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This week PNAS published evidence of social stratification and hereditary inequality from over 7,000 years ago in Central Europe. Lead author, R. Alexander Bentley and team took strontium 86/87 isotope ratios of the enamel of teeth of over 300 early Neolithic humans from seven different sites (Aiterhofen, Ensisheim, Kleinhadersdorf, Nitra, Souffelweyersheim, Schwetzingen, and Vedrovice). The ratio of strontium isotopes are a geological signature of the location where an individual was raised.

The researchers found less variance in the strontium ratios among males than we find among females, indicating females moved around more than males. This is not a surprising find, as many cultures often “ship off” females. We even have an anthropological term for it, patrilocality. However for people from 5,5000 BCE, this sheds some light into division of labor and gender roles.

An adze unearthed at the site. (Dr. Britta Ramminger)

An adze unearthed at the site. (Dr. Britta Ramminger)

One fascinating result is there was less variance  noted among male who were buried with their stone adzes than burials of men without such adzes. Furthermore, those buried with adzes had more isotopes associated with fertile loess — a type of sediment that often yields high agricultural return. This means that those men with the tools stayed and cultivated their lands.

This data provides some of the earliest prehistorical archaeological evidence to infer community differentiation and kinship, two cultural concepts… Where women moved for marriage, and families of men stayed in the same place, retaining access to, and inheriting, the same lands. Neolithic peoples of Central Europe were maintaining the wealth and land of their forefathers, and it shows it was happening long before lavish burials for wealthy people made it obvious.

Bentley, R., Bickle, P., Fibiger, L., Nowell, G., Dale, C., Hedges, R., Hamilton, J., Wahl, J., Francken, M., Grupe, G., Lenneis, E., Teschler-Nicola, M., Arbogast, R., Hofmann, D., & Whittle, A. (2012). Community differentiation and kinship among Europe‘s first farmers Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1113710109

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