May 30, 2012

Claim that Danubian Neolithic people had classes

Or so is what new research has led many to think.

R. Alexander Bentley et al., Community differentiation and kinship among Europe’s first farmers. PNAS 2012. Pay per view (for six months or depending on your world region).


Community differentiation is a fundamental topic of the social sciences, and its prehistoric origins in Europe are typically assumed to lie among the complex, densely populated societies that developed millennia after their Neolithic predecessors. Here we present the earliest, statistically significant evidence for such differentiation among the first farmers of Neolithic Europe. By using strontium isotopic data from more than 300 early Neolithic human skeletons, we find significantly less variance in geographic signatures among males than we find among females, and less variance among burials with ground stone adzes than burials without such adzes. From this, in context with other available evidence, we infer differential land use in early Neolithic central Europe within a patrilocal kinship system.

Many details on the burials are freely available in the supplemental material. The necropolises (many individuals each) are from a diversity of sites between Slovakia and Alsace: Aiterhofen, Ensisheim, Kleinhadersdorf, Nitra, Souffelweyersheim, Schwetzingen and Vedrovice.

The key relevant finding seems to be that most males buried with adze have lower Sr87/Sr86 ratio in their tooth enamel than those buried without grave goods, suggesting that they were more likely be original from the more fertile loess lands than the others, the preferred location of Linear Pottery Culture sites (also Danubian Neolithic or LBK by its German acronym). 

Women overall also had lower Sr87/Sr86 ratio, suggesting that most had come from other less fertile districts. This last also implies patrilocality, surely dismantling the idea of Gimbutas of a matrilocal "Old Europe", which was already very much discredited (notice that this is not important in regard to her most important theory: the Kurgan model of Indoeuropean expansion, which is only very tangentially related to this matter). 

However my first impression is that drawing such radical conclusions from evidence which is only somewhat significant (I see many non-adze men who have below average strontium ratios and also a good number of adze men with high Sr ratios) and not at all absolute, seems a bit risky on first sight.

Whatever the case that is what they claim: that Danubians had classes or castes or some sort of social hierarchy and differentiation since the very beginnings. Sadly they have not researched what could have been a complementary source of information: DNA. 

Sources: Eureka Alert, Science, BBC, Pileta[es].

Western Danubian overlapped with pottery styles
that can be aboriginal or Cardium-derived
(source: Westward Ho!)


  1. The patrilocality conclusion seems well supported, but the other conclusions, not so much.

    1. Maybe: they are onto something but it's probably not as clear cut as the media articles suggest probably.

  2. Nonetheless I am amazed how quickly classes form. The Pacific Islands were typically settled by very small populations, in some cases maybe only a single waka ama. Yet all had highly stratified societies at the time of european contact. Seems to be (modern) human nature. Other than dietary studies, there was very little in the material culture that would have left a lasting record. In Hawai'i, royalty could eat pork, middle classes could eat farmed fish, and the poor had to get by with poi.

    1. Intriguingly enough foragers seem to have no classes in all cases, while farmers often do, so class (and its inheritable variant: caste) must be related to the fact that agriculture and pastoralism imply ownership of the land or the animals.

      However while agriculture certainly changes social structures there are groups who have no classes, like most Amazonian natives (who are farmers, even if they also make some hunter-gathering).

    2. I'd second the thought that social class is mostly derivative of economic means of production.

  3. Maju, if the Kurgan Hypothesis is valid, why are there no kurgans south of the Amu Darya and why didn't these peoples invade the Wei and Yellow River valleys? Were they conquering warriors in horse-drawn chariots or were they cowboys crossing the steppes in wagon trains with their families and livestock? It was very important to Gimbutas that they be the former, obviously.

    And why is it that the totality of evidence fails to point unambiguously to an Indo-European homeland? They've been working on this problem since the 1800s and are no closer to an answer. Prof Lamberg-Karlovsky has suggested that PIE was actually a pidgin employed by various peoples across Eurasia. I think that's an intriguing possibility and makes sense, at least historically, given the extent of trade networks in the Bronze Age.

    Particularly when considering the pre-history of Central and South Asia, I think it best to set Gimbutas and her acolytes aside and look at the evidence, instead. She may yet be vindicated, she may not.

    1. "if the Kurgan Hypothesis is valid, why are there no kurgans south of the Amu Darya and why didn't these peoples invade the Wei and Yellow River valleys?"

