Roots of Diversity in a Linearbandkeramik Community: Isotope Evidence at Aiterhofen (Bavaria, Germany)

Article excerpt




The Linearbandkeramik (LBK) culture, c. 5500-4900 cal BC, is the first Neolithic culture over much of Europe (Whittle 2003) (Figure 1). As a result, archaeologists often characterise its material culture in fixed categories, such as 'incoming farmer' or 'acculturated hunter-gatherer' (cf. Robb & Miracle 2007). La Hoguette and Limburg ceramics in the western LBK (see Manen & Mazurie de Keroualin 2003), or evidence for hunting, are frequently seen as indications of surviving 'hunter-gatherers'. Hachem's (2000) detailed study of the animal remains at Cuiry-les-Chaudardes (Aisne Valley) distinguished the households of 'herders' from the shorter houses of 'hunters' (who are attributed a lower status) (Hachem 2000: 311). Hunter-gatherers are identified as variants from an LBK 'norm' (geographical, cultural and economic), an idea which is so academically engrained that any deviation becomes the problem to explain. Complex burial assemblages are similarly reduced to burials of 'farmers' or 'hunters' (Lenneis 2007; Haack 2008), and non-local isotope signatures all too quickly become those of potential 'hunters' (Bickle & Hofmann 2007; Robb & Miracle 2007: 111). This even applies to cemetery evidence, which dates to several generations after the arrival of farmers.

However, this traditional 'forager/farmer' dichotomy neglects the potential variability within both farmer and hunter-gatherer lifestyles. 'Diversity in uniformity' is a more fitting description for LBK communities (Modderman 1988). The LBK exhibits regional trends in house design, ceramics, lithics and burial practices (Modderman 1988; Jeunesse 1997; Coudart 1998). Bioarchaeological remains (flora and fauna) suggest varied agricultural subsistence strategies ar different scales (Hachem 2000; Bogaard 2004; Zvelebil & Pettitt 2008; Knipper 2009; Bogaard et al. 2011). But despite detailed regional syntheses (e.g. Lenneis 1995; Luning 1997; Ilett et al. 1982) and a debated chronology (Gronenborn 2009), monolithic categories such as 'farmer'/'forager' and 'LBK'/'non-LBK' still characterise much interpretation (critiqued by Lukes & Zvelebil 2008; Robb & Miracle 2007). Characterising LBK communities from subsistence strategies and material culture remains challenging.

One way to explore social groups within the LBK directly is through the examination of isotopes in skeletal material--for example, recent strontium isotope work suggests a range of different mobility strategies (Bentley & Knipper 2005; Richards et al. 2008; Nehlich et al. 2009), including transhumance (Bentley et al. 2008), while carbon and nitrogen track differences in plant and animal protein consumption (Price et al. 2001; Bentley et al. 2002, 2008; Bentley & Knipper 2005; Asam et al. 2006; Durrwachter et al. 2006; Richards et al. 2008; Nehlich et al. 2009; Oelze et al. 2011). Here, we reassess the varied diet and mobility of members of an LBK community through ah isotopic analysis at the cemetery of Aiterhofen, Germany. The evidence from Aiterhofen indicates more complex dietary and mobility patterns than that expected from a rigid distinction between 'farmer' and 'forager'. Rather, we argue that LBK burial practices developed from a varied tableau of possible identities, in which subsistence practices played a non-divisive part.

The Aiterhofen cemetery

About 200 LBK sites are known on the Loess areas along the Danube's tributaries in Lower Bavaria, ranging in size from a few houses to large enclosure sites (Pechtl 2009: 188). Aiterhofen in Bavaria, which is in use between 5300 and 4900 cal BC, is an LBK burial ground 5km south of the Danube on the east bank of the Aiterach stream, and may have served one or more nearby settlements (Nieszery 1995: 55-6). When burial began at Aiterhofen, approximately 100 years after the LBK first arrived in Bavaria, regionalisation in ceramic styles, subsistence strategies and house design were increasingly manifest. …