CRC 1266 - Scales of Transformation

New Publications

August 13, 2020

The age of metals, warriors, fortified settlements and new foods: broomcorn millet was first cultivated in Europe in the mid-2nd millennium BCE

Millet spread

A large-scale study by the Collaborative Research Centre 1266 “Scales of Transformation – Human-Environmental Interaction in Prehistoric and Archaic Societies” at Kiel University is now published in Scientific Reports. It reveals that broomcorn millet appeared on the food menu in Europe in the mid-2nd millennium BCE, at the height of the Bronze Age.

In cooperation with almost thirty research institutions throughout Europe, the archaeobotanists Dragana Filipović and Marta Dal Corso from Wiebke Kirleis' team, together with John Meadows from the Leibniz Laboratory for Age Determination and Isotope Research at CAU Kiel and the Centre for Baltic and Scandinavian Archaeology (ZBSA), were able to radiocarbon date millet from 75 prehistoric sites from the 6th-1st millennium BCE. The results show that millet cultivation in Europe only began around 1500 BCE and that the new crop spread astonishingly quickly over large parts of Central Europe. The origin of the broomcorn millet lies in northeastern China, where it was domesticated around 6000 BCE and quickly became a staple food. For thousands of years, broomcorn millet spread from East Asia to Europe, where it established itself as a common crop during the Bronze Age, a period marked by significant social transformations around 1500 BCE. Not only the regional forms of settlement or the decorative style of material culture, especially bronzes, changed, but also an increasing hierarchization of the communities of that time is assumed. These changes happened while broomcorn millet was introduced to be a versatile addition to the cuisine dominated by wheat and barley at that time.  

Further research will investigate the social dynamics associated with the introduction of the new crop during this pronounced period of upheaval in European prehistory.

A detailed press release can be found on the CAU news portal.

The study is publishes 'Open Access' in Scientific Reports and is a joint work of the CRC 1266 subprojects F3, D1 and G1. It can be downladed from here for free.

Dragana Filipović, John Meadows, Marta Dal Corso, Wiebke Kirleis et al., 2020. New AMS 14C dates track the arrival and spread of broomcorn millet cultivation and agricultural change in prehistoric Europe. Scientific Reports. DOI

Figure: Earliest finds of common millet in Europe: spreading like wildfire. Map of the temporal distribution of broomcorn millet and sites with millet finds dated by 14C.

April 23, 2020

Volume 7 of the CRC 1266 series STPAS has been published

Cover "Maidanets'ke. Development and decline of a Trypillia 'mega-site' in Central Ukraine"

In the forest-steppe north of the Black Sea, at the end of the fifth millennium BCE, some of the largest settlements of their time were established. These so-called Trypillia 'mega-sites' reached sizes of up to 320 hectares with up to 3000 houses in one place.

How did people come together in these large settlements with several thousand houses? How long were such 'mega-sites' inhabited and how many people lived in them at the same time? Are these the first urban settlements, even before the Mesopotamian development?

These are the questions that the study "Maidanets'ke. Development and decline of a Trypillia 'mega-site' in Central Ukraine", a cooperation within the subproject D1 of the CRC 1266, approaches. Based on new excavations by an international team, volume 7 of the CRC 1266 book series "Scales of Transformation in Prehistoric and Archaic Societies" (STPAS) investigates the settlement history and structure of Maidanets'ke and as well as its regional context. Results on the pottery kiln, the enclosure and several houses are presented in detail. Calculations on population size and development provide information on how 'mega-sites' were established. Extensive radiocarbon dating and modelling from different parts of the settlement allows for the first time to present a phase model for the development of a 'mega-site'.

Targeted geophysical surveys in the main distribution area of 'mega-sites' prove an uniform structure of small and large settlements. The study’s results on population density and settlement structure are used to reassess the urban character of Trypillia mega-sites.

The volume can be read online for free and ordered at Sidestone Press.

To the publisher Sidestone Press

Ohlrau, R. 2020. Maidanets’ke. Development and decline of a Trypillia mega-site in Central Ukraine, Scales of Transformation in Prehistoric and Archaic Societies 07. Leiden: Sidestone Press.