      A culture such as the Gandhara Grave Culture (aka Swat culture) as many characteristics that could fit with a steppic migration.

      As for China I don't understand your objection, it's already suprising a population from the Volga made it to the Altai then apparently (around the 3,500 BCE), for some of them, to the east Tarim basin/east Gansu before 2,100 BCE (if we associate these peoples with the Tocharian languages of 500 AD, which IMO is quite likely).

    2. Prehistory is not about explaining why people in the past took this or that decision but actually about stating the facts as they come to light. So I can't but tentatively explain "why" a culture did not cross this or that factual ethno-cultural border but the reality of past real life and real politics will actually elude us.

      IMO in this case the answer is that the IE settlement of the Altai-Sinkiang area is one of the first ones (Afanasevo c.), so the IE culture itself may have acted as buffer, together with geographical barriers and elements we do not know about.

      "Were they conquering warriors in horse-drawn chariots or were they cowboys crossing the steppes in wagon trains with their families and livestock? It was very important to Gimbutas that they be the former, obviously".

      I do not think you are correct: chariots are not from the Chalcolithic, when the IE expansion began. There were some primitive heavy carts (not light Bronze Age chariots, which did not exist yet) in principal tombs, what does indicate that horses and carts played important roles among early Kurgan peoples, at least as indicator of status.

      That's about it. Of course Gimbutas probably made some questionable interpretations of the factual data but overall the theory does not just stand but has been improved and perfected with the decades, something that only happens with the really good stuff, like Darwin's evolution and the like.

      The final result is not word by word what Gimbutas stated but essentially the same with no major changes. Similarly we do not understand evolution anymore in the very exact terms that Darwin used: scientists have polished some corners since then, naturally.

      "And why is it that the totality of evidence fails to point unambiguously to an Indo-European homeland?"

      For me there is no question: Samara Valley, Russia.

      "Prof Lamberg-Karlovsky has suggested that PIE was actually a pidgin employed by various peoples across Eurasia".

      Nonsense. The very sentence is contradictory: a pidgin or creole language is a language that has been simplified and distorted by its use by peoples which learned it only as second language, often in adulthood. Of course, as IE expanded its branches were creolized once and again, but IE as such can't be "a pidgin used across Eurasia" because no such thing exists or can have existed ever (there were many Vulgar Latins and not just one).

      IE was creolized as it expanded but IE as such can't be a "creole" much less one used "across Eurasia", first of all because there was no such "across Eurasia" ethno-cultural frame which could support the existance of any such language along the centuries and millennia. It's absurd!


    3. ...

      "... the extent of trade networks in the Bronze Age".

      Really? I do not swallow it. In the early Bronze Age, even before the Aryan invasion of India or the Hellenic invasion of Greece, IE was already spoken from the Netherlands to Altai (from west to east across the steppe and North European plains essentially, although they had also penetrated in parts of the Balcans and Anatolia certainly) but the trade networks went mostly in North-South direction, exchanging Mediterranean wine and trinquets (or even luxury items) for Northern amber, furs and slaves.

      Indoeuropeans surely expanded then (and almost only then) along some of those trade routes, incited surely by salaries as mercenaries and/or loot as raiders and eventually conquerors. It is in the Bronze Age when IEs show up first into Greece, Italy and, incipiently, in SW Europe as well.

      But in any case talking of trade routes and invasions is a debate a posteriori. We must look at the archaeological facts on the ground: elements like the replacement of collective burial (where it existed) for individual one after a sharp cultural change, individual burial often in tumuli (= kurgan) with characteristics from Eastern Europe.

      We must also look at the elements of continuity and discontinuity in each of the local cultures. For all I have looked, I understand that Indoeuropeans penetrated in Central Europe between the Baalsberge culture (a rather remote but IMO clearly IE offshoot) and the Corded Ware culture (the consolidation after a period of partial Danubization).

      I can also track them in each of the other places, including South Asia. Furthermore in South Asia we have even more indirect evidence in the genetic identity of Balochis and Brahuis, who have exactly the same genetic signature yet speak IE and Dravidian languages respectively. As I doubt there can be argued a single mechanism by which Brahuis would have been Dravidized, we must conclude that it is Balochis who have been Indoeuropeanized, just like Gascons are IE-Basques. That means that most likely IVC language was a branch of Dravidian, possibly close to Brahui, supporting quite unexpectedly the argument of IE being exogenous, as is logical as we consider all mainstream philological trees, where Indo-Aryan is just a relatively young branch.

