In “Family ties doubted in Stone Age farmers” (New Scientist, 01 July 2011), Michael Marshall reports that
Blood may not always be thicker than water, if a controversial finding from one of the world’s best-preserved Stone Age settlements is to be believed. At Çatalhöyük in Turkey, it appears that people did not live in families. Instead, the society seems to have been organised completely differently.
How do we know? TheÇatalhöyük people (7500-5500 BCE) “buried their dead beneath the floors of the houses, suggesting that people were buried where they lived.”
The researchers measured the teeth from 266 individuals, assuming that teeth are are more similar among relatives and that people buried together would be more closely related.
But she found no pattern at all. “It does not appear that individuals that were buried together were closely related to each other,” she says. “Çatalhöyük was likely not centred around nuclear families.”
In the best tradition of the assured results of modern science, further speculations follow. In the rush to confirm a trendy idea (families are optional), no one seems to consider that if this assessment is valid, most of evolutionary psychology (EP) can be safely junked. We simply cannot not make assumptions about what “she’d’ve wanted” or “he’d’ve done” in the Stone Age if unfamiliar social patterns can be demonstrated.
But it turns out to be a false alarm:
It would have been better to use DNA samples to look for kinship, says Colin Renfrew, of the University of Cambridge. “I have always been rather unimpressed by dental data as indicating biological kinship.”
So EP is safe for another day, through no fault of its own.
A number of factors might govern who got buried under the floor. If the person’s spirit was thought to guard the place, kinship might not be as important as assumed protective powers.