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Bone Quiz: Revisiting Germany

14 Oct

Unfortunately I’m only visiting Germany in this blog entry and not personally!  Germany has recently been in both the education news and the osteo news though, so I’m always happy for a tenuous link to one of my favourite countries.

Free Education!

There has been a recent announcement that each of the 16 autonomous states in federal Germany have now abolished their tuition fees at their public universities, with both German and international students being allowed to take academic courses tuition fee free from 14/15 (as long as they are completed within a reasonable timescale).  Each state (Länder government) in Germany is responsible for its own education, higher education and cultural affairs, and higher education is a public system funded with public money.  This is a major step for Germany, although the decision can of course be overturned in the future as states weigh up various options ad political climates change.  Recent economic news has shown that whilst the UK and USA economies are growing (slightly), the Eurozone as a whole is still stagnating and economically contracting – still, Germany is certainly doing better than some of its economic partners in Europe.

Past Populations

Meanwhile, over at the University of West Florida Kristina Killgrove (of Powered by Osteons fame) and graduate research assistant Mariana Zechini have started a new project blog aimed at investigating and digitally documenting archaeological artefacts and biological remains.  One of their first projects was the 3D scanning and modelling of the teeth of individuals from the medieval population of the city of Cölln, in eastern Germany (see here).  Cölln was the sister city to Berlin, each probably founded around the 13th century on opposite sides of the river Spree, which today snakes through modern-day Berlin which now engulfs both sides of the river.

Taking place at the Virtebra lab (Virtual Bones and Artefacts lab) at the university, the aims are to digitally preserve and produce 3D models of the teeth to help kick-start a teaching collection.  The remains, from archaeological deposits identified as the city of Cölln, were recovered from the German excavations of a large medieval cemetery that took place at Petriplatz, Berlin, from 2007-2010, which uncovered the remains of 3718 individuals.  Back in 2013 Dr Killgrove also took the teeth to be tested for strontium isotopes (geographic) at UNC Chapel Hill (read more here) and the latest Virtebra blog post discusses the results of some of these tests (here).  I don’t want to spoil the results, so check out the blog entry and read up on the interesting archaeology of Cölln and Berlin!  The teeth that have been scanned are available and accessible as models at the GitHub site here.

Bones, Bones, Bones…

So this German (osteo and education) news reminded me of the 6 happy weeks I spent in the wonderful city of Magdeburg, on the EU-funded Grampus Heritage organised Leonardo Da Vinci scheme back in 2011.  I worked with a bunch of awesome UK students with a wonderful German team and, rarely for archaeology, it was a fully funded project.  It was on this archaeology trip that I got to excavate human remains in a medieval cemetery, which was a real honour.  But I wonder if anybody who reads this blog wants to test their own osteo skills and identify the bone and its osteological landmarks below….

1. a) Identify the largest skeletal element inside the yellow rectangle.

—-b) Adult/non- adult, and why?  Side the bone.

2. a)  Identify the structures in the red circle.

—-b) Name 2-3 muscles that have tendons that insert on either of the structures.

Memories of Magdeburg, Deutschland. A few of the skeletal elements part way being sorted for cleaning before the specialist documents them. Photograph by author.

I’ll put the answer up in a week or so – in the meantime please feel free to comment away.

LBK Almost Got Away

I almost forgot to mention that I’ve also conducted previous archaeological research into mobility of the Neolithic Linearbandkeramik (LBK) culture for my MSc dissertation back in 2012.  The focus was on the statistical testing of the results of a literature review of strontium isotope results from 422 individuals across 9 LBK sites in Central Europe, with the main cluster of sites located in southern Germany.  You can read my research here!

Previous Bone Quiz

Further Information

  • Learn more about the Virtebra Project at the University of West Florida blog site here.
  • Read about how the German state funded universities managed to become tuition-free for both German and International students here at the New Statesman magazine.  Read more here for what the costs involved can be to live and study in Germany, including the costs of attending the private institutions which are not publicly funded.
  • Learn more about Grampus Heritage & Training Limited here.  Opportunities for both undergraduate and postgraduate UK students to take part in field archaeology in Europe can be found here (undergrads) and here (postgrads).  A previous guest post by Grampus Heritage on this blog highlighting the spectacular range of projects that have been available previously can be found here.


Bone Quiz Answer


muscles galore.

An Introduction to the Neolithic Linearbandkeramik Culture

6 Dec

A recent post of mine discussed the fickle nature of constructing and using databases when conducting archaeological research, however in that post I didn’t much expand upon the culture that I had studied in my dissertation for the MSc in Human Osteology and Funerary Archaeology at the University of Sheffield.  So here is a brief introductory post, taken and edited from my own research, of the Linearbandkeramik culture of Central Europe, one of the first major agricultural practicing cultures in the European Neolithic period.  The Linearbandkeramik were named, somewhat imaginatively, after the linear bands found on their pottery and are hereby after referred to as the LBK.

Origins and Expansion of the Linearbandkeramik Culture

The LBK are an early Neolithic Central European culture dating from 5500 BC to 4900 BC, although there are sites dating to just before and after this period (Whittle 1996: 146).  The origin of the LBK culture and the exodus point is thought to be from the Starčevo–Kőrös–Criş cultures from the Hungarian Plain dating to around 5600 BC, which has been primarily identified due to similar incised pottery and similar radiocarbon dates for the location of the earliest LBK sites (Price et al. 2001: 593).  Largely known for their homogeneity in their architectural and material culture, the LBK distribution across the seemingly favoured loess plains was fairly rapid in archaeological terms.  Arching across from the Hungarian Plain in its origin to reaching the Paris Basin and Ukrainian plains at its zenith, two distinct geographic areas having been established for early and late LBK periods (Figure 1 below, Whittle 1996: 146).

The early phase originated from western Hungary and followed the Danube and other river corridors, rapidly reaching the Rhine and Neckar valleys within a few centuries (Jochim 2000: 186).  The second phase often mapped in studies includes the rapid extension into the Paris basin in eastern France, the Netherlands, and Belgium in western Europe, towards the loess boundaries of the northern European plain in Germany and Poland, with extension as far as western Ukraine (Bogucki 2000: 198).  There are slight differences in regional chronologies, with evidence of LBK settlements as late as the middle of the 5th millennium BC in north eastern Europe (Vanmontfort 2008: 157), and evidence of the fragmentation of late LBK sites into different cultural entities in the northern and central European LBK sites (Hofmann & Bickle 2011).


Figure 1. The distribution and spread of LBK in Central Europe, where A is earliest LBK (5500 BC) and B is late LBK expansion (4800 BC) (Bogucki 2000: 198).

In general LBK settlements are found on loess soils, near water in valleys and in low lying situations, typically in woodland at its climax phase of post-glacial growth, although the archaeological evidence suggests that little or limited inroads were made into the surrounding woodlands (Whittle 1996: 149).  It is noted however that a few sites and exceptions lie outside the loess boundaries, particularly in Poland, near Kujavia, although no distinguishing features have been noted at these sites (Whittle 1996: 146).  It has also been pointed out by some that the inland environments the LBK favoured were naturally devoid of hunter-gatherer populations (Price 2000i: 4), although this has been argued against by some, especially in the earlier and middle period of the LBK cultural expansion where it is to be expected that some hunter-gatherer/LBK interaction would have probably occurred (Vanmontfort 2008: 151).

Throughout the distribution and period time frame of the LBK culture the climate was somewhat warmer than it is today, with the temperature sitting a few degrees higher which resulted in a relatively dryer central and eastern European plain (Bogucki 2000: 198).  It is thought that this relative rise in temperature could have a positive effect on agricultural and farming practices, providing an advantageous environment for the growth of plant material (Bogucki 2000).  One of the main points of discussion between researchers of the LBK culture concerns their expansion during the early Neolithic period is the nature of the mode of transmission of both their culture and their expansion into the Central European Plain (Bellwood 2005).  This echoes the expansion of the early Neolithic in Europe and, as the LBK are one of the first major and well documented farming cultures, there has been an increasing amount of research in the relationship between LBK centres, pre-existing hunter-gatherer cultures, and the rate of LBK expansion (Shennan 2011, Tresset & Vigne 2011, Vanmontfort 2008, Vencl 1986).  As such it is important to consider the individual LBK sites within their surrounding context and within the culture as a whole.  By making broad sweeping generalizations, nuances in the archaeological record are generally missed.

