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Kinship-based social inequality in Bronze Age Europe

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Science  08 Nov 2019:
Vol. 366, Issue 6466, pp. 731-734
DOI: 10.1126/science.aax6219

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Ancient DNA informs on past cultures

Archaeology has used analysis of the artifacts and remains of people to uncover their past behaviors and to infer their cultural practices. However, establishing genetic relationships has only recently become possible. Mittnik et al. examined the kinship and inheritance of the remains of people from the German Lech River Valley over a time period spanning the Late Neolithic Corded Ware Culture, the Bell Beaker Complex, the Early Bronze Age, and the Middle Bronze Age (see the Perspective by Feinman and Neitzel). From genetic and archaeological analyses, it was revealed that the Early Bronze Age household's burials over multiple generations consisted of a high-status core family and unrelated low-status individuals. Furthermore, women were not related to the men within the household, suggesting that men stayed within their birth communities in this society, but women did not.

Science, this issue p. 731; see also p. 682

Abstract

Revealing and understanding the mechanisms behind social inequality in prehistoric societies is a major challenge. By combining genome-wide data, isotopic evidence, and anthropological and archaeological data, we have gone beyond the dominating supraregional approaches in archaeogenetics to shed light on the complexity of social status, inheritance rules, and mobility during the Bronze Age. We applied a deep microregional approach and analyzed genome-wide data of 104 human individuals deriving from farmstead-related cemeteries from the Late Neolithic to the Middle Bronze Age in southern Germany. Our results reveal individual households, lasting several generations, that consisted of a high-status core family and unrelated low-status individuals; a social organization accompanied by patrilocality and female exogamy; and the stability of this system over 700 years.

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