Skip to main content

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

  • R. Alexander Bentley (a1), Joachim Wahl (a2), T. Douglas Price (a3) and Tim C. Atkinson (a4)

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.

Hide All
Alt, K.W., Vach, W. & Wahl, J.. 1995. Verwandtschaftsanalyse der Skelettreste aus dem bandkeramischen Massengrab von Talheim, Kreis Heilbronn. Fundberichte aus Baden-W¨urttemberg 20: 195217.
Alt, K.W., 1997. La reconstitution “génétique” de la population de la fosse rubanée de Talheim, Alllemagne. Cahiers de l'Association pour la Promotion de la Recherche Archéologique en Alsace 3:18.
Ambrose, S.H. & Norr, L.. 1993. Experimental evidence for the relationship of the carbon isotope ratios of whole diet and dietary protein to those of bone collagen and carbonate, in Lambert, J. B. & Grupe, G. (ed.) Prehistoric Human Bone: Archaeology at the Molecular Level: 137. Berlin: Springer.
Balasse, M., Ambrose, S. H., Smith, A. B. & Price, T. D.. 2002. The seasonal mobility model for prehistoric herders in the south-western cape of South Africa assessed by isotopic analysis of sheep tooth enamel. Journal of Archaeological Science 29: 917–32.
Bentley, R. A. 2006. Strontium isotopes from the Earth to the archaeological skeleton: a review. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 13: 135–87.
Bentley, R. A. & Knipper, C.. 2005a. Geographical patterns in biologically available strontium, carbon and oxygen isotope signatures in prehistoric SW Germany. Archaeometry 47: 629–44.
Bentley, R. A. 2005b. Transhumance at the early Neolithic settlement at Vaihingen (Germany). Antiquity:
Bentley, R. A., Price, T. D., L¨uning, J., Gronenborn, D., Wahl, J. & Fullagar, P. D.. 2002. Human migration in early Neolithic Europe. Current Anthropology 43: 799804.
Bentley, R. A., Krause, R., Price, T. D. & Kaufmann, B.. 2003. Human mobility at the early Neolithic settlement of Vaihingen, Germany. Archaeometry 45: 471–86.
Bentley, R. A., Price, T. D. & Stephan, E.. 2004. Determining the ‘local’ 87Sr/86Sr range for archaeological skeletons. Journal of Archaeological Science 31: 365–75.
Bogucki, P. 1988. Forest Farmers and Stockherders. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Bowen, G. J. & Wilkinson, B.. 2002. Spatial distribution of δ18 O in meteoric precipitation. Geology 30: 315–8.
Budd, P., Millard, A., Chenery, C., Lucy, S. & Roberts, C.. 2004. Investigating population movement by stable isotope analysis: a report from Britain. Antiquity 78: 127–40.
D'Angela, D. & Longinelli, A.. 1990. Oxygen isotopes in living mammals' bone phosphate: further results. Chemical Geology 86: 7582.
DeNiro, M. J. & Epstein, S.. 1978. Influence of diet on the distribution of carbon isotopes in animals. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 42: 495506.
D¨rrwächter, C., Craig, O. E., Collins, M. J., Burger, J. & Alt, K. W.. 2006. Beyond the grave: variability in Neolithic diets in Southern Germany? Journal of Archaeological Science 33: 3948.
Edmunds, W. M. & Tyler, S. W.. 2002. Unsaturated zones as archives of past climates: toward a new proxy for continental regions. Hydrogeology Journal 10: 216–28.
Eisenhauer, U. 2003. J¨ungerbandkeramische Residenzregeln: Patrilokalitäat in Talheim, in Eckert, J., Eisenhauer, U. & Zimmermann, A. (ed.) Archäologische Perspektiven: Analysen und Interpretationen im Wandel; Festschrift f¨ur Jens L¨uning zum 65. Geburtstag: 561–73. Rahden: Leidorf.
Fox, R. 1983. Kinship and Marriage: an Anthropological Perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Heaton, T.E.H.. 1999. Spatial, species, and temporal variations in the 13C/12C ratios of C3 plants: implications for paleodiet studies. Journal of Archaeological Science 26:637–49.