Linearbandkeramik Society

Gimbutas (1991) was one of the many early prehistorians who have argued that the Neolithic represented the continuation of the matriarchal society from the Upper Palaeolithic, as represented by one idea of the Venus figurines as symbols of matriarchy throughout European prehistory (Scarre 2005: 395).  Recent archaeological and genetic investigations have displaced this theory, particularly those regarding early Neolithic communities (Bentley et. al. 2012).  Evidence from the varying disciplines of linguistics (Fortunato 2011: 108), spatial models (Rasteiro et al. 2012) and biomolecular evidence (Lacan et al. 2011: 18255), amongst others, have highlighted the general trend of patrilocal kinship based societies amongst the Neolithic societies in Europe.  The continued use of isotopes in archaeological studies, including strontium as a marker of migration (Bentley et al. 2012), and carbon and nitrogen as dietary markers (Durrwachter et al. 2006, Oelze 2012), in the understanding of kinship and community differentiation in the LBK culture, in particular, is having a sustained impact on the perceptions of the society in the Neolithic period (Bentley et al. 2012: 1).

In Bentley et al.’s (2012: 4) study of over 300 individuals from 7 well known LBK sites (Vedrovice, Aiterhofen, Schwetzingen, Nitra, Kleinhadersdorf, Souffelweyersheim and Ensisheim) across the LBK distribution compelling evidence was uncovered that suggests that the LBK society, as whole, was patrilocal in nature.  Evidence gathered from the strontium isotope program highlighted significantly less variance in the geographic signature amongst males than amongst the females tested, and with less variance amongst burials with ground stone shoe last adzes than those without (Bentley et al. 2012: 1).  Durwachter et al. (2006: 41) and Oelze et al. (2011: 276) studies indicate no substantial difference between male and female diets at LBK sites or any preferential access to differing foodstuffs.  Bentley et al. (2012: 4) however do suggest that males, particularly those with an adze present in their grave, represent individuals who have preferential access to preferred loess soils.  Bentley et al. (2012: 4) go on to state that, generally speaking, the results indicate that ‘male inheritance of land means that males tend to live where they were born, while females marry and moved elsewhere’.  Bentley et al (2012: 4) conclude that ‘unequal and inherited land access developed over time among the early farmers of central Europe’, with evidence of differential access to goods being able to be traced back to the early Neolithic.

Linearbandkeramik Material and Mortuary Culture

The architectural and material culture of the LBK was fairly standardised and remarkably consistent throughout their cultural lifespan although regional variations did exist, especially towards the end of the LBK chronology (Bogucki 2000: 205).  Often clustered into villages, the LBK people practised agriculture in a subsistence economy, cultivating cereals and legumes such as barley, emmer, einkorn, pea, lentil and flax, using intensely cultivated garden sized plots to grow the produce.  Animals, such as cattle and pigs, were also kept, as well as hunting animals which were locally available (Bogaard 2004).  Many LBK settlements were open, without any defined or bounded perimeter, and consisted of 8-10m long timber built longhouses spaced apart by 2-3m from each other, which were often orientated in the same way (Bradley 2001).  The size and numbers of longhouse dwellings at LBK sites varied from just a few to a more than 40 (Hofmann & Bickle 2011).  No LBK longhouses have been found with the floor intact, limiting exact evidence and, with the de-calcification of the loess soils since LBK times, much organic material and evidence has been further lost from the archaeological record (Whittle 1996: 160).  In the late LBK period (5000 BC onwards) there was a proliferation of ditched enclosures, varied in shape and form, though most occupying a space no more than 2 ha. in size, throughout the geographic spread of the LBK (Whittle 1996: 174).

Typical artefacts such as shoe last adzes, stone axes, flints, stone hammers, polished adzes, incised pottery decorations, spondylus shells shaped into beads and necklaces, are found at sites throughout the distribution of the culture (John 2011: 41, Whittle 1996: 171).  Material culture is also the social inward and outward expression of a culture, with goods often in daily use and in circulation between families, friends and communities throughout the LBK settlements.  Pottery throughout the LBK period was incised with linear bands, which may have been imbued with some meaning or statement as regional styles proliferated throughout (Whittle 1996: 173).  Whittle (1996: 173) further suggests that although adzes are and have been seen as status indicators (Bentley et al. 2012), the key question is the ownership of such objects.  That a male or female may be buried with an adze, does not necessarily mean that they owned the artefact during life (John 2011).    It seems increasingly likely, however, that during their working lifetime adzes were worth acquiring, even by forager communities associated around the LBK periphery, such ‘as seen at (the) Skateholm II’ site in Scania, southern Sweden (Whittle 1996: 174).  The spondylus shells are also indicators of trade and circulation of goods with areas such as the Adriatic and north Aegean (Bentley et al. 2012: 1), which are often taken as indicators of status and community differentiation, which is often correlated with reproductive advantages (Bocquet-Appel et al. 2012: 335).

The mortuary culture of the LBK has been evidenced by the excavation and evaluation of several large cemeteries, such as the early LBK Vedrovice site and late LBK sit of Aiterhofen (as discussed in my dissertation thesis), and by the less well investigated cremations at various other sites (Hofmann & Bickle et al. 2011: 185).  Inhumations are typically single crouched burials, with the individual placed on their left side (Figure 2 below, Bickle et al. 2011).  Inhumation and cremation are not mutually exclusive as both have been found at several sites together, obstinately having been practiced at the same time as each other (Whittle 1996: 168).


Figure 2. A ‘typical’ LBK crouched inhumation burial from the mid period LBK site of Aiterhofen, Germany.  Notice the stone tool behind the skull of the individual and the spondylus shells draped around the head (Bickle et al. 2011: 1247).

Whilst the majority of burials from the LBK period have come from cemetery sites, inhumations are also sometimes found under settlement structures with the majority of these belonging to female or juvenile individuals.  Added to this are other inhumations which have been found inside settlements, pits, or in ditches outside settlements (Bentley et al. 2012).  Polished shoe last adzes, incised pottery, lithics, spondylus shells and beads, are just some of the artefacts found at LBK sites and in inhumations throughout the LBK cultural lifespan.  Both Bentley (2012ii) and Bentley et al. (2012: 4) studies have shown a positive correlation between the presence of shoe last adzes and male burials, whilst their 87Sr/86Sr studies have shown a pattern of a patrilocality society amongst the populations considered in the studies.  Empty burial plots (of either body or funerary goods) have also been discovered at numerous LBK cemeteries, with the possibility that the grave sites were meant to remain empty as a symbolic act (Lenneis 2010i: 164).

Late period LBK ‘death pits’, such as at Talheim and Herxheim in southern Germany and Asparn Schletz in Austria, represent something altogether more different, possibly massacre sites although this is heavily debated (Bentley et al. 2008, Bishop & Knusel 2005, Wahl & Konig 1986: 150).  Evidence of violence is not uncommon in the preceding Mesolithic and Neolithic periods in Europe (Duday 2006, Lillie 2004, Schulting 2006), however Whittle (1996: 171) states that at Talheim in particular the ‘scale of violence (here) is unexpected’.  The above three sites have been explained as possibly symptomatic of the LBK world towards its end.  Whittle states that the most general inference to be drawn is that it is consistent with the rest of the LBK evidence, that the massacre sites size and their victims represent the strong norms of ‘communally sanctioned behaviour’ (1996: 171).

  • The abstract for my dissertation, focusing on patrilocality and the use of isotopes, can be found here.
  • Previous posts discussing the Linearbandkeramik culture can be found here.
  • If you would like a copy of the dissertation thesis please email me (address is in the about me tab).


Bellwood, P. 2005. First Farmers: The Origins of Agricultural Societies. London: Wily-Blackwell.

Bentley, R. A., Wahl, J., Price, T. D. & Atkinson, T. C. 2008. Isotopic Signatures and Hereditary Traits: Snapshot of a Neolithic Community in Germany. Antiquity. 82 (316): 290-304.

Bentley, R. A., Bickle, P., Fibiger, L., Nowell, G. M., Dale C. W., Hedges, R. E. M., Hamiliton,. J., Wahl, J., Francken, M., Grupe, G., Lenneis, E., Teschler-Nicola, M., Arbogast, R-M., Hofmann, D. & Whittle, A. 2012. Community Differentiation and Kinship Among Europe’s First Farmers. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition. doi:10.1073/pnas.1113710109. 1-5.

Bentley, R. A. 2012i. Social Identity in the Early Linearbandkeramik: Evidence from Isotopes, Skeletons and Burial Contexts. Early Farmers: The View from Archaeology and Science Conference Booklet. University of Cardiff, Wales. May 2012. pp. 23.

