May 29, 2012

RIP matrilocal egalitarian early European farmers

It seems that Marija Gimbutas' feminist Old Europe fantasy is collapsing like a house of cards.

Michael Balter covers this in Science:
The results of the study, published online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggest that men who were buried with adzes—thought to be an indication of higher social status—were more likely to have grown up on loess soils than men who were buried without adzes.
A similarly striking pattern was seen when the team looked at the female skeletons, which made up 153 of the total 311 individuals analyzed. The variation in strontium ratios for females was significantly greater than for males, suggesting that a greater number of females than males had grown up in non-fertile areas.
The team came to two main conclusions: First, some males had greater access to fertile soils than others, probably because they were the sons of farmers who had inherited access to the best land. And second, LBK societies were "patrilocal," meaning that males tended to stay put in one place while females moved in from other areas to mate with them.
From the press release:

Professor Bentley said: "Our results, along with archaeobotanical studies that indicate the earliest farmers of Neolithic Germany had a system of land tenure, suggest that the origins of differential access to land can be traced back to an early part of the Neolithic era, rather than only to later prehistory when inequality and intergenerational wealth transfers are more clearly evidenced in burials and material culture. 
"It seems the Neolithic era introduced heritable property (land and livestock) into Europe and that wealth inequality got underway when this happened. After that, of course, there was no looking back: through the Bronze Age, Iron Age and Industrial era wealth inequality increased but the 'seeds' of inequality were sown way back in the Neolithic."
PNAS doi: 10.1073/pnas.1113710109

Community differentiation and kinship among Europe’s first farmers

R. Alexander Bentley et al.

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.



German Dziebel said...

Consistent with Paul Friedrich's classical analysis of Proto-Indo-European kinship as patrilineal and patrilocal. However, he reconstructed this kinship system having nomadic pastoralists in mind, as those tend to be almost universally patrilineal and patrilocal.

At the same time, cross-culturally (see the works of William Divale) agricultural populations migrating into previously occupied territories tend to be matrilocal, rather than patrilocal. This is true of Austronesian-speaking Melanesians as well as Bantu speakers and possibly the Iroquois. This is because migration involves warfare with native populations and the migrant society protects itself by shifting to matrilocal residence. Once the migrant population is well-established in the region, it can shift (back) to patrilocality.

If early neolithic farmers were patrilocal, this means that either external warfare was minimal or that by LBK times the farmers had already firmly established themselves in Europe.

Beastmanager said...

That was always a bunch of wishful thinking, the original inhabitants of europe were really a group of warriors

andrew said...

The find tells us more about patrilocality than it does about inheritance. The case that women were disproportionately imported while the men were more often local is a strong argument for patrilocality in the early Neolithic.

But, the fact that high status men are buried in the community where they grew up just establishes that someone from that community ended up having the primary benefit the land and livestock of their predecessor in that post. It can't distinguish, however, for example, between a system where land and livestock pass from father to son, and a system in which the ownership of the land and livestock is vested in the community in which the village chief is the primary beneficiary and the chief is chosen by some means other than hereditary succession (e.g. trial by contest, non-hereditary selection of a successor by the current chief, election by the community, or election by a ruling council of elders).

This conclusion is pretty trival once you establish that there is a patrilocal society. If the men aren't going anywhere, and the land isn't going anywhere, then voila, some man who grew up in the area is going to be in the family of the people who run the show, no matter what rule or lack of rule is used to get from one generation to the next.

Patrilocality, per se, also doesn't tell you heaps about the status of women within that society, although matriarchal societies tend not to be patrilocal.

Also, inequality between communities because some communities have better farmland than other communities, in a society where the largest strong political unit was probably not any bigger than a little village, doesn't say much about intracommunity inequality imposed by social distinction as about to mere de facto differences in prosperity arising from "natural" differences in economic productivity.

Onur said...

Thanks to disciplines like archaeology, we are learning a lot of useful information about how our ancestors lived. We humans of the modern world have lost our moral compass, so we need the information gathered from the physical remains of our ancestors more than ever. They can be our guide in how to live and organize as societies and can rescue us from this corrupt age of decadence by returning us to a form of society that is more compatible with our nature as a species.

MOCKBA said...

I don't think that the authors gave sufficient weight to an alternative hypothesis, that a growing LBK agriculturalist child's diet may have had heavy contributions from foraging. The authors (and the Science reviewer) note that the Strontium isotope ratios in the environment of Europe are highly variable over a distance of mere kilometers, but that the variation tends to be greatly diminished in the humans (because of agricultural input averaging, especially when the consumption of milk and meat is high ... farm animals are essentially "strontium averaging machines"!).

Even the contemporary small agricultural communities of Europe (especially Europe's North and East) heavily rely on supplemental foraging (berries, nuts, and edible mushrooms from the woods and the bogs, as well as wild greens). Foraging has traditionally been the girls' activity, and the dependence on wild edibles have always been the strongest in "lean years". Wild edible plants and fungi come from a variety of habitats but obviously not from the choice agricultural soils, so they would exhibit higher, and more variable, strontium isotope ratios. These isotope patterns would in turn show up in humans, especially in female gatherers but also in males who happened to grow up during crop-failure spells (and may have grown stunted, ending up without spare adzes?).

