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Concept: Synoptic table of the principal old world prehistoric cultures


The intensification of agriculture is often associated with declining mobility and bone strength through time, although women often exhibit less pronounced trends than men. For example, previous studies of prehistoric Central European agriculturalists (~5300 calibrated years BC to 850 AD) demonstrated a significant reduction in tibial rigidity among men, whereas women were characterized by low tibial rigidity, little temporal change, and high variability. Because of the potential for sex-specific skeletal responses to mechanical loading and a lack of modern comparative data, women’s activity in prehistory remains difficult to interpret. This study compares humeral and tibial cross-sectional rigidity, shape, and interlimb loading among prehistoric Central European women agriculturalists and living European women of known behavior (athletes and controls). Prehistoric female tibial rigidity at all time periods was highly variable, but differed little from living sedentary women on average, and was significantly lower than that of living runners and football players. However, humeral rigidity exceeded that of living athletes for the first ~5500 years of farming, with loading intensity biased heavily toward the upper limb. Interlimb strength proportions among Neolithic, Bronze Age, and Iron Age women were most similar to those of living semi-elite rowers. These results suggest that, in contrast to men, rigorous manual labor was a more important component of prehistoric women’s behavior than was terrestrial mobility through thousands of years of European agriculture, at levels far exceeding those of modern women.

Concepts: Europe, Slovakia, Germany, Stone Age, Hungary, Bronze Age, Synoptic table of the principal old world prehistoric cultures, Three-age system


It is generally assumed that the production of plant fibre textiles in ancient Europe, especially woven textiles for clothing, was closely linked to the development of agriculture through the use of cultivated textile plants (flax, hemp). Here we present a new investigation of the 2800 year old Lusehøj Bronze Age Textile from Voldtofte, Denmark, which challenges this assumption. We show that the textile is made of imported nettle, most probably from the Kärnten-Steiermark region, an area which at the time had an otherwise established flax production. Our results thus suggest that the production of woven plant fibre textiles in Bronze Age Europe was based not only on cultivated textile plants but also on the targeted exploitation of wild plants. The Lusehøj find points to a hitherto unrecognized role of nettle as an important textile plant and suggests the need for a re-evaluation of textile production resource management in prehistoric Europe.

Concepts: Cotton, Textile, Hemp, Flax, Prehistory, Textiles, Fiber crop, Synoptic table of the principal old world prehistoric cultures


Pottery, bone implements, and stone tools are routinely found at Neolithic sites. However, the integrity of textiles or silk is susceptible to degradation, and it is therefore very difficult for such materials to be preserved for 8,000 years. Although previous studies have provided important evidence of the emergence of weaving skills and tools, such as figuline spinning wheels and osseous lamellas with traces of filament winding, there is a lack of direct evidence proving the existence of silk. In this paper, we explored evidence of prehistoric silk fibroin through the analysis of soil samples collected from three tombs at the Neolithic site of Jiahu. Mass spectrometry was employed and integrated with proteomics to characterize the key peptides of silk fibroin. The direct biomolecular evidence reported here showed the existence of prehistoric silk fibroin, which was found in 8,500-year-old tombs. Rough weaving tools and bone needles were also excavated, indicating the possibility that the Jiahu residents may possess the basic weaving and sewing skills in making textile. This finding may advance the study of the history of silk, and the civilization of the Neolithic Age.

Concepts: Bone, Mass spectrometry, Textile, Neolithic, Silk, Stone Age, Evidence law, Synoptic table of the principal old world prehistoric cultures


We analyse new genomic data (0.05-2.95x) from 14 ancient individuals from Portugal distributed from the Middle Neolithic (4200-3500 BC) to the Middle Bronze Age (1740-1430 BC) and impute genomewide diploid genotypes in these together with published ancient Eurasians. While discontinuity is evident in the transition to agriculture across the region, sensitive haplotype-based analyses suggest a significant degree of local hunter-gatherer contribution to later Iberian Neolithic populations. A more subtle genetic influx is also apparent in the Bronze Age, detectable from analyses including haplotype sharing with both ancient and modern genomes, D-statistics and Y-chromosome lineages. However, the limited nature of this introgression contrasts with the major Steppe migration turnovers within third Millennium northern Europe and echoes the survival of non-Indo-European language in Iberia. Changes in genomic estimates of individual height across Europe are also associated with these major cultural transitions, and ancestral components continue to correlate with modern differences in stature.

Concepts: Genetics, Genomics, Portugal, Europe, Neolithic, Bronze Age, Synoptic table of the principal old world prehistoric cultures, Mesopotamia


Fifty-nine dental non-metric traits were scored using Arizona State University Dental Anthropology System on a sample of teeth from 350 human skeletons excavated at three sites in the lower middle Euphrates valley. The dataset was divided into six chronological subsets: Early Bronze Age, Middle Bronze Age, Early Iron Age with Neo-Assyrian period, Classical/Late Antiquity, Early Islamic (Umayyad and Abbasid) period and Modern period. The matrix of Mean Measure of Divergence values exhibited temporal homogeneity of the sample with only dental non-metric trait scores in the Modern subset differing significantly from most other subsets. Such a result suggests that no major gene flow occurred in the middle Euphrates valley between the 3rd millennium BCE and the early 2nd millennium CE. Only after the Mongolian invasion and large depopulation of northern Mesopotamia in the 13th century CE a major population change occurred when the area was taken over in the 17th century by Bedouin tribes from the Arabian Peninsula.

