What’s on : Lectures
Lifeways and deathways of the first farmers in Europe
Dr Penny Bickle, Department of Archaeology, University of York
Alongside poorer health, longer working hours and the risk of famine, farming is also long thought to have brought about inequalities of different forms. This talk will draw on new evidence from the earliest farmers in Europe – from a period called the Neolithic – to rethink this claim. Bioarchaeological data can now tell us about the diversity of diet and health, and these aspects of people’s lives intersect with mobility. The burials of men and women can tell us about the sexed division of labour, as well as status differences between individuals. Together this analysis can help us approach to the question of, given all the negative impacts of farming, why did we bother at all?
This event will be held on Zoom and an invitation will be sent to YPS members a couple of days before the event.
Image: A reconstructed Neolithic longhouse, MAMUZ Museum, Austria.
Neolithic culture gradually spread north west across Europe from about 7000 BCE. These people were the first farmers, now blamed for introducing inequality into society. Dr Bickle’s research in Central Europe aims to test the archaeological evidence for this claim.
The introduction of farming brought fundamental changes to food, landscape, and health. People lived together in settlements of long houses, each probably occupied by a single family, along with their livestock. Settlements included different groups with distinct pottery styles and farming practices. There is some suggestion of inheritance of more desirable land close to houses.
Burial practices are difficult to interpret. Suggestions that men had higher status than women may not be substantiated, as grave goods were similar for both sexes, though a particular stone tool was buried only with men.
Strontium analysis of teeth suggests that men remained in the same geographical area, while women were more mobile. Examination of skeletons provides evidence of division of labour, with butchery and woodwork done by men, while women processed hides – considered a high-status task.
Dr Bickle concludes that the evidence suggests differences between people, rather than gross inequality.