I would suggest: 1) that the 5 km radius from which the vast bulk of raw material was obtained corresponds to the normal subsistence exploitation range for bands while they occupied a given site, as is consistent with ethnographic observations of hunter/gatherers' usual foraging ranges of up to 5 km (per Higgs and Vita-Finzi 1972; Hayden 1981, 379–81); 2) I would interpret the tools and blanks (generally without bulk raw lithic material) from the 5–20 km radius (and possibly up to 50 km – as seems to be the pattern in Figure 7) as curated tools carried from site to site by individuals belonging to a single local band and travelling within the full band's normal subsistence territory (i.e. c.1250–2800 sq km); 3) I would view the very small but consistent number of finished lithics derived from more than 50 km, even up to 300+ km, as most likely representing curated tools transported, used and discarded in the course of episodic interactions between bands, e.g. during multi-band aggregations or alliance visits. Band ranges of 1250–2800 sq km within a 13,000 sq km interaction network would result in 5–10 or more small local bands forming a larger ‘macroband’ or mating network as previously discussed. . . . there were linguistically distinctive Neandertal groups of about 200–500 that preferentially interacted and intermarried with each other and maintained some sort of group identity, which also distinguished them from enemies whom they occasionally killed and cannibalized. . . .
A number of sites from Europe, the Near East and the Ukraine all exhibit occupation floor areas and hearth patterns that indicate the existence of local bands as the basic, year-round social units with about 12–25 members, including children and the aged, probably organized into nuclear family groups. The use of some sites by smaller hunting or task groups, or even by occasional individual families foraging temporarily on their own, is probably also represented in the archaeological record. . . .
[V]isiting between bands, fluidity in band membership between allied bands, preferential intermarriage between allied bands, and periodic aggregations of a number of allied bands probably involving ritual sanctifications, all make good sense in the European Middle Palaeolithic. The transport of stone tools beyond 30–50 km from sources appears to reflect periodic visiting with other bands or the aggregation of several allied bands. Kill sites such as Mauran, representing over 1000 tons of meat butchered over a few centuries or millennia, and ritual sites such as Bruniquel may reflect such aggregation and social bonding events between local bands or their representatives.
There is clear evidence of enemy relationships among Neandertals in terms of cannibalism, and it seems most likely that there were conscious social distinctions between allied local bands and enemy bands, probably also expressed in terms of dialectical or linguistic differences, similar to those exhibited among the low-density ethnographic populations in Australia and Boreal North America. Thus, there are compelling reasons to conclude that there were, indeed, ethnic identities among Neandertals. . . .
There are also indications of the elevated status of some individuals in Neandertal communities, including preferential treatment in life of some aged or infirm individuals, preferential burial treatments, skull deformation, skull removal, special clothing or painted body designs, personal adornments or prestige objects, and the use of small exclusive ritual spaces. . . . status was probably . . . linked to one or more other domains such as ritual, war, kinship or intergroup relations.
While some researchers have questioned whether Neandertals had a significant sexual division of labour, there are good reasons for assuming that such divisions were just as strongly developed, if not more so, as those among ethnographic hunter/gatherers.
Cemeteries, although rare, seem to have existed in the most productive environments and may reflect corporate kinship groups that owned specific resource locations, or, more conservatively, may have simply symbolically expressed membership in a consciously recognized social group such as the local band.
Overall, the cognitive and social differences between Neandertals and anatomically modern humans that are highly touted by some researchers seem relatively insignificant, if they existed at all, at the level of basic cognitive and sociopolitical faculties. . . .
The main differences that are apparent between Middle and Upper Palaeolithic groups seem to be related to the development of complex hunter/gatherer social organization and economies in some areas of the Upper Palaeolithic versus the simpler hunter/gatherer economies and societies of the earlier Palaeolithic (aspects of which continued to characterize ethnographic hunter/gatherers in resource-poor environments).
Monday, February 20, 2012
Neanderthal Social Structure Summarized
A new open access paper summarizes what we can infer about the social structure of the Neanderthals, which looks a lot like the social structure of modern human hunter-gatherers.