Bentley, R. A. 2012ii. Mobility and the Diversity of Early Neolithic Lives: Isotopic Evidence from the Skeletons. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology. Accessed at Http:// on the 13/06/12.

Bickle, P., Hofmann, D., Bentley, R. A., Hedges, R., Hamilton, J., Laiginhas, F., Nowell, G., Pearson, D. G., Grupe, G. & Whittle, A. 2011. Roots of Diversity in a Linearbandkeramik community: Isotope Evidence at Aiterhofen (Bavaria, Germany). Antiquity. 85 (330): 1243-1258.

Bishop, N. A. & Knusel, C. J. 2005. A Palaeodemographic Investigation of Warfare in Prehistory. In:  M. P. Pearson & I. J. N. Thorpe (eds.) Warfare, Violence and Slavery in Prehistory. BAR International Series. 1374. Oxford: Archaeopress. 201-216.

Bocquet-Appel, J., Naji, S., Linden, M. V., & Kozlowski, J. 2012. Understanding the Rates of Expansion of the Farming System in Europe. Journal of Archaeological Science.  39 (2): 531-546.

Bogaard, A. 2004. Neolithic Farming in Central Europe. London: Routledge.

Bogucki, P. 2000. ‘How Agriculture Came to North-Central Europe’. In: T. D. Price (ed.) Europe’s First Farmers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 197-218.

Bradley, R. 2001. Orientations and Origins: A Symbolic Dimension to the Long House in Neolithic Europe. Antiquity. 75 (287): 50-56.

Duday, H. 2006. L’archaeothanatologie ou L’archaeologie de la Mort (Archaeothantology or the Archaeology of Death). In: R. Gowland and C. Knüsel (eds.), The Social Archaeology of Funerary Remains. Oxford: Oxbow. pp. 30-52.

Durrwachter, C., Craig, O. E., Collins, M. J., Burger, J. & Alt, K. W. 2006. Beyond the Grave: Variability in Neolithic Diets in Southern Germany? Journal of Archaeological Science. 33 (2006): 39-48.

Fortunato, L. 2011. Reconstructing the History of Residence Strategies in Indo-European-Speaking Societies: Neo-, Uxori, and Virilocality. Human Biology. 83 (1): 107-128.

Gimbutas, G. 1991. The Civilization of the Goddess: The World of Old Europe. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.

Hofmann, D. & Bickle, P. 2011. Culture, Tradition and the Settlement Burials of the Linearbandkeramik. In: B. W. Roberts & M. V. Linden (eds.) Investigating Archaeological Cultures: Material Culture, Variability and Transmission. New York: Springer. pp. 183-200.

Jochim, M. 2000. ‘The Origins of Agriculture in South Central Europe’. In: T. D. Price (ed.) Europe’s First Farmers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 183-196.

John, J. 2011. Status of Spondylus Artefacts within the LBK Grave Goods. In: F. Ifantidis & M. Nikolaidou (Eds.) Spondlyus In Prehistory: New Data & Approaches- Contributions to the Archaeology of Shell Technologies. BAR International Series 2216. Oxford: Archaeopress. pp. 39-45.

Lacan, M., Keyser, C., Ricaut, F., Brucato, N., Duranthon, F., Guilaine, J., Crubézy, E. & Ludes, B. 2011. Ancient DNA Suggests The Leading Role Played by Men During the Neolithic Dissemination. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  108 (45): 18255-18259.

Lenneis, E. 2010i. Empty Graves in LBK Cemeteries: Indications of Special burial Practises. Documenta Praehistorica. XXXVII: 161-166.

Lillie, M. C. 2004. Fighting For Your Life? Violence at the Late-Glacial to Holocene Transition in Ukraine. In: M. Roksandic (ed.) Violent Interactions in the Mesolithic: Evidence and Meaning. BAR International Series. 1237. Oxford: Archaeopress. pp. 89-96.

Oelze, V. M., Siebert, A., Nicklish, N., Meller, H., Dresely, V. & Alt, K. W. 2011. Early Neolithic Diet and Animal Husbandry: Stable Isotope Evidence from Three Linearbandkeramik (LBK) Sites in Central Germany. Journal of Archaeological Science. 38 (2): 270-279.

Price, T. D. 2000i. ‘Europe’s First Farmers: An Introduction’. In: T. D. Price (ed.) Europe’s First Farmers. Cambridge: CambridgeUniversity Press. pp. 1-19.

Price, T. D., Bentley. A. R., Luning, J., Gronenborn, D. & Wahl, J. 2001. Prehistoric Human Migration in the Linearbandkeramik of Central Europe. Antiquity. 75: 593-603.

Rasteiro, R., Bouttier, P., Sousa, C. C & Chikhi. 2012. Investigating Sex-biased Migration During the Neolithic Transition in Europe, Using an Explicit Spatial Simulation Framework. Proceedings of the Royal Society B Biological Sciences. Doi:10.1098/rspb.2011.2323 accessed on the 20th of May 2012.

Scarre, C. 2005. Holocene Europe. In Scarre, C. (ed.) The Human Past: World Prehistory & the Development of Human Societies. London: Thames and Hudson. pp. 392-431.

Shennan, S. J. 2011. Property and Wealth Inequality as Cultural Niche Construction. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. 366: 918-926.

Schulting, R. J. 2006. Skeletal Evidence and Contexts of Violence in the European Mesolithic and Neolithic. In: R. Gowland and C. Knüsel (eds.), The Social Archaeology of Funerary Remains. Oxford: Oxbow. pp. 224-237.

Tresset, A. & Vigne, J. 2011. Last Hunter-Gatherers and First Farmers of Europe. Comptes Rendus Biologies. 334 (3): 182-189.

Vanmontfort, B. 2008. Forager-Farmer Connections in an ‘Unoccupied’ Land: First Contact on the Western Edge of LBKTerritory. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology. 27 (2): 149-160.

Vencl, S. 1986. The Role of Hunter-Gathering Populations in the Transition to Farming: A Central-European Perspective. In: M. Zvelebil (ed.) Hunters In Transition: Mesolithic Societies and their Transition to Farming. Cambridge: CambridgeUniversity Press. pp. 43-51.

Wahl, J. & Konig, H. G. 1987. Anthropologish-Traumatologishe Untersuchung der Menschlichen Skelettreste aus dem Bandkeramischen Massengrab bei Talheim, Kreis Heilbronn. Fundberichte aus Baden-Wurttemberg. 12: 65-193.

Whittle, A. 1996. Europe in the Neolithic: The Creation of New Worlds. Cambridge: CambridgeUniversity Press. pp. 144-211.

Databse Fun: Of Databases, Statistics and Isotopes

25 Nov

I know what you are thinking – what sort of misspelled title is that for a blog post? The answer is below dear reader (1)!

Databases are, in my humble opinion, awful, tedious and time consuming beasts to create and are often best tackled head on armed only with a black coffee for sustenance as you try to accurately type a mind-numbing amount of data into an excel spreadsheet at 2am in the university library.  (That may just be my experience though!).  The beauty of a completed database, however, cannot be overestimated.  This is where you get to test out hypotheses based on the data that you have selected and gathered for your research question, where all of the core information lies and where the data can be repeatedly and demonstratively tested again and again.  A completed and ordered database is a thing of beauty and, when looked at 6am in the morning after a tiring night of inputting data, a thing of magnificence!

But let’s start at the beginning.  I recently had cause to look again at the database I had made for my MSc dissertation and, as I scrolled across and down the excel spreadsheet, I could just about remember the hours I had spent producing the spreadsheet, justifying the column titles and entering the data itself.  My data set included strontium isotopic results gathered from 422 individuals across 9 different sites from the Neolithic Linearbandkeramik (LBK, roughly 5500BC to 4800BC) culture of Central Europe, with my sample ranging geographically from the modern countries of Austria, Czech Republic and Germany. The data set used for my study was carefully culled from a literature review and a close reading of a number of journal articles that were available at that time (mid 2012).

My aim was to investigate statistically the claim of patrilocality in the LBK culture as proposed by Bentley et al. (2012) by investigating the specific sex and age differences within the profile group by using strontium isotopes as proxies.  Strontium isotopes samples (specifically 87Sr/86Sr) are often taken from both human and animal skeletal remains (primarily from teeth, specifically the 1st, 2nd and 3rd molars as they reflect Sr values throughout the life of an individual) as it survives well in archaeological contexts and is an informative approach to investigate mobility and local/non-local status of individuals.  Strontium values reflect geochemical signatures in the dietary component of the individuals, which comes from the soils and the underlying geological landscape that the individual lived on.  There are issues with this method (2) (see also this blog’s comments section).  Strontium isotopic investigations in archaeology are often studied in conjunction with oxygen isotopes (18O/16O) sampled from tooth enamel as well (specifically the 2nd molar) which represents water drank in life, but, frustratingly, this has not been the case in the LBK literature.