      Can't you imagine peoples culturally much like the Pashtuns invading, looting and then consolidating themselves as part of a new elite? I do with almost no difficulty.

    4. Maju, you illustrate my difficulty with Gimbutas and her acolytes rather well. If her ideas were as scientifically sound as you would have us believe, you would not ask me to IMAGINE a tribe like the Pashtun invading Europe. You would point to the archaeological record and there would be no imagination required. Even the fact that you chose the Pashtun suggests a whiff of prejudice.

      The fact that kurgans are found nowhere south of the Oxus suggests that the Kurgan peoples did not expand in that direction. This is a serious difficulty, when contemplating Gimbutas's ideas in light of South Asia.

      Yes, Gimbutas believed that the Samara Valley was the I-E homeland and, as always, others disagreed and continue to do so.

      You seem to imply that the wrinkles in Gimbutas's ideas have all been smoothed out, yet this is not the case. No consensus has ever formed around her work. She was controversial, from the outset, and remains so to this day.

      The fact that the Yuezhi did not penetrate farther east than the Hexi Corridor -- if indeed that far -- seems to suggest that at least some Indo-Europeans were not that aggressive and were quite possibly more interested in trade and the exploitation of mineral resources than conquest. This is consistent with what we know so far of the Andronovo peoples, as well.

      I have no idea what you mean by the Afanasievo being a buffer, somehow. How could they be a buffer between themselves and the Han?

      If you insist on restricting trade routes to the Early Bronze, I can go one better: lapis lazuli appears in Mehrgarh I, in the pre-pottery Neolithic, before the Harappans were even Harappans. At their peak, the Harappans established sea ports on the coast and a trading depot on the Oxus because they were already a great mercantile power. By the Middle Bronze, when the I-E peoples supposedly split, the Harappans were at the center of an extensive trade network spanning from Badakhshan, in the Pamirs, to at least Egypt.

      How, exactly, would an I-E creole look different from this distance in time, Maju? If we took what linguistic evidence we might glean from the modern Romance languages, and tried to reconstruct Classical Latin, how would our reconstruction differ from Vulgar Latin?

      It's a serious question: as a science, just how exact is linguistics?

    5. Archaeology consistently supports the Kurgan model. Certainly it does in Europe, in some cases we have some doubts and some question marks but still the model is a zillion times more solid than any alternative hypothesis.

      "Kurgan peoples" did not always uses kurgan as burials. They sometimes changed their cultural practices through the millennia (the process we are describing between Samara Valley and the historical Celts and Persians is of more than 4000 years, more double than all the "Christian period" and 20 times the whole history of the USA).

      If you have specific archaeological questions I'll be glad to answer them as far as my knowledge allows but I cannot explain the whole Kurgan model in a comment or two, without skipping most of the details.

      "I have no idea what you mean by the Afanasievo being a buffer, somehow. How could they be a buffer between themselves and the Han?"

      The Afanasevo culture does not seem to have been too expansive. Probably did not have the numbers anyhow, nor anywhere to expand (they only began bordering Han territory late in their history being previously surrounded by other tribals: IE by the West, Altaic by the East, as well as vast empty areas). What I say is that Afanasevo/Tocharians marks a limit and may have been a buffer not "against themselves" but versus Indo-Iranians (= Scythians) in fact.

      But whatever...

      "at least some Indo-Europeans were not that aggressive"...

      Sure, why not, although I don't buy the trade card unless trade is demonstrated to be central and I do not buy that trade was in most cases vehicle of linguistic expansion alone. Trade plus war and conquest was but trade alone does not make people change their native language, more so as most people remain outside almost any kind of trade.

      Trade was very important in Medieval Europe but Romance and Germanic populations remained distinct. Even such a trader place as Belgium is a long lived linguistic border at the same time. Trade and art did not save Languedocine nor unified Germany or Italy linguistically but political and military domination achieved all that much better and faster everywhere.

      "lapis lazuli appears in Mehrgarh I"

      You know that lapis lazuli is extracted in Afghanistan even today, right? No Irish ships to Bengal here, no magnificent proto-Silk-Road... but mere local trade. How can you infer from a 200 km route that can be transited in a week, a more of 10,000 km distance that exists between London and Calcutta?


    6. ...

      "By the Middle Bronze, when the I-E peoples supposedly split, the Harappans were at the center of an extensive trade network spanning from Badakhshan, in the Pamirs, to at least Egypt".

