86 points by smartmic 11 days ago | 6 comments
xdennis 10 days ago
As a Romanian, the renaming of the culture really bugs me. We discovered it first, in a village called Cucuteni, so we called it Cucuteni culture. The Russian imperialists discovered it afterwards in Ukraine and called it Tripolie culture. After independence the Ukrainians renamed it after the proper name of their village: Trypillia.

But it doesn't change the fact that it was first discovered in Cucuteni.

digging 10 days ago
Most English publications refer to it as the "Cucuteni–Trypillia culture", apparently in reference to the fact that two distinct discoveries were made in different locations and later recognized as belonging to the same culture. Seems TFA is an outlier in preferring only the latter name. Of course, neither name accurately describes the actual neolithic culture at all.

(Wikipedia elides the ~5-10 year gap between publication of Cucuteni and publication of Trypillia... very possible the latter discovery was just Ukranian Vincenc Chvojka trying to "get in on the action" after hearing about Cucuteni.)

Jupe 10 days ago
Concerning when an article like this makes assertions but doesn't mention key social concerns associated with the culture such as the periodic burning down of the houses. [1]

Given the "social strata" ideas presented in the article, I have bias concern alarms going off.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burned_house_horizon

(edited: grammar)

digging 10 days ago
> key social concerns associated with the culture such as the periodic burning down of the houses.

What do you mean by key social concerns? Are you suggesting House Burning was a form of intracommunal violence? The linked article doesn't support that.

Jupe 10 days ago
Mass burning of homes, on a recurring 60 to 80 year cycle, then to rebuild the same structures, seems odd. Not mentioning it in the posted article seems like an substantial omission.
digging 10 days ago
I don't think I agree, given the motivations and actual practices of burning are both unknown. They mention burnt homes, indicating they're aware of the practice, but steer clear of including in their study. IMO that makes the most sense because while House Burning (which may or may not have been done en masse) could be related to egalitarian home size, it's not clear that it is related; and if it is related, it's not clear at all what the relationship would be.

The only value of tying the two things together would be saying "We don't and maybe can't actually know anything about these people," which is useless. Instead they took a focused approach to using a known tool, the Gini coefficient, to make some specific guesses.

rickydroll 10 days ago
Lice is my guess as to why the houses were burned down—that or spiders.
RhodesianHunter 10 days ago
Or bed bugs :P
d0mine 10 days ago
How often did towns burn in the written history? Closely packed wooden structures are prone to fire — nothing remarkable
digging 9 days ago
You can find your suspicions answered pretty quickly in the linked Wikipedia article.
d0mine 9 days ago
The page mentions various explanations (just-so stories that are expected for archaeology). No definitive answer.
sophacles 10 days ago
What sets off your alarms about the concept of "social strata"?
Jupe 9 days ago
The article goes out of its way to characterize such ancient sites through the lens of our current culture. This kind of archeo-sociology is nothing more than a massive guess as to what was actually going on. There are simply too many possible reasons for different house sizes. The most obvious, to me, is household (family) size. There may, or may not, be a relationship between household size and social level, but I do not see how this would ever be understood from these sites.

Jumping to "household income" seems too much for me, given nothing more than house size.

Example (from the article): "In addition, poorer households are prone to lose members to richer households, have lower life expectancy and higher infant mortality rates..."

This is certainly a more modern perspective and not something I'd associate with a pastoral community like this.

Maybe I'm wrong, but I view such articles with a huge amount of skepticism.

digging 9 days ago
Do you have a specific response to this?

> Based on the results of extensive excavations and geophysical surveys, this article calculates Gini coefficients—a statistical measure of inequality in the distribution of household income—of house floor sizes, which have been shown to be a suitable proxy for evaluating household variability in diverse cultural contexts and in global comparative studies (e.g. Kohler et al. Reference Kohler2017; Thompson et al. Reference Thompson, Feinman and Prufer2021; Basri & Lawrence Reference Basri and Lawrence2020).

Otherwise it seems like you're pushing your own preferred interpretation onto data you don't understand.

