by Richard W. Wise
Author: The Dawning: 31`,000 BC
As any good Marxist will tell you, history is a long, sad tale of the exploitation of the many by the few. Marx's thesis is difficult to dispute though his solution left a lot to be desired. We study elites and their wars. Why? Because what physically remains are the temples, pyramids, monuments and dwellings of the priests, aristocrats, military leaders and kings and what was written down was at their behest. Of the ordinary people, we know almost nothing. Their lives are not described. They were not buried in monumental graves and their mud, wood and thatch dwellings have mostly deteriorated, leaving little or no trace.
Excavations of a Paleolithic burial at Sunghir, 200 km. east of Moscow, between 1957-77 unearthed the elaborate burial of an elderly male covered in carved beads and red ochre (Sunghir 1). Aged about sixty, the skeleton is dated to the Aurignacian Period, between 24-34,000 BP. (Buzhilova 2004) The grave contains 2,936 mammoth ivory beads, pierced fox teeth and ivory armbands. Two others, one juvenile (Sunghir 2) and one adolescent (Sunghir 3), were buried close by—head-to-head— with 10,000 beads and similar grave goods. The two male children, buried head-to-head, show distinct physical deformities. The three individuals were not closely related (Sikora et al. 2017)
These birth defects would have made it difficult for them—to pull their weight—
to participate fully in the life of the tribe. Yet they were buried with great pomp and circumstance. Similar burials of deformed individuals have been found at Dolni Vestonice in Romania, dated to 28,000 BP. Again, two children were buried head-to-head. These burials—and there are many others—suggest care, empathy, and perhaps, more.
Experiments have shown that allowing one hour per bead would have required 3,000 hours to manufacture the beads found in the male's burial at Sunghir. That's a whole lot of surplus labor. Taking an analogy from the San people, the so-called Pygmies of South Africa, who feed themselves in a desert environment working a three-day week, we know that ancient hunter-gathers had a good deal of leisure time or, rather, sufficient time to create surplus value, also known as wealth. To whose benefit? It is difficult to wish away what these burials are telling us. The Sunghir burials have been referred to as "royal." Where there is wealth, there is also status and social stratification.