      Egypt does not and has never spoken Indoeuropean. Get real: before the modern colonial period India was the Southernmost area (and also the Easternmost one) where Indoeuropean was spoken. The southern border of IE crossed India and then the Kurdish-Semitic linguistic border in West Asia. No relation almost with your putative Harappa trade area (which was NOT centered in Harappa anyhow but was a trade network linking Harappa not necessarily via Harappan ships and traders).

      Besides, as I said above the genetic identity of Brahuis and Balochis essentially indicates that Harappa spoke a Dravidian language, not Indoeuropean, at least not until the very last period (I wonder if, like Crete, first was conquered and only later destroyed).

      "How, exactly, would an I-E creole look different from this distance in time, Maju?"

      Wrongly formulated question. You speak of an IE creole as if it was a lingua franca, while for me the creolization happened after conquest and imposition, just like with Vulgar Latin or English. What I reject is your idea of lingua franca, not creolization as a process of linguistic evolution.


      IN ANY CASE, your model lacks of a model that makes any sense. It's made up of a collage of random pieces put together by the glue of whisful thinking. There's not a theory in what you say, just a very vague speculation with no work, no evidence and no model in fact.

      The best of Kurgan theory is not its internal consistency, the fact that archaeology mostly support it to a great detail, as well as most linguistic reconstructions. Nope. The best is that there is no rival model that can stand minimal scrutiny.

      Yours is a very good example of how NOT to build a theory.

    7. Appendix: link of trading peoples who failed to make any significant impact (other than some loanwords) in the language of the people they traded with:

      Jews: in fact they lost their ancestral language for several native variants like German and Spanish.

      Phoenicians: when Romans arrived after at least 800 of intense and influential Phoenician trade almost nobody spoke Phoenician in Iberia or NW Africa, other than in the Phoenician colonies themselves. Iberian, Celtic and Berber were still there and in good health. A few centuries of Roman and Arabic political-military domination almost totally erased them instead.

      Parsis (the equivalent of Jews in South Asia: an ethnicity dedicated to trade and related professions). India remains not speaking any Persian.

      Frisians: the most celebrated trader ethnicity of the Dark Ages... nearing extinction as we speak.

      Varangians: they dominated trade in Eastern Europe... and ended learning a Slavic dialect and dropping Swedish altogether.

      Tuareg, Kanuri and other Saharan traders: the extension of their languages remains limited.

      Without political-military domination (sometimes called elite domination) language replacement does not seem to happen, certainly not in most cases and not easily.

      Another thing is whether some ethnicities like Greeks, Vikings, etc, did a mix of both: trade, conquer and general looting. Sure, why not. But centuries of looting of Irish monasteries did not enforce Norwegian or Danish as the local language. Instead a few centuries of brutal English occupation and Gaelic is nearing extinction.

      That's how it goes.

    8. "for some of them, to the east Tarim basin/east Gansu before 2,100 BCE "

      Arrgh. I meant norh-west Gansu, of course...

  4. Prof Lamberg-Karlovsky has suggested that PIE was actually a pidgin employed by various peoples across Eurasia. I think that's an intriguing possibility and makes sense, at least historically, given the extent of trade networks in the Bronze Age.

    I don't know enough about that, but one possibility is that PIE was rather wide-spread early on, and that local variations started to dominate, and could easily do so, at late stages because of the wide, early PIE background, almost everywhere in Central and Eastern Europe.

    1. How early, I wonder?

      Another question is what language or languages did the Andronovo peoples speak? And what of the Bactrian Margiana Culture? Even the relationship between those two is poorly understood, yet probably essential to answering the Indo-European question.

    2. My previous almost accidental work with IE trees and Kurgan cultural timelines, suggests that the first to split from PIE were Anatolian (still in the Caucasus area) and Tocharian (Afanasevo culture).

      Then we probably face a first West/East divide, which may be closely related to the centum/satem divide (Anatolian and Tocharian are neither it seems). This may have happened as the Kurgan peoples conquered irregularly the former Dniepr-Don cultural area in what is known as Sredny-Stog II horizon (a complex array of Kurgan, DD and mixed sites, that precedes any Kurgan penetration further West in Europe).

