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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.