I knew that I wanted to statistically test the data set using SPSS 19, the standard statistical program widely used in the social sciences, but I first needed to tabulate and code the data so it would be useful when it came to testing the data.  As the study also included comparisons of the funerary grave goods and a basic demographic investigation of each site coding the entries (1=male, 2=female or 1=present 2=absent) allowed for comparisons to be made in the SPSS program and for statistical tests to be carried out.  The strontium itself was, as expected, non-parametric, which meant that the data adhered to no specific characteristic structure or parameter.


The normality test, using the Kolmogorov-Smirnov and Shapiro-Wilk statistical tests, indicates that the strontium data used for this study of the 422 individuals was not distributed normally (the P-value, nominally a significance value, is 0.000 for these tests). This means that tests such Spearman’s Rho correlation (quantity between variation), Mann-Whitney U (2 independent variables) and Kruskal-Wallis (3 or more independent variables) are the most appropriate statistical tests to perform on this data set (Bryman & Cramer 2011: 245).

When building the database I also wanted any relevant information and references easy to hand so I included the skeletal number (as given in the articles), site name, period, sex, sex code, isotope source, body position, funerary artefacts found and reference etc for each individual used in the study (see below).


A screen shot of the database used in my MSc dissertation displaying the revelent information of the 422 individuals from the LBK sites used in the study. The data was entered in a Excel spreadsheet before being transferred to SPSS for statistical investigation. Click to enlarge.

The data was carefully added over a number of days once I had gathered all the required journal articles discussing the sites I had chosen  The sites themselves were largely located in southern Germany, with the 9 sites nicely split into three time periods throughout the chronology of the LBK period.  Perhaps somewhat hastily I added this to the database and assigned the values of the individuals with a Early, Middle and Late ranking for their respective site.


Towards the bottom of the database used for the study. Here we can see the references cited for each site used in the study and the specific coding for funerary items (the two columns before reference column on the right hand side, where 1 depicts present and 0 absent).

During the construction of this database I did encounter problems as I had not built such a large database before, indeed the only time I had really used a database properly was for my undergraduate dissertation some years previous whilst using ArcGIS.  The problems this time included whether I was actually coding the funerary items the right way round or not, reading back through the database and correcting any errors in typing (especially for the strontium values) and making sure I correctly identifying the individuals used in their respective articles.  There are some things inherent in archaeology that cannot be solved.  This includes lacking contextual data or written site reports (which may or may not exist hidden in regional archaeological unit headquarters, not known or available to the public or indexed on any site).

Of course there were problems with my approach, which I expounded on in fuller detail in the thesis itself.  This did include problems interpreting the strontium results and distinguishing between local and non-local individuals at the site when there is no reference data to compare it to and debating my own statistical approach.  Still, as frustrating as building the database was, I did enjoy carrying out my own investigation of it immensely.  On rainy days I often think that my dataset could do with a second look at and investigation, perhaps I could change this approach or that, use this statistical method instead and isolate that clump of individuals etc.

It may be a pipe dream for the moment (I lack a working SPSS program for one!) but this is as much of a key part of archaeology and archaeological research as digging in the mud is.  Research is what drives archaeology and human osteology forward, from new scientific techniques to reviewing old data and finding new patterns.  The past is always present in new technology, you just have to drive it forward sometimes.

I will be introducing the Neolithic LBK culture in further detail in an upcoming post and discussing the merits of my thesis in further detail in another post.  For now I hope you have enjoyed this brief delve into what was the core of that research, the database itself.


(1.) This post was named in honour of a spelling mistake I made in the contents pages of my MSc thesis, spotted only when I proudly showed a friend a copy of the thesis a few weeks after the hand in date.  This, of course, led to gales of laughter from both of us (and to my internal cringing) as my poor editing skills came to light and it still remains a favoured joke to this day.

(2.) A few problems have become apparent with the strontium isotope technique, as with any mature and widespread application of a scientific technique, and it is worth mentioning them here (Bentley et al. 2004: 366).

Firstly is the issue of what a local and non-local signature mean for the prehistoric individual, as technically the 87Sr/86Sr ratio reflects diet over a period of time, and said food could have come from non-local sources.  However, this could be a distinct benefit, as it may be possible to identify individuals whose subsistence activity took place over a diverse range of territories (Bentley et al. 2004: 366, Price et al. 2002: 131).  Secondly, diagenesis affects anything buried and groundwater strontium has a tendency to penetrate the skeleton after burial (Bentley et al. 2004: 366).  In this study only enamel from the permanent dentition (1st or 2nd molars) is used, as this mitigates the effects of diagenesis because enamel is a strong biological material containing large mineral crystals, rendering it much less porous than bone and it is highly resistant to biochemical alteration (Killgrove 2010, Richards et al. 2008).  The third issue concerns the environmental heterogeneity of the strontium isotope signatures, which as Bentley (et al 2004: 366) points out ‘vary in different minerals of a single rock, in the leaves, stems and roots of a plant, or in water sources such as streams and precipitation’.  The measurement of small herbivore bones, or snail shells, at the locality of the archaeological site, preferably from the same chronological age, can obtain a remarkably consistent 87Sr/86Sr ratio, which is representative of the local catchment area (Bentley et al. 2004: 366).  The use of strontium ratio is however just one tool among many that is used to shed light on our ancestors; it should always be used in combination with other techniques of investigation to elucidate the full range of potential data present of archaeological sites and materials (Montgomery 2010, Richards et al. 2001, Van Klinken et al. 2000).


Bentley, R. A., Price, T. D. & Stephan, E. 2004. Determining the ‘local’ 87Sr/88Sr Range for Archaeological Skeletons: A Case Study from Neolithic Europe. Journal of Archaeological Science. 32 (4): 365-375.

Bentley, R. A., Bickle, P., Fibiger, L., Nowell, G. M., Dale C. W., Hedges, R. E. M., Hamiliton,. J., Wahl, J., Francken, M., Grupe, G., Lenneis, E., Teschler-Nicola, M., Arbogast, R-M., Hofmann, D. & Whittle, A. 2012. Community Differentiation and Kinship Among Europe’s First Farmers. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition. doi:10.1073/pnas.1113710109. 1-5.

Bryman, A. & Cramer, D. 2011. Quantitative Data Analysis with IBM SPSS 17, 18 & 19: A Guide for Social Scientists. London: Psychology Press.

Killgrove, K. 2010. Migration and Mobility in Imperial Rome. PhD Thesis. University of North Carolina. (Open Access).

Montgomery, J. 2010. Passports from the Past: Investigating Human Dispersals Using Strontium Isotope Analysis of Tooth Enamel. Annals of Human Biology. 37: 325–346. (Open Access).

Price, T. D., Burton, J. H. & Bentley, R. A. 2002. The Characterisation of Biologically Available Strontium Isotope Ratios for the Study of Prehistoric Migration. Archaeometry. 44 (1): 117-135.

Richards, M.P., Fuller, B,. T. & Hedges, R. E. M. 2001. Sulphur Isotopic Variation in Ancient Bone Collagen from Europe: Implications for Human Palaeodiet, Residence Mobility, Modern Pollutant Studies. Earth and Planetary Science Letters. 191 (3-4): 185-190.

Richards, M. P., Montgomery, J., Nehlich, O. & Grimes, V. 2008. Isotopic Analysis of Humans and Animals from Vedrovice. Anthropologie. XLVI (2-3): 185-194.

Van Klinken, G., Richards, M. and Hedges, R. 2000. An Overview of Causes for Stable Isotopic Variations in Past European Human Populations: Environmental, Ecophysiological, and Cultural Effects. In S. Ambrose and M. Katzenberg (eds). Biogeochemical Approaches to Palaeodietary Analysis. New York: Kluwer Academic. pp. 39-63.

Neolithic Craftsmanship In Central Europe

22 Jan

A recent paper by Tegel et al. (2012) demonstrates the intricate wood crafting abilities of the Neolithic Linearbandkeramik culture, known as the LBK, in the construction of water wells from planks of wood dated from 5500 BC to 5098 BC.  From the analysis of four wooden wells, and a total of 151 oak timbers from the wells, the precise history of their construction can be confirmed.  This is exciting news as it is firsthand evidence from a range of LBK sites of the carpentry skills, as practiced by the builders, that were apparent during the culture’s existence.  The LBK are typically known as one of the first major European cultures that helped spread agriculture via a number of different mechanisms (Bogaard et al. 2011), and are noted for their use of  cemeteries (Zvelebil & Pettit 2012), differential deposits of shoe last adzes in graves, and uniformity of small settlements and clustered long houses throughout Central Europe, although tantalizingly little remains of their famous long houses.

Bentley et al. (2012) have recently delved into extensive strontium isotope testing of cemetery populations and have released a slew of papers suggesting that, due to different ratios in the presence of male and female adult individuals, the LBK culture practiced patrilocality, i.e. that women moved around to other sites to start families or join different villages, whilst the fathers and sons largely stayed within their birthplace landscape.  Although it should be noted that there are some regional differences, with certain populations practicing transhumance with cattle, possibly moving with them throughout a varied landscape (Rasteiro et al. 2012).  Furtheer to this, there has been little coverage or investigation of infant or juvenile remains in the LBK culture, and this is a research bias that is similar to the under-consideration of of such populations in the wider Neolithic archaeological record (Lillie 2008).


A detail from some from some of the water wells excavated from sites in Eastern Germany that were used in the dendro-chronological analysis and reconstruction (Tegel et al. 2012: 2). The majority of the wells were block lifted from their Neolithic period excavation sites and micro-excavated in wet lab conditions to allow preservation, greater photographic resolution, laser recording and stratigraphic recording. A reconstruction of their wooden joints was possible, because of this technique and the care taken to preserve the wood in-situ.

Article Abstract:

“The European Neolithization ~6000−4000 BC represents a pivotal change in human history when farming spread and the mobile style of life of the hunter-foragers was superseded by the agrarian culture. Permanent settlement structures and agricultural production systems required fundamental innovations in technology, subsistence, and resource utilization. Motivation, course, and timing of this transformation, however, remain debatable. Here we present annually resolved and absolutely dated dendroarchaeological information from four wooden water wells of the early Neolithic period that were excavated in Eastern Germany. A total of 151 oak timbers preserved in a waterlogged environment were dated between 5469 and 5098 BC and reveal unexpectedly refined carpentry skills. The recently discovered water wells enable for the first time a detailed insight into the earliest wood architecture and display the technological capabilities of humans ~7000 years ago. The timbered well constructions made of old oak trees feature an unopened tree-ring archive from which annually resolved and absolutely dated environmental data can be culled. Our results question the principle of continuous evolutionary development in prehistoric technology, and contradict the common belief that metal was necessary for complex timber constructions. Early Neolithic craftsmanship now suggests that the first farmers were also the first carpenters.”

Read more here.

Below are further sources to delve into the intriguing LBK culture.

Bibliography and Further Sources:

Bentley, R. A., Bickle, P., Fibiger, L., Nowell, G. M., Dale C. W., Hedges, R. E. M., Hamiliton,. J., Wahl, J., Francken, M., Grupe, G., Lenneis, E., Teschler-Nicola, M., Arbogast, R-M., Hofmann, D. & Whittle, A. 2012. Community Differentiation and Kinship Among Europe’s First Farmers. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition. doi:10.1073/pnas.1113710109. 1-5.

Bogaard, A., Krause, R. & Strien, H.-C. 2011. Towards a Social Geography of Cultivation and Plant Use in an early Farming Community: Vaihingen an der Enz, South-West Germany. Antiquity. 85: 395-416.

Bramanti, B., Thomas, M. G., Haak, W., Unterlaender, M., Jores, P., Tambets, K., Antanaitis-Jacobs, I., Haidle, M. N., Jankauskas, R., Kind, C.-J., Lueth, F., Terberger, T., Hiller, J., Matsumura, S., Forster, P & Burger, J. 2009. Genetic Discontinuity Between Local Hunter-Gatherers and Central Europe’s First Farmers. Science. 326 (5949): 137-140.

Lillie, M. C. 2008. Suffer the Children: ‘Visualising’ Children in the Archaeological Record. In: C. Barcvarov (ed.) Babies Reborn: Infant/Child Burials in Pre- and Protohistory. Conference Proceedings, UISPP, Lisbon. BAR International Series. 1832. Oxford: Archaeopress. pp. 33-43.

Rasteiro, R., Bouttier, P., Sousa, C. C & Chikhi. 2012. Investigating Sex-biased Migration During the Neolithic Transition in Europe, Using an Explicit Spatial Simulation Framework. Proceedings of the Royal Society B Biological Sciences. Doi:10.1098/rspb.2011.2323 accessed on the 20th of May 2012.

Tegel W., Elburg R., Hakelberg D., Stäuble H. & Büntgen U. 2012. Early Neolithic Water Wells Reveal the World’s Oldest Wood ArchitecturePLoS ONE. (12): 1-8. e51374. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0051374

Vanmontfort, B. 2008. Forager-Farmer Connections in an ‘Unoccupied’ Land: First Contact on the Western Edge of LBKTerritory. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology. 27 (2): 149-160.

Zvelebil, M. & Pettitt, P. 2012.  Biosocial Archaeology of the Early Neolithic: Synthetic Analyses of a Human Skeletal Population from the LBK Cemetery of Vedrovice, Czech Republic. Journal of Archaeological Science. In Press.

MSc Abstractions

15 Sep

I am home and I am broke, but I’m thankful my dissertation has been handed in on time!  Whilst it is a sweet relief that it is over, I am not altogether happy with that particular body of work.  I probably shouldn’t, but it’s quite possible I’ll review it and apply a few new tests on the LBK dataset I used just to settle some nagging thoughts.

The abstract for my MSc dissertation is as follows:


Local and non-local individuals have long been a source of interest in the consideration of the spread of Early Neolithic farming societies in Europe.  This study investigates the strontium isotope signatures of 422 individuals from 9 Linearbandkeramik sites spread across their chronological range, with a focus on SW Germany.  The sites used in this study include: Vedrovice, Neider-Morlen, Vaihingen, Aiterhofen, Schwetzingen, Kleinhadersdorf, Nitra, Talheim and Stuttgart-Mühlhausen.  A variety of sites are represented, including critically important early sites (Vedrovice, Neider-Morlen), sustained cemetery sites (Aiterhofen, Nitra) and a massacre site (Talheim).  Using a battery of statistical tests, this study investigates the differences in the strontium isotopic data (87Sr/86Sr) between males, females and juveniles.   This is carried out at broad levels of the data profile, period profile and site profile, coupled with other variables such as funerary artefacts and age categories, in the light of recent literature categorising the LBK society as patrilocal in nature.   The results indicate no statistical significance between the categories; however a review of the literature indicates that the most appropriate tests have not been applied.  A discussion of the recent literature indicates that the theory of the practice of patrilocality in the LBK culture can be upheld, whilst this study introduces some interesting variable behaviour in the LBK culture.


Now that I’ve finished the dissertation,  my own blog posts should hopefully become more regular in number.  Whilst researching and thinking about my thesis topic, I have mulled over various osteological and archaeological thoughts.  In due course these should turn into posts, with future topics likely to include the role of disability and individuals in prehistory, and a brief discussion on the role and theory of pain in palaeopathological case studies.  And I will, of course, finish the Skeletal Series.

In the meantime enjoy some Leonard Cohen…

Another Quick (Neolithic) Update….

7 Jun

I haven’t updated as much as I would have liked recently for a variety of reasons, mainly due to a recent glut of essays, but I’d thought I’d add this quickly.

In my About page, I mention that two of my primary interests within archaeology are the Mesolithic and proceeding Neolithic periods, yet I’ve not wrote much about them on this blog.  However this will change (eventually), but as I have now attended the frankly excellent First Farmers conference at the University of Cardiff (see my post here about it), I’d thought I’d report that there has been some further developments concerning the main thrust of the conference.  The Linearbandkeramik culture, Central Europe’s first Neolithic Farmers (5500BC to around 4800BC), were the main topic of the talks and presentations given in Cardiff, and a recent paper by some of the organisers and presenters at the conference (Bentley et al 2012-see link below), have published the preliminary results from a large isotopic research project as a part of this.

