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A new paper in the journal Antiquity interprets the remains of 34 found buried in the village of Talheim, in south-west of Germany as evidence that Neolithic men fought to secure women. The paper is titled, “Isotopic signatures and hereditary traits: snapshot of a Neolithic community in Germany.”

The remains were excavated in the 1980s and dated by carbon-14 to be 7,000 years old. The majority had been killed by a blow to the left side of the head. This suggests most of the victims were bound and executed, probably with a stone axe. The other remains that show signs of arrow-wounds from behind, as if the victims had tried to flee.

Using isotopic analysis, the authors were able to determine the different origins of the people. The three isotopic (strontium, oxygen and carbon) signatures indicated there are distinct groups of people in the burial. The isotope signatures also correlate with the hereditary dental traits of each group.

One group, with isotope signatures derived from upland areas, includes two men, which as I understand it are two of the attackers that died. Another group, the local group, includes many local children among the adult male remains. But there were no adult women, suggesting they had been selectively taken alive at the time of the massacre. The researchers conclude the absence of local females indicates that they were spared execution and captured instead which may have indeed been the primary motivation for the attack.

The basis of this paper supports a common concept in sexual selection, where the limited reproductive capacity of females compared to males drives male–male competition. Males, the less limited sex, compete aggressively among themselves for access to the limiting sex. Lead author, Alex Bentley summarizes,

“Our analysis points to the local women being regarded as somehow special and were therefore kept alive.”

What do you think about the conclusions?

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