Time Immemorial

Kevin Lewis

January 28, 2023

Conflict, violence, and warfare among early farmers in Northwestern Europe
Linda Fibiger et al.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 24 January 2023 


Bioarchaeological evidence of interpersonal violence and early warfare presents important insights into conflict in past societies. This evidence is critical for understanding the motivations for violence and its effects on opposing and competing individuals and groups across time and space. Selecting the Neolithic of northwestern Europe as an area for study, the present paper examines the variation and societal context for the violence recorded in the human skeletal remains from this region as one of the most important elements of human welfare. Compiling data from various sources, it becomes apparent that violence was endemic in Neolithic Europe, sometimes reaching levels of intergroup hostilities that ended in the utter destruction of entire communities. While the precise comparative quantification of healed and unhealed trauma remains a fundamental problem, patterns emerge that see conflict likely fostered by increasing competition between settled and growing communities, e.g., for access to arable land for food production. The further development of contextual information is paramount in order to address hypotheses on the motivations, origins, and evolution of violence as based on the study of human remains, the most direct indicator for actual small- and large-scale violence.

Mobility and kinship in the world’s first village societies
Jessica Pearson  et al.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 24 January 2023 


Around 10,000 y ago in southwest Asia, the cessation of a mobile lifestyle and the emergence of the first village communities during the Neolithic marked a fundamental change in human history. The first communities were small (tens to hundreds of individuals) but remained semisedentary. So-called megasites appeared soon after, occupied by thousands of more sedentary inhabitants. Accompanying this shift, the material culture and ancient ecological data indicate profound changes in economic and social behavior. A shift from residential to logistical mobility and increasing population size are clear and can be explained by either changes in fertility and/or aggregation of local groups. However, as sedentism increased, small early communities likely risked inbreeding without maintaining or establishing exogamous relationships typical of hunter-gatherers. Megasites, where large populations would have made endogamy sustainable, could have avoided this risk. To examine the role of kinship practices in the rise of megasites, we measured strontium and oxygen isotopes in tooth enamel from 99 individuals buried at Pınarbaşı, Boncuklu, and Çatalhöyük (Turkey) over 7,000 y. These sites are geographically proximate and, critically, span both early sedentary behaviors (Pınarbaşı and Boncuklu) and the rise of a local megasite (Çatalhöyük). Our data are consistent with the presence of only local individuals at Pınarbaşı and Boncuklu, whereas at Çatalhöyük, several nonlocals are present. The Çatalhöyük data stand in contrast to other megasites where bioarchaeological evidence has pointed to strict endogamy. These different kinship behaviors suggest that megasites may have arisen by employing unique, community-specific kinship practices.

Long-term trends in human body size track regional variation in subsistence transitions and growth acceleration linked to dairying
Jay Stock et al.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 24 January 2023


Evidence for a reduction in stature between Mesolithic foragers and Neolithic farmers has been interpreted as reflective of declines in health, however, our current understanding of this trend fails to account for the complexity of cultural and dietary transitions or the possible causes of phenotypic change. The agricultural transition was extended in primary centers of domestication and abrupt in regions characterized by demic diffusion. In regions such as Northern Europe where foreign domesticates were difficult to establish, there is strong evidence for natural selection for lactase persistence in relation to dairying. We employ broad-scale analyses of diachronic variation in stature and body mass in the Levant, Europe, the Nile Valley, South Asia, and China, to test three hypotheses about the timing of subsistence shifts and human body size, that: 1) the adoption of agriculture led to a decrease in stature, 2) there were different trajectories in regions of in situ domestication or cultural diffusion of agriculture; and 3) increases in stature and body mass are observed in regions with evidence for selection for lactase persistence. Our results demonstrate that 1) decreases in stature preceded the origins of agriculture in some regions; 2) the Levant and China, regions of in situ domestication of species and an extended period of mixed foraging and agricultural subsistence, had stable stature and body mass over time; and 3) stature and body mass increases in Central and Northern Europe coincide with the timing of selective sweeps for lactase persistence, providing support for the “Lactase Growth Hypothesis.”

Population trends and the transition to agriculture: Global processes as seen from North America
George Milner & Jesper Boldsen
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 24 January 2023 


Agriculture -- specifically an intensification of the production of readily stored food and its distribution -- has supported an increase in the global human population throughout the Holocene. Today, with greatly accelerated of growth during recent centuries, we have reached about 8 billion people. Human skeletal and archaeobotanical remains clarify what occurred over several millennia of profound societal and population change in small-scale societies once distributed across the North American midcontinent. Stepwise, not gradual, changes in the move toward an agriculturally based life, as indicated by plant remains, left a demographic signal reflecting age-independent (α2) mortality as estimated from skeletons. Designated the age-independent component of the Siler model, it is tracked through the juvenility index (JI), which is increasingly being used in studies of archaeological skeletons. Usually interpreted as a fertility indicator, the JI is more responsive to age-independent mortality in societies that dominated most of human existence. In the midcontinent, the JI increased as people transitioned to a more intensive form of food production that prominently featured maize. Several centuries later, the JI declined, along with a reversion to a somewhat more diverse diet and a reduction in overall population size. Changes in age-independent mortality coincided with previously recognized increases in intergroup conflict, group movement, and pathogen exposure. Similar rises and falls in JI values have been reported for other parts of the world during the emergence of agricultural systems.

Isotopic and DNA analyses reveal multiscale PPNB mobility and migration across Southeastern Anatolia and the Southern Levant
Xiaoran Wang et al.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 24 January 2023 


Growing reliance on animal and plant domestication in the Near East and beyond during the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB) (the ninth to eighth millennium BC) has often been associated with a “revolutionary” social transformation from mobility toward more sedentary lifestyles. We are able to yield nuanced insights into the process of the Neolithization in the Near East based on a bioarchaeological approach integrating isotopic and archaeogenetic analyses on the bone remains recovered from Nevalı Çori, a site occupied from the early PPNB in Turkey where some of the earliest evidence of animal and plant domestication emerged, and from Ba'ja, a typical late PPNB site in Jordan. In addition, we present the archaeological sequence of Nevalı Çori together with newly generated radiocarbon dates. Our results are based on strontium (87Sr/86Sr), carbon, and oxygen (δ18O and δ13Ccarb) isotopic analyses conducted on 28 human and 29 animal individuals from the site of Nevalı Çori. 87Sr/86Sr results indicate mobility and connection with the contemporaneous surrounding sites during the earlier PPNB prior to an apparent decline in this mobility at a time of growing reliance on domesticates. Genome-wide data from six human individuals from Nevalı Çori and Ba'ja demonstrate a diverse gene pool at Nevalı Çori that supports connectedness within the Fertile Crescent during the earlier phases of Neolithization and evidence of consanguineous union in the PPNB Ba'ja and the Iron Age Nevalı Çori.


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