April 06, 2020

Early steppe influx: Genetic composition of Cucuteni-Trypillia complex individuals suggest high genetic diversity and steppe-related ancestry from 3500 BCE onwards

Map with relevant sites and the spatiotemportal extent of the CTC and mentioned contemporaneous archaeological complexes

A new study conducted within the CRC 1266, in cooperation of subprojects F4 and D1, now published in Nature scientific reports, reveals that the genetic steppe components arrived in eastern Europe farming communities as early as 3500 BCE.

Even though the Cucuteni-Trypillia complex (CTC) is a well research archaeological phenomenon due to its connection to the so called ‘mega-sites’, settlements of high population density and big spatial extend, very few burials are known. Now, genome-wide data was generated from the skeletal remains from a multiple burial of three adults from the site Pocrovca V and a children’s burial from in Gordinești I, both located in northern Moldova. All of the burials can be dated to the late CTS periode, c. 3500-3100 BCE. The bioinformatic data analyses show that all four individuals were female and in case of the multiple burial the individuals did not shared biological kinship.

Overall, the different genetic makeup of the CTC individuals indicates a relatively high diversity, which is surprising given that they all dated to the same late CTC period. The ancestry of Linearbandkeramik (LBK), Anatolian Neolithic farmers, Starčevo, and Hunter-Gatheres could be identified. This findings are complemented by the study on skeletal remains (only from male individuals) from the cave burial site of Verteba, Ukraine, which also date to the late CTC periode. But, the indiduals from Pocrovca V and Gordinești I had a considerable amount of steppe ancestry, which is consistent with the hypothesis of ongoing contacts and only gradual admixture between incoming steppe and local populations. The gene composition of the sample individuals also show the earlier connections of CTC communities to the West, with LBK (c. 5100-4600 BCE) or Funnel-beaker (c. 4600-3600) societies and the later bridging geographic position between Globular Amphora communities and the steppe in the East (c. 3600-2400 BCE).

The results of the study confirm that the steppe component arrived in eastern Europe farming communities maybe as early as 3500 BCE. Further, they are in agreement with the hypothesis of ongoing contacts and gradual admixture between incoming steppe and local western populations during that period of time.

The full article is Open Access and can be downloaded here.

Immel, A., Țerna, T., Simalcsik A., Susat J., Šarov, O., Sîrbu G., Hofmann, G., Müller, J., Nebel, A., Krause-Kyora, B. 2020. Gene-flow from steppe individuals into Cucuteni-Trypillia associated populations indicates longstanding contacts and gradual admixture. Scientific reports 10 (1), 4253. DOI

Figure: Map with relevant sites and the spatiotemportal extent of the CTC and mentioned contemporaneous archaeological complexes.

March 30, 2020

Between Solidarity and Conflict: New Study on the Social Organization of an Early Neolithic Large Settlement (5250-4950 BCE)

Reconstruction of the early Neolithic settlement site of Vráble, showing houses and the enclosure system.

In a new article published in the Cambridge Archaeological Journal (Open Access), a group of researchers from the Subproject C2, the University of Oslo and the Slovak Academy of Sciences presents the main results of their joint excavation activities at the Slovakian site of Vráble. Since 2012, the team has been studying one of the largest Neolithic settlements in Central Europe to investigate how the social organization of such early concentrations of population developed in a situation where there was no institutionalized government or other centralized control. Despite a three hundred year history of this community, the social experiment finally ends in conflict, and in the dissolution of the village. Nevertheless, studying the history of the village provides fascinating insights into the development of social interaction, not least into previously unknown burial customs.

