The tombs, dating back over 5,000 years, have been found to contain two distinct cultural groups, despite being found just miles apart, researchers have claimed. The two sites were previously thought to have contained people from the same group, with different graves representing people of varying social standing.
But, dental analysis has proven this wrong, revealing the peoples to be distinct in their own cultures, practices and even appearance.
At the site, human remains were found either in cave burials or in megalithic graves – the latter of which would have required considerable effort to build and marked the existence of a high status people.
In a study published in Science Advances, researchers say the “invested energy” into megalithic tombs is generally linked with “a more privileged segment of the community compared to those in caves.”
This detail wasn’t enough to satiate the researcher’s curiosity, however, with team leader, Teresa Fernández-Crespo wanting to find out more about the lives of the people found at the Neolithic site.
Stone formations in Spain, Basque Country
Another rock tomb in Spain, Basque Country
Co-author, Rick Schulting, told Newsweek: “We are always interested in learning more about the lives of people living in the past.”
In order to do this, the team decided to focus their efforts on examining the humans both in the cave and the megalithic tombs.
They used teeth to track dietary and lifestyle differences between the two groups.
Stable isotopes helped to reveal certain cultural truths – they lock into a person’s teeth over the course of their life and can provide information on their diet snd geographic origin that skeletal remains cannot.
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Megalithic monument located in the place of Dombate in Borneiro, Spain
Mr Schulting explained how the process works: “The sequential sampling of teeth allows us to trace back in an individual’s life history when this difference first emerges, since the teeth do not change their isotope signals once formed, whereas bone remodels during life.”
Previous research indicated that those buried in the megalithic tombs had significantly different diets to those who whose remains were in the caves.
The researchers hoped that the data collected in this round of studies would provide enough detail to map whether differences emerged during early childhood or later on.
This is important, because, Mr Schulting explained: “If the difference only emerged later in life, it could reflect different ‘occupations’ within single communities using two burial practices—monument and cave.
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Dolmen of Menga, Menga megalithic dolmen in Spain
Spain has several historic megalithic structures and and a wealth of ancient history
“If it is present from early childhood, it is more likely that there were distinct communities using the monument and caves for burial, despite how close together they are.”
The subsequent findings revealed contrasting childhood lifestyles, offering the more exciting conclusions of the two – that children were weaned at different ages, ate different foods and engaged in different land use practices.
Despite the groups living just three miles apart, they were distinct and in their own right “valley” and “hill” people.
It is likely that the two cultures would have had regular contact with one another.
Megalithic chamber tomb, Minorca, in the Balearic Islands, Spain
The researchers have concluded that those living in the valley and using the megalithic monuments for burial would have had access to more secure and abundant food sources, as the arable land made for better conditions in the region.
This, says the team, means crop yields would have prevailed and supported a large population in comparison to those living in the hills.
And, though the valley people may have been wealthier, they may not have been necessarily healthier, with their teeth tending to have more cavities, suggesting they indulged in less nutritionally dense carbohydrates.
Scientists say the two groups lived close enough to have regular encounters with each other, likely trading goods and intermarrying, though not enough to assimilate their appearances.
This megalithic burial chamber in Spain is dated from between 3500 and 2700 BC
And, there is no evidence of fortifications, suggesting they lived together peacefully.
Though, because the groups were so distinct, it is likely that tensions would have been high at times, with scuffles and arrow warfare likely – evidence for this being in the arrowhead marks on skeletons found in the area.
Researchers wish to continue their analysing the area to discover potential parallels between the present day and then, our time and theirs, revealing antagonisms that would have sparked battles between the two groups similar to border conflicts and global warfare today.