Holden, C. & Mace, R.. 2003. Spread of cattle led to the loss of matrilineal descent in Africa, a coevolutionary analysis. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 270:2425–33.
Holden, C. J., Sear, R. & Mace, R.. 2003. Matriliny as daughter-biased investment. Evolution and Human Behavior 24:99112.
Kienlin, T. L. & Valde-Nowak, P.. 2003. Neolithic transhumance in the Black Forest Mountains, SW Germany. Journal of Field Archaeology 29:2944.
Koch, P. L., Tuross, N. & Fogel, M. L.. 1997. The effects of sample treatment and diagenesis on the isotopic integrity of carbonate in biogenic hydroxylapatite. Journal of Archaeological Science 24:417–29.
Kohn, M. J. 1996. A predictive model for animalδ18 O: accounting for diet and physiological adaptation. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 60:4811–29.
K¨orner, C., Farquhar, G. D. & Wong, S. C.. 1991. Carbon isotope discrimination by plants follows latitudinal and altitudinal trends. Oecologia 74: 623–32.
Krause, R. (ed.) 2000. Die bandkeramischen Siedlungsgrabungen bei Vaihingen an der Enz, Kreis Ludwigsburg, Baden-W¨urttemberg. Ein Vorbericht zu den Ausgrabungen von 1994-1997. Berichte der Röomisch-Germanischen Kommission 79: 5105.
Mayer, B. & Schwark, L.. 1999. A 15,000-year stable isotope record from the sediments of Lake Steisslingen, Southwest Germany. Chemical Geology 161:315–37.
Montgomery, J., Evans, J. A. & Cooper, R. E.. 2007. Resolving archaeological populations with Sr-isotope mixing diagrams. Applied Geochemistry 22:1502–14.
Phillips, D. L. & Koch, P. L.. 2002. Incorporating concentration dependence in stable isotope mixing models. Oecologia 130: 114–25.
Price, T. D., Grupe, G. & Schr¨oter, P.. 1998. Migration in the Bell Beaker period of central Europe. Antiquity 72:405–11.
Price, T. D., Bentley, R. A., L¨uning, J., Gronenborn, D. & Wahl, J.. 2001. Prehistoric human migration in the Linearbandkeramik of Central Europe. Antiquity 75:593603.
Price, T. D., Burton, J. H. & Bentley, R. A.. 2002. Characterization of biologically available strontium isotope ratios for the study of prehistoric migration. Archaeometry 44:117–35.
Price, T. D., Wahl, J., Knipper, C., Burger-Heinrich, E., Kurz, G. & Bentley, R. A.. 2003. Das bandkeramische Gräaberfeld vom ‘Viesenhäuser Hof‘ bei Stuttgart M¨uhlhausen: Neue Untersuchungsergebnisse zum Migrationsverhalten im fr¨uhen Neolithikum. Fundberichte aus Baden-W¨urttemberg 27:2358. Stuttgart.
Price, T. D., Wahl, J. & Bentley, R. A.. 2008. Isotopic evidence for mobility and group organization among Neolithic farmers at Talheim, Germany, 5000 B.C. European Journal of Archaeology.
Seielstad, M. T., Minch, E. & Cavalli-Sforza, L. L.. 1998. Genetic evidence for a higher female migration rate in humans. Nature Genetics 20:278–80.
T¨utken, T., Vennemann, T. W. & Pfretschner, H.-U.. 2004. Analyse stabiler und radiogener Isotope in archäologischem Skelettmaterial: Herkunftsbestimmung des karolingischen Maultiers von Frankental und Vergleich mit spätpleistozänen Großsaugerknochen aus den Rheinablagerungen. Pr¨ahistorische Zeitschrift 79:89110.
Wahl, J. 1985. Ein neolithisches Massengrab bei Talheim, Landkreis Heilbronn. Arch¨aologische Ausgrabungen in Baden-W¨urttemberg 1984: 3032.
Wahl, J. & K¨onig, H. G.. 1987. Anthropologischtraumatologische Untersuchung der menschlichen Skelettreste aus dem bandkeramischen Massengrab bei Talheim, Kreis Heilbronn. Fundberichte aus Baden W¨urttemberg 12:65193.
Wild, E. M., Stadler, P., Hausser, A., Kutschera, W., Steier, P., Teschler-Nicola, M., Wahl, J. & Windl, H. J.. 2004. Neolithic massacres: Local skirmishes or general warfare in Europe? Radiocarbon 46:377–85.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

  • ISSN: 0003-598X
  • EISSN: 1745-1744
  • URL: /core/journals/antiquity
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed