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25Apr

Class in Copper Age Europe

 

Although it has previously been suggested that people of the Copper Age Europe lived in an idyllic egalitarian society, archeological findings now suggest this period marked the emergence of class-based social structures. Increases in settlement populations and the newfound specialized knowledge of community members during the Copper Age, between 5,000 and 3,500 BC, required a more complex social hierarchy. Before the discovery of copper work most people were generalists, performing all functions required for sustenance. Afterwards, those capable of metal work would have to supply copper tools for the entire community, leaving them little time for much else. The value of specialized knowledge also privileged some community members over others.

 

Although it has previously been suggested that people of the Copper Age Europe lived in an idyllic egalitarian society, archeological findings now suggest this period marked the emergence of class-based social structures. Increases in settlement populations and the newfound specialized knowledge of community members during the Copper Age, between 5,000 and 3,500 BC, required a more complex social hierarchy. Before the discovery of copper work most people were generalists, performing all functions required for sustenance. Afterwards, those capable of metal work would have to supply copper tools for the entire community, leaving them little time for much else. The value of specialized knowledge also privileged some community members over others.
Archeological evidence of an established class system at this time can be found at the sites of Varna in Bulgaria and Pietrele in Romania. In 1972, a prehistoric cemetery was found in Varna. Archeologists discovered over 300 graves and over 15,000 artifacts at the site. Dating to between 4,600 and 4,400 BC, the cemetery is the world’s earliest major gold hoard. Over six pounds of gold was found, however the majority was found in only four graves. Clearly these four individuals were members of an elite class. Some of the artifacts were created from materials only found over a hundred miles away, indicating a long-distance trading system.
At first Pietrele was believed to have been a small settlement, about 25 houses found on the tell, which would have found a complex social system unnecessary. However, geomagnetic censors later revealed an additional 120 house foundations at the base of the tell. The houses on the tell belonged to the elite class of the settlement. More copper objects, decorated potter and jewelry have been found in the remains of these upper houses than in the houses at the base of the tell.
 
Summary of “The New Upper Class” in Archeology magazine, March/April 2011
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