Concepts: Bronze, Iraq, Bronze Age, Synoptic table of the principal old world prehistoric cultures, Mesopotamia, Iron Age, Tumulus, Ancient Near East


Mobility is one of the most important processes shaping spatiotemporal patterns of variation in genetic, morphological, and cultural traits. However, current approaches for inferring past migration episodes in the fields of archaeology and population genetics lack either temporal resolution or formal quantification of the underlying mobility, are poorly suited to spatially and temporally sparsely sampled data, and permit only limited systematic comparison between different time periods or geographic regions. Here we present an estimator of past mobility that addresses these issues by explicitly linking trait differentiation in space and time. We demonstrate the efficacy of this estimator using spatiotemporally explicit simulations and apply it to a large set of ancient genomic data from Western Eurasia. We identify a sequence of changes in human mobility from the Late Pleistocene to the Iron Age. We find that mobility among European Holocene farmers was significantly higher than among European hunter-gatherers both pre- and postdating the Last Glacial Maximum. We also infer that this Holocene rise in mobility occurred in at least three distinct stages: the first centering on the well-known population expansion at the beginning of the Neolithic, and the second and third centering on the beginning of the Bronze Age and the late Iron Age, respectively. These findings suggest a strong link between technological change and human mobility in Holocene Western Eurasia and demonstrate the utility of this framework for exploring changes in mobility through space and time.

Concepts: Genetics, Europe, Bronze, Neolithic, Pleistocene, Bronze Age, Synoptic table of the principal old world prehistoric cultures, Iron Age


Horses have been valued for their diversity of coat colour since prehistoric times; this is especially the case since their domestication in the Caspian steppe in ~3,500 BC. Although we can assume that human preferences were not constant, we have only anecdotal information about how domestic horses were influenced by humans. Our results from genotype analyses show a significant increase in spotted coats in early domestic horses (Copper Age to Iron Age). In contrast, medieval horses carried significantly fewer alleles for these phenotypes, whereas solid phenotypes (i.e., chestnut) became dominant. This shift may have been supported because of (i) pleiotropic disadvantages, (ii) a reduced need to separate domestic horses from their wild counterparts, (iii) a lower religious prestige, or (iv) novel developments in weaponry. These scenarios may have acted alone or in combination. However, the dominance of chestnut is a remarkable feature of the medieval horse population.

Concepts: Human, Iron, Middle Ages, Europe, Horse, Synoptic table of the principal old world prehistoric cultures, Three-age system, Horses in the Middle Ages


Traditional theories on ancient Egyptian mummification postulate that in the prehistoric period (i.e. the Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods, 5th and 4th millennia B.C.) bodies were naturally desiccated through the action of the hot, dry desert sand. Although molding of the body with resin-impregnated linen is believed to be an early Pharaonic forerunner to more complex processes, scientific evidence for the early use of resins in artificial mummification has until now been limited to isolated occurrences during the late Old Kingdom (c. 2200 B.C.), their use becoming more apparent during the Middle Kingdom (c. 2000-1600 BC). We examined linen wrappings from bodies in securely provenanced tombs (pit graves) in the earliest recorded ancient Egyptian cemeteries at Mostagedda in the Badari region (Upper Egypt). Our investigations of these prehistoric funerary wrappings using a combination of gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) and thermal desorption/pyrolysis (TD/Py)-GC-MS have identified a pine resin, an aromatic plant extract, a plant gum/sugar, a natural petroleum source, and a plant oil/animal fat in directly AMS-dated funerary wrappings. Predating the earliest scientific evidence by more than a millennium, these embalming agents constitute complex, processed recipes of the same natural products, in similar proportions, as those utilized at the zenith of Pharaonic mummification some 3,000 years later. The antibacterial properties of some of these ingredients and the localized soft-tissue preservation that they would have afforded lead us to conclude that these represent the very beginnings of experimentation that would evolve into the famous mummification practice of the Pharaonic period.

Concepts: Ancient Egypt, Egypt, Paleolithic, Stone Age, Bronze Age, Resin, Synoptic table of the principal old world prehistoric cultures, Three-age system


The processes that shaped modern European mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) variation remain unclear. The initial peopling by Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers ~42,000 years ago and the immigration of Neolithic farmers into Europe ~8000 years ago appear to have played important roles but do not explain present-day mtDNA diversity. We generated mtDNA profiles of 364 individuals from prehistoric cultures in Central Europe to perform a chronological study, spanning the Early Neolithic to the Early Bronze Age (5500 to 1550 calibrated years before the common era). We used this transect through time to identify four marked shifts in genetic composition during the Neolithic period, revealing a key role for Late Neolithic cultures in shaping modern Central European genetic diversity.

Concepts: Europe, Slovakia, Neolithic, Paleolithic, Stone Age, Bronze Age, Synoptic table of the principal old world prehistoric cultures, Three-age system


Agriculture first reached the Iberian Peninsula around 5700 BCE. However, little is known about the genetic structure and changes of prehistoric populations in different geographic areas of Iberia. In our study, we focus on the maternal genetic makeup of the Neolithic (~ 5500-3000 BCE), Chalcolithic (~ 3000-2200 BCE) and Early Bronze Age (~ 2200-1500 BCE). We report ancient mitochondrial DNA results of 213 individuals (151 HVS-I sequences) from the northeast, central, southeast and southwest regions and thus on the largest archaeogenetic dataset from the Peninsula to date. Similar to other parts of Europe, we observe a discontinuity between hunter-gatherers and the first farmers of the Neolithic. During the subsequent periods, we detect regional continuity of Early Neolithic lineages across Iberia, however the genetic contribution of hunter-gatherers is generally higher than in other parts of Europe and varies regionally. In contrast to ancient DNA findings from Central Europe, we do not observe a major turnover in the mtDNA record of the Iberian Late Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age, suggesting that the population history of the Iberian Peninsula is distinct in character.

Concepts: DNA, Europe, Neolithic, Bronze Age, Synoptic table of the principal old world prehistoric cultures, Mesopotamia, Three-age system, Chalcolithic