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BY 4.0 license Open Access Published by De Gruyter Open Access February 20, 2023

Wealth Consumption, Sociopolitical Organization, and Change: A Perspective from Burial Analysis on the Middle Bronze Age in the Carpathian Basin

  • Julian Laabs ORCID logo EMAIL logo
From the journal Open Archaeology


Tracing the patterns of wealth consumption within and between burial communities can reveal different aspects of the sociopolitical and economic abilities of and relations between individuals, groups, and whole communities. For a cross-cultural comparison, burial communities of the cultural groups of the Hungarian Middle Bronze Age Vatya and Füzesabony pottery styles in the Carpathian Basin were chosen. Special emphasis is put on the development of the wealth consumption during the late phase of the Middle Bronze Age. It could be shown that Vatya and Füzesabony communities exhibit very similar patterns of wealth consumption and seemingly sociopolitical organization. In the cemetery of Dunaújváros-Duna-dűlő, a dynamic competition and cooperation between different social segments can be witnessed, representing an arena in which signaling the individual’s and groups’ ability to participate in sociopolitical organization of the burial community took place. The wealth consumption over the whole considered geographical space, and beyond, changes during the late Middle Bronze Age. It can be assumed that during the times of change, cultural convergence increases, as changes in burial rites and wealth consumption suggest. This development is possible because Vatya and Füzesabony shared a very similar sociopolitical organization as well as the perception of wealth and how it should be consumed.

1 Introduction

The Early and Middle Bronze Age in the Carpathian Basin dates between c. 2500 and 1500/1450 BCE (Fischl, Kiss, Kulcsár, & Szeverényi, 2013; Kiss et al., 2019; Staniuk, 2021) and is characterized by multiple contemporaneous archaeological units (Figure 1). Their obvious differences in material culture, burial rites, hoarding, and settlement practices were used to justify clearly the separated and opposing cultural groups with few similarities (Bóna, 1975; Meier-Arendt, 1992; Tasić, 1984). Warlike situations were pictured, where the settlement distribution and their chronological change are described as waving front lines (Blischke, 2002; Bóna, 1975). Although questions about warfare and warrior hood are not abandoned (e.g., Metzner-Nebelsick, 2021; Vandkilde, 2014), over the last decade, research questions about sociopolitical organization, power, and economic inequalities were brought into focus (e.g., Duffy, 2015, 2020; Earle & Kristiansen, 2010b; Kienlin, 2012). For the Middle Bronze Age in the Carpathian Basin, the so called Koszider Period (c. 1600–1500/1450 BCE) is described as the time of major changes in the social and material world of all cultural groups (Bóna, 1975; Fischl et al., 2013; Vicze, Poroszlai, & Sümegi, 2013). While the changes are well known for pottery, bronzes, burial rites, and settlement developments, the question whether the sociopolitical organization changed as well, is less frequently asked.

Figure 1 
               Distribution of Middle Bronze Age (c. 2000–1500/1450 BCE) cultural groups with distinct pottery styles in the Carpathian Basin after Fischl et al. (2013) and Stig Sørensen and Rebay-Salisbury (2008), and the considered cemeteries of (1) Dunaújváros-Duna-dűlő, (2) Lovasberény, (3) Dömsöd, (4) Adony, (5) Kelebia, (6) Csanytelek-Palé, (7) Pusztaszikszó, (8) Gelej, (9) Hernádkak, (10) Streda nad Bodrogom.
Figure 1

Distribution of Middle Bronze Age (c. 2000–1500/1450 BCE) cultural groups with distinct pottery styles in the Carpathian Basin after Fischl et al. (2013) and Stig Sørensen and Rebay-Salisbury (2008), and the considered cemeteries of (1) Dunaújváros-Duna-dűlő, (2) Lovasberény, (3) Dömsöd, (4) Adony, (5) Kelebia, (6) Csanytelek-Palé, (7) Pusztaszikszó, (8) Gelej, (9) Hernádkak, (10) Streda nad Bodrogom.

This study aims to pursue the existing research of the sociopolitical organization and intra/inter-cultural relations in the Carpathian Basin during the Middle Bronze Age with emphasis on the Koszider Period. This will be done by examining the wealth consumption within the burial practices in Vatya and Füzesabony burial communities (Figure 1). As such, this study is complementary to existing studies concerned with burial practices (e.g., Stig Sørensen & Rebay-Salisbury, 2008), cultural change (e.g., Fischl et al., 2013; Przybyła, 2016; Staniuk, 2020), sociopolitical organization, and inequality (e.g., Dani, Fischl, Kulcsár, Szeverényi, & Kiss, 2016; Duffy, 2020; O’Shea, 1996). A comparative cross-cultural approach is emphasized and, by means of a quantifying wealth index (WI), Vatya and Füzesabony cemeteries are analyzed. A distinct focus will be placed on the wealth consumption pattern within the Vatya urn cemetery of Dunaújváros-Duna-dűlő.

The cultural groups of Vatya and Füzesabony were selected not only because of their similarities in terms of occupational practices, but especially because of their differences in material culture expression, burial rites, and hoarding practices (cf. Table 1). Cemeteries are usually located near settlements, within a range of a few hundred meters up to a few kilometers. Vatya is characterized by cremation burials placed in an urn, while in the context of Füzesabony, the deceased were inhumated. This rather sharp distinction within the burial practice was analyzed by Stig Sørensen and Rebay-Salisbury (2008), including Encrusted Pottery contexts, in which cremation as scattered or urn burials were performed. The results provided interesting insights into the different body treatments and the body’s perception of the three cultural groups. In addition, in all three cultural groups, individual graves are emphasized, and in all cases, a careful treatment of the body is clearly identifiable, despite varying burial practices and the damaging effect of the cremation process. For the Middle Bronze Age, burial practices should be interpreted as an expression of a strong collective identity which defines itself as different from another group (Stig Sørensen & Rebay-Salisbury, 2008).

Table 1

Characteristics of Vatya and Füzesabony after Fischl et al. (2013) and Stig Sørensen & Rebay-Salisbury (2008)

Vatya Füzesabony
Landscape Flat, plain landscape Hilly landscape, flood plains
Settlements Tells, flatland settlements Tells, flatland settlements
Subsistence Sedentary Sedentary
Memory/history Permanent, long-term settlements Permanent, long-term settlements
Material emphasis, decorative elements Pottery (simpler decorations, motifs from Encrusted Ware and Füszesabony present) Metal, pottery (with elements such as circles, spirals, running spirals, channels, and knobs)
Cemetery location Large and small cemeteries in close vicinity to tells On elevations next to settlements, separated by small waterways
Cemetery size Large cemeteries, some over 1000 graves Large cemeteries, >100 graves
Spatial arrangement of cemeteries Oval shaped grave clusters from 9–20 up to 100–200 graves, sometimes rows grave clusters of 15–20 graves in irregular shapes, small ovals, rows
Grave pit Round, urn size Oval and rectangular pits, body size
Primary burial practice Cremation in urns Inhumation
Other burial practices Few inhumation Few cremations, increasing with time
Bronzes Metal in 5–30% of graves, both cremated with the body and unburned grave goods, found in and out of urns Metals frequently present, bodies dressed with ornaments, some other individual goods
Pottery use in graves Large vessel used as urn, cover crucial, often bowl and cup, additional vessels Sets of bowls, jugs, and cups, occasionally other vessels
Hoarding traditions Hoard type Tolnanémedi, Koszider Hoard type Hajdúsámson, Koszider

2 Theoretical Considerations and Methods

2.1 Burials as Mirrors of the Past Reality?

In archaeology, reconstructing prehistoric sociopolitical structures on the basis of burial analyses is an intensively discussed topic. Based on the assumption that differences in grave inventories display the social status of the deceased, the New Archaeology proclaimed that the sociopolitical organization can be deducted with the help of burial analysis (Binford, 1971; Saxe, 1970). This simplified approach has been, and still is, criticized (Härke, 1989; Nilsson Stutz, 2016; Parker Pearson, 2003). The burial practice, which includes the body treatment after death, ceremonies, the grave furniture, and grave goods, is a complex cultural construct which has to be understood holistically in order to make an overarching statement about the individuals buried. Prehistoric concepts of afterlife are seldom reconstructable. From cross-cultural observations, different expressions and varying habits are known to influence burial practices (Carr, 1995). In some cases, the deceased is equipped and treated due to his or her social status in life. Other habits disguise the status or draw an idealized picture of the dead and the burial community (Hodder, 1982; Quinn, 2016). According to the assumption that individuals had no influence on their own burial, archaeologists uncover a statement of the bereaved about the dead and simultaneously a statement of the mourners about themselves (Burmeister, 2000; Parker Pearson, 2003; Shanks & Tilley, 1982).

