The transition from mobile to sedentary life was one of the greatest social challenges of the human past. Yet little is known about the impact of this fundamental change on social interactions amongst early Neolithic communities, which are best recorded in the Near East. The importance of social processes associated with these economic and ecological changes has long been underestimated. However, ethnographic observations demonstrate that generalized reciprocity – such as open access to resources and land – had to be reduced to a circumscribed group before regular farming and herding could be successfully established. Our aim was thus to investigate the role of familial relationships as one possible factor within this process of segregation as recorded directly in the skeletal remains, rather than based on hypothetical correlations such as house types and social units. Here we present the revealing results of the systematically recorded epigenetic characteristics of teeth and skulls of the late Pre-Pottery Neolithic community of Basta in Southern Jordan (Figure S1). Additionally, mobility was reconstructed via a systematic strontium (Sr) isotope analysis of tooth enamel of the Basta individuals. The frequency of congenitally missing maxillary lateral incisors in the 9,000-year-old community of Basta is exceptionally high (35.7%). Genetic studies and a worldwide comparison of the general rate of this dental anomaly in modern and historic populations show that the enhanced frequency can only be explained by close familial relationships akin to endogamy. This is supported by strontium isotope analyses of teeth, indicating a local origin of almost all investigated individuals. Yet, the accompanying archaeological finds document far-reaching economic exchange with neighboring groups and a population density hitherto unparalleled. We thus conclude that endogamy in the early Neolithic village of Basta was not due to geographic isolation or a lack of exogamous mating partners but a socio-cultural choice.
Citation: Alt KW, Benz M, Müller W, Berner ME, Schultz M, et al. (2013) Earliest Evidence for Social Endogamy in the 9,000-Year-Old-Population of Basta, Jordan. PLoS ONE 8(6): e65649. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0065649