The article is well worth a read, and concerns patterns of patrilocality, kinship and status based on the migration of female and male adults from the LBK culture, gathered from the archaeological evidence and the use of strontium isotopes gathered from human remains.  I want to draw your attention to two recently written blog entries concerning the paper.  Firstly we have Katy Meyers post at her blog ‘Bones Don’t Lie’ here, and her entry dated to the 1st of June entitled ‘The Earliest Evidence of Status Differentiation’.  Secondly, we have Rosamary Joyce’s blog, ‘Ancient Bodies, Ancient Lives‘, and her entry concerning the article which is entitled ‘Men, Women and Neolithic Equality‘.

Both of these blog entries take two different approaches in evaluating the article, and it is interesting to note both pick up on different themes.  Katy’ post deals with the interesting revelations of social status and differentiation as taken from the archaeological artefacts (mainly shoe last adzes), and evidence of adult female migration. The paper by Bentley et al (2012) makes note that it was possible that farmed land was passed down via adult males from the same family, and suggest differential land use, as  practiced by the LBK.  Joyce’s article makes the point that there are several sites and individuals that do not fit the overall model that the authors propose, alongside comments of how anthropological thought is always processed through a prism of its own history.

Perhaps a salient point to consider is a remark made by Dr Guido Brandt at the Cardiff conference in the consideration of the fact that we can always do with more bioarchaeological samples, including both human and animal bone, to gather a bigger data set as archaeological possible.  We must also always define isotopic parameters, from the geology, geography,  foods used and procured, and human and faunal data.  A point was made at the conference that over 6000 LBK sites have so far been uncovered and identified in Central European countries.  The questions remains the same; how many samples do we need to gather a representative?  And at what scale do we define patterns of migration?

I will no doubt come to know the LBK culture and the use of stable isotopes in migration patterns well as I have chosen this area for my dissertation topic….


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 Early Edition. 1-5. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1113710109

The World of Conferences

23 Mar

The academic semester is gearing up as essay titles come thick and fast, and as time runs out to define my dissertation idea and hypothesis, I remember just why I enjoy human osteology, archaeology and anthropology so much.  With technology fast unlocking secrets long hidden in archaeological samples, it can be hard to keep ahead and abreast of the recent developments in bioarchaeology.  However, conferences are a key part of academia in helping to spread the knowledge and importance of current and upcoming research, and as a means to help spread your own research.  They are vital to our understanding of the diverse topic of human osteology, which often employs a multidisciplined approach.  Recently, I have signed up to attend my first conferences in May; below are the details of the conferences I’ll be at along with a cohort of my fellow MSc osteo friends-

Between Life and Death: Interactions Between Burial and Society in the Ancient Mediterranean and  Near East

Postgraduate Research Conference at the University of Liverpool, Friday 11th to the Saturday 12th of May 2012.  The conference agenda can be found here.

This conference will deal with the treatment of the dead, and all the usual suspects of burial rites, rituals, grave goods, funerary architecture and the way cemeteries are laid, out will be discussed in various contexts.  It will also be a chance to listen to discussions on new methodological and theoretical approaches to the archaeological record of the ancient Near East and Mediterranean, from a broad range of Post Graduate Students from a host of Universities, both nationally and internationally.  I’m personally particularly looking forward to the two talks about the Neolithic; one about Dogs, Death and Identity, and one on the signs of Violence in the Neolithic Near East.  Registration is still open and can be obtained here.

Early Farmers: The View from Archaeology and Science

International Conference arranged by the University of Cardiff’s department of Archaeology and Conservation, with funding from the British Academy.  Monday 14th to the Wednesday 16th of May 2012.  The conference agenda can be found here.

The integration of archaeological data and science is the theme here, with a special focus on the early farmers.  The focus of the talk shall be Neolithic European archaeology with talks on subjects such aDNA and stable isotope analysis, imaging, animal husbandry, and the health and lifestyle demographic attributes of early farmers.  This conference provides the chance to hear some of the bigger names in bioarchaeology talk about their research and views.  Prof Clarke Spencer Larsen will be talking about health and lifestyle in early farmers, whilst Dr Rick Schulting will be discussing evidence of violence in Neolithic populations.  Alongside the usual talks on culture and transformations in the Neolithic, Prof Knusel and Dr Villotte will be discussing sexual division in the LBK culture, using data from an LBK site near Stuttgart, Germany.  Registration is again still available, please click here.


19/04/12 Update:

The Palaeopathology Association is having its annual meeting in Lille, northern France, this year between the 27th and 30th of August.  The program can be found here.  Meanwhile Cranfield University are offering a free day course in the form of the ‘Improving Learner Experience in Forensic Science Higher Education and Practitioner Training’ on Tuesday 15th of May, based at Shrivenham, England.  Details of the day long course can be found here.



Article: Nuances in the Archaeological Record Regarding the Mesolithic-Neolithic Transition

2 Jul


The aim of this article is two-fold; to help show the effects of an integrated multidisciplinary approach in studying and understanding the MesolithicNeolithic transition, and a discussion on the several issues that the transition had on selected archaeological sites and cultures.  Thus the article will limit itself in scope, with discussion of two European cultures and a Japanese culture, which will help to highlight the different techniques and approaches used in understanding the nuances in the archaeological record.

Key Words: Mesolithic, Neolithic, Osteology, Palaeoenvironmental, Europe, Japan, Agriculture, Palaeopathology, Stable Isotopes, Ethnography.


The transition from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to farming, as means for a stable food return, varies enormously depending on which cultures are under discussion and investigation.  Nor was this fundamental transitional period an immediate or permanent change in lifestyle; the boundaries between the Mesolithic and Neolithic are becoming ever more blurred as new evidence comes to light (Price 2000: 4).  As Zvelebil (1986: 13) notes, ‘The adoption of farming must have had a number of causes which were variable from region to region and were contingent on the region environmental and socio-economic conditions’.  This is manifest in the long duration of the ever changing archaeological record.

The LBK Across the Central European Plain

For our first culture under discussion we shall turn to the Linearbandkeramik culture (LBK) of the Central European Plain.  The predominant impulse of the spread of the LBK has been pinpointed and dated from 5700 BC to 4500 BC, and has its origins ascertained to the Middle Danube, and tributaries in Hungary (Scarre 2005: 407).  Throughout the LBK culture it has been noted that the sites are often found on fertile loess soils of the CEP as they provided the optimal growing conditions for agricultural use.  This, Price notes, is in contrast to the ‘Mesolithic foragers (who) were (more) concentrated in marine, riverine and rich lacustrine environments’ and that ‘recent surveys in the interior European basins have failed to reveal substantial Mesolithic remains’ (Price 2000: 5).  The numerous LBK settlements, often located in fertile forest clearings, are very similar in both structural and material remains which suggests a relatively strong cultural coherence which ‘colonised’ its way across central Europe(although this has recently been debated).  There is also suggestion in the LBK of a movement from a communal to a later household level of organisation, as the long houses excavated are unique familiar units in the typical village layout (Keeley 1992: 86).  It must be noted however there were regional differences in lithic, ceramic and dietary choices within the composition of the LBK culture.

There is also evidence of violence in neighbouring LBK groups from osteological analysis of human remains at the both Talheim site in Southern Germany, Herxheim in SE Germany and the LBK site of Schletz in Eastern Austria, suggesting cultural in-fighting.  The evidence points towards LBK inflicted weaponry injury, and not between foraging or other farming groups, alongside selected targeting of the male population (Scarre 2005: 411).  Violence, it seems, is endemic to human populations throughout the course of human history.  The geographical predisposition for farming and intensive adaptation of fertile land for farming settlements themselves presents a key development in the nature of land use by human societies in the spread of European agriculture. Interestingly the spread laterally across the European central plain is in contrast to the later up take of agriculture around the eastern Baltic and western Russia in 3500 BC, where biologically wild resources were still heavily used up until the 3rd millennium BC (Price 2000: 16, Zvelebil & Lillie 2000).