2.2 Exploring Sociopolitical Organization in the Carpathian Basin Bronze Age

In a recent attempt by Furholt, Colin Grier, and Earle (2020), top-down and bottom-up perspectives are combined in a comprehensive political economy approach used to investigate the past sociopolitical structures and dynamics. The authors identify six elements essential for the sociopolitical organization, namely, (1) aspiring power, (2) property rights, (3) collaboration and balancing, (4) resistance, (5) overlapping layers of action, and (6) embeddedness. Points 2 and 6 will not be considered here as they are either hard to assess archaeologically (2) or connected to the cultural-historical trajectory of the studied communities (6). The other points, with 2 and 6 as fundamental background, describe the sociopolitical dynamics which are driven by individuals (leaders) and social groups’ aspiring power, the collaboration between individuals and groups to maintain and expand that power to institutionalize domination, but also the possibility to resist attempts of others to get too much or any control. This happens in overlapping layers, scales, or segments of a community or society. Individuals and the groups they belong to (kin, age, gender, professions, etc.) have different agendas with different goals to achieve. Those maybe complementary to each other, thus opening up a wider space for opportunities for action, while opposing interests of group members or a diverse group affiliation lower the opportunities for actions (Furholt et al., 2020). Within this model, we can conceptualize communities as nested networks of overlapping social groups (5) under constraint by their social norms and sociopolitical realities (2 and 6), that are shaped by the scale-overarching collaboration, competition, and resistance of the capable individuals and groups with and against each other (1, 3, and 4). These furthermore react on internal developments and external alterations. From the observations made regarding the characteristics of the actors and their relations over time, one can draw conclusions about the sociopolitical development of the object of study.

Within the corpus of research of European and Carpathian Basin Bronze Age, the search for hierarchies and elites was and is predominant (e.g., Bóna, 1975, Earle & Kristiansen, 2010b; Gilman et al., 1981; Meller, 2019). This led to a strong bias towards overemphasizing wealth disparities, intra-group and inter-group related, as power relations and as signs for institutionalized hierarchical sociopolitical structures (Kienlin & Zimmermann, 2012). The framework of Furholt et al. (2020) extends the view beyond elites as actors (e.g., rich burials) and foster the recognition of segments within societies as important actors. The concept of segmented societies describes societies in which socially similar segments or subgroups of different scales constitute nested structures of the sociopolitical organization (e.g., nuclear family → lineage → settlement community → clan), in which kinship and the political sphere are not separable. The nested structure of the segments secure a framework in which competition and cooperation cannot establish long-term authoritarian leadership easily (Hahn, 2012; Kuper, 1982; Kurtz, 2001). For many Early and Middle Bronze Age cultural groups in the Carpathian Basin, the identification of social entities such as “Sippen”, which describes extended biological families, household communities, or more general social segments, is believed to be reflected by the cemeteries’ size or the organization in grave clusters (GCs) (Bóna, 1975).

In regard of the assumption of segmented communities and societies, the concept of social signaling opens a different angle on how wealth disparities on the individual level, visible in the grave goods, can be perceived. Taken from evolutionary biology, signaling is to be understood as the investment of an organism into a trait that enables ones’ own fitness to reproduce (Dawkins & Krebs, 1984). A common example is the peacock tail. The signal itself however can be costly for the signal giver, because energy needs to be invested into the signal. There are approaches in social sciences and archaeology to understand social traits (e.g., rituals and consumption patterns) and their material expressions (e.g., hoards and grave goods) in human societies as signaling, where an individual or a group invests into a signal to show the recipients its potential to cooperate or their ability to compete (Bliege Bird & Smith, 2005; Quinn, 2019). Roscoe (2009) exemplifies the concept of social signaling with the organization of small-scale societies based on the case study of contact-era New Guinea. Here communities invest especially into (defensive) military strength to avoid actual physical conflicts. This also includes the promotion of individuals as representatives or guarantors of security (e.g., warriors) for the community. Those status or prestige roles do not necessarily come with any further authority, but might develop so if aspiration of individuals and groups are big enough and without any opposition that is capable to resist developments towards the centralization of power. This means that what we might identify as an elite in the archaeological record, as a group of people managing the flow of wealth and goods for their advantages, maybe is a group, without too much political influence, uplifted and maintained by another higher scaled social group for representational purposes in specific situations and to signal the groups abilities.

