Wed. Jan 22nd, 2020

When German families ran out of adult daughters

The inequality Social It is not something recent. It already existed, for example, 4,000 years ago in the south of Germany. It was so common, moreover, that it happened even within the same family. While the children took root in the parents' land and worked to maintain family wealth, the daughters disappeared completely from the nucleus when they reached adulthood.

Archaeological analyzes in the cemeteries of the Bronze Age of the Lech Valley, located near Augsburg and excavated more than 20 years ago, revealed that some of the first farmers studied were part of the campaniform vessel culture, according to the researchers of the Max Planck Institute in a study published in the magazine Science

DNA analysis was performed on 104 individuals found in cemeteries located in the Lech Valley

The DNA analyzes performed on the remains of 104 people, found during the works to build houses along a river, allowed the team of experts to unravel the relationships and inheritance patterns in several generations of high-ranking families that lived ago between 4,750 and 3,300 years ago and they were buried in cemeteries located on their own farms.

The data shows that families with a higher status lived together with women who came from afar and also had a high status, according to their funeral assets. In addition, a greater number of local individuals were found, but clearly less well-off, in the same funeral centers, in small graves associated with individual dwellings.

Ornate dagger of a male burial

Ornate dagger of a male burial
(Max Planck Institute)

In Central Europe, the Bronze Age covers the period between 2,200 and 800 BC. The technological advances of the time allowed to melt bronze, a knowledge that led to an early globalization, since the raw materials had to be transported across the continent of Europe.

The specialists had already demonstrated, in an earlier analysis, that the majority of women in the Lech Valley came from abroad and could play a decisive role in the transfer of knowledge. That is why the researchers wanted to detail now the effects of this mobility. "Wealth was correlated with biological kinship or with foreign origin," they write.

In Central Europe, the Bronze Age covers the period between 2,200 and 800 BC

The nuclear family transmitted their property and status for generations. But only to sons. Because there were no signs of the daughters, which suggests that they, like what had happened to their mothers, were also sent away to marry, in a pattern that persisted for 700 years.

The only local girls found were girls from high-status families who died between the ages of 15 and 17 and poor women, probably servants. Strontium levels of three men, on the other hand, indicated that although they had left the valley during adolescence, they returned as adults.

Original ornate copper disk (i) and reconstructed (d) of a high status female burial

Original ornate copper disk (i) and reconstructed (d) of a high status female burial
(Max Planck Institute)

The DNA of the culture of the bell-shaped vessel was transmitted through high-ranking men, richer and with more children, buried with daggers, axes and bronze chisels. These people had a variant of the Y chromosome that is common even today in Europe. In contrast, low-ranking men had different Y chromosomes, showing a different paternal ancestry.

A third of the women were also buried with great wealth: elaborate copper headdresses, thick bronze rings and decorated copper pins. But they were foreigners. Their genetics distinguishes them from other burials and strontium isotopes in their teeth, which reflect minerals in the water they drank, indicate that they were born and lived until their teens away from the Lech River.

The DNA of the campaniform vessel culture was transmitted through high-ranking men

Some of their funeral objects, perhaps memories of their early years, link them to culture Únětice, known for its distinctive metal objects and which was located at least 350 kilometers away in what is now eastern Germany and the Czech Republic. These princely burials of the Bronze Age have long pointed to social inequality.

Because, in each cemetery of each of the farms, they also found people of local origin poorly equipped, which suggests a complex social structure of homes, as was also the case in classical Greece and Rome. In Roman times, for example, slaves were part of the family unit, but had a different social status.

Some objects link women with the Únětice culture, located about 350 kilometers away

The researchers were able to reconstruct for the first time genealogical trees of these prehistoric cemeteries that span between four to five generations. Thus they could see that the brothers were buried in equally rich tombs, which indicates that all the children, not only the heirs, obtained a share of family wealth.

“Through the male lines, the farms passed from generation to generation and this system was stable for at least 700 years, through the transition from the Stone Age to the Bronze Age. The Lech Valley shows how early social inequality can be found within individual households, ”the researchers conclude.

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