      What we know as Western IE (the plausible precursor of Germanic, Italic, Celtic, Balto-Slavic and possibly also Illyrian and some other unclear dead branches like Lusitanian) would only be formed as the Central European Kurgan cultures consolidated in intense interaction with Danubian and Funnelbeaker cultures essentially. The satem adscription of Balto-Slavic may be because the secondary core area of NE Poland was affected by a minor flow of Eastern European groups at the very genesis of Corded Ware (or maybe it was influenced later but I don't think so).

      We can reasonably trace almost every single Indoeuropean language through a Kurgan-related archaeological trail, it's a matter of looking with due care to the details, although in some cases the exact path may be a bit blurry for lack of sufficient knowledge.

      Also we can't expect that Kurgan peoples remained building individualist tumuli through the ages. They did most often until proto-historical times in most areas but they also adopted or developed other customs like cremation, etc. What we have to look is at the culture-to-culture continuity (or discontinuity, or mixed) patterns, only that way we can know with a good level of certainty. Burials are an important element but we must also consider others.

    3. @Highlander:

      IMO, the steppe Kurgan peoples of Andronovo and such spoke proto-Indo-Iranian, which is in fact the most genuine descendant of PIE in its most genuine original homeland of the Eurasian steppes.

      The exact process of penetration into South Asia is debatable but I understand that the Swat culture is pivotal and that it happened in any case, as demonstrated among other elements, by Brahui-Balochi genetic identity, which is about the simplest and most obvious evidence of IVC being a Dravidian speaking (and not IE-speaking) civilization.

    4. Maju, with all due respect, we can only guess what the Andronovo spoke, since there is no way of knowing whether they all spoke the same or even similar languages. E E Kuz'mina claimed that they spoke an Indo-Iranian language, but it's little more than an assumption and strongly depends upon whether the Andronovo really were a single, discernible, cultural complex as she believes, albeit with local variations. This is debatable and quite possibly untenable. For instance, Kuz'mina identified the Andronovo as patriarchal because large families slept together in the same room around a central hearth. It was frankly at that point that I began to lose faith in her interpretations altogether.

      The Brahui-Balochi 'identity' is interesting. If the IVC were Dravidian, then what was spoken just next-door, on the Iranian plateau? And, again, what of the BMAC? Were they also a Dravidian-speaking people? There are some that claim they were and that would make sense, if that was the language of the Iranian plateau.

    5. There is archaeological continuity between Andronovo and historical Iranians (Scythians).

      You can always dismiss good ideas if you don't like them in prehistory because nothing important depends on them, so a failed model will not cause famine nor a car accident, just confusion. Similarly we can hardly make practical experiments and even fulfilled predictions are subject to reintrepretation if someone thinks so.

      But you are basing your skepticism on mere discrepancy of interpretation of some aspects. Because you have issues with some Kuz'mina guy, you are dismissing all the rest, including all the valid stuff from that person (not all were questionable interpretations, I imagine, right? There was also raw data or what?)

      "If the IVC were Dravidian, then what was spoken just next-door, on the Iranian plateau?"

      Some think that Elamite (assuming that Elam in SW Iran and the Jiroft civilization of SE Iran were related, what I'm not really sure about) but the northern half of Iran is not well known paleo-ethnographically. In the Northern Zagros there was surely Hurro-Urartean but recently a previously unknown language has been identified from women's names and is also believed to be from the Zagros area of Iran.

      But most likely not Indoeuropean until the arrival of the Mittani warrior elites (which spoke Indo-Aryan not yet Iranic).

      "And, again, what of the BMAC? Were they also a Dravidian-speaking people?"

      I haven't studied the matter in enough depth to have a consolidated opinion. Probably we can't reach to any solid-enough conclusion considering the data we have to judge.

  5. Va_Highlander: "Another question is what language or languages did the Andronovo peoples speak?"

    In the Kurgan hypothesis they are thought to have been speaking early Indo-iranian, Which is supported by the fact that proto-Indo-european, Indic and Iranic words are found in Finno-Ugric languages, and the fact that the later Scythians/Sakas (which are derived from Andronovo according to archeology) were Iranic-speaking.

    1. what is the archaeological connection between the Saka and the Andronovo peoples, wagg?

    2. The Sintashta-Petrovka culture is succeeded by the Fedorovo (1400–1200 BCE) and Alekseyevka (1200–1000 BCE) cultures, still considered as part of the Andronovo horizon.