After the foundation of the settlement around 5250 BCE, the settlement in Vráble gradually developed into a centre of attraction for farmstead communities living in the surrounding area. Around 5100 BCE Vráble consisted of about 70 farms. However, Vráble did not turn into a densely built-up village with uniform rows of houses or other settlement layout, as one would expect, but into a loose arrangement of spatially and economically autonomous farmsteads, which were simultaneously integrated into various systems of social cooperation and sharing of resources. After 5100 BCE, however, conflicts within the village intensified, resulting in an increased emphasis on three neighbourhoods within the settlement. One of these neighborhoods even went so far as to build a complex rampart-ditch-palisade complex that sealed it off from the other two neighborhoods. Within the neighborhoods, too, certain social groups were separated from each other, as became clear in the burials at the enclosure ditch. These indicate a growing degree of social inequality, which had a negative effect on community solidarity and ultimately led to the rapid decline and dissolution of the village.

Furholt, M., Müller-Scheeßel, N., Wunderlich, M., Cheben, I., Müller, J. 2020. Communality and Discord in an Early Neolithic Settlement Agglomeration: The LBK Site of Vráble, Southwest Slovakia. Cambridge Archaeological Journal. DOI

Figure: Reconstruction of the early Neolithic settlement site of Vráble, showing houses and the enclosure system.

March 17, 2020

What was inside? Lipid residue analysis on grave gifts manifests the ritual status of cattle in Neolithic societies in Northern Germany.

Stable carbon isotope composition of individual fatty acids in lipid residues of animal origin from Neolithic pottery vessels of the Megalith tomb Wangels (red) and domestic site Oldenburg (blue)

In the 4th millennium BCE, domestic animal husbandry became an integral part of the Neolithic economy in the North German lowlands and southern Scandinavia. An increasing importance of domesticated animals as well as a concentration on the husbandry of certain animal species can be observed. At the same time, this phenomenon is linked to changing intensities of land-use strategies, and the increasing importance of domestic animal husbandry is also changing social practices within societies.

Lipid analyses on highly decorated and ornamented ceramic vessels from a passage grave (Wangels LA 69, Schleswig-Holstein) of the Funnel Beaker societies revealed that these vessels contained predominantly cattle fat and dairy products. Contrary, the pots from the contemporaneous domestic site Oldenburg-Dannau LA 77 contained a mixed composition of plant and milk resources. Thus, the exclusive use of cattle meat in the burial indicate the important role of cattle in the ritual and spiritual sphere of Neolithic societies in northern Germany and Southern Scandinavia.

Another special feature is the fatty acid distribution of a sample from a globular amphora from the passage grave, which indicates that the vessel contained sea buckthorn oil. This circumstance is of great interest, since sea buckthorn oil can be regarded as an exclusive and valuable grave gift. Globular amphora are a type of vessel found between the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea, which thus shows a supra-regional distribution in contrast to regional ceramics (e.g. the other vessels investigated). Should globular amphora have been specially designed for storing valuable oils?

The presented study, published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, has been carried out in the context of the collaboration of scientists from subprojects C1 and E1 and bears witness to the high level of interdisciplinarity pursued by the CRC 1266.

Weber, J., Brozio, J. P., Müller, J., Schwark, L. 2020. Grave gifts manifest the ritual status of cattle in Neolithic societies of northern Germany. Journal of Archaeological Science 117, 105122. DOI

Figure: Stable carbon isotope composition of individual fatty acids in lipid residues of animal origin from Neolithic pottery vessels of the Megalith tomb Wangels (red) and domestic site Oldenburg (blue).

March 04, 2020

Volume 8 of the CRC1266-series STPAS has been published

Cover „Detecting and explaining technological innovation in prehistoric Europe“

"Detecting and explaining technological innovation in prehistoric Europe", edited by Michaela Spataro and Martin Furholt, presents the results of the International Workshop of the same title, which was organized by the CRC 1266 in Kiel in November 2017 and carried out as an initiative of the subproject F5. It is the eighth volume in the series "Scales of Transformation in Prehistoric and Archaic Societies" (STPAS).

The workshop challenged the participants to identify and explain technological change in the past and its role within transformation processes by means of archaeological as well as ethnographic case studies.

Are egalitarian communities less innovative? Is craft specialization indivisible from social complexity? Are innovations more likely to be accepted in stable or uncertain times? Is it really the case that mostly external influences lead to changes in technical practices? Is there a relationship between innovation and the degree of interconnectedness?

