, diffusion, acceptance and rejection of innovations, including factors such as environment, economy, technology and cultural choice. Many activities of pre­historic societies are probably (but not necessarily) beyond the limits of inference from archaeological evidence, including those con­nected with social structure and religion or beliefs. The interpretation of archaeological material, however, can be greatly enriched if the activities of modern ‘ethnographic’ small-scale societies are examined and used not in a one-to-one relationship, but to provide a range of possible interpretations of the material and to stimulate new questions and answers about the material. Unfortunately the evidence available to a prehistorian is very much poorer than that available to an ethnographer. Whereas, for example, an ethno­grapher can concentrate his attention on isolating the factors which determine the form of an artefact including raw material, level of technological skill, the intended function of the artefact and cultural choice of preferred shape, the archaeologist must carefully analyse the artefact to reconstruct its original form and function and its method of manufacture, before he can begin to think of other factors. Such analyses of artefacts and excavations with these questions in mind have only very rarely been carried out in pre­historic studies in eastern Europe. For this reason, any such analyses which do exist, such as the excellent work done at Bylany and in Moldavia, have been excessively used and stressed in this book.

The dominant problem which runs through this book concerns the diffusion of the techniques and equipment associated with the domestication and exploitation of plants and animals and a food-­producing economy from the Near East through south-east Europe and north-west through the Danube basin, through changing en­vironmental conditions, and finally reaching western Europe. Thus to understand the adoption of a food-producing economy in Europe as a whole, it is essential to understand the mechanisms and processes of the diffusion and non-diffusion of the techniques and associated economy in central and eastern Europe. I hope that this may suggest to my east European colleagues new approaches to their research and new forms of evidence to seek, leading to system­atic investigations and quantitative analyses on a larger scale in order to prove or disprove my hypotheses.

The absolute chronology followed here is based on radiocarbon dates quoted in the chart and the text as B.C. which have been calcu­lated according to the ‘old half-life’ 5570 ± 30 years; if the dates were calculated according to the ‘new half-life’ they would be some 200-300 years older. A further calculation on the basis of Suess’s curve for Bristlecone pine dating in order to bring the radiocarbon years in line with earth years would make the dates still older by 300-400 years. It is clear, therefore, that those who wish to think in terms of absolute dates will have to indulge in mathematics. This fact, however, should not belittle the value of radiocarbon dates, not least in the field of relative dating.

To acknowledge the valuable help of all my colleagues in eastern Europe and Great Britain and to express my gratitude to those whose precious time I took up in various Museums and Institutes of Archaeology throughout eastern Europe would fill a whole book. I am especially grateful, in Bulgaria, to Dr G. Georgiev, Dr N. Dzambazov, Dr R. Katincarov and Mr B. Nikolov; in Czechos­lovakia, to Professor Dr J. Filip, Dr A. Tocik, Dr J. Neustupny, Dr J. Lichardus, Dr E. Neustupny, Dr I. Pavlu, Dr J. Pavuk, Dr M. Zapotocka and Dr R. Tichy; in Hungary, to Dr S. Bokonyi, Dr N. Kalicz, Dr I. B. Kutzian, Dr J. Makkay and Dr 0. Trogmayer; in Rumania, to Dr D. Berciu, Dr E. Comsa, Professor V. Dumitrescu, Mr A. Florescu, Mr I. Paul, Dr M. Petrescu-Dimbovita, Mr N. Vlassa and Mme E. Zaharia; in Russia, to Dr T. S. Passek whose tragic death was such a  shock to us all, and to Dr E. K. Cernys, Dr V. N. Danilenko, Dr P. Dolukhanov, Dr N. N. Gurina, Dr G. F. Korobkova, Dr N. J. Merpert, Dr V. Masson, Mme T. A. Popova, Dr S. A. Semeonov, and Dr D. J. Telegin; in Moldavia, to Dr V. I. Markyevic; and, in Yugoslavia, to Dr A. Benac, Dr B. Brukner, Dr B. Jovanovic, Dr D. Srejovic, Dr L. Szekeres and their American colleague, Dr A. McPherron. I am also grateful to Dr H. Quitta and Dr G. Kohl of E. Berlin for their helpful advice and their kind information about their radiocarbon dates; it is primarily due to their efforts that so much of the east European neolithic material is now supported by radio- carbon dates. · To my colleagues in Britain and west Europe I also express my thanks, in particular to Dr J. Alexander, Mr A. Ammerman, Mr R. Newell, Dr C. Renfrew; Mr M. Rowlands, Professor T. Sulimirski, and my editor Dr John Coles. I am indebted to the British Council, the University of Edinburgh, and the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research whose grants-in-aid and research fellowships enabled me to visit the Museums and Institutes of Archaeology of Eastern Europe for long periods and gain the first-hand familiarity with the material without which this book could not have been written.

Finally, I should like to express my deep gratitude to Professor Stuart Piggott of the University of Edinburgh, Dr Bohumil Soudsky of the Institute of Archaeology in Prague, and Dr Peter J. Ucko of the Department of Anthropology at University College, London, the last of whom spent valuable time in correcting this manuscript until it read like intelligible English. I am dedicating this work to them because of the encouragement and stimulation which they have given me in my research and because they have been the most instru­mental in the formulation of the ideas expressed in this book.

Organization of the book





1  Environmental background

2  Postglacial hunting and gathering communities in eastern Europe

3  The earliest food-producers 5500-3800 B.c.

4  Economic development and the earliest use of  metal c. 3800-3000 B.C.

5. Conclusion

General bibliography



John Nandris (1972) in Man 7 (3): 491 download

John Nandris (1972) in Nature vol 236, April 7, p277-278. download

Robert Evans (1973) in American Anthropologist 75:6, 1942-1944. download

J.Muhly (1975) in review of Gimbutas 1974 in American Historical Review vol 80:3, 616-7: mentions RET HFFEE on page 617, about chronology. download

Sarunas Milisauskas (1972) in Science vol 176, no 4037 (May 26 1972),pp 902-903. download

Colin Renfrew (1972) in Antiquity 46 March: 156-158. download

Ivan Pavlu (1973) in Pamatky Archeologicke: 64(1) 156-158 (in Czech). download

Terence Powell (1972) in Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society:38,p.430-431. download

V.S.Titov (1973) in Sovyetskaya Arkheologiya issue 2: 263-270 (in Russian). download

Laszlo Szekeres (1972) in Uzenet (Subotica) II(3) p.206 (in Hungarian). download

Robert Ehrich (1974) American Journal of Archaeology 435-436. download

Ian Cornwall (1972) in Times Higher Education supplement March 24, 1972. download

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