      In southern Siberia and Kazakhstan, the Andronovo culture was succeeded by the Karasuk culture (1500–800 BCE), which is sometimes asserted to be non-Indo-European, and at other times to be specifically proto-Iranian. On its western border, it is succeeded by the Srubna culture, which partly derives from the Abashevo culture. The earliest historical peoples associated with the area are the Cimmerians and Saka/Scythians, appearing in Assyrian records after the decline of the Alekseyevka culture, migrating into the Ukraine from ca. the 9th century BCE (see also Ukrainian stone stela), and across the Caucasus into Anatolia and Assyria in the late 8th century BCE, and possibly also west into Europe as the Thracians (see Thraco-Cimmerian), and the Sigynnae, located by Herodotus beyond the Danube, north of the Thracians, and by Strabo near the Caspian Sea. Both Herodotus and Strabo identify them as Iranian


    3. That I just copy-pasted is generally interpreted as ethno-cultural continuity. Of course you are free to think otherwise, Highlander but I'd ask for at the very least a well weighted alternative explanation. For example evidence of a cultural link being intrusive and originating elsewhere, what would suggest that Scythians and related peoples like Cimmerians, Parthians, Persians, Medes, etc. would have arrived to the steppes only at the very eve of historical Scythians.

      I don't think you (nor anyone) can produce such evidence or even a mere reasonable indication in that sense.

    4. "what is the archaeological connection between the Saka and the Andronovo peoples, wagg?"

      From what I've read, archaeologists see a continuity between these cultures (Scythian objects seem derived from the Andronovo ones - For example: I remember arrows were given as examples of continuity (the used technic was typical and different from elsewhere IIRC) but there are other stuff too).

    5. "proto-Indo-european, Indic and Iranic words"

      Damnit! I meant _proto-indo-iranian_ not proto-indo-european (even though there are also tracks of an older IE that could be proto-indo-european, in Finno-Ugric (I know it's mentionned in the famous David Anthony book: "The wheel, the horse and the language"))

  6. Hi Maju, Interesting post; as a committed diffusionist, I see agriculture as spreading from the fertile crescent, where social differentiation is generally the name of the game. Where there is evidence, agriculture seems to depend on slavery/serfdom controlled by an elite to function. The expansion of the neolithic frontier to the N & E would provide opportunity to coerce/enslave existing populations as it progressed. I would go so far as to say that the mixed sedentary agriculture of the Near East and Europe relies on social differentiation to function.
    As we have discussed on my site, historically, once you have a controlling elite, this can be displaced/replaced without necessarily effecting the core underlying agricultural population. Land and the population to work it, can be viewed as sort of franchise, and there is a marked tendency for elites to be 'different' from the populations who support them.
    I emphasis 'historically' because we pushing archaeological evidence quite hard to 'prove' aspects of social structure, and as you point out DNA might prove useful in this sort of analysis.

    1. Hi and welcome, Geoff.

      There's people who claim that there was no clear social differentiation until a late phase within Neolithic, also in West Asia (= "Middle" or "Near East"). It is not anything obvious in PPNA, PPNB, Jericho or Çatalhöyuk, right? So by the time hierarchies clearly evolved in West Asia, Neolithic was already consolidated in much of Europe.

      This may been altered by novel discoveries like Göbekli Tepe but unsure: it reflects grandiose religiosity but no clear hierarchy as would be obvious in mansions or monumental burials with a wealth of goods.

      Notice also that these burials are from the earliest Neolithic in the area, so it's hard to imagine a well developed aristocratic or otherwise classist regime yet, that is generally only accepted to evolve later in the Chalcolithic period (aka Late Neolithic in some areas, when this social differentiation and also professional specializations become much more obvious).

  7. Leaving aside the question of female status [!], what you say would appear to be the consensus view, and I see arrival the Beakers as the first clear indication of an elite. Göbekli Tepe - bit of an elephant in the room - leading to an important point about specialism.
    However, I regard builders as highly specialised individuals from LBK onwards, although my structural analysis of longhouses considerably more complex than generally accepted. Incidentally, I regard the manufacture of stone axes, flint mining, etc., as ideal work for slaves!

    1. I see Bell Beaker (if you mean that) as a curious widespread trading elite, probably along other pre-existing elites which allowed them to thrive, but elites existed some centuries before them: the signs of long distance trade, professional specialization (metalworkers among others), urbanization (at least in Iberia), class differences (incl. quite apparent monarchy in parts of the Balcans and quite apparent religious elites in Brittany and Great Britain).

      But this has hardly anything to do with early Neolithic. It's actually what happens when the Neolithic is ending and becoming the Metal Ages (usually referred as the Chalcolithic).

