Bronze Age

New Study Reveals Lifestyle of Bronze Age Humans

Given the extent to which all of our lives have been shaped by the rapid pace of technological advancement, it can be hard to imagine how early humans, during an era when the most complicated technological devices in existence were iron tools, went about their day-to-day lives. But a study published today in Science Magazine presents new findings about the social behaviors of people living during the Bronze Age in Europe, and the conclusions reveal surprising differences and similarities with how humans live today. The research, which focused on groups of families living roughly 5,000 years ago, illustrates the details of marital practices, patterns of inheritance, and the emergence of social inequality within small homestead communities.

The report, entitled “Kinship-based social inequality in Bronze Age Europe,” expands on prior research establishing the presence of social inequality based on palace-like structures and elaborate burials for high-status individuals by looking at inequalities on a smaller scale, within individual households. The researchers found a hierarchy within houses, in which a wealthy and high-status family shared living space with unrelated members, who may have been servants or slaves. These conclusions were based on examinations of skeletal remains, as higher-class individuals, who were buried near their places of residence, were found with weapons and ornate jewelry, whereas lower-class people were not. The fact that these individuals were buried in the same graveyard suggests the presence of social inequality, and perhaps slavery, on a smaller scale and roughly 1,500 years before slavery was first known to exist in ancient Greece and Rome.

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The absence of written records from this era makes it difficult for anthropologists to ascertain details about family and household arrangements from the era. As such, the researchers adopted a multidisciplinary approach, taking advantage of genetics, isotopic data, and archaeological techniques. By focusing in detail on a relatively small prehistoric community, the scientists reconstructed numerous family trees spanning four or five generations, and determined the socioeconomic status and geographic origin of individual family members. 

The researchers found that in nearly all of the homes, the females were not related to the males, and only male lineages were identified. This is the result of a Bronze Age marital practice called “patrilocality,” in which newlywed wives moved in with their husband’s family, and daughters left the household. The network of marriages this practice led to, according to the researchers, “likely strengthened and upheld contacts across large distances” and enabled cultural and genetic exchange.

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Though the researchers were able to discern the marriage patterns of these early humans, other elements of their social structures remain unknown. For instance, the researchers don’t know whether women were free to choose their partners or if their partners were chosen by their families, or if women were captured and brought into the communities. They did find, however, that high socioeconomic status was passed down from generation to generation, and while the findings were limited to a small region in Europe, archeological evidence suggests that the social system applied to a broader region as well.

While the study’s results are arguably groundbreaking, they were met with criticism from the scientific community. Some scientists took issue with the researchers’ method of inferring social status by observing whether people were buried next to valuable goods, suggesting that the presence of these items could be related to reasons other than the buried person’s social status. Additionally, one scientist questioned the assumption that low-status individuals were slaves, arguing that the social dynamics were likely more complex than a master-slave relationship. Nevertheless, this new research is likely to inspire further research on the subject, and uncover more details about the lives of prehistoric humans.

Pet Cat

New Research Shows Cats Like People More Than We Might Assume

When most people think of cats, especially in comparison with dogs, they imagine them as aloof, uncaring pets who view their owners as little more than a convenient source of food. This view is often mirrored in the scientific community, where cats are imagined not as social animals but as solitary creatures. Perhaps as a result, plenty of research has been conducted to determine the social cognition of dogs, but the science surrounding cats in this context is relatively barren. In recognition of this gap in scientific understanding, a team of researchers conducted a study entitled “Attachment bonds between domestic cats and humans” which was published in the journal Current Biology. The study found that cats did indeed form bonds with human beings, and viewed their human companions as sources of safety and security, coming as no surprise to cat lovers.

Some prior research into cat behavior has been conducted which shows they share some social characteristics with humans and dogs. For instance, cats love to receive attention and affection from humans, and will even prefer to do so over eating food or playing with toys. Additionally, cats have been shown to be able to understand human emotions, and while they may not always respond when called, they can know their names. However, studies that have tried to determine the nature of the relationship that cats have with people have shown mixed results, so Dr. Vitale and her colleagues wanted to explore the bonds between cats and their owners.

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The study involved what’s referred to in psychology as a “secure base test.” During this test, a person entered a room with his or her cat and stayed for two minutes, and then the owner left the room for two minutes, leaving the cat alone in the room, and then returned for another two minutes, during which time the researchers observed the cat’s reaction. As being in an unfamiliar environment can be stressful for cats, the researchers wanted to determine whether the cats saw their owners as reducing this stress, which would indicate a bond between the animal and the person. 

Around two-thirds of the cats greeted their owners when they returned to the room, and then went back to exploring the environment, periodically returning to their owners. This suggests that these cats were “securely attached” to their owners, meaning their presence relaxed and comforted the animals. The other third of the cats were “insecurely attached” to their owners, meaning they either avoided them or clung to them, indicating that their owners’ presence did not confer a sense of safety and calm. When the secure base test is performed with children and dogs, the results are similar, as 65% of infants demonstrated secure attachment to their caregivers, while 58% of dogs were securely attached to their owners. 

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Contrary to popular belief, kittens are able to be trained to perform tricks. The researchers wanted to determine whether cats that were trained had a different relationship with their owners than cats who were not, so after the initial test was conducted they enrolled half of the kittens in a training course, and the other half served as a control. Then they performed the secure base test again, and found that whether or not the kitten was trained had no bearing on how securely they were attached to their owner.

Despite the protests of cat lovers, the myth that cats simply don’t care about human beings has long persisted. Further testing of cat psychology may focus on comparing the relationships of cats with their owners to their relationships with strangers, as socialized cats may simply display attachment to human beings generally. As more research is conducted concerning the social lives of cats, however, we are likely to see how important social bonds are to the animals, although they may initially present as aloof or uncaring.