Stone Age farmers, hunters kept their distance
Joel Achenbach, The Washington Post, 10-10-2013
Polarization — right and left, red state and blue state, etc. — wasn’t invented yesterday. Ask the scientists studying the bones of prehistoric Europeans. Hundreds of skeletal remains , many from a newly discovered cave in Germany, have produced a startling reminder of the power of social boundaries. When farmers showed up from the Near East about 7,500 years ago, eager to grow their grains in the soil of Central Europe, they were met by indigenous hunters and gatherers. The locals, apparently, did not welcome them with open arms.
Two new scientific techniques, ingeniously paired together, suggest that for some 2,000 years, these distinct groups refused to mesh and would rarely cross their cultural boundaries to find a mate. At first, the indigenous people largely disappeared from the scene altogether, fleeing to the north to continue their traditional mode of life. But even when they drifted back and became neighbors with the farmers, they remained to a large extent a breed apart.
“We don’t really know who set up those social boundaries, so we don’t know if it was the farmers who didn’t mix with the hunter gatherers or if it was the hunter-gatherers who wanted to stay by themselves,” said Ruth Bollongino, a biologist at the University of Mainz and the lead author “2000 Years of Parallel Societies in Stone Age Central Europe,” one of two new papers on Neolithic Europe published online Thursday by the journal Science. “Or maybe its both groups that wanted to keep their own identity.”
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