I don't agree that the authors went out of their way to characterize the ruins through a lens of our modern society. If they did, they've hidden that from me.

baerrie 10 days ago
Yeah, the disenfranchised burned down the rich people’s homes, same dif
Jupe 10 days ago
And burn down their own homes as well?
kbelder 9 days ago
That's pretty much a reflection of current social trends, right?
mihaic 10 days ago
For a while now, I've been working on a theory that these mega-sites emerged for matchmaking purposes.

Basically, I see it most men and women had a bad deal in choosing their mate in inegalitarian villages, some temporary festivals were held where an example of more fairness being possible was shown and then these mega-sites merged festivals and village in a location that now had hundreds of potential matches for everyone.

lukan 10 days ago
Not sure if I understand you right, but neolithic villages were likely way, way more egalitarian than anything we have today.

When you have no material wealth (as a status indicator) that can be passed on that divides people by birth and no formal power system, then the status will be the deeds of the people. And people are not that different on average.

Inbreeding would be rather a strong motivation to get fresh blood and have regular festivals to achieve that. But trading, and general coordination and communication to fight of bigger threats were likely a strong motivator as well.

dmurray 10 days ago
The article seems to be making the argument that

- these "megasites" were bigger and more urban than your typical Neolithic village, and certainly than a typical group of nomads or hunter-gatherers.

- normally, increased urbanisation like that would lead to increased levels of inequality, for the reasons you mention (you can acquire more material wealth through specialisation, and it's easier to accumulate it when you don't have to carry it with you)

- but actually, from their analysis of floor plan sizes, there wasn't as much inequality as we might expect.

It seems a little tenuous to me. I'd like to see their conclusions when you add on the error bars for "just how strongly family wealth correlates to house size", "how accurate is our distribution of house sizes given we only recovered X% of them" and all the other assumptions being made along the way.

bazoom42 10 days ago
Are you suggesting disparities in material wealth did not exist in neolithic times? Why would you think that?
Retric 10 days ago
No, it’s suggesting the orders of magnitude were smaller.

Bill gates has what 1 million times more wealth than the average person his age, more? There’s no way someone in a Neolithic village could get that kind of advantage over the average person in a neolithic village. Someone having 10x the productivity/wealth/etc sure, but 10,000x just isn’t on the table at least as considered by the time period. We place extreme value on gold where a shiny stone might be worth thousands of tons of food, but nobody back then would make such an exchange.

Extreme wealth takes social structures to support it. People 2,000 years ago had less wealth than today on average but you could still have some guy with more concubines in their haram than existed in a Neolithic village.

10 days ago
lupusreal 10 days ago
The average person is very unlikely to meet somebody like Bill Gates. For most practical intents and purposes inequality is much smaller than that.
anvil-on-my-toe 10 days ago
What difference does it make if I meet him? Our lives and access to resources are still impacted by mega wealthy people.

I pay taxes that build roads and schools which enable commercial tycoons like Bill Gates to reap enormous profits. Bill Gates buys farm land, which drives up prices and blocks me from accessing that land.

quesera 10 days ago
I don't understand your point.

Bill Gates pays a lot more taxes than you do, and contributes greatly more to those same roads and schools.

You were blocked from accessing that farmland before Bill Gates bought it, and regardless of who bought it, you would still be blocked from accessing it.

There is plenty of farmland for sale in the US, if you were considering buying it yourself.

Retric 10 days ago
Bill Gates pays a much lower tax rate than I do, so I’m subsidizing his economic activities.

Before a Microsoft employee drives on public roads someone needs to have paid to create and maintain those roads. Without government spending creating an environment conducive to wealth creation you don’t end up with billionaire business men you get warlords and poor people.

quesera 10 days ago
> I’m subsidizing his economic activities

That is one, not universally-accepted, perspective, I guess.

iamthirsty 10 days ago
> Bill Gates pays a much lower tax rate than I do, so I’m subsidizing his economic activities.

