Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2012

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Lillios, Katina T

Second Advisor

Franciscus, Robert G

First Committee Member

Hill, Matt E

Second Committee Member

Peate, David W

Third Committee Member

Tykot, Robert H


This dissertation research is a bioarchaeological investigation of Late Neolithic through Early Bronze Age (3600-1800 BC) burial populations from the Portuguese Estremadura. In this project macroscopic and isotopic analyses of skeletal and dental materials are used to gather information pertaining to diet, health status, and inter-lifetime mobility patterns for individuals interred at different burials within a small geographic area with the goal of evaluating the level of social differentiation in the region. The archaeological record for the transition between the Late Neolithic and the Early Bronze Age in southwestern Portugal demonstrates clear evidence of the rise of a socially-complex, non-state society. During the Early Bronze Age, however, this region underwent a period of social `devolution' which cumulated in widespread settlement abandonment. To date, it is unclear to what extent sociopolitical or environmental factors contributed to this social collapse. This study seeks to expand our knowledge of social differentiation in the Late Neolithic to Early Bronze Age of the Estremadura region of Portugal and provide insight into social structure during the emergence and collapse of early complex societies in Iberia.

The results of this study found that there were statistically significant differences in dietary, mobility and demographic patterns between burials that suggest socially distinct populations were interred at different sites. In particular, one burial site, Cova da Moura, diverged significantly from the other sampled burial populations. However, based upon the data presented here, it was not possible to tie these biological markers of differentiation to particular aspects of Late Neolithic to Early Bronze Age social organization. Therefore, while this study successfully identified differences between burial populations, at this time, it is not possibly to relate these to particular hierarchical structures. It is suggested that aspects of burial practices in the region confound biologically-based investigations of social organization in a similar way that they have impeded researchers' abilities to identify elite versus non-elite individuals through grave goods alone. Nonetheless, despite these obstacles, this work provides strong evidence of population heterogeneity in the region, and has implications for our understanding of the evolution of complex societies in the Iberian Peninsula and elsewhere.


Diet, European Prehistory, Iberian Peninsula, Neolithic, Skeletal Analysis, Stable Isotope Analysis


xix, 370 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 333-370).


Copyright 2012 Anna Joy Waterman

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Anthropology Commons