The Jomon and Yayoi Cultures of Japan

Not all societies were exposed to agriculture so quickly, as is evident throughout the Jomon period in Japan.  Lasting roughly from 14,000 BC to 300 BC, the Jomon culture has evidence for the earliest use of pottery in the world, and made extensive use of the large variety of environments in the Japanese archipelago (Akazawa 1986, Kaner & Ishikawa 2007, Mithen 2003).  This culture has been classed as largely hunter-gather-forager in lifestyle, until roughly the Yayoi period around 300 BC, when the adoption to agriculture was fully implemented with intensive rice agriculture, weaving and the introduction of metallurgy (Mays 1998: 90).   There has long been discussion as to whether the Yayoi culture were settlers from mainland Asia who explicitly brought agriculture to the Jomon of Japan, as an integration model, or if the Yayoi superseded the Jomon as propagators of agriculture (Akazawa 1986, Kaner & Ishikawa 2007, Mays 1998).  Studies have been carried out on the measurements of skull morphology, in particular in the study of the modern-day aboriginal Ainu people located in Hokkaido, a large island north of mainland Japan, who maintain they are the Jomon’s descendents.  Craniometric and multivariate analysis of human skeletal measurements have led to results that indicate that the Jomon are distinctive in head shape from the Yayoi, whilst they share distinct similarities with the modern-day Ainu population (Akazawa 1986: 151, Mays: 90).  This has led to theories that population pressures have pushed the Jomon northwards up through Japan to the modern day island of Hokkaido, whilst the Yayoi immigration wave helped to spread agriculture across Japan.

The importance of this work highlights the movement of the adaptation of agriculture in a relatively late time frame, in comparison to mainland Asia and Europe.  Palaeoenvironmental evidence suggests the richness and diversity of the Japanese archipelago, with heavy densities of the Jomon population in 3500 BC located in central and eastern Japan (Kaner & Ishikawa 2007: 2).  Stable village sites with pits dwellings, storage areas and burial facilities have been excavated and studied, yet there is only a hint of cultivating nuts and plants.  Yet it also has to be noted that Akazawa (1986: 163) points out that

‘rice cultivation would seem redundant to those Jomon societies whose procurement was regulated by year round demands of different major food gathering activities whereas it would seem attractive to those Jomon societies characterised by a simple food procurement system, supported by a single major food gathering activity’.

Ongoing date conflicts with the Accelerated Mass Spectrometry results from human and animal bone have resulted in suggestions for the impact of the Yayoi culture to be pushed back to 1000 BC or 900 BC.  However, the results from sites located on coastal areas could be contaminated with the ‘marine radiocarbon reservoir effect’, a natural distortion of radiocarbon dates by the dissolving of calcium carbonate, which could thus require a possible need to recalibrate existing dates (Kaner & Ishikawa 2007: 4).  The outcome of the timing of adoption of agriculture in the Late Jomon/Yayoi period is still hotly debated, as outlined by a few issues discussed above. Yet the archaeological evidence presents a hunter gather society managing to thrive without agriculture in a range of diverse environments, until later cultural re-adjustment and migrations of people came into contact with the existing Jomon culture, and fostered a change towards widespread rice agriculture (Akazawa 1986, Mays 1998).

Portuguese Mesolithic to Neolithic Changes on the Atlantic Coast

Moving on to the Portuguese Atlantic coast, the evidence points to a different motivation in the timing for the implementation of agriculture.  Stable isotopic analysis and the dental attrition rate of a number of skeletons have revealed a great variety of information regarding the diet, and changes during the Mesolithic to Neolithic transition.  Work carried out by Lubell et al (at the Moita do Sebastiao, Melides and Fontainhas Roche Forte II sites in SE Portugal) demonstrate a gradual dietary change; from a mixture of terrestrial and marine resources in the Mesolithic to a diet more dependent on terrestrial food in the Neolithic (Lubell et al 1994).  The date for this transition has been dated to around 5000 BC in central Portugal, with initiation of change beginning around 6000 BC, possibly even 7000 BC (Lubell et al 1994: 201).  This indication of change in food origin is a feature of the ‘Neolithic package’; but as we have seen with the Jomon culture, key indicators of the Neolithic (such as pottery and long-term village sites) do not always show a movement or adoption towards full-blown agriculture.  This key concept, of the ‘Neolithic’ package, is being reassessed as new evidence blurs this important transitional period in the development of humanity (Zvelebil 1986).

So what other evidence is present in Portugal?  Zvelebil and Rowley-Conwy (1986: 68) note the continuing Mesolithic economy, with large shell middens present on the River Muge located at Cabeco da Amoreira and Cabeco da Arruda.  Palaeoenvironmental evidence indicates that they were located near shallow lagoon and estuary type environments, with the shell middens themselves dating back to mid 4000 BC with long periods of use.  Evidence has also been recorded of middens of fauna present with remains of auroch, roe deer,red deer, badger and lynx found, suggesting a rich environment of availability.  Evidence of cemeteries include those found at the above sites alongside Moita do Sebastiao, with evidence pointing towards a ‘probable increased group size and (increase in) social complexity’ (Zvelebil & Rowley-Conwy 1986: 68).  This suggests socially and economically complex hunter gatherer communities near the Atlantic coast, with a dependence on seasonal marine resources.  The use of cemeteries and long-lived sites suggests greater sedentism which could have opened the hunter gatherers up to pre-adaption of agriculture.

The early conservatism of the Mesolithic population is noted by the choices of marine and some terrestrial food illustrated by the narrow nitrogen isotopic range from stable light isotope studies carried out, along with a homogenous diet recorded in the earlier middens.  This is in later contrast to the wider range of carbon and nitrogen isotope averages, and the broader range of molar attrition recorded in the Neolithic skeletons, which suggests greater inclusion of terrestrial foodstuffs into the diet (Lubell et al 1994: 213).  The timing of the adoption to agriculture was culturally defined in this locality, and Lubell et al concludes that the Neolithic was ‘an intensification of a trend which started as an adjustment of food supply during an earlier period of sea level, climatic and vegetation change’ (Lubell et al 1994: 214).  This, with the above evidence cited drove the long-term changes and adoption to farming, as it was culturally embraced, implemented and practised as the trend continued.


Throughout this discussion it has become clear that the mechanics of the transitional period are various, and too diverse to fully discuss here.  Inevitably different timings of the adoption occur throughout the world; not one single cause can be suggested for the emergence of agriculture (Lubell et al 1994, Price 2000, Scarre 2005, Zvelebil & Lillie 2000).  It is the amalgamation of a multidisciplinary investigation that helps to clearly define and produce a record of this key prehistoric period and its outcomes for the human population, and it is hoped that this article shows but a small part of that effort.


Akazawa, T. 1986. ‘Hunter-gatherer Adaptations and the Transition to Food Production in Japan’. In Zvelebil, M. (ed.) Hunters in Transition: Mesolithic societies of temperate Eurasia and their transition to farming. 151-165. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kaner, S. and Ishikawa, T. 2007. ‘Reassessing the concept of ‘Neolithic’ in the Jomon of Western Japan’.  Documenta Preahistorica. 2007. 1-7.

Larsen, C. 1997. Bioarchaeology: Interpreting Behaviour From The Human Skeleton. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Keeley, L. H. 1992. ‘’The Introduction of Agriculture to the Western North European Plain’. In Gebauer, A. B. And Price, T. D. (eds.) Transitions to Agriculture in Prehistory.  81-96. Madison: Prehistory Press.

Lubell, D. and Jackes, M. Schwarcz, H. Knyf, M. Meicklejohn, C. 1994. ‘The Mesolithic-Neolithic Transition in Portugal: Isotopic and Dental Evidence of Diet’. Journal of Archaeological Science. 21. 201-216.

Mays, S. 1999. The Archaeology of Human Bones. Glasgow: Bell & Bain Ltd.

Mithen, S. 2003. After The Ice: A Global Human History, 20,000-5000 BC. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

Price, T. D. 2000. ‘Europe’s First Farmers: An introduction’. In Price, T.D. (ed.) Europe’s First Farmers. 1-19. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Roberts, C. & Manchester, K. 2010. The Archaeology of Disease Third Edition. Stroud: The History Press.

Scarre, C. 2005. ‘Holocene Europe’. In Scarre, C (ed.) The Human past: World Prehistory and the Development of Human Societies. 392-431. London: Thames and Hudson.

Waldron, T. 2009. Palaeopathology: Cambridge Manuals in Archaeology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Zvelebil, M. and Rowley-Conwy, P. 1986. ‘Foragers and farmers in Atlantic Europe’. In Zvelebil, M. (ed.) Hunters in Transition: Mesolithic societies of temperate Eurasia and their transition to farming. 67-93. Cambridge:Cambridge University Press.

Zvelebil, M. 1986. ‘Mesolithic prelude and Neolithic revolution’. In Zvelebil, M. (ed.) Hunters in Transition: Mesolithic societies of temperate Eurasia and their transition to farming. 5-16. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Zvelebil, M. and Lillie, M. C. 2000. ‘Transition to agriculture in eastern Europe’. In Price, T. D. (ed.) Europe’s First Farmers. 57-92. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Guest Blog: ‘Cannibalism In Archaeology Part 2: Mancos Canyon And Herxheim Case Studies’ by Kate Brown.