Given it's est. he'd have paid $500m+ in income tax in 2023[1], I think your calculation is off — he's subsidizing your economic activity.

Just because the rate is lower, doesn't mean the real $ amount — what actually matters — isn't vastly higher.

[1]: https://ca.news.yahoo.com/much-bill-gates-pays-property-1910...

Retric 10 days ago
He paid 0$ in income tax on all the money funding his foundation, ~150x more money untaxed than a single unusual large tax bill.

You may agree or disagree with with what his foundation is doing, but your subsidizing it anyway.

iamthirsty 10 days ago
> He paid 0$ in income tax on all the money funding his foundation

It's a non-profit foundation that's main function is giving the money away, funding social and educational development in developing countries, and solving huge international human rights issues. One of the biggest in the world, too.

Why do you think people get tax-deductions from donations? Your priority here seems to be more to find any reason to slam someone who is wealthy, rather than actually for the better of society.

Retric 10 days ago
The point is we’re subsidizing his economic activities by 10’s of billions of dollars.

Some things you might agree with but money is fungible. I’d rather pay for someone’s healthcare than subsidize his multi million dollar yacht etc.

PS: If you really believe in what the gates foundation is doing you can give them more money to work with here ( https://www.gatesphilanthropypartners.org/) but you can’t give them less.

quesera 10 days ago
I don't think you're using a reasonable definition of "subsidize".

By all methods of accounting, Bill Gates contributes more to the public coffers than any other human being under discussion.

Your definition of "subsidize" is predicated on the belief that the state is entitled to a flat percentage of income.

This is arguably preferable (though it is, historically, a very messy argument!), but more importantly it is not true according any existing legal structure.

So you could equally reasonably argue that Bill Gates (or anyone, really) has any number of other responsibilities to the public that you might dream up. He does not.

Exactly zero of your tax pennies went toward the purchase of Bill Gates' yacht. Money is fungible, but that does not mean that all money is in all places at once.

Retric 9 days ago
I said subsidy which isn’t the same as taxes, the existing legal structure is happy to subsidize people both in the tax code and with direct handouts. In such cases it’s the tax payers who are covering that burden so talking in terms of subsidies from specific individuals to specific individuals seems perfectly reasonable though obviously the individual burden is low.

As a simple practical matter, 99% of both his earnings and mine are dependent upon past government spending not just roads but even stuff like the judicial system.But asking everyone pay the same amount while it would benefit us both doesn’t work because the total is larger than some people’s income and we really want government services. Further, it’s not just that he received a larger benefit it also cost more to provide him services.

So if we’re stuck subsidizing some people based on a percentage of our earnings, it’s only reasonable to base the subsidy calculation on a percentage of total earnings.

As to pennies argument, if he bought a lunch it’s meaningless to talk about individual subsidies unless someone paid a truly astronomical amount in taxes it’s some meaningless fraction of a cent. But when you’re talking about ultra large purchases and the lifetime subsidies are both a significant portion of his lifetime earnings and a surprisingly large fraction of federal budget, it cross the penny threshold for some people.

quesera 9 days ago
I'm 100% on board with the idea that the wealth divide is an enormous problem.

I don't think it's Bill's fault, or even that he benefits from it in any meaningful way. And I don't think that you and I are the victims.

I think we need to be more clear about this. It's not that Bill's (marginal) tax rate is lower than ours. It's that Bill has more and different types of income than we do.

Bill has the types of income that are net beneficial to encourage -- which we do by reducing tax liability on it.

But I think it's more correct to say that Bill contributes more to our lifestyles than we do to his. And that we want Bill to contribute more still.

Not because we need more tax revenue (we don't really), or because of a lifeless theory about non-progressive taxation being more proper (it's so much more complicated than that).

But simply because we're all of a society, and that society is unhealthy when wealth is concentrated too densely.

It's not about fair share. It's about limiting inequality. That's the end goal, so let's address it directly. A flat tax does not do that.

