BERLIN – The mobility of women during the final phase of the Stone Age and start of the Bronze Age was a key element in cultural interchange between regions, according to research based on the study of graves located in the Lech River valley in southern Germany.
The study, published on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) magazine, shows how 4,000 years ago European women left their birth settlements and traveled far to form families, taking with them new objects and cultural ideas, the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History said in a statement.
The report is based on the graves found in the Lech valley, south of the city of Augsburg.
In the families living in the settlements in the region at that time, the majority of women came from other areas, probably from Bohemia or central Germany several hundred kilometers away, while the men normally remained in or very near their birth location.
According to the researchers, this “patrilocal” type of social pattern, in which new couples live in the territory of the man’s family, combined with individual female mobility, was not a temporary phenomenon but rather lasted for some 800 years during the transition from the Stone Age to the Bronze Age.
Participating in the study – headed by Philipp Stockhammer, of Munich’s Ludwig-Maximilians University – were Corina Knipper of the Curt-Engelhorn-Centre for Archaeometry, along with Alissa Mittnik and Johannes Krause of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena and the University of Tuebingen.
“Individual mobility was a major feature characterizing the lives of people in Central Europe even in the third and early second millennium,” said Stockhammer regarding a phenomenon that the researchers believe fostered the development of new technologies in the Bronze Age.
The scientific team used genetic and isotope analysis along with archaeological evaluations to research the remains of 84 individuals buried between 2,500 and 1,650 BC in cemeteries belonging to individual homesteads and containing up to several dozen burials made over several generations.
“We see a great diversity of different female lineages, which would occur if over time many women relocated to the Lech Valley from somewhere else,” said Mittnik regarding the genetic analyses.
Knipper said that analysis of strontium isotope ratios in molars showed that the majority of the women were not born in the region, and their burials did not differ from those of the locally born population, showing that they had been integrated into society there.