      "I regard builders as highly specialised individuals from LBK onwards"....

      I don't think that's possible building in that period was almost for sure a collective job, just as may be in Papua or the Amazonia, be it made by a single family, several who shared the place or the whole village in "auzolan" (Basque term for shared village work on the grounds of "today for you, tomorrow for me" - auzo=neighborhood, lan=work).

      I really appreciate your work on Danubian longhouses: it was what drove me to your blog, where I also found (in a first quick review) other interesting stuff but I think you are wrong about them being the product of specialists. It's not really believable and I do not think you can find any real ethnographic context that would back your conjecture acting as example. The real examples rather say that longhouses (and other buildings) everywhere were family or communal edifications by mostly non-specialized people (just that in the stone age, you really needed to know a bit of everything: farming, herding, gathering, hunting, weapon-smithy, pottery, basketry, weaving... and also home-building - etc.) Some of these tasks were surely divided along genders but otherwise people had to be able and were surely able to do a bit of everything.

      Actually that was also true even in the Middle Ages in rural areas: only a few aristocrats and a few professions that required a workshop were really exempt of doing all kind of jobs. Specialization by crafts was very much restricted to urban areas.

      "... flint mining, etc., as ideal work for slaves!"

      Not sure: it may have been whole specialist communities of free workers. Whatever the case, flint mining appears very specially in the Chalcolithic (or equivalent and contemporary Late Neolithic without clear metal).

      I think it's important to differentiate between Neolithic (LBK an such) and Chalcolithic. In continental Europe prehistorians speak of Chalcolithic even when there is no evidence of metallurgy yet, such as in Chassey but in England they insist in talking of Late Neolithic, even with Stonehenge in full splendor. A matter of words but in any case both periods should not be confused because the evidence for classism in early Neolithic is very limited, if it exists at all.

    2. the whole village in "auzolan" (Basque term for shared village work on the grounds of "today for you, tomorrow for me" - auzo=neighborhood, lan=work)

      A similar collective and mutualist village work tradition exists in Anatolia. It is called "imece" in Turkish.

    3. Actually after writing I realized it must be very common (in traditional societies) because it's the way to get things done beyond the private sphere. I also realized that in English this is known (I think) as "community work", although I'm unsure if the socio-economic concept existed in English rural society, so aristocratic...

    4. BTW, the word "imece" literally means "by common people" or "in a plebeian way".

    5. "just as may be in Papua or the Amazonia"

      What have built environments from societies whose built environments reflects entirely unrelated cultural requirements, climate,raw materials, and technology, got to do with Neolithic Europe?

      I think you misunderstand my point; building like metal work, is a technology, where the labour comes from or how it is organised, was not my point.

      You can mine ore, crush rocks, transport the material, gather the fuel for smelting, operate the bellows without knowing anything about metallurgy.

      Similarly, you can be involved in any of the many processes of assembling a timber building and not know how to plan and layout a building.

      I take your point about the differences between Neo/ Chal archaeology as self evident, [Beakers was just an aside] - my point is that class does not have to involve a narrow elite; almost any society can have slaves, and a sub class.

    6. It's a matter of what remains available among hunter-gatherers. Maybe you prefer to compare with the historical Iroquois and other native tribes from temperate America, although IMO they actually approach a more advanced phase (Chalcolithic) but at the same time also retain elements from hunter-gathering (which we also find in some European archaeological cultures from the North like Pitted Ware). Climate may not be so important anyhow: Danubians seem to have practiced slash-and-burn agriculture just like Papuans or Native Amazonians, just that some aspects are a bit different.

      "Similarly, you can be involved in any of the many processes of assembling a timber building and not know how to plan and layout a building".

      But I think that everybody (say, every adult man or so) knew how to build a longhouse back then. They learned by doing with more experienced people and they did every so many years, not counting repairs.

      A longhouse anyhow is not too complex: it does not require too sophisticated architectural knowledge. In fact we know how agricultural peoples in Africa and other places do and there's no specialist caste at all, unlike what happens with smiths. It's a community or family work that everybody performs and that everybody knows the how-to (of course after some real-life experience).

      I insist to take in consideration real examples from real life and for that kind of construction there are many examples (Africa, Papua, Native America) none of them involving any specialist class at all.

    7. Could not disagree more strongly, building is regional cultural technology, not a genetic response; what people in different cultures and environments is simple not relevant to the LBK;

      Buildings that share the same general 'shape' shape do not have the same form and engineering.

