Tag Archives: Neolithic Europe

Possible Neolithic cannibalism in Germany

This one  is all over the news today. At a site dating to 7,000 BP in Herxheim, Germany, they have found human remains that seem to bear the signs of being butchered for meat. While this isn’t pleasant, it’s not exactly unheard of from many locations around the world. But the scale, about 500 victims- possibly up to 1000, is unusual.

That’s a lot of corpses for a tiny Stone Age village. There were 10 buildings at most here in the last phase of the Linear Pottery culture of the European Neolithic Age around 5,000 to 4,950 years BC. The corpses weren’t native to this area, researchers have discovered. They came from all over Europe — from the area of what is now Paris, from the Moselle River 100 kilometers to the northwest and even from the Elbe River valley some 400 kilometers away. The broken bits of pottery lying between their ribs reveal their origin. It’s the so-called Linear Pottery that gave the entire population group its name: decorated with linear patterns pressed into the moist clay while it was being made.

 I’d recommend going to the this news article which has a lot of images and more information than I just can’t be bothered to type in right now. The ceramics were apparently from the Paris and Elbe valley about 400 kilometres away, showing how far people had come to get to the site. 

There’s a link to the magazine the full article was in (you need to subscribe).

There’s some disagreement as to whether the people were eaten, the remains seem to have been people in good health and not killed in battle, that had been brought to the region with ceramics that were broken at the site.  It’s quite possible this was some kind of religious behaviour involving de-fleshing of the bones rather than cannibalism. This behaviour only seems to have lasted for a 50 year time span.

Note: I will get around to clearing the comments backlog- I’m down to 200 now…be patient.

Sharp shift in diet at onset of Neolithic in Britain

Sharp shift in diet at onset of Neolithic

The introduction of domesticated plants and animals into Britain during the Neolithic cultural period between 5,200 and 4,500 years ago is viewed either as a rapid event or as a gradual process that lasted for more than a millennium. Here we measure stable carbon isotopes present in bone to investigate the dietary habits of Britons over the Neolithic period and the preceding 3,800 years (the Mesolithic period). We find that there was a rapid and complete change from a marine- to a terrestrial-based diet among both coastal and inland dwellers at the onset of the Neolithic period, which coincided with the first appearance of domesticates. As well as arguing against a slow, gradual adoption of agriculture and animal husbandry by Mesolithic societies, our results indicate that the attraction of the new farming lifestyle must have been strong enough to persuade even coastal dwellers to abandon their successful fishing practices.

From this it seems the swap from hunter gatherer to farmer in Britain was very quick, with the ancient Britons abandoning the old ways wholesale.


The Romanian Mesolithic and the transition to farming. A case study: the Iron Gates

The Romanian Mesolithic and the transition to farming. A case study: the Iron Gates

The transition from foraging to agriculture in the last few decades has become a subject increasingly studied in academia. More complex research involving a large number of disciplines has made possible a substantial reevaluation of older concepts, but has also raised new questions and controversies. With the growing body of data from different regions of the world, it has become apparent that agriculture developed independently in more areas than was previously thought, and that the process of its geographic diffusion was much more complex than initially envisioned. The important role played by pre-Neolithic populations has come to be accepted by a growing number of archaeologists. The social and ideological implications associated with the adoption of agriculture have become more relevant, involving an association of causal factors with aspects other than economics. Regardless, questions such as why agriculture and how did it spread remain unanswered to a large degree. Most unfortunate, the body of knowledge related to the spread of agriculture in Europe
was constrained by a relative neglect of the Mesolithic period. This situation persists in many parts of the continent. Most of the data and studies come from the northern lands of Europe where many Mesolithic sites were discovered. On the other hand, the scarcity of sites in south and southeastern Europe focused most of the research on one of the richest Mesolithic archaeological locations on the continent: the Danube “Iron Gates” canyon.

A pdf with  plenty of information on the arrival of the Neolithic into Europe. It’s suggesting independent domestication of pigs in various European locations, but I don’t think it means pristine domestication, probably later ones by people already farming.

Anyone curious after reading it, Neolithic farmers made a substantial genetic ontribution to Southern Europe, but not much to Northern Europe; overall it’s about 20% (if memory serves). The ‘wave of advance’ theory of the Neolithic seems partially true, but only in Southern Europe. The paper concludes:

Besides pottery, there is no evidence for other developments associated with a food production economy. Of an extreme importance is a future pottery petrographic and chemical analysis by the excavated levels at least for Icoana and Schela Cladovei, in order to determine the earliest level with Starčevo ceramics at each site. Although all Mesolithic sites in the canyon proper are presently under water, it is not excluded that more sites may still exist on the islands of Ostrovul Banului and Ostrovul Corbului. The stratigraphy of the sites on both banks of the Danube need to be clarified and re-interpreted.