In answering these questions, the contributions show a high integration of different and interdisciplinary research approaches, in which field archaeology, archaeometric analysis, experimental archaeology and ethnographic research are brought together to make technical innovations and changes within the chaîne opératoir of material commodities visible. The results go beyond the simple observation of change and show how essential the understanding of technological innovations and involved processes are for the dimension of social transformation in prehistory.

The 12 contributions mainly present examples from prehistoric Europe, but with case studies from Iran, the Indus Valley and today's Central America, the volume also opens up a global perspective.

The volume can be read online for free and ordered at Sidestone Press.

To the publisher Sidestone Press

Spataro, M., Furholt, M. (eds.) 2020. Detecting and explaining technological innovation in prehistory, Scales of Transformation in Prehistoric and Archaic Societies 08. Leiden: Sidestone Press.

February 03, 2020

Volume 6 of the CRC1266-series STPAS has been published

Cover „Gender Transformations in Prehistoric and Archaic Societies“

The international workshop 'Gender Transformations in Prehistoric and Archaic Societies' took place in Kiel from 8 to 10 March 2018 - now the proceedings with 25 contributions have been published by Julia K. Koch and Wiebke Kirleis as volume 6 of the Series "Scales of transformations in prehistoric and archaic societies" by sidestone press.

In which chronological, spatial, and social contexts is gender a relevant social category that is noticeable in the archaeological material? How can transformations in social gender relations and identity be recognized archaeologically? Is the identity of prehistoric people defined by gender? If so, what is the accompanying cultural context? What about gender equality among the scientists working in archaeology? In how far are research teams, as well as their scientific approach, biased today?

The workshop offered a platform to discuss a broad range of approaches on the inter-dependencies between gender relations and socio-environmental transformation processes. Beyond a focus on the archaeology of women, gender archaeology offers a variety of possibilities to reconstruct the contribution of social groups differentiated e.g. by age, gender, and activities related to cultural transformation, based on the archaeological materiality. Thus, this volume includes papers dealing with different socio-economic units, from south-western Europe to Central Asia, between 15,000 and 1 BCE, paying particular attention to the scale of social reach. Since gender archaeology, and in particular feminist archaeology, also addresses the issue of scientific objectivity or bias, parts of this volume are dedicated to equal opportunity matters in archaeological academia across the globe. This is realised by bringing together feminist and female experiences from a range of countries, each with its own specific individual, cultural, and social perspectives and traditions.

The volume can be read online for free and ordered at Sidestone Press.

To the publisher Sidestone Press

A (German) review of the book was published March 19, 2020 on

Koch, J.K.Kirleis, W. (eds.) 2019Gender Transformations in Prehistoric and Archaic Societies, Scales of Transformation in Prehistoric and Archaic Societies 06. Leiden: Sidestone Press.

February 03, 2020

Volume 5 of the CRC 1266-series STPAS has been published

Cover „Megalithic monuments and social structures. Comparative studies on recent and Funnel Beaker societies“

Megalithic monuments represent an overarching and multifaceted phenomenon during the Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods in Europe. The interpretations of these monuments are as diverse as the features themselves and range from links to the emergence of social inequality to those as spaces of memory of social collectives. However, there are still open questions that can be dealt with in a differentiated and further-reaching perspective by incorporating cultural-anthropological data. For example, how are socio-economic characteristics of associated households reflected in megaliths?

Megalithic construction is also a recent phenomenon that is particularly prevalent in South and Southeast Asia. The new published volume 5 of the STPAS-series  “Megalithic monuments and social structures. Comparative studies on recent and Funnel Beaker societies” by Maria Wunderlich deals with megalithic monuments in a comparative perspective and includes recent examples in Sumba (Indonesia), Nagaland (India), as well as Funnel Beaker societies in today's northern Germany, which can be archaeologically located in the Early and Middle Neolithic period. The book presents an extensive body of new data, as well as an expanded understanding of the interrelation and significance of specific modes of action, the socio-economic context of megalithic construction, and the participation and role of specific social groups. The inclusion of recent data allows for further interpretations and points of contact also within prehistoric archaeology.

