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7 November 2017
Late Neolithic burials in Spain reveal surprising differences

Analysis of megalithic graves and caves in Spain suggest different lifeways for people buried in different types of funerary sites.
     Previous research on the burial practices of the Western European Neolithic has revealed variation in burial location and treatment, but the significance is difficult to interpret. To further investigate the meaning behind different burial practices within the same location and period, researchers analysed carbon and nitrogen isotope levels in bone collagen from 166 individuals from a series of broadly contemporary Late Neolithic (3500-2900 BCE) mortuary monuments and caves, closely situated in north-central Spain.
     Analysis of both types of sites suggests a similar plant-based diet, mostly consisting of wheat and barley, as well as a substantial amount of protein from cattle and sheep, however the study also reveals significant carbon isotope differences between people interred in the two site-types.
     These differences seem to be correlated with elevation, temperature, and precipitation, implying that land use was partitioned on a surprisingly local scale. This division of land could indicate different socioeconomic classes within the same community - the lower classes with restricted access to agricultural resources being interred in caves and individuals of higher status buried in monumental graves whose construction would involve a considerable investment of labour - or partitioning of the landscape may have involved different populations following distinct subsistence economies and different funerary practices.
     Further research on tooth dentine and enamel will explore the age at which the isotopic differences first appeared, and investigate different patterns of mobility and landscape-use in the study area.

Edited from EurekAlert!, PLOS One (27 September 2017)

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