2.3 A Wealth Index: Tracing Economic and Social Differentiation

To trace the sociopolitical organization of or economic inequalities within a community, the archaeological possibilities are diverse. They include qualitative as well as quantitative approaches to analyze graves, houses, settlements, and hoards (e.g., Hansen & Müller, 2017; Kienlin & Zimmermann, 2012; Kohler & Smith, 2018; Meller, Hahn, Jung, & Risch, 2016; Meller, Gronenborn, & Risch, 2018). The basic assumption remains the same in most cases: differences in the composition of inventories or in size attest differences in the ability to consume wealth on an individual or a common level; or inequality (Parker Pearson, 2003).

In regard to a burial analysis, the creation of a wealth index (WI) based on the grave goods makes it possible to trace assumed economic inequality. Also, it allows to visualize the differentiated consumption of prestige or status goods in a community in a quantitative way. The number of grave goods per burial can be seen in relation to those of the whole burial community. This will represent a ranking order of the calculated economic or social wealth. At present, there is no general method of creating such an index. It depends on the data available and further assumptions of how an index is to be constituted. In most cases, the number, the exclusiveness, and the raw material of the grave goods are integrated into an index. For this work, following wealth or grave index studies had been consulted: Bösel (2008), Laabs (2014b), Müller (1994), Rebay (2006), and Sprenger (1999).

The WI in this investigation is calculated by adding up a quantity-population index (QPI), an exclusivity index (EI), and a material-category index (MCI). The grave goods are summarized in rough categories (Table 2). The method of differentiating grave goods into types, subtypes, etc., as used for example in chronological studies, is rejected because the factor time would be too influential. I assume that the equipment of a deceased Bronze Age person with a pin, dagger, etc., can be seen as an important social/economic statement, and that the specific type of one good rather mirrors changing trends and fashions.

Table 2

Levels of grave goods categories used for WI calculations

Level 1 Level 2 Level 3
Small sized grave goods Necklaces, sheet adornments, small rings, small tools, small potteries Spiral tubes, pipe tubes, beads, sheets, buttons, tutuli, Lockenringe, finger rings, small silex tools, awls, sharpening stones, cups
Medium-sized grave goods Pins, pendants, arm rings, medium pottery Pins, pendants, arm rings, bowls
Big-sized grave goods Weapons, big tools, neck rings, big pottery Daggers, spearheads, axes, chisels, neck rings, Urns

2.3.1 Approaching Burial Data: Problems?

However, WI studies are known to have specific problematic aspects. Small grave goods such as beads, spiral tubes, or bronze sheet buttons often cause unjustified high WI values due to their sometimes high numbers in some graves (Laabs, 2014b; Sprenger, 1999). To address this issue for bronze sheet adornments (bronze sheets, buttons, and tutuli), a “normalization” is applied that calculates the average number of goods of this category in one data set (a cemetery or a chronological phase of a cemetery), excluding graves without any of the concerned grave goods. This average is labeled as an adornment set, which is then regarded as a single grave good. The same is done for grave goods that belong to necklaces (e.g., beads and spiral tubes) (see lines 112–193 in Supplementary Material 2).

Unidentified bronze grave goods will be excluded from the exclusivity calculation. But they are treated as the lowest category of bronze goods in the assessment of material diversity to account for the presence of bronze in a grave. Unidentified bronzes are treated as a single grave good, even if there are more than one present.

In regard of the burial rite of cremation, it is important to mention the issue of so-called pyre goods. Although, there are bone and/or stone artifacts present in the Vatya urn graves, due to the cremation process of the deceased, it is possible that organic objects that have been placed with the dead are lost in the fire of the pyre or have been overseen in the cremated human bone assemblages. It has to be noted that such pyre goods are also lost for the analysis of the WI (McKinley, 1994). The same is true for smaller bronze artifacts that did not survive the pyre, but still left traces on the bones of the cremated person. If the materials of the cremation are not carefully scanned, those traces will not be recognized and possible bronzes as grave goods cannot be included in the WI calculation (Cardarelli, 2014). Sadly, no information is available if the bones have been searched for traces of bronze during osteological examinations, respectively, if the cremated remains of the dead had been scanned for bone or other artifacts.

