This article was translated by John R. Bopp

We never cease to be amazed at Science’s ability to reach huge conclusions through the smallest details.  In this case, it’s via a joint study of the University of the Basque Country and Oxford University, analyzing the burial and eating habits of 166 individuals found in tombs dating from 3500 to 2900 BC in the Rioja Alavesa region.  This study is helping us understand the social and hierarchical structure of those people who lived in what is today our country 5,000 years ago.

. Map of the Rioja Alavesa region showing the location of the burial sites studied.
. Map of the Rioja Alavesa region showing the location of the burial sites studied.

The study, led by Teresa Fernández-Crespo and Rick J. Schulting, analyzed the eating habits of people buried in caves, in the highlands and in the mountains, and buried in dolmens, in the Ebro River valley.  

The conclusions, or more accurately, the lines of research that have opened with this study, are fascinating, and are going to allow us to advance our understanding of how our Neolithic ancestors lived and organized.

We found this out in an article penned by Giorgio Giordano in La Stampa, who quite clearly explains the lines of work, and the original study published on Plos One, a scientific journal we’ve cited more than once.

La Stampa – 5/10/2017 – Italia

Dolmen e sepolture nelle grotte, differenze sociali o culture distinte?

Le Università dei Paesi Baschi e di Oxford hanno condotto uno studio congiunto sui resti rinvenuti nei dolmen del nord della Spagna e su quelli sepolti nelle vicine grotte. I risultati sono stati pubblicati su Plos One. I ricercatori hanno misurato gli isotopi di carbonio e azoto nel collagene delle ossa per stabilire la dieta dei soggetti sepolti e quindi ottenere informazioni sulla loro struttura sociale. Più in generale per capire quale tipo di cultura fosse stanziata nella zona di Rioja Alavesa durante il tardo Neolitico e il primo Calcolitico.

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 PloS One – 10/2017 – USA

Living different lives: Early social differentiation identified through linking mortuary and isotopic variability in Late Neolithic/ Early Chalcolithic north-central Spain

Variation in burial location and treatment is often observed in the prehistoric archaeological record, but its interpretation is usually highly ambiguous. Biomolecular approaches provide the means of addressing this variability in a way not previously possible, linking the lives of individuals to their funerary treatment. Here, we undertake stable carbon and nitrogen isotope analyses on a substantial sample of 166 individuals from a series of broadly contemporary Late Neolithic/ Early Chalcolithic (3500 to 2900 cal BC) mortuary monuments (El Sotillo, Alto de la Huesera, Chabola de la Hechicera and Longar) and caves (Las Yurdinas II, Los Husos I and Peña Larga) within a very spatially restricted area of north-central Spain, with sites separated by no more than 10 km on average.

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