Concept: Three-age system
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.
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.
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.
Investigation of human diet during the Neolithic has often been limited to a few archaeological cultures or single sites. In order to provide insight into the development of human food consumption and husbandry strategies, our study explores bone collagen carbon and nitrogen isotope data from 466 human and 105 faunal individuals from 26 sites in central Germany. It is the most extensive data set to date from an enclosed geographic microregion, covering 4,000 years of agricultural history from the Early Neolithic to the Early Bronze Age. The animal data show that a variety of pastures and dietary resources were explored, but that these changed remarkably little over time. In the human δ15N however we found a significant increase with time across the different archaeological cultures. This trend could be observed in all time periods and archaeological cultures (Bell Beaker phenomenon excluded), even on continuously populated sites. Since there was no such trend in faunal isotope values, we were able largely to exclude manuring as the cause of this effect. Based on the rich interdisciplinary data from this region and archaeological period we can argue that meat consumption increased with the increasing duration of farming subsistence. In δ13C, we could not observe any clear increasing or decreasing trends during the archaeological time periods, either for humans or for animals, which would have suggested significant changes in the environment and landscape use. We discovered sex-related dietary differences, with males of all archaeological periods having higher δ15N values than females, and an age-related increasing consumption of animal protein. An initial decrease of δ15N-values at the age of 1-2 years reveals partial weaning, while complete weaning took place at the age of 3-4 years.
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.
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.
A geostatistical model to predict human skeletal oxygen isotope values (δ(18)Op) in Britain is presented here based on a new dataset of Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age human teeth. The spatial statistics which underpin this model allow the identification of individuals interpreted as ‘non-local’ to the areas where they were buried (spatial outliers). A marked variation in δ(18)Op is observed in several areas, including the Stonehenge region, the Peak District, and the Yorkshire Wolds, suggesting a high degree of human mobility. These areas, rich in funerary and ceremonial monuments, may have formed focal points for people, some of whom would have travelled long distances, ultimately being buried there. The dataset and model represent a baseline for future archaeological studies, avoiding the complex conversions from skeletal to water δ(18)O values-a process known to be problematic.
The archeological record indicates that the permanent settlement of Cyprus began with pioneering agriculturalists circa 11,000 years before present, (ca. 11,000 y BP). Subsequent colonization events followed, some recognized regionally. Here, we assess the Y-chromosome structure of Cyprus in context to regional populations and correlate it to phases of prehistoric colonization.
It is a big challenge to diagnose the motives behind trepanations in prehistoric crania. Surgical-therapeutic attempts may be apparent by the presence of fractures, however, ritual or nonmedical motives are rarely supported by visible evidence in the bones. This article presents data on the trepanations of several individuals from South Russia dating to the Eneolitic and Bronze Age that may indicate a ritual procedure. In these crania an operation was performed in the identical location, the midline, furthermore in one of the most dangerous places, on the obelion. No evidence for traumatic or other pathological reasons for performing the operations was observable.
Early human societies and their interactions with the natural world have been extensively explored in palaeoenvironmental studies across Central and Western Europe. Yet, despite an extensive body of scholarship, there is little consideration of the environmental impacts of proto-historic urbanisation. Typically palaeoenvironmental studies of Bronze and Iron Age societies discuss human impact in terms of woodland clearance, landscape openness and evidence for agriculture. Although these features are clearly key indicators of human settlement, and characterise Neolithic and early to Middle Bronze Age impacts at Corent, they do not appear to represent defining features of a protohistoric urban environment. The Late Iron Age Gallic Oppidum of Corent is remarkable for the paucity of evidence for agriculture and strong representation of apophytes associated with disturbance. Increased floristic diversity - a phenomenon also observed in more recent urban environments - was also noted. The same, although somewhat more pronounced, patterns are noted for the Late Bronze Age and hint at the possibility of a nascent urban area. High percentages of pollen from non-native trees such as Platanus, Castanea and Juglans in the late Bronze Age and Gallic period also suggest trade and cultural exchange, notably with the Mediterranean world. Indeed, these findings question the validity of applying Castanea and Juglans as absolute chronological markers of Romanisation. These results clearly indicate the value of local-scale palaeoecological studies and their potential for tracing the phases in the emergence of a proto-historic urban environment.