View Full Version : Neolithic Necropolis in France Contains Twenty Monumental Tombs

15-09-14, 18:26
One of the interesting aspects of this find is that it is from the "Passy" culture of northwestern France, which is dated to about 4500 BC.

You can read the article here:

From the article:

"These large, elongated structures are bounded by ditches which may be associated with fences, and a mound entombs the deceased. In a break with past traditions, these large monuments suggest that a type of hierarchy has been introduced into society."

"Each construction was designed to house a few burials, but often there is only one. The most characteristic burial mounds are very large – 3.50 to 4 metres long – and contain a male individual along with a number of arrow tips. Whole sheep were also interred; a good example being Monument 19 which had seven accompanying the deceased."

I found this article on Passy culture which talks about the change in agriculture that occurred in this culture about 4300 BC. It involved the use of plows, perhaps pulled by oxen or horses(?), and permitted the extension of farming from sandy loess soils to the heavier soils of upland areas.

This is an old study; perhaps someone has access to more current research.

Also from this paper:
In north-central Europe, especially Poland, Denmark, and Bohemia, there are similar long tumuli, perhaps a little more recent but historically and culturally similar. All these monuments were more or less oriented toward the east. They all seem to shelter individual burials or those with only a few tombs. In eastern Europe there was also an explosion of funerary ritual, but it takes another form. At Varna in Bulgaria, conspicuous display of wealth begins to reveal itself in the funerary objects accompanying the dead. Burial of precious gold objects, necklaces, bracelets, clothing, pottery, and flint may be markers of social status. In Brittany, monumental burials contain large axes imported from the Alps. The tombs at Passy, on the other hand, are extremely poor in offerings--a few ceramics, a few arrowheads, but nothing we would consider prestigious.



15-09-14, 21:03
So there appears to have been a big change in social structure at that time. It would be interesting to know whether there was a turnover of Y DNA and/or mtDNA in tandem with the social change, or whether an existing culture simply became more stratified, perhaps as a result of some kind of change in the economic structure.

16-09-14, 19:59
I'm not sure how to interpret it. There may be material in specialist journals I haven't read, but my understanding from what I have read is that single tomb elite burials were a marker of the Indo-European steppe peoples (although some recent papers seem to muddy the waters a bit, with some arguing the kurgan style, at least, started south of the Caucasus). At any rate, I've seen statements to the effect that the vector for this elite type burial in central Europe was the Corded Ware culture. However, Corded Ware, so far as I know, is dated to around 2600 BC in central Europe. Yamnaya is 3600 BC? Yet here we have single elite burials (albeit poor, it must be said, in terms of burial goods) in northwestern France 4500 BC in tombs similar to the Long Barrows of Great Britain.

So, I don't know where that leaves us.

As you queried, do we have a movement of people out of the east either by way of the Danube or somehow directly to Iberia and then along the coast and inland around 4500 BC that brought early manifestations of these new cultural developments? Is there some connection to the hint(?) or implication in Brandt et al that there might have been a change genetically in Germany between the Early and Middle Neolithic, and is it connected to this phenomenon in the western parts of Europe? Or was it only some sort of cultural transmission? In that context, is it the case, as I suspect, that individual elements of the "Indo-European package" may have existed in other places, as part of other cultures, or were diffused throughout larger areas, and then a mobile, aggressive culture with access to metal wealth brought all the elements together and then spread them as a complete package?

In terms of genetics, we do have the one sample from a western European Megalithic context, and if I remember correctly, it was yDNA 12a.

Someone correct me about that (or anything else :)) if necessary.

Just because I always need to see maps so I can orient myself, here is a map of Middle Neolithic Europe:

I've done a little more poking around in the topic of the Neolithic in Atlantic Europe. This is a little off topic, as it doesn't discuss Cerny/Passy in any depth, but the following article is a pretty good presentation of the Neolithization of Atlantic Europe. Although the genetic evidence suggests that the archaeologists of this era seriously underestimated the influence of migration during this period (he spends quite a bit of time talking about the fact that TRB was a case of Mesolithic peoples adopting agriculture!), I think the evidence does show that in Atlantic Europe, unlike in the Danube Gorges, the Mesolithic fisher gatherers (the paper makes it quite clear that the Mesolithic peoples did not have a mobile hunter gatherer way of life, but were instead sedentary fisher/hunters, actually more fishers than hunters, who had already begun to practice a storage economy) survived in largely separate communities for from 500-1000 years before being absorbed. Presumably the people of Cerny/Passy would have been a mixture of these Neolithic groups (definitely arriving from the Danube, and perhaps from Cardial country) and the fisher/gatherers.
http://arkeobotanika.pbworks.com/f/Arias%2B99%2BJWP%2BNeol%25C3%25ADtico%2Batl%25C3%2 5A1ntico.pdf

Since the original article drew a comparison to Varna, I decided to refresh my recollection about it.
This is the Wiki article on it (yes,I know).

The way I learned it was that Varna was part of "Old Europe" to use Gimbutas terminology.

If that's incorrect could someone provide a citation to the relevant research paper?

A quick search didn't turn up anything specifically on point, but this article does suggest some influences from the "greater Black Sea" region.

The upcoming Lazaridis/Brandt paper better have even more in it than indicated by the abstract!

17-09-14, 03:57
I personally think that one big problem with understanding what was going on in Europe during the Neolithic is that a lot of archeologists don't have much interest in genetics. We'd find it easier to know whether a major change in lifestyle was a result of cultural change in an existing group or population turnover if we actually had data. But I think another problem is the term "hunter/gatherer" which, as far as I can tell, is based on anthropological observations about modern stone age people who live in marginal areas and are forced to constantly move in order to find food, whereas that may not have been the norm for most stone age people. If I was a stone age person who lived in a fertile river delta in a temperate climate, I probably wouldn't have much motive to move about, unless I decided to do a major relocation for some reason, such as competition for resources or climate change. That would probably also be the case for Neolithic people. So, instead of mobility being an everyday part of life for our ancestors, it was probably a rare event that involved displacing someone else, at least by the time of the Neolithic. We just don't have enough data to tell what's going on in this case, but where we do have information about major cultural change, it usually seems to involve a population turnover. However, single burial with grave goods could indicate social stratification and that could arise locally for any number of reasons. What I think archeologists sometimes forget is that people who aren't in contact with each other often devise similar ways to solve the same problem, simply because the human mind works in certain stereotypical patterns. It's possible that there's a previously undiscovered link between the pyramids of Egypt and those of Mesoamerica, but all the available evidence suggests that it's simply a coincidence caused by two different groups of people addressing similar social issues. That could be the case with kurgan-lie burials among people who probably aren't Indo-Europeans.