Social polarization 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, suggest that for some 2,000 years, these distinct groups rarely crossed 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. Or maybe it’s both groups that wanted to keep their own identity,” said Ruth Bollongino, a biologist at the University of Mainz and the lead author of “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.
|“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..."|
Exactly how cultures clashed in prehistoric times is necessarily a foggy subject, given that no one had a written language and archeologists must piece together the story from broken pottery, tools, bones and charcoal.
But new research techniques are clarifying that story. The analysis of mitochondrial DNA from skeletal remains allows scientists to study migration patterns and lineages. Moreover, scientists can tell what people ate by studying variations in the carbon, sulfur and nitrogen isotopes in their teeth and bones. They can tell, for example, if a diet was heavy in fish or heavy in grains.
An enduring debate for decades has been whether agriculture arose in Europe through “cultural diffusion,” in which the techniques of farming and animal husbandry were adopted by the indigenous population from distant sources, or whether an entirely new population of people rolled into that part of the world and pushed out the natives.
The second paper published Thursday in Science, reporting an analysis of hundreds of skeletal remains from multiple sites in Central Europe, provides evidence for the second scenario, which likely involved some degree of unpleasantness.
“There’s certainly a big culture clash at that time,” said Wolfgang Haak, a geneticist at the University of Adelaide and co-author of that paper. “Farmers are probably loud, noisy and stinky at the same time. They come with domestic farm animals and just take over the place.”
Spencer Wells, explorer in residence at the National Geographic Society, and project director of the Genographic Project, a human migration research effort that contributed to the second paper, called the new findings “a huge insight.”
“In my opinion, certainly for the case of Europe, it’s going to be the nail in the coffin of this cultural diffusion idea,” he said.
The “parallel societies” evidence is based on skeletal remains found in a cave near the German city of Hagen. The cave, called Blatterhohle, or Leaf Cave, has a long, narrow entrance and was not discovered until 2004. Excavators found more than 400 skeletal remains. The DNA evidence showed that some people were descendants of hunter-gatherers and some had farming lineage.
Then came the surprise. Bollongino assumed that she and her colleagues would wind up writing a paper about the mixing of these populations.
But instead, the isotopic analysis showed that the people from the hunter-gatherer lineage were still living that way, with a diet relying heavily on fish, and that the people from the farming lineage continued to be farmers. Everyone stuck to their way of life and rarely interbred.
“It wasn’t until we saw the isotopes that we realized we were going to have to rewrite the paper completely,” Bollongino said. “They shared the same burial place for something between 400 and 600 years, so it would be very hard to explain that they did not know each other. We believe that they were close neighbors and had contact with each other and traded with each other. But still they didn’t mix.”
The moral of the story?
“Apparently, most humans need to have some kind of identity, or some kind of group that they belong to and they feel part of. I think keeping up this identity also means that you do not admix with people from other groups, from other cultures,” she said.
Original article by Joel Achenbach for The Washington Post, October 2013
Just how far did man come with regard to social polarization over thousands of years, to 20th century, New York City?
"The class tensions that ran high at the end of the 19th century still existed in the twentieth. After the Great War, fears of radicals prompted by the Russian Revolution led to the Red Scare and a hysterical search for radicals, especially foreigners, who could be thrown out of the country. In 1919, a strike wave rippled through the country. May Day riots broke out in many cities, including New York. The country suffered through an economic recession from 1920 until 1922, with almost five million Americans unemployed. Strikes threatened to cripple the country in the early years of the decade despite the sinking economy, President Warren G. Harding's Secretary of the Treasury, Andrew Mellon, a multimillionaire, worked to reduce taxes on the wealthy, and the income gap between the rich and the poor grew.
While class tensions rose after the Great War, race tensions exacerbated by the great migration during the war years continued to soar. The summer of 1919 saw an outbreak of violence between whites and blacks; James Weldon Johnson aptly named those months the 'Red Summer.' Although the summer violence took place in cities like Chicago and Washington DC, New York also experienced tensions brought about by the migration and the emergence of a more assertive 'New Negro' who wanted access to full citizenship rights. Nationally, President Warren Harding helped further tensions when he denounced racial amalgamation in an October 1921 speech given in Birmingham, Alabama.
The early newspaper reports on Leonard (Kip) and Alice Rhinelander's marriage from the fall of 1924 focused on social status, class, and color. The press described Alice Rhinelander's father as a stagecoach a driver, identified her brother-in-law as a butler, and claimed that Alice worked as a nurse or a laundress. These occupations demonstrated the Jones family's status as colored, since such working class jobs were understood to be of low status and therefore filled primarily by Negroes in the North in the twentieth century, unlike the 19th when many domestic service jobs were held by Irish women like Margaretta McGuiness. In contrast to the picture of the Joneses, the press depicted Leonard's family as wealthy and noted that Leonard's father belong to many exclusive clubs, signaling that the Rhinelander belonged to New York City's white upper class.
In light of the tentative identification of Alice Jones as colored and the undisputed categorization of Leonard Rhinelander as white and upper class, many of the papers speculated about the reaction of high society, the so-called Four Hundred, to the potentially interracial and cross-class marriage of Alice and Leonard Rhinelander. Some of the curiosity over the alliance between Leonard Rhinelander and Alice Jones was not unusual for the press of the day. New York's tabloids liked stories about marriages between partners from different social stations. At least three accounts of such unions appeared in the press during same period that the Rhinelander marriage surfaced. Public concern with these couples, like the interest in the Rhinelander marriage, might be explained by the appeal of the Cinderella factor-- the possibility that a poor working girl might marry a rich swell. Not every poor girls marriage to a rich swell, however, public approbation.
At the end of 1924, the Chicago Defender published an editorial cartoon that pointed to the fears that distinguished reactions to different Cinderella like marriages. The cartoon illustrated a white man and a woman in evening dress seated in opposing chairs. The man is reading aloud excerpts from the daily paper. First, he tells a woman, presumably his wife, about a wedding between a millionaire and a scrub woman with an Eastern European surname. She responds, "I just love to hear of those kinds of marriages-- They're so thrilling!" Next the husband mentions the union of a wealthy society girl with an Italian scissors grinder. The wife declares, "Isn't that romantic?" Finally, the man appears apoplectic as he reads a report that a wealthy jeweler married a Negro maid. His wife cries, "Disgraceful! What is Society coming to?-- Why that's an outrage!" The Chicago Defender's cartoon spoke to the fact that distinctions among different white racial categories had started to dissolve into a larger sense of whiteness but that at the same time the line between black and white remained heavily defended. Consequently, Italians and Eastern Europeans might be marriageable but never the 'Negro maid' -- there could be no 'dusky Cinderella.'"
From "Property Rites: The Rhinelander Trial, Passing and the Protection of Whiteness" by Elizabeth M. Smith-Pryor