Claims for the practice of agriculture during the Mesolithic do not stand up to scrutiny, and in the archaeological strata associated with the appearance of Starčevo Neolithic in the area, agricultural implements are almost absent. There is also no evidence of domestic animals besides dog. It has been shown (A. Dinu et alii , this volume) that during Late Mesolithic no local domestication of European wild pig took place along the Lower Danube frontier between Starčevo Neolithic and the local Mesolithic cultures. It is not clear at this point when Starčevo domestic Asia Minor pigs showed up at Iron Gates, but it is more probable that it happened after 5500 BC.  Subsequently, if a replacement of the Starčevo Asia Minor domestic pigs took place in the following centuries, it is clear that Mesolithic Iron Gates played no role in wild pigs domestication North of the Danube.

As shown by the radiocarbon dates, contact between the Mesolithic and the Early Neolithic groups was chronologically possible. Still, there are no clear signs of influences in between these groups (economic exchanges, ideology religion etc.).

There is stll to be clarified the problem of the Mesolthic communities disapperance and the origins and way of penetration of the Early Neolithic.

Seeming to put the dampers on the idea of Mesolithic agriculture in Europe. However, 8,000 year old pots in Hungary and Switzerland show the remains of milk products in them , which essentially proves dairying was going on at the time then. It’s looking like the domestication of goats and sheep go back a very long time (12,000 years or more), probably somewhat longer than domesticated cattle. Another ‘however’ is that pottery appears after farming, and about 5,500 BC towns with metallurgy are found in the Balkans, so I find it hard to think that farming wasn’t in this area by then.

The Goseck circle, a Neolithic calendar in Germany


Goseck reconstruction at the winter solstice.

The circle is 75m across, and estimated at just shy of 7,000 years by pottery at the site. Also found at the site were arrowheads, the heads of oxen (once on poles) and two de-fleshed human skeletons that were burned in pits. This seems to have been a ritual site. The entire site is about 6,000 sq m.

Originally, it consisted of four concentric circles – a mound, a ditch and two wooden palisades about the height of a person – in which stood three sets of gates facing southeast, southwest and north, respectively. On the winter solstice, the sun could be seen to rise and set through the Southern gates from the centre.

The Germans recently built a reconstruction of the circle.. Article here. Iit took over 2,300 stripped oak poles to rebuild it.

Mesolithic burials in Muge, Portugal

Analysis of Burials from the New Excavations of the Sites Cabeço da Amoreira and Cabeço da Arruda (Muge, Portugal)

Mirjana Roksandic,Department of Anthropology University of Toronto
New excavations of the Mesolithic sites in the Muge valley directed by J.-M. Rolão, M. Roksandic and E. Cunha aim to provide finer details of spatial organization, site use and, eventually, social  organization. Within that goal, microspatial analysis of individual burials is effected to further our understanding of mortuary and ancestral rituals and their incorporation into the habitation site. Cleaning and reinforcing the profiles at the sites of Cabeço da Amoreira and Cabeço da Arruda, and the first two campaigns of the new excavations resulted in discovery of the four burials presented here. In addition, new 14C dates and isotope data are given.

The burial dates are about 7,000 years old.

Oldest Neolithic settlement in Croatia

C14 dating of early Neolithic settlement Galovo near Slavonski Brod in Northern Croatia


In Northern Croatia, more than hundred settlements are known from the period of the Starcevo culture, the first Neolithic period in south-east (SE) Europe. Here we present the 14C dating of nine charcoal samples from the Neolithic settlement Galovo in Slavonski Brod. According to archaeological findings, it belongs to the early phase (Linear A) of the Starcevo culture and has a special ritual-burial area separated by two wooden fences from its residential part. The vertical stratigraphy revealed two phases of the settlement construction in period 6070-5630 cal BC. In the younger phase (5380-4960 cal BC) the settlement expanded and the burial area became smaller. Combination of archaeological findings and 14C dates thus allowed a reconstruction of the 1000-year-long existence of this settlement that existed simultaneously with the nearby settlement Zadubravlje-Duzine, dated earlier to 6000-5000 cal BC. These are the first absolute dates of the beginning of neolithization in Northern Croatia.

More on the site…

In 2005, the ninth season of systematic archaeological excavations of an Early Neolithic Starčevo culture settlement was conducted on a land called Galovo in the north-eastern part of
Slavonski Brod. The works were organised by the Institute of Archaeology from Zagreb in co-operation with the Museum of Brodsko Posavlje from Slavonski Brod, led by K. Minichreiter, Ph.D. (Minichreiter 2005, 25-30). During the excavations an area of 200 m2 was excavated, which on its southern and western sides was a continuation of the surface excavated in past years. The working pit dwelling 205/206 was completely excavated, and the excavations of the upper layers of four surrounding pit dwellings – 291/292, 323/324, 749/750 and 753/754 – started. In the follow-up settlement excavations, working pit dwelling 205/206 was uncovered with a bread oven and a pottery kiln, as well as a wooden frame and clay weights of a vertical loom. The pit dwelling had two rooms, northern and southern, and on its north-eastern side there was an entrance with two steps, each 20 cm high. In the northern part were the kiln, the oven and the loom, and in the southern part a levelled walking area and a niche (possibly a shelf) for storing things or sitting.

