March 13, 2006

Prehistoric graves imply different ways of life

Anthropik had an article about early burials with grave goods and the implication that social hierarchy might have begun before agriculture. This was my response:

This evidence confirms my hypothesis that physical disability was one of the major motives for early settlement.

If the food supply for nomads in an area is high enough to raise population density to a certain point, then settlement at places favored for trade meets or festivals becomes viable. Those who settle down to trade and to store goods for trade are not necessarily disabled themselves, maybe they have a disabled member of their family or socially dedicated foraging band. These early settlers did not need to have any agricultural skills to start, so they are different from what we think of as settlers later in history, and they tend to be overlooked.

Once a person has a fixed location, storing goods becomes possible in quantities far in excess of what a nomadic band would carry or drag from camp to camp. Trade provides a way to accumulate artifacts and a motive for doing so, to have savings for seasonal variations in trade.

The settled lifestyle with caches and hoards of possessions (not yet property, which is a result of agriculture) may lead to a worldview where burial with grave goods is preferred to cremation or other quick forms of return to the energy flow of life on Earth. So then some early settlers, not necessarily all of them, appear to have chosen that new funeral option. It may have been considered especially appropriate when the body was of the member of the band whose disability had motivated the band to settle. By using up stored goods in funerals and burials, early bands may have been giving themselves the option to return to nomadism when their reason for settling was past. If that is the case, then it perfectly explains why all of those early skeletons found with grave goods have defects.

It's making me teary eyed just thinking about it.

[The Anthropik article by Jason Godesky linked to an article in British Archaeology, August 2002, by Paul Pettitt that I read all the way through next. I was disappointed by the sensationalism of speculating that they were all ritually murdered, as if being able to imagine such a hypothetical, culturally relative practice is the most intellectually valuable sort of imagination of history that can result from such archaeological discoveries. Do humans only study history and geography to practice thinking evil of others? (without judging them, of course.)]