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Settlement of the first farmers in the Belgian loess belt, the edaphic factor.

Langohr, Roger

Abstract:

The first farmers to settle in the Belgian loess belt belong to the Linearbandkeramik Culture (LBK), formerly Danubian Culture, and the Blicquy/Villeneuve-Saint-Germain group. As elsewhere in Europe, these populations preferred settling on loess soils. We can distinguish three patterns when they reached Belgium. Firstly, they settled only at the southern and eastern fringe of the loess belt. Secondly, the village occupations lasted only about one generation (some 25 years). Thirdly ,after 2 to 3 centuries the occupation ends, leaving a hiatus before the next period of settlements. Several hypotheses are proposed to explain this particular behaviour, such as a research hiatus, contact with the hunter-gatherers that lived in the area, and heredity rules. In this paper attention is paid to the impact of the edaphic factor, an essential element besides climate when it comes to crop production. From archaeopedological research on LBK sites, it appears that the soilscape in this European Atlantic biogeographical area was similar to the soils that occur today in the 50 km2 tall Sonian Forest. Exceptionally, this area situated in the middle of the Belgian loess belt, has never been cleared for agricultural purposes and the soils have very low chemical and physical fertility. This status provides a plausible explanation for the particular behaviour of the first farmers reaching the Belgian loess belt. Simple shifting cultivation, as practised in the equatorial forest, was not sustainable in this temperate climate and therefore whole villages would have to move. Obviously, the workload for these Neolithic farmers was too severe and they abandoned the further colonisation of the Atlantic loess belt.

This article is part of a book edited at the occasion of the Geoarchaeological meeting of Bruges: Soils as records of Past and Present: the geoarchaeological approach. Focus on: is there time for fieldwork today? - Bruges (Belgium), 6 and 7.11.2019. Editors Judit Deák, Carole Ampe and Jari Hinsch Mikkelsen Technical editor Mariebelle Deceuninck English language reviewer Caroline Landsheere Graphic design Frederick Moyaert Printing and binding Die Keure, Bruges
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