Ornaments reveal resistance of North European cultures to the spread of farming.
The transition to farming is the process by which human groups switched from hunting and gathering wild resources to food production. Understanding how and to what extent the spreading of farming communities from the Near East had an impact on indigenous foraging populations in Europe has been the subject of lively debates for decades. Ethnographic and archaeological studies have shown that population replacement and admixture, trade, and long distance diffusion of cultural traits lead to detectable changes in symbolic codes expressed by associations of ornaments on the human body. Here we use personal ornaments to document changes in cultural geography during the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition. We submitted a binary matrix of 224 bead-types found at 212 European Mesolithic and 222 Early Neolithic stratigraphic units to a series of spatial and multivariate analyses. Our results reveal consistent diachronic and geographical trends in the use of personal ornaments during the Neolithisation. Adoption of novel bead-types combined with selective appropriation of old attires by incoming farmers is identified in Southern and Central Europe while cultural resistance leading to the nearly exclusive persistence of indigenous personal ornaments characterizes Northern Europe. We argue that this pattern reflects two distinct cultural trajectories with different potential for gene flow.