Tuesday, May 29, 2012

LBK Farmers Were Patrilocal

A new study looking at stronium levels in Linear Pottery (LBK) archaeological culture associated bones from about 300 individuals, roughly half men and half women, which can be used to determine what kind of soils were common in the place where the person grew up and can be compared to the place where they were buried, shows that the LBK culture was predominantly patrilocal. Far more women died as adults someplace other than where they were born, than did men. LBK men often married women from someplace other than the town where they grew up and brought them back to their home towns.

The study makes additional inferrences about inheritance systems and inequality in LBK culture. Higher status grave good were found in the graves of men who grew up in areas with good soils. But, the conclusions drawn about inheritance and inequality are in my view less strongly supported by the evidence, since any system of succession at death to someone in the community according to any set of rules is going to produce a similar pattern. The economic inequality in that society could simply flow from one village having better farming conditions than another, which is not what we normally think about when we think of social inequality within a society.

The LBK culture was organized into villages (hamlets really) which each had perhaps dozens to something less than a hundred people, with a number of "Long houses" (a Long house of 6 meters by 45 meters with some space devoted to housing animals would be typical) that were inhabited for up to about thirty years at a time, some of which were close to each other, and others of which were far from other nearby villages. Anthropologists sometimes call a unit of social organization of this size a "band" as distinct from a larger "chiefdomship" in which a community leader typically has greater power over a larger group of poeple.
Long houses were gathered into villages of 5–8 about 20 m apart, placed on 300–1250 acres. Nearby villages formed settlement cells, some as dense as 20 per 25 km², others as sparse as 1 per 32 km². This structuring of settlements does not support a view that the LBK population had no social structure, or was anarchic. On the other hand the structure remains obscure and interpretational. One long house may have supported one extended family; however, the short lifespan would have precluded more than two generations. The houses required too much labor to be the residences of single families; consequently, communal houses are postulated. . . . At least some villages were fortified for some time with a palisade and outer ditch.
Early practice was to bury women and children beneath the floors of their houses, with later LBK settlements establishing village cemetaries. In one example, the population density in an archaeologically excavated apparently typical LBK community grew from something the order of 60 per equal mile (1 person per 10 acres) to 120 people per square mile (1 person per 5 acres) - which was much greater than the population density of the preceding hunters and gatherers of Europe (at least in areas where fishing was not the main means of subsistence). The political organization of the LBK society above the village level is not known, and could have supported larger political units in many areas. Indeed, the existence of bride exchange between villages (as well as shared cultural patterns such as beading designs and pottery designs, and as well as indications of some level of longer distance trade) indicates tha there must have been at least some level of interaction and shared community between isolated LBK villages.

The LBK culture was the first European farming culture in the Danube, Elbe and Rhine river basins (flourishing ca. 5500–4500 BCE) and was roughly contemporaneous with the first Southern European coastal region farming culture usually called the Cardial Pottery culture.  Their crops included a couple of kinds of wheat, peas, lentils, hemp and flax grown in small plots.  They also had cattle and some other domesticated animals.


Maju said...

"The LBK culture was the first European farming culture in the Danube, Elbe and Rhine river basins (flourishing ca. 5500–4500 BCE)"

Actually they overlap with the less well understood Limburg and La Hoguette cultures are contemporary (and may be derived from Cardium Pottery). That Western area of the Rhine and Seine basins is more complex.

"The political organization of the LBK society above the village level is not known, and could have supported larger political units in many areas".

I don't think so for the early period, other than loose clannic/tribal/ethnic organization/identity.

Later in the Chalcolithic probably tribal proto-states (tribal confederations probably as no apparent monarchic capital has ever been found) surely existed but in the earliest period it seems to me all very basic and loosely tribal - except for the mysterious rondels (ditched wooden enclosures prototype of the so-called henges in Britain), which were temples or ritual meeting centers of some sort probably.

... "there must have been at least some level of interaction and shared community between isolated LBK villages".

Does anybody claim otherwise? In order to keep cultural homogeneity there must be some interaction, it'd be naive to think otherwise.

I mean: you do not need anything other than a very loose tribal interaction, like among Papuans in order to support such basic organization.

andrew said...

Thanks for the clarification re Limburg and La Hoguette.

Re political organization, what I'm really getting at is context within which the evaluate the inequality claims of the paper. Such claims aren't too meaningful until you have some sense of what kind of scale of society we are talking about within this culture.

Maju said...

Villages of 5-8 longhouses (less than 100 people probably) which were moved every 30 years or so (possibly because they exhausted the local fertility) doesn't suggest any major social organization yet, I'd say. No evidence of particularly notable individuals (princes, aristocrats, priests) is available either.

But there could be (and there probably was) some sort of incipient tribal hierarchy. I'd explain these findings in such a context.

It is not even clear if the lands and homes were familiar or communal. Some have argued that the longhouses were too large for a single extended family but they may also have been used as stables and for food storage, as there is no indication of auxiliary buildings of any sort, so maybe these were family homes after all.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

Another possibility is the assimilation of people raised as children as hunter-gatherers into these earliest farming societies.