Cain, Where is Abel thy brother?

By Razib Khan | May 30, 2012 4:06 am

Community differentiation and kinship among Europe’s first farmers (via Dienekes):

Community differentiation is a fundamental topic of the social sciences, and its prehistoric origins in Europe are typically assumed to lie among the complex, densely populated societies that developed millennia after their Neolithic predecessors. Here we present the earliest, statistically significant evidence for such differentiation among the first farmers of Neolithic Europe. By using strontium isotopic data from more than 300 early Neolithic human skeletons, we find significantly less variance in geographic signatures among males than we find among females, and less variance among burials with ground stone adzes than burials without such adzes. From this, in context with other available evidence, we infer differential land use in early Neolithic central Europe within a patrilocal kinship system.

I have already stated on this weblog that we will probably begin to discern a rather strong pattern soon of an interleaved genetic pattern across Eurasia and Africa where we can infer that populations in an expansionary demographic phase absorbed a host of other groups (more, or less). The exact details are to be worked out, but I’m moderately confident in this sort of pattern.

But these results align with another of my expectations, which I have rather stronger confidence in: that in parts of Eurasia the emergence of agriculture was correlated with the rise of powerful patrilineal kinship groups, which served as the cores of pre-historic polities. I no longer believe that demographic expansion due to cultural innovation can be separated from the likely political and social consequences of these changes. No, rather what we saw with the rise of agriculture was another powerful social innovation, collective units of large numbers of males who operated as one in the quest for land, women, and material self-enrichment. I do not mean to imply here that violence began with the Neolithic. Rather, I simply believe that the numbers enabled by agriculture allowed for specialization and scalability to fundamentally change the game. This was a high stakes “winner-take-all” bet.

As these males spread across the landscape, enabled by their culture (agriculture) and propagating their culture (language), in many cases their genetic-demographic signal may have been diluted across the wave of advance. But their cultural cohesion remained, and I believe that the patterns of Y chromsomal patterns evident across the modern world are an echo of their elimination of rivals. A tree of many Abels was pruned, as a few Cains proliferated like weeds.

MORE ABOUT: Agriculture
  • Charles Nydorf

    In his tetralogy, “Mythologies”, Claude Levi-Strauss analyzed a corpus of American Indian myths as being largely meditations on the social consequences and cultural aspects of the Neolithic Revolution. These myths most definitely do not present the Neolithic societies as promoting peaceful, egalitarian societies.

  • Dwight E. Howell

    The violence was there. The motive was power. The indirect or direct reward was access to more fertile women and the ability to father more children. In the end in evolutionary terms it is the numbers of your descendants that matter and nothing else. Thus western culture is little more than a flash in the pan soon to be replaced. We failed reproduction in the name of odd religious beliefs like ‘saving the world”. It was never in any danger.

    I wonder what defects of mind and body will be used to explain our disappearance.

  • Luke Raines

    This would seem to explain the dominance of R1b in western Europe. Also the development of agriculture would likely have promoted this behavior since a farmer’s success was often dependent on the amount of land he controlled. Killing rival farmers would be one way to increase the amount of land that a man had.

  • Eurologist

    As to the paper, it adds more data – but it’s conclusions have been reached repeatedly in the past decade in similar studies.

    However, one thing we should keep in mind is that parts of Europe were well into transition to a sedentary life during the end of the Mesolithic. Perhaps the most famous sites are the river dwellings along the Iron Gates region of the Danube (e.g., Lepenski-Vir), the shell heaps in Northern Germany/ Denmark (Kongemose and Ertebølle), and settlements in areas with nut trees (among others, Scotland). There were also Swiss settlements (with some independent, limited planting), and surely many as-yet-unknown sites along major waterways and lakes, for fishing. Clearly, lakes and stretches of river were divided into clans for fishing rights – the only stable configuration (even if occasionally violated). In fact, I have argued before that the LBK longhouse architecture looks like derived from the constructs used for drying and smoking fish (covered in climates with rain). There is no precedent of this style from where agriculture originated: in the South, people built stone houses; other places, huts usually were circular or multi-angled – likely a derivative of tents. To top this, there were clear separations of tasks in the wider Danube area during the Mesolithic, with flint and other stone material being sourced from a particular region, and as it looks, by people specialized in that. In fact, LBK continued to source the same material from the same people as the HGs did.

