Saturday, February 17, 2024

Adult-Child Beaker Graves (Zedda et al, 2023)

The two burials examined in this paper solidify previous research on Beaker family connections and social practices.  Here, a boy and girl are buried with close female relatives. See also

A previous post on the Dunstable Down burial [here] looked at the echinoid phenomenon; interestingly Altwies was surrounded by "...a stone ‘ring’, possibly made of fossilized shell..." (Le Brun-Ricalens, 2011)  The similarities of these British and Continental graves made the possibility of some kind of rite a question of interest.

The young girl was buried with her paternal aunt, a woman plausibly young enough to have been unmarried, an important point due to the long-distance female exogamy of this population. The boy was buried with his mother.  Both pairs had substantial Steppe ancestry and share closeness with populations of Bohemia, although some interpretive caution is advised.

Table 1 (so is it H5c or H33c?)

Most adult-child burials across Eurasia will prove to be children of close female relatives.  Occasionally non-related women may be buried with children and then it's fair to ask why.  But if we're going to ask why, let's not immediately jump to the least likely of all possibilities!

"A young adult woman, who had a typical ancestry of the Iberian Peninsula, was buried atop the skeleton of an infant girl in an artificial cave. The infant was neither her daughter nor a close biological kin, but had a comparatively high amount of steppe ancestry27,82,83. We may speculate that kinship practices were different in the southern domain of the Bell Beaker culture, where collective burial traditions in megalithic tombs and artificial caves continued uninterrupted"

What??  Why is placing the body of a young dead woman over the body an infant evidence of uninterrupted megalithic burial tradition?  The young woman likely had one of two relationships with the infant. 1) She was by family marriage an aunt, cousin or older step-sister to the infant and added weeks after the first burial for whatever netherworldly reasons, 2) She was sacrificed and placed on top of the first grave.  I think the second option is unlikely because the baby was both and infant and a girl.  Probably, it was just a sad misfortune of two deaths and it made sense to bury a baby and woman together.

Do these burials point to a patriarchal society as the authors suggest?  To the degree that we can speculate without further evidence, probably so. 

Although ALW2 was a boy of only 3-4 years old, his maleness is emphasized in this combined grave.  It's important to note nearby grave 1 (with no dna) could have been his young father.  Perhaps as sole male survivor of his young father's house, his social position was more meaningful to his mother and to those than knew them.  I recall a paper on idealized Czech child burials by Jan Turek, (I'll update when I find it).

For LUT1 (aunt), to be within close proximity of her brother's family would likely mean she was unmarried.  She would have been within the median range of first marriage for girls in Europe historically, so it's plausible.  This, in theory, reinforces the patrilocality of this community. 

Zedda, N., Meheux, K., Blöcher, J. et al. Biological and substitute parents in Beaker period adult–child graves. Sci Rep 13, 18765 (2023).

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