CAIRN-INT.INFO : International Edition

1This book developed out of a conference of the same name held on November 12–13 at the Musée national de l’histoire de l’immigration in Paris that brought together approximately 30 researchers from a wide range of disciplines – prehistorians and palaeontologists, archaeologists and historians, anthropologists and geneticists, geographers and demographers – to present and discuss a correspondingly wide range of subjects, handled diachronically from the appearance of the genus Homo (or slightly before) to the contemporary period.

2These conference proceedings preserve the chronological structure and are divided into four major periods: prehistory (that is, the Palaeolithic and Neolithic periods to the end of the third millennium BCE; proto-history and antiquity; the Middle Ages; the early modern, modern, and contemporary period. The four sections are preceded by an “introduction” and an “overture” and followed by a “conclusion” that is not really that. Twenty-four experts have contributed on extremely varied subjects that cover the oecumene and human history in its entirety.

3“The past sheds light on the present”. Once again, that assertion sounds right, given how the overall theme of the conference echoes current concerns while locating the issue of migration in the broad sense at the heart of societal issues. Recalling that human beings are and have always been a migrating “species” – Homo sapiens sapiens’ settlement of the entire earth is the best evidence of this – is surely useful. As is recalling that the cradle of humanity is Africa, a cradle from which human beings “escaped” several times in the distant years of prehistory and from which they continued – and continue – to escape in the more recent millennia. Archaeology also offers evidence of the long-term presence of Jewish and Muslim communities in certain regions of metropolitan France (as early as the second century BCE for Jews and the eighth century CE for Muslims). Long after the Battle of Poitiers (732), Languedoc and Provence continued to receive Muslim Arab groups, probably in connection with the intense Mediterranean trading of the time. And after being expelled by Philippe le Bel in the late fourteenth century, many Jews moved to the Comtat Venaissin (then a Papal land), Lorraine, and the French Basque country, and continued to do so throughout the early modern period. Alas, Philippe le Bel was not the last French monarch to persecute, dispossess, and deport Jews. Archaeology of contemporary periods has found traces of imprisonment camps as well as clandestine migrant routes and guest houses.

4In addition to doing justice to men and women who are surely “not sufficiently represented in history”, recent archaeology has been instrumental in triggering a profound and critical re-examination of the major founding myths of our history. We can no longer speak of the “great invasions” or “barbarian invasions”, previously understood to have toppled the Roman Empire in the late third century, first because the Roman Empire only collapsed in the fifth century, and second because Rome and the “barbarians” (that is, groups neither Greek nor Roman) had reached long-standing agreements. Climate-related difficulties were most likely what forced the Franks, Alemanni, Burgundians, and Visigoths to leave their home territories with wives and children while maintaining their own chieftains, laws, and customs. In exchange, they committed to defending border areas, farming fallow land, and serving in the Roman army. Two thousand years ago, then, there were already policies for controlling, protecting, and integrating migrants. Nor can we any longer comfortably speak of the myth of a Viking invasion devastating Normandy and making Paris tremble: archaeological evidence considerably relativizes the presence of Scandinavians on the European continent. Digs of dwellings and cemeteries, a practice that has developed considerably recently as preventive or rescue archaeology, find no traces of massive settlement, suggesting instead that Scandinavian migrants were few in number and quickly assimilated to the local populations.

5But archaeological data are not the only type to have upset our established knowledge and called into question acculturation theories – an approach preferred over migration theories in academic debates from the 1960s to the 1980s. The temptation then was to see migrations as smaller than they were and to consider objects, techniques, and practices that were visibly foreign to the culture under study as evidence of acculturation and ethnogenesis rather than the arrival of new inhabitants. Here it should be recalled that archaeology offers only partial access to migration phenomena (it can only detect immigrants, not their movements, departures, or returns) and that the evidence it does unearth is perceived in terms of settling rather than leaving or moving about. While we can observe the point of arrival, it is hard to identify the stages people went through between their point of departure and their final destination. Whether or not perceived changes in a material culture should be linked to the arrival of non-indigenous populations or to evolving ideas and techniques of the people already on site has long divided the archaeologist community, especially for periods before the invention of writing. The considerable advances made through palaeogenomics can only lead to a total re-examination of doctrines on migration and the political contexts that triggered migrations. We can now study the ancient DNA preserved in prehistoric “fossils” or historical skeletons; that is, not just mitochondrial DNA but nuclear DNA. The genetic material involved provides information essential to reconstructing ancient migratory movements. First findings confirm the multiplicity of population displacements and the large numbers of people involved.

6But why have archaeologists minimized, if not outright denied, the existence of migration phenomena for so long? It is because behind these divergent interpretations loom more or less explicit ideological contexts. Historiography has long been marked by the notion of a multi-century if not millenarian heritage of sedentary peasants, or at least peasants firmly attached to a clearly delimited territory ever suspicious of le forain, literally “what comes from without” – the foreigner, the Greeks’ barbarian (i.e., the person who did not speak their language). And the model used, as archaeology was being developed, defined populations in terms of culture and territory. If the material traces found in a given area do not correspond to the local “culture”, then we have to assume either that new individuals arrived or that the indigenous population(s) adopted or imitated objects and techniques from elsewhere. Migration, acculturation, or diffusion: that is the question when it comes to accounting for the history of some territories. In recent decades, archaeologists have become aware of the ideological forces and geopolitical contexts that have been so influential for their findings.

7One strong feature of this work is its reminder that humans are migrants by nature, regardless of the period or the reasons that cause them to pull up and move away. They move not just along land routes but also sea routes. While we know more about continental than maritime migrations, we have learned that in their conquest of new territories, humans also took waterborne vessels, surely fragile ones, quite early on. The only way that Australia could have been settled (around 50,000 years ago, much earlier than was thought) is by people arriving on boats from the Asian peninsula. But it is probably the settlement of South America that raises the most questions. Our current understanding is that the original settlers crossed the oceans from Africa and Australia much earlier than was long supposed – 40,000 years ago, before the settlement of North America. We must accept the idea that these population groups already had not just the coastal but also the deep-sea navigation skills needed to achieve this.

8In addition to Homo sapiens sapiens’ continental conquests, archaeology is starting to take an interest in island populations, notably those of Oceania, the processes by which islands were colonized, and the long-distance trade and alliance networks that island groups established in order to remain in such environments. Here, too, history is being rewritten.

9Using archaeological data, understood as the main but not exclusive source, this book invites us to follow population movements over the five continents regardless of the distance covered or whether those moves took place during the prehistoric or contemporary period. It also invites us to consider the many different circumstances of human migration: voluntary or forced departure from home; the journey itself; settlement and new life in a foreign place, either uninhabited or already settled; and perhaps new migrations towards other places or a return to the place of origin. Besides providing a salutary re-examination of migration theories by critically comparing archaeological, historical, genetic, linguistic, and environmental data, this book paves the way for new research that would use a social approach to migration. Though humans are not the only beings that migrate or settle in other places, some forms of migration are specific to human societies. Diasporas; colonization; human trafficking and forced displacements; commercial, matrimonial, or diplomatic exchanges; war-making expeditions; economic, political, and environmental migration; pilgrimages; and other movements – all distinct situations that have induced contrasting reactions from both migrants (acculturation or assertion of first identity) and receiving populations (integration, segregation, hostility). They have also had considerable demographic consequences on receiving, departing, and migrating populations – a point that cannot really be discussed on the basis of material remains.

10I have deliberately departed from the book’s timeline to better evoke the breadth and density of its field. Interested readers can further enrich this first panorama with some of the articles and books that continue to renew the archaeological approach to human migration.

Uploaded on on 16/05/2019
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