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Social Inequality, Marriage Habits, and Other Clues to Bronze Age Life

Archaeologists study Bronze Age Europe from the artifacts people left behind, since there are no written records. A new study combines old-fashioned digging with modern science to untangle social relationships and culture in a community of over 100 individuals who lived in Germany’s Lech Valley between 4,750 and 3,320 years ago. Gravesites reveal an individual's status from the quality of goods buried with them, DNA analysis reveals their family trees, and both reveal clues about their relationships with one another. Lead author of the study Alissa Mittnik explains some of the findings.  

The study “advances our knowledge of how people lived together, and how biological and social relations correlate—or not,” she said. The researchers were able to identify several lineages, all male, which “could be traced over generations, a group of ‘foreign,’ high-status women, and some low-status, low-rank individuals.”

Indeed, in nearly all the homes the females were not related to the males, and only male lineages could be identified. The reason for this, according to the authors, has to do with a previously identified Bronze Age practice known as patrilocality, in which newlywed wives moved in with their husband’s family. Through this custom, sons introduced new wives to the household who weren’t biologically related, while daughters, when reaching maturity, left the household, taking their genes along with them.

“One striking observation was that these family trees only contained daughters who died when they were under the age of 15 to 17, consistent with a patrilocal family structure in which women leave the family they grew up in to join the household of their husband,” said Mittnik.

Other findings point to the presence of servants or slaves in these households. Read more about the study at Gizmodo.

(Image credit: Rasmus Christiansen)

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