Mobile women were key to cultural exchange in Stone Age and Bronze Age Europe

September 4, 2017, Max Planck Society
4,000 years ago, European women traveled far from their home villages to start their families, bringing with them new cultural objects and ideas. Credit: Stadtarchäologie Augsburg

At the end of the Stone Age and in the early Bronze Age, families were established in a surprising manner in the Lechtal, south of Augsburg, Germany. The majority of women came from outside the area, probably from Bohemia or Central Germany, while men usually remained in the region of their birth. This so-called patrilocal pattern combined with individual female mobility was not a temporary phenomenon, but persisted over a period of 800 years during the transition from the Neolithic to the Early Bronze Age.

The findings, published today in PNAS, result from a research collaboration headed by Philipp Stockhammer of the Institute of Pre- and Protohistoric Archaeology and Archaeology of the Roman Provinces of the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München. In addition to archaeological examinations, the team conducted stable isotope and ancient DNA analyses. Corina Knipper of the Curt-Engelhorn-Centre for Archaeometry, as well as Alissa Mittnik and Johannes Krause of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena and the University of Tuebingen jointly directed these scientific investigations. "Individual mobility was a major feature characterizing the lives of people in Central Europe even in the 3rd and early 2nd millennium," states Philipp Stockhammer. The researchers suspect that it played a significant role in the exchange of cultural objects and ideas, which increased considerably in the Bronze Age, in turn promoting the development of new technologies.

For this study, the researchers examined the remains of 84 individuals using genetic and isotope analyses in conjunction with archeological evaluations. The individuals were buried between 2500 and 1650 BC in cemeteries that belonged to individual homesteads, and that contained between one and several dozen burials made over a period of several generations. "The settlements were located along a fertile loess ridge in the middle of the Lech valley. Larger villages did not exist in the Lechtal at this time," states Stockhammer.

4,000 years ago, European women traveled far from their home villages to start their families, bringing with them new cultural objects and ideas. Credit: Stadtarchaeologie Augsburg

"We see a great diversity of different female lineages, which would occur if over time many relocated to the Lech Valley from somewhere else," remarks Alissa Mittnik on the genetic analyses and Corina Knipper explains, "Based on analysis of strontium isotope ratios in molars, which allows us to draw conclusions about the origin of people, we were able to ascertain that the majority of women did not originate from the region." The burials of the women did not differ from that of the native population, indicating that the formerly foreign women were integrated into the local community.

From an archaeological point of view, the new insights prove the importance of female mobility for cultural exchange in the Bronze Age. They also allow us to view the immense extent of early human mobility in a new light. "It appears that at least part of what was previously believed to be migration by groups is based on an institutionalized form of individual mobility," declares Stockhammer.

Explore further: Bronze Age Iberia received fewer steppe invaders than the rest of Europe

More information: Corina Knipper el al., "Female exogamy and gene pool diversification at the transition from the Final Neolithic to the Early Bronze Age in central Europe," PNAS (2017).

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1 / 5 (1) Sep 05, 2017
Fascinating results from methodical research. We'd expect males to move about for varied reasons. That these emigrants were, over such a long period of time, female raises some questions.

There was no evidence, presented to date, of mass violence. Slave raids or continuous warfare. So, why?

Has there been a study done of remains from the originating regions? Perhaps evidence of malnutrition or over-population considering limited resources at their level of technology?

Extra females have always been an important source of labor for every society. Even considering the handicaps of pregnancy and child-rearing. Is there any evidence of population movement the other direction?

Was there a high death-rate among females in the Lechtal region. Trade-goods from that area, exchanged for the women?

Perhaps some of that emigration was simply, the preceding migrants wanted to be joined by their relatives. Whom with they shared emotional bonds, language, culture?
not rated yet Sep 05, 2017
Or it could have simply been that tribes of people in the area joined together for summer or fall festivals. People meet there and decide to mate. The women left with their new mates when it was over. When you live in a small tribe or village type of setting meeting new people at a festival would always be more interesting than the few that you grew up with.
1 / 5 (1) Sep 06, 2017
4v, good points. Especially since small villages tend to be populated mainly by relatives.

Though even during religious festivals? Without some sort of economic impetus. How far would those people travel, including the trip home?

That's why I asked if there were trade goods going the other way. Possibly in stages, a couple of days or more between meetings? Findings of imported goods would be physical evidence for a variety of interconnections.

Rome became dominate among the Latins and the other tribes of central Italy because they were a crossroads for the Salt Trade.

Although, long before christianity, religious pilgrims would endure extensive journeys.

Many of today's cities began where the routes of religion and commerce would concentrate wealth.

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