3 Apr

Kate Brown is a current archaeological undergraduate student at the University of Sheffield.  Her research interests include Osteology, Zooarchaeology, Mesoamerican archaeology, and Scandinavian archaeology alongside the general study of funerary rituals in human culture.


Following my previous post on cannibalism in archaeology, I would like to discuss a few archaeological case studies in more detail.

Mancos 5MTUMR-2346 (White 1992)

The Mancos site, of the Anasazi or Ancient Peublo Peoples culture,  is located is located on Ute Mountain in Montezuma County, Colorado. The bone assemblage consisting of 2106 bone fragments was excavated in 1973 by Larry Nordby. Although the site is based on high ground, it is only 75m North East of the Mancos river, giving it access to both security and a reliable water source. Mancos 5MTUMR-2346 is held as a site of significant importance when referring to cannibalism, due to its excellent levels of preservation, owing to the lack of evidence for either pre or post depositional disturbance of the assemblage. This is imperative to reach such conclusions as it reduces the possibility of confusion in interpretations.

Location of the Mancos 5MTUMR-2346 site (White 1992).

In the 1973 excavations, a multi-room habitation was found, which had been built over the remains of an earlier dwelling. Primary interments (burials 1, 2, 4 and 12) were fairly typical, and were mostly contained within the rooms of the earliest structure. The rest of the skeletal remains were found in the room fill as well as on the floor surface, and because of this they were originally interpreted as either secondary or disturbed burials. The fragments in these ‘bone beds’ at the site could not be found to have any association or articulation, and individuals appear to be mixed together indiscriminately across the assemblage.

There are many indications of possible cannibalistic consumption happening at the site.

Thin long bones, most notably fibula, were found mainly intact, however, larger more robust bones, such as tibias and femurs were found highly fragmented; this points to impact being inflicted on the bones in order to reach the bone marrow, known as percussion. Percussion marks can be seen on many of the skeletal remains recovered.

Breaks and fracture with subsequent polishing marks on the humerii (White 1992).

Scratches on some skull fragments are likely indicative of scalping rather than attempts to crack open the skull as in other cases, due to the thickness of the skull in this case as a result of osteoporosis.

The bones themselves were bleached quite light, and this is seen frequently in cases of cannibalism, as a result of being interred without any flesh adhering to the bones. Evidence of burning is evident on a large amount of remains, and because the pattern of burning on the bones is so varied it is possible to assume that they were heated whilst some flesh was still attached. Pattern fracturing and fragmentation of long bone shafts in the assemblage are strongly evident of marrow extraction, which is common across cannibalism sites.

Crushing evident on anterior alveolar region of the mandible (White 1992).

The evidence for cannibalism at the site of Mancos 5MTUMR-2346 is extensive, and includes high frequencies of most of the standardised factors for recognising such activity- the polishing of the ends of long bones as a result of cooking in coarse pottery, splintering and shaft breakage of long bones to facilitate marrow extraction; clear percussion scars, hammerstone abrasion, fracturing and crushing of bones; cutmarks indicating skin peeling and butchery; crushed skulls, chopmarks and peeling on lumbar vertebrae as well as a high frequency of rib breakage.

Peeling marks on thoracic vertebrae (White 1992).

In terms of the pathology of the Mancos Canyon assemblages, it is quite typical of an Anasazi population. At Mancos MTUMR-2346 there are at least seven individuals with cranial deformation, and this is found to be present in all skeletal assemblages from Mancos Canyon. Cases of caries and abscessing are identifiable on two mandibles, and dental enamel hypoplasiawould appear to be quite prevalent throughout the population. This is also typical of Anasazi populations, who often suffered significant nutritional stress.

Overall, the high number of young adult individuals far outweighs the instances of older individuals, which is unusual for a cemetery population.

Nordby (1974) interpreted that the site of Mancos 5MTUMR-2346 was either attacked, with its inhabitants being killed, dismembered and consumed at the kill site, or that the inhabitants of Mancos 5MTUMR-2346 attacked a larger site elsewhere and brought dismembered bodies back to their own site for consumption.

Herxheim (Boulestin et al. 2009)

Located in the South of the German Federal State of Rhineland-Palinate, above a loess soil plateau, Herxheim is an early Neolithic Linearbandkeramic (LBK) site with compelling evidence for cannibalistic activity. Excavations have found evidence of a village that was inhabited between 5300 and 4950 BC. At the site there is a non-continuous (pseudo) ditch, which is rare in the Neolithic period, and is thought to have served as a symbolic boundary rather than as a physical defence. This is evidence of the sites importance, and demonstrative of a central position at a regional level. This could also serve as an explanation of the sites importance through to the final linear pottery period despite the change in function it underwent at this time.

Location of Herxheim site (Boulestin et al. 2009).

During the final linear pottery period, no new pits were dug, instead previously existing ones were re used to allow for the deposition of human remains, along with some fauna, ceramics, and tools made of both stone and bone. Scatters of bone fragments, some numbering up to 2000 fragments, have been recovered from these pits, and are representative of a minimum number of 500 individuals. However, with only half of the enclosure having being excavated at this point, it is hypothesised that there could be up to 1000 individuals within the entire area. In the assemblage, there is a notably high proportion of both skull fragments and leg bones compared to fragments from elsewhere in the skeletal system. Deposition occurred over a maximum of 50 years, but was probably a lot less than this.

Deposit 9 at Herxheim (Boulestin et al. 2009).

Deposit 9 was excavated in 2007, and contained a much higher density of human remains than anywhere else on site. In the assemblage recovered from deposit 9, breakage was common, especially that of long limb bones. Short shallow cut marks are typically indicative of defleshing, which is common in cases of cannibalism. There is also evidence of butchery and skinning on fragments, shown by deeper varied cutmarks. Across the skull fragments found in the deposit, cracks and fracturing occurred often. Spongy bones were also often found to have been crushed, and peeling marks were frequently seen on both vertebrae and ribs, showing a butchery technique similar to that used in the butchery of animals to separate the ribs from the vertebral column.

Rib breakage and peeling marks on vertebrae (Boulestin et al. 2009).

As I have previously discussed in my last post, this is one of the standard indicators of cannibalism. Defleshing of long bones and marrow extraction are visible through scrape marks on the bones, and marrow cavities, and is another common manifestation of cannibalistic activity. Differential breakage of long bones can be observed, with bones housing larger volumes of marrow being far more likely to have been broken or fractured. This could be a result of the relative nutritional value to be gained from the differing bones. Finger bones were also preferentially broken, although foot bones seem to have been left more often intact.

Example of differential breakage (Boulestin et al. 2009).

Green bone breakage is another requisite for proof of cannibalism, and there is strong evidence of this taking place at Herxheim from the form of fragments as well as fracture outlines on bones.

Skulls seem to have been the subject of particular attention, with many showing evidence of skinning following a repetitive method. In many cases, the tongue was removed, which is evident by cut and scrape marks on the lingual surface of the mandible. In some instances, the mandible was also removed from the skull following this.

A distinct distribution of chew marks support the interpretation of cannibalism occurring at Herxheim; if the result of carnivore activity it would tend to have a much more random distribution across the remains than what is evident. However, because the cause of death is, at this point, undetermined, it is difficult to say whether this instance of cannibalism was a result of war, ritual activity, or a response to nutritional stress or starvation. Current interpretations view it to most likely be either a result of sacrificial ritual or revenge related to warfare, perhaps as an element of possible crisis at the end of the LBK period. This would also be supported by the evidence of increased violence at this time.

Instances of cannibalism in the Neolithic is often underestimated, largely because of the difficulties in recognising it following the current set of criteria, and in defending such interpretations, which are the subject of high amounts of controversy. However, these two sites, along with many more, have provided at least the possibility of cannibalism happening within past societies for varying reasons, and hopefully with more research, more stable interpretations can be reached and agreed upon.


Boulestin, B., Zeeb-Lanz, A., Jeunesse, C., Haack, F., Arbogast, R., Denaire, A. 2009. Mass Cannibalism in the Linear Pottery Culture at Herxheim. Antiquity 83 (German langauge).

Nordby, L.V. 1974. The excavation of sites 5MTUMR-2343, -2345 AND -2346, Mancos Canyon, Ute Mountain, Ute Homelands, Colorado. Bereau Indian Affairs, Contract MOOC14201337 Report.

White, T.D. 1992. Prehistoric Cannibalism at Mancos 5MTUMR-2346. Princeton: University Press.