Wunderlich, M. 2019Megalithic monuments and social structures. Comparative studies on recent and Funnel Beaker societies, Scales of Transformation in Prehistoric and Archaic Societies 05. Leiden: Sidestone Press.

The volume is open accessible on the website of Sidestone Press.

January 17, 2020

Starčevo ceramic technology: the first potters of the Middle Danube Basin

Microscograph of a ceramic thin section

In the 4th and recent published volume of the UPA Series Studien zum Neolithikum und Chalkolithikum in Southeast Europe Michela Spataro presents in her book “Starčevo ceramic technology: the first potters of the Middle Danube Basin” the results of the technological analyses and interpretation of early Neolithic ceramics of Southeast Europe.

During the 6th millennium cal BC the first farmers of the early Neolithic Starčevo groups in the Middle Danube basin manufactured the first ceramic and burned clay cult objects. This study of everyday pottery, figurines and four legged vessels from Slavonia, Serbia and Romania shows that the same chaîne opératoire was used throughout time and in different regions. Spataro’s work reveals a tradition of pottery production within and between generations. This similarity of pottery technology serves as an indicator of the connectedness and intermixing of Starčevo communities. However, the lack of technological exchange with contemporaneous Adriatic Impressed Ware reveals a conservative society, in which intergenerational transmission of technical skills and a strong network may have helped to maintain social stability over time.

The publication is the result of a grant by the Leverhulme Trust Project The early Neolithic in the Balkans: ceramic analysis and cultural processes. Final interpretations were done during the Mercator fellowship at Kiel University within the Collaborative Research Centre CRC 1266, subproject F5. The author demonstrates not only the importance of the scientific data, but of its historical and anthropological interpretation, which is only possible with the detailed knowledge of the aspects of these early societies. Insofar Michela Spataro’s work proofs the necessity of a close transdisciplinary approach to past societies.

Spataro, M. 2019Starčevo ceramic technology: the first potters of the Middle Danube Basin, Neolithikum und Chalkolitikum in Südosteuropa 4, Universitätsforschungen zur Prähistorischen Archäologie 341. Bonn: Dr. Rudolf Habelt GmbH.

Figure: Microscograph of a ceramic thin section (Photo: M. Spataro).

January 15, 2020

New publication concerning Early Neolithic house orientations

Magnetischer Plan einer frühneolithischen Siedlung

Human behaviour is influenced by many things, most of which remain unconscious to us. One of these is a phenomenon known among perception psychologists as "pseudo-neglect". This refers to the observation that healthy people prefer their left visual field to their right and therefore devide a line regularly left of centre.
A study published on Friday, 10th of January, in the online magazine PLOS ONE now shows for the first time what effect this inconspicuous deviation had in the prehistoric past. A Slovak-German research team has investigated the alignment of early Neolithic houses in Central and Eastern Europe. Scientists of the subprojects C2 and G2 as well as the Slovakian Academy of Sciences were able to prove that the orientation of newly built houses deviated by a small amount from that of existing buildings and that this deviation was regularly counterclockwise. With that, even houses that were detected by geo-physical methods can now tentatively be assigned chronologically.
A complete press release of Kiel University can be found here.
The contribution already gained publicity and was addressed by the BBC World Service, the Tagesspiegel, Archaeologie online, SciTechDaily, FR24news, La Brújula Verde, and Eurekalert.

Müller-Scheeßel, N., Müller, J., Cheben, I., Mainusch, W., Rassmann, K., Rabbel, W., Corradini, E., Furholt, M. 2020. A new approach to the temporal significance of house orientations in European Early Neolithic settlements. PLoS ONE 15 (1): e0226082. DOI

Figure: Magnetic plan of an early Neolithic settlement. Each two of the dark lines with a length of 20 to 30 meters represent the part of a house (Graphic: N. Müller-Scheeßel).


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