The pit dwelling walls on the western, southern and south-eastern side were steeply dug up to 1 m from the peripheral part of the structure. On the northern, north-eastern and eastern side
sequences of pillar holes were found, and in the middle of the pit dwelling, from NW to SE (along the longer axis) vertical wooden pillars were entrenched (with a 30-40 cm diameter) serving as the main central supports of the roof construction. At two points, rows of diagonal supports were identified as well, arranged vertically with the central structure. Along with clay vessels standard in shape and decorations, fragments of bowls were found in the pit dwelling painted white on a red background. Of specific finds, decorated bone objects, clay idols and smoothed stone axes stand out. Radiocarbon 14C analyses determined the age of the baking oven (5800-5715 cal BC) and the loom (5790-5660 cal BC), suggesting that pit dwelling 205 is somewhat older than the neighbouring pit dwellings. This is confirmed also by vessel fragments with white painted motifs, which were unearthed only in this pit dwelling out of a total of six pit dwellings excavated in this part of the settlement. In the upper layers of pit dwellings 749, 753 and 291 parts of an altar, a dog figurine – protomes on an altar, pillared idols and pottery decorated with reliefs, probably of an animal figure. Archaeological finds belong to the Linear A stage, just as in the previous works. The discovery of white painted patterns on vessels confirm the assumption made by S. Dimitrijević, who called this stage the white Linear A. This significant discovery in continental Croatia moves the white Linear
A distribution border further west, suggesting that white Linear A existed not only in eastern, but also in central Slavonia.

And here and here.

And some images of the site…

Galovo - stove


The very early date means this was probably one of the first neolithic settlements in Croatia- a beautiful country, and well worth a visit. The Neretva river delta in early summer looks like heaven on earth.

Ancient Germans weren’t so fair

Ancient Germans weren’t so fair

Anna Salleh in Brisbane ABC Science Online Friday, 16 July  2004

  Blond ancestors?

This girl’s ancestors may have had darker skin that didn’t burn so easily, ancient DNA suggests (Image: iStockphoto)
Researchers may be able to make more accurate reconstructions of what ancient humans looked like with the first ever use of ancient DNA to determine hair and skin colour from skeletal remains.

The research was presented today at an international ancient DNA conference in Brisbane, Australia, by German anthropologist, Dr Diane Schmidt of the University of Göttingen.

She said her research may also help to identify modern day murderers and their victims.

“Three thousand years ago, nobody was doing painting and there was no photography. We do not know what people looked like,” Schmidt told ABC Science Online.

She said most images in museums and books were derived from comparisons with living people from the same regions.

“For example, when we make a reconstruction of people from Africa we think that they had dark skin or dark hair,” she said. “But there’s no real scientific information. It’s just a guess. It’s mostly imagination.”

She said this had meant, for example, that the reconstruction of Neanderthals had changed over time.

“In the 1920s, the Neanderthals were reconstructed as wild people with dark hair and dumb, not really clever,” she said. “Today, with the same fossil record, with the same bones and no other information – just a change in ideology – you see reconstructions of people with blue eyes and quite light skin colour, looking intelligent and using tools.

“Most of the reconstructions you see in museums are a thing of the imagination of the reconstructor. Our goal is to make this reconstruction less subjective and give them an objective basis with scientific data.”

Genetic markers for hair colour

In research for her recently completed PhD, Schmidt built on research from the fields of dermatology and skin cancer that have found genetic markers for traits such as skin and hair colour in modern humans.

In particular, Schmidt relied on the fact that different mutations (known as single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs) in the melanocortin receptor 1 gene are responsible for skin and hair colour.

DNA analysis showed this skull belonged to someone with red hair (Image: Sussane Hummel)

“There is a set of SNPs that tells you that a person was a redhead and a different set of markers tell you they were fair skinned.”

She extracted DNA from ancient human bones as old as 3000 years old from three different locations in Germany and looked for these SNPs.

Her findings suggest that red hair and fair skin was very uncommon among ancient Germans.

Out of a total of 26 people analysed, Schmidt found only one person with red hair and fair skin, a man from the Middle Ages. All the other people had more UV-tolerant skin that tans easily.

She said she was excited when she “coloured in” the faces that once covered the skulls, and had even developed “a kind of a personal relationship” with one of them.

“It’s not so anonymous,” she said. “I think this is the reason why people in museums can do reconstruction because our ancestors are not so anonymous any more; they have a face you can look into.”

Unfortunately the genetic markers Schmidt used could not distinguish which of the ancient humans had blond versus black hair, and she could not determine eye colour.

But, she said she was confident that this will be possible in a few years.

Schmidt said that such research could also be used to help build up identikit pictures to help identify skeletons or criminals.

The research has been submitted for publication.

Someone posted this on my paleoanthropology group a while back. I’d just like to comment the the red hair mutation also lightens skin a fair bit, so the net difference between the skin of a Cro-Magnon with red hair and a modern European may not be all that much. I’d like to know what proportion of these old remains had red hair, as with a darker basic skin tone they would have burned less easily than modern gingers, and it could have been pretty ubiquitous amoung ancient Europeans, being used instead of the SLC245 mutation to lighten skin.