People like Bill Gates should be heroes, for contributing progressively more to society with every success they achieve. (Aside: That was painful to write. Bill himself will always be an evil monopolist who held computing back by 20 years and taught people to believe that computers are scary and unreliable)

But where does that new tax revenue go? Into the maw of the US government, where it is used for important things, often very inefficiently.

Bill & Warren & Charlie (RIP) think they can do it better. And they might be right, honestly. They're creating an super-national voluntary self-taxation regime, and a corresponding appropriations framework to go along with it, out of the gross excess of their inadequately-taxed earnings.

I think that's more than either of us are doing. Even if their projects fail, they will not be obviously less-effective than the same funds as additional tax revenue. :)

Retric 10 days ago
I suspect most Americas have seen someone with 100+ million dollars in assets at some point in their life. How many people have gone to a Miley Cyrus concert or professional sports etc?

The indirect impact is even more profound, consider all the propaganda pushed by billionaires buying media etc.

lupusreal 10 days ago
They may have a few times, maybe. Far from a given.

Now consider an average middle class American, who might afford Swift tickets, could have on the order of a million dollars net worth (albeit mostly illiquid, tied up in their property). That puts them two orders of magnitude off of Taylor Swift, the sort of person they might see a few times in their life. But it puts them six orders of magnitude above somebody who's flat broke on rock bottom, and they certainly meet that sort of person a lot more than they meet Taylor Swift. The inequality gap between a middle class person and somebody at rock bottom is wider much wider and more pervasive in society than the gap between a common middle class "millionaire" and the billionaires, but all nearly all the internet whining about inequality is focused on the billionaires.

Now I grant you, comparing different amounts of zeros is kind of a silly way to think about inequality. Let's get a bit more real: the middle class and billionaires both take a lot for granted that somebody at rock bottom cannot. They both know where they're going to sleep tonight, both feel secure in the knowledge that they're going to have a roof over their heads, stomachs filled with food, medical needs met, etc. Somebody living on the streets has none of that, and that difference is I think far more profound than the difference between the middle class and billionaires. The middle class have to go to work and don't own megayachts or helicopters, but these are trivial matters that needn't worry them so much as somebody living on the street has to worry.

Now what about Neolithic times? I think people at rock bottom still existed back then. People who were cast out from their group, due to disease or getting on the losing side of a power struggle, being a weirdo, or whatever the reason. There were probably people who got banished and probably died soon after. And I think there were probably people who were very popular, who were respected and loved by others, or maybe were feared. People who benefited from a strong social safety net, who got given food by others and were protected by others. The inequality gap between them and the banished would have been immense, just as the inequality gap between the homeless and middle class today is immense. If my assumptions about neolithic society are accurate, then it's absurd to say that neolithic society didn't have meaningful inequality because they didn't have billionaires.

Retric 10 days ago
> The inequality gap between them and the banished would have been immense, just as the inequality gap between the homeless and middle class today is immense.

You can be poor in America and still have access to healthcare, food, housing, etc. Almost everything that you think of as middle class kicks in at really low income levels and net negative assets due to government assistance. As in what people own is worth less than their debt.

Meanwhile someone exclude from their community in Neolithic times could have several days worth of food after killing a deer. They had less long term safety, but in terms of material wealth or income the difference wouldn’t be that huge.

abdullahkhalids 10 days ago
The inequality is in the political power that super rich have compared to the average person. Most billionaires can quite easily get access to political leaders, and convince them (or legally/illegally bribe them) to change the system in the billionaire's favor.

A single common person has next to zero chance of impacting any public policy.

throwaway11460 10 days ago
Neolithic communities had both a power and status system, as well as material wealth that couldn't be easily replicated and ensured one's place in society.
golergka 10 days ago
Many Neolithic cultures had literal slavery, and they also have had very high levels of violence. There's nothing less egalitarian than owning another human being as a thing, as well as raping, killing and pillaging.
pantalaimon 10 days ago
festivals are also generally great fun and provide a welcome change from the otherwise often monotonous daily life :)
aramattamara 10 days ago
War was way more abundant and routine in those days. To the east of the study area, there was constant presence of nomadic tribes. I guess it's easier to defend in large groups. The other way to deter invaders is to not have anything to eat yourself (hence frequent fires when settlers burned their own settlements ahead of enemy).
dimitar 10 days ago
the horse wasn't domesticated yet, this is a really old archaeological culture
seper8 10 days ago
So what facts do you have to support this theory?