    So, taken together, settled clans with special economic interests were clearly in existence in Europe before the introduction of agriculture. I am not arguing that the introduction of agriculture was not a transformative paradigm shift – but portions of it’s lifestyle and dependence on larger-than-family collaboration and specialization had already been ingrained.

  • Razib Khan

    I am not arguing that the introduction of agriculture was not a transformative paradigm shift – but portions of it’s lifestyle and dependence on larger-than-family collaboration and specialization had already been ingrained.

    probably true.

  • BDoyle

    I am completely out of my depth here, as a geologist, but I have got a little interested in evolution lately. Tell me that I am stupid, please, for believing that social evolution is simply so powerful that it will swamp natural selection. I dunno exactly how to say what I mean in terms that are commonly understood in this community, but I will try. I can see clear examples of sexual selection in humans, but it is not consistent over long time frames in history. What “works” in the Roman Empire does not “work” today, in terms of leaving descendants. What seems to be adaptive is some sort of generalized social skill that gets you one up on everyone else. What specific ability it is does not seem to matter, as long as you can use it to climb a particular hierarchy. Maybe a completely invented hierarchy, like religion.

  • AndrewV

    What seems to be adaptive is some sort of generalized social skill that gets you one up on everyone else.

    Like for example “Game” whose proponents sometimes argue that it is based on evolutionary psychology. The blog Chateau Heartise is a good example. Another site that discuss practical navigation with the focus on women in particular may be found at Hooking Up Smart run by Susan Walsh.

    What specific ability it is does not seem to matter, as long as you can use it to climb a particular hierarchy. Maybe a completely invented hierarchy, like religion.

    It really depends from what perspective you are viewing it, what specific society and the actors within. Japan comes to mind as a good example of demographic decline in a largely homogenous society.

    I could also echo #2 as Dwight E. Howell clearly has a different example in mind. I did write a comment that attempted to outline generally what you appear to be referring to, but declined to post it because it became too long and overbroad.

    If we are strictly speaking about natural selection, then the effects can be hard to see among the current population, and become visible only in hindsight, like the rapid spread of lactose tolerance within certain populations.

    Others may not be as obvious because they are largely absent today. For example a form of schizophrenia may very well have been pretty common among populations up to very recently. So common in fact, that a while a reported vision of a burning bush may have been noteworthy, it was also largely not beyond the bounds of credibility at the time.

    If however we are speaking strictly about reproductive success, then people like this man with 30 offspring is a winner:

  • Onur

    Using strontium isotope analysis it has been demonstrated that our hominid ancestors had a patrilocal lifestyle:

    An article dealing with the same study:

  • Luke Raines


    How you read this paper yet? What do you think of it?

  • Solis


    Also, what do you think about this paper, Razib?

  • Razib Khan

    #9, i don’t buy it, but there are reasonable models where the results make sense. i’m kind of not up to date on y studies though.

    #10, it’s kind of a dumb paper. my own hunch at this point is there is next to no real peer review on genetically oriented psychometric papers.

  • Razib Khan

    also, i guess for regular readers: probably won’t be posting again until mid-june. busy with other things.

  • AndrewV


    For those who may be interested this topic was covered in other places as well. Some interesting comments follow each one. See over at Dienkes’ here:

    RIP matrilocal egalitarian early European farmers

    and here:

    Claim that Danubian Neolithic people had classes

  • tt9j


    Klyosov’s work on Y STR mutation rates has been reviewed and discounted (to say it mildly) by Dienekes:
    That says nothing about work with Y SNPs, though.
    Without reading that paper first I won’t comment, but note Advances in Anthropology is a new journal (4 issues total) with no Citation Impact history and with Klyosov on the Editorial Board. John Hawks hasn’t published there yet …

  • Sandgroper

    #6 – In the words of that great paleoanthropologist Dean Martin, everybody loves somebody some time.


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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