Isotopic analysis of an LBK mass grave

The Telegraph reports the study as follows:
Neolithic men were prepared to fight for their women

[. . .]

Many archaeologists have argued that women have long motivated cycles of violence and blood feuds throughout history but there has really been no solid archaeological evidence to support this view.

Now a relatively new method has been used to work out the origins of the victims tossed into a mass grave of skeletons, and so distinguish one tribe from another, revealing that neighbouring tribes were prepared to kill their male rivals to secure their women some 7000 years ago.

The Durham University research, described in the academic journal Antiquity, focused on 34 skeletons found buried in the village of Talheim in the south-west of Germany.

[. . .]

Lead author Dr Alex Bentley says the simplest explanation is that the women of one tribe were captured.

"It seems this community was specifically targeted, as could happen in a cycle of revenge between rival groups. Although resources and population were undoubtedly factors in central Europe around that time, women appear to be the immediate reason for the attack.

"Our analysis points to the local women being regarded as somehow special and were therefore kept alive."


Volume: 82 Number: 316 Page: 290–304

Isotopic signatures and hereditary traits: snapshot of a Neolithic community in Germany

R. Alexander Bentley1, Joachim Wahl2, T. Douglas Price3 and Tim C. Atkinson4

1Department of Anthropology, Durham University, 43 Old Elvet, Durham DH1 3HN, UK (Email: 2RP Stuttgart, Landesamt f├╝r Denkmalpflege, Osteologie, Stromeyersdorfstra├če 3, D-78467, Konstanz, Germany (Email: 3Department. of Anthropology, University of Wisconsin, 1180 Observatory Dr., Madison, WI 53706-1393, USA (Email: 4Department of Earth Sciences, University College London, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT, UK (Email:

A group of Linearbandkeramik people at Talheim, Germany were previously found to have died at the same time, probably in a massacre, and the authors were able to ask some searching questions of their skeletons. The isotope signatures of strontium, oxygen and carbon, which gave information on diet and childhood region, showed up three groups which correlated with hereditary traits (derived previously from the analysis of the teeth). In the local group, there were many local children but no adult women, suggesting they had been selectively taken alive at the time of the massacre. Another group, with isotope signatures derived from upland areas, includes two men who may have been closely related. A third group has a composition suggestive of a nuclear family. The variations of one type of isotope signature with another suggested subtle interpretations, such as transhumance, and a probable labour division in the community between stockholders and cultivators. Here we see the ever-growing potential of these new methods for writing the ‘biographies’ of prehistoric skeletons.

Keywords: Neolithic, Germany, LBK, Talheim, isotope analysis, hereditary traits, trans-humance

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