My man, it's time to lay off the dating apps ;)

mihaic 10 days ago
There are almost no archeological records for social dynamics, so they usually get ignored, or you're forced to base theories on some exercises of imagination. If you were to discover in 1000 years a smartphone without data on it, I doubt you could infer modern social media without some guesswork. You'd get photos, calls, navigation from it having GPS, but not endless hours scrolling feeds.

For this matter, what's the point in having a huge village? I can only see protection against warfare and forcing fairness in social interactions and on the matchmaking market. Other things seem to get worse, since increased density makes extracting food from your environment harder.

Adult humans have three basic goals: food, shelter, reproduction. They spend most of their energy on these, and any explanation of a society that ignores one of these has to be incomplete. Maybe the fact that we've moved one of these from the social plane onto the virtual makes that harder to see. I've been off the dating apps for some years by the way. :)

logicchains 10 days ago
>For this matter, what's the point in having a huge village? I can only see protection against warfare and forcing fairness in social interactions and on the matchmaking market.

Division of labour/economies of scale are fundamental to human quality of life improvements. Even without much technology/industry, there's still a lot to gain from division of labour.

mihaic 10 days ago
This was a very egalitarian society, with basic needs. All the benefits from division of labour and trade you already get when your society has a few hundred individuals, and it doesn't give you any incentive to grow as large as these mega-sites were.
01HNNWZ0MV43FF 10 days ago
Isn't trade more efficient in larger villages, too? Like economics in general
card_zero 10 days ago
Trading seems a good explanation, yes. A trading expedition is a big deal, you probably want cram a ship-ton of resources together and exchange all your obsidian for salt, or grain for copper, or whatever, in one go. You don't want to mess around making massive journeys between hundreds of little villages. You want a large, famous, easily-spotted trading destination that has all the goods ready in a big convenient pile.
detourdog 10 days ago
Most of these sites have astronomical/calendrical orientation. I would say the definition of trade has to include knowledge and techniques. I can imagine a culture developing a steady state around the seemingly consistent movement of celestial objects and slowly losing it’s cultural center has things shifted.

I find interesting that astrology is based on the rising of the sun in position of the planets which is distinct from a lunar calendar.

What sort of cultural shift would that change create?

mihaic 10 days ago
Given how basic their lifestyle was, I'd say you hit marginal returns at tens of individuals. Like I said in another comment, a stronger reason would be required for people to want this scale, and I can only see warfare/peacekeeping and matchmaking as reasons.
flir 10 days ago
> Given how basic their lifestyle was, I'd say you hit marginal returns at tens of individuals.

You might have a circular argument there.

poulpy123 10 days ago
when tinder becomes tinder
msolujic 10 days ago
Few weeks ago archeologists found similar, older settlement bit west from that one, that belongs to Vinca culture, that spanned in current Serbia, South Hungary and western Romania Here is HN story about it

Archaeology team discovers a 7k-year-old settlement in Serbia - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=40220691

All those are obviously connected and related

bjornsing 10 days ago
Interesting. Perhaps the first example of so called “social engineering” that we’re so familiar with in the Nordics?

Also plays nicely into a pet theory of mine, that “social engineering” typically has very different short term and long term effects. It seems in the short term you can change social roles radically by changing rewards and punishment (e.g. communist revolutions). But then people’s personalities start adjusting to the new environment. After 2-3 generations you have radically different personality structures and behaviors in the population.

Sadly politics is about the immediate results, and does not even attribute the long term consequences to the policies introduced 2-3 generations ago.

dsign 10 days ago
Social engineering has been along for ... well, since we ended prehistory. The convergence to monotheism with very specific demographic outlooks and group self-identification ("we are the chosen people, the others are not") is early evidence of social engineering.