      Northern European buildings have hardwood load baring frames supported on earth-fast posts, articulated using mortice and tenon joints in reversed assembly.

      Africans and others have termites and do none of this; they have different requirements and technological solutions.

      N Americans for example, don't have domestic animals, or the tool kit to make structural mortice and tenon joints; they have a totally different and appropriate system of building technology.

      I appreciate that having spent 20 years studying structural archaeology my view may differ from the norm, and certainly what is taught, but if you are comparing buildings on the other side of the world you are implying that architecture is genetic, and not a technology, because it's a long way for these ideas to have come by canoe.

    8. Genetic? What I mean is that all the buildings are similarly simple in design, so we can expect that the building methods are generally comparable, very specially the lack of specialists, which were not needed yet.

      "Northern European buildings have hardwood load baring frames supported on earth-fast posts, articulated using mortice and tenon joints in reversed assembly".

      In the Early Neolithic? Never heard of that.

      M&T is a very advanced solution used in a very advanced Chalcolithic building such as Stonehenge, some 2000 years after the Danubian stick-and-mudbrick longhouses. While you're surely correct that the technique must have precursors, you have presented zero evidence or even indication for such technology existing in the Early Neolithic, when buildings were generally quite simple.

      Note: precursors would more probably be in Brittany and/or Portugal, or maybe North Africa or West Asia, where stone architecture is known to have existed before Stonehenge, which feeds on the Armorican tradition in any case: Stonehenge it is not any Danubian-like wooden and earthen henge in spite of the name) rather than in the Danubian area, where stone architecture is unheard of).

      I'm comparing with buildings of similar technological level. Danubians did not yet build modern Northern European houses nor used carpentry-worked pillars and such. Their buildings used sticks or poles, mudbrick and surely thatched roofs, all concepts very similar, if not identical, to what we can find in the traditions of remote continents as mentioned above. It's not a matter of what is genetic but of what was practical when you can't afford to hire an architect (or when these did not exist yet).

  8. "Actually that was also true even in the Middle Ages in rural areas"

    And is still the case with hay-making in rural areas of New Zealand (and presumably elsewhere). People help their neighbours on the understanding that their neighbours will help them when it's their turn. But with the increasing use of plastic-wrap haylage the necessity for comunal labour for hay-making is disappearing.

  9. Using strontium isotope analysis it has been demonstrated that our hominid ancestors had a patrilocal lifestyle:

    An article dealing with the same study:

    1. It may have varied among cultures but I guess it makes sense in any case. At least 50% of our closest living relative species are patrilocal (common chimp), however the other 50% is matrilocal (bonobo).

  10. Maju, I was referring to LBK buildings. I consider these to be the start of the N European timber building tradition.

    I cannot support the idea that these buildings are part of some universal longhouse tradition, from which the European vernacular longhouse tradition diverged in the Bronze Age.

    1. I'm not saying that there is any "tradition" nor that it is "genetic" but that the technological limitations of the time were similar (and surely all were based on general tent- or hut-building concepts, which are almost invariably the same across the world, because it is what works and is simple enough - and probably not "tradition").

      For example the carpentry of the age was surely less advanced than at later periods, what is obvious on the fact that pillars were round and not yet square as they would be later and are normally today, so I think that your mortise and tenon concept is nothing but an unsupported speculation.

      Also, Danubian culture is Central European, not really Northern European. Northern Europe proper (Scandinavia, Low Germany, most of the Netherlands) actually belongs fundamentally to a different tradition, even if diffusely connected, which is Funnelbeaker. I'm unsure right now what non-Megalithic buildings are in this Northern European tradition.

      Another Northern European culture of the age is Pitted Ware, which has Eastern Eruopean roots and is found only in parts of the Baltic coasts. Again I'm unsure of what they built.

      There's a misleading tendency in some kind of "pop prehistory" to associate everything with Danubian Neolithic but in fact this culture has a very well defined extension: West Hungary and Slovakia, Austria, Czech Republic, much of Poland and Germany (but not Low Germany) and some parts of the West: North France and Belgium, eventually arriving to parts of Britain in a very evolved variant that gets mixed with Atlantic Megalithism, a totally different tradition with roots in the Southwest). Not everything Neolithic in Europe (nor in Northern Europe) is Danubian, not at all!

      Said that, Danubian is surely important but let's not exaggerate nor oversimplify please.


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