So strictly speaking, one doesn't have to postulate heritable land ownership, female exogamy, or even strong social stratification, to explain the correlation between Sr isotope ratios and sex / societal status reported in the paper.

Annie Mouse said...

This is a neolithic farming community.

High strontium occurs if you grew up on a diet grown on loess.

Adzes were farmers tools. Hunter gatherers used axes in general.

Is it so surprising that a farmer's son grows up to be a farmer, has high strontium and is buried with his favourite adze?

A rich fishermans son would have a lot of iodine and likely grow up to be a fisherman buried with his favourite rod.

A rich hunter would be low in strontium and buried with a bow maybe.

A rich trader might be buried with his harness.

The real question here is why in a farming community were they not ALL high in Strontium? You simply did not have rich farmer A on loess living next to poor farmers B, C and D on some other soil. These deposits were enormous, the entire settlement would have sat upon it. And probably the surrounding settlements. Check out this map of loess in Europe.

Clearly a lot of folk in the community ate other things as children. Did they convert to farming? Or was this a mixed community based on farming? I favour the latter explanation.

Yep looks like the farmers were patrilocal and married women who were not born into farming families. Probably because that was true for most of the available women (other than their sisters).

This is not rich-farmer versus poor-farmer. This is born-a-farmer (high Sr) versus not-born-a-farmer (low Sr).

eurologist said...

The paper pretty much confirms with a few more data points what has been accumulated over the past decade. A couple of things one should be careful about:

- Analysis of settlement timings indicate that often, new settlements were founded at a significant (10-20km or more) distance to their progenitors - yet still always on Loess soils as long as they were practically available. This could indicate that (i) second and younger sons often intentionally created new settlements, and (ii) allowed room for the former ones, and those prior, to grow. A rather smart strategy.

- There could be many reasons for early farmers to adopt a settlement on slightly less-than-ideal soils. Among them are: climate, view, access to transportation and communication routes and/or females, or a HG married in trying to stay close (emulating a matrilocal subset). My intuition is that other than mere chance, only the latter would yield a no-adze burial - out of respect for elders.

- This is additional support that LBK men picked up girls wherever/ whenever they could find them. Clearly, many of them were local native HGs.

That was always a bunch of wishful thinking, the original inhabitants of europe were really a group of warriors.

Beastmanager, there is absolutely nothing in the archaeological context to support your statement.

Justin said...

I'd say annie mouse just cleared the bases.

eurologist said...

This is not rich-farmer versus poor-farmer. This is born-a-farmer (high Sr) versus not-born-a-farmer (low Sr).

Annie, I largely agree.

Onur said...

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

An article dealing with the same study:

apostateimpressions said...

Egalitarianism essentially represents a profound psychological and political flight from reality and from truth. Science must struggle with the human tendency to falsehood even among scientists. Falsehood also has its value in keeping us alive, which is why we have a tendency toward the falsification of reality in religion, morality and in humanitarian dogma; but it also has radical dangers because it is falsehood. As the will to live is the primary psychological motive it is only natural that those who stand to gain most from egalitarianism have the strongest psychological attachment to the doctrine. Scientists represent the most intelligent components of the race who perhaps have the least psychologically and socially invested in egalitarianism and who are thus most suited to the requirements of objectivity and honesty. Present social tendencies likely diminish the integrity of the scientific caste. Science represents the struggle for greater honesty and intelligence and therefore it must transgress socially accepted dogma. Science is apostate in the sense that Socrates was apostate; he abandoned dogmas and freely sought truth and for that the old social order killed him. Honesty and truth may be highly beneficial to the species but they are also extremely dangerous for the person. Thus scientific anthropology is an elite and heroic sacrifice. Perhaps anthropology has an implicit goal to improve humanity and to make it more honest and scientific, less false, to remake humanity in the image of the scientist and thus to put a greater sapiens (wisdom) into homo sapiens. Perhaps science gives us the insight that humanity can be improved and that egalitarianism does not present the best social order. Just as falsehood transforms the social order, so honesty also can transform the social order. The means to the goal would be anthropological and would rest on the scientific principles of breeding. Of course that implies that a social or political transition has already occurred, away from egalitarian humanitarianism and toward something much more humane. Real humanism should be honest and scientific. As the saying goes, 'honesty is the best policy' - perhaps not for the individual but for the race.

Onur said...

Let not unscience overshadow science, and let not falsehood prevail over the truth. We should be sharp and intellectual enough to easily identify what is and what is not science. Following what is now called the World War II, cultural or social anthropology largely superseded biological or physical anthropology in academic circles. This was a catastrophe for science, as biological or physical anthropology is science, while cultural or social anthropology, just like sociology, is leftist ideology passed off as science. Only with the recent rise of the science of genetics, the decades-long hegemony of cultural or social anthropology began to be broken. Findings of genetics confirmed many of the much earlier findings of physical or pre-genetics biological anthropology, which had been mocked and slandered for decades by cultural or social anthropologists and all other sorts of partisans of leftist ideologies. Indeed, there is a resurgence today in the science of raciology thanks to genetics.