> Sadly politics is about the immediate results, and does not even attribute the long term consequences to the policies introduced 2-3 generations ago.

Our modern political systems at the current scale have been around for only a few short hundred years. Time will tell how they work out, but I doubt they will be eternal.

ponow 10 days ago
> early evidence of social engineering

Or early adaptation of culture to nature.

Trow839rn 10 days ago
Are we sure elites actually lived on those sites? Eastern Europe always had "warlords", that traveled with their army around their empire (Rus, Avars, Mongols...). Transportation of food and goods was not practical over large areas, so the elites moved instead.

I bet those "mega houses" were just for slaves!

District5524 10 days ago
I think it's pretty far-fetched to draw conclusions from cultures that were at the same place like 4500 years later. How do you think they could have kept like 10000 slaves in place and convince them to remain slaves? And other Cucuteni sites had population estimates around 45 000 people...
detourdog 10 days ago
Being fed is a pretty good incentive most people are fine with any role in the group if they are fed. The alternative was doing everything on one’s own.

I’m sure individuals had preferred roles. I think in this day and age describing them as labor may be more accurate than slave.

qwytw 9 days ago
Those dynamics are very very different when population densities are low and land is abundant. Without complex state/regional level hierarchies if you can just form a likeminded group in you community and move elsewhere chances that your local chieftain can't really do too much about it.
Trow839rn 10 days ago
I do not have to:

> The use of house size as a proxy for the economic status and social power of households in a society is based on broad cross-cultural evidence from ethno-archaeological studies and archival sources as it has been found that household wealth and house size are correlated in many societies

Basic premise of this study is wrong, based on recorded history from the same region. Nomadic herding warriors do not live in houses, and do not leave the same mark in archaeology records.

Early agriculture can support a huge number of people, but they will be malnourished, and always be dominated by meat fed elites!

card_zero 10 days ago
Well, no. I mean kind of. These grain-farming Cucuteni were squeezed out by the Kurgan culture, tall pastoralists coming from the East (that culture became the indo-europeans, us), the process possibly assisted by a few hundred years of drought. Ordinarily, the farmers had food surpluses, though having all the bread you can eat is not the same as having all the meat, admittedly.

Your nomadic herding warriors leave graves behind - Kurgan - as well as distinctive pottery, as clues to the general area they were being nomadic in, which was initially elsewhere while the Cucuteni were thriving. I don't think maintaining slaves at a distance works as a concept.

temporarely 10 days ago
It's a valid notion but is it supported by evidence? Supporting evidence would be evidence of periodic burning of villages because that's what warlords do to peaceful settlements.

Also it is likely that the notion of "elites" is different in our age than in the era before the invention of money. Our elites are not elites of mind, soul, or even body. They are sitting on their hordes of extracted wealth. Earlier any sort of elites in an agrarian society (which presumably precludes strongmen type of "elite") would likely be based on group psychology and charismatic power (shaman, priests, divine representative, etc.)

Trow839rn 10 days ago
> be evidence of periodic burning of villages because that's what warlords do to peaceful settlements

Not really. Look at "pax Romana" or Aztecs. Warlords bring peace!

If villages are part of the same empire, they are at peace. Without central force there is constant local bickering and fight. Warlords take their tributes (including soldiers) and wage war far away. Or they punish population by killing one man in family. There is no need to burn entire village, it hurts profit.

People at that time were able to build huge megalithic structures. It is safe to assume they could organise small army of a few thousands (enough to dominate 20k settlements).

defrost 10 days ago
> periodic burning of villages because that's what warlords do to peaceful settlements.

Or not.


There's sparse evidence for exposure to archaeological literature.

navane 10 days ago
I can see the evolution of roving bands who pillage and burn, to roving bands who suppress and extract, to roving bands who tax and collect.
antiquark 10 days ago
Seriously, more skepticism is in order rather than looking at a floor plan and proclaiming "look, Marxism!"