Disturbed graves are excluded from the analyses as their inventory might be incomplete. Also, multiple burials cannot be considered since it is complicated to establish affiliation of grave inventories with particular individuals.

2.3.2 Quantity-Population Index

The quantity-population index (QPI) summarizes first the number of all goods (i.e., each bead and bronze sheet), and second all grave goods categories on level 2 (cf. Table 2) in one burial. The sum of both values is then divided by two (see lines 233–268 in Supplementary Material 2). This method has an advantage compared to the sole number of grave goods, which is that not only the pure mass of the grave goods is counted but also the diversity is weighted (Sprenger, 1999). The QPI represents the idea of “who got much, was important” and “the more diverse the grave goods were, the more important the deceased was” and those statements are assumed to be true for grave goods of all materials and categories.

2.3.3 Exclusivity Index

The exclusivity index (EI) sets the number of times each grave good category appears in relation to the overall number of artifacts in one data set. In this way, each category receives a measurement of exclusiveness. These values of goods per grave are summarized for each grave to create an overall exclusiveness value (see lines 275–290 in Supplementary Material 2). This index assumes that prestige and/or status as well as wealth is expressed by the rareness of grave goods (Rebay, 2006), as they are either restricted to persons of specific (social) function in the community or express one’s economic abilities to accumulate limited resources.

2.3.4 Material-Category Index

The assessment of the material of goods often poses a problem, as the equivalence of different materials in many past communities and societies under study is not known (X material A is equal to Y material B). An index judging the value of materials tend to introduce presuppositions that will create patterns that mirror these presuppositions.

The easiest way is to assign values to materials based on expert knowledge (e.g., Fochesato, Higham, Bogaard, & Castillo, 2021; Windler, Thiele, & Müller, 2013). This means in general that the rarity of a material within the corpus of available data for the burial community, or a whole cultural group, is evaluated. Based on the abundances of the materials, together with additional considerations about the labor expenditure for production, distance of the origin, etc., a value is assigned to a material. This value can then be used as a factor for further calculations.

Another and more objective way is to differentiate the grave goods by their material (e.g., pin → pin (bronze), pin (bone), …) in order to calculate an EI also evaluating the material (cf. Bösel, 2008). However, dividing the grave goods by material can cause an overestimation of grave goods made of a specific material due to its exclusivity. In terms of the Early Bronze Age cemeteries, this circumstance can be pictured with the example of bone and bronze pins. Often both are present, but the bronze exemplars are more frequent. By dividing the category pin into a bronze and a bone sub-category, bone pins will be estimated higher than the bronze exemplars due to their greater rarity. This might collide with our perception of what is valuable in Bronze Age and underestimate the labor expenditure of producing a bronze pin. As an example, the provision of wood needed for mining activities and smelting is a laborious part of the whole production cycle of bronze artifacts (Brinkmann, 2019). In contrast, just using the category pin in the EI calculation and assessing the material separately will weigh pins in their exclusivity as a social insignia regardless of which material they are made from (see EI). The same problem of overestimating materials such as bone, stone, etc., also emerges if only the exclusivity of the material in a data set is calculated (see lines 395–448 in Supplementary Material 2). It seems that a material’s EI does not leave us with an equivalence of different materials either.

In contrast, the applied material-category index (MCI) divides the artifacts by raw material and their grave good categories (Level 1, Table 2). Each combination of raw material and category has a value (Table 3) which is inserted for the corresponding inventory for each burial. These values are summed up for each burial and represent its MCI (see lines 297–388 in Supplementary Material 2). The factors are a result of a subjective ranking of rarity/abundance, labor expenditure for production and expert knowledge that is connected with the material and the processing of it into what is found as artifacts. The values are deliberately chosen with rather small difference between the materials to not presuppose too much differentiation by the presence of a specific material into the MCI. The use of this MCI as part of a WI is preferred over a material’s EI or the non-weighting of materials at all.

Table 3

Values of grave goods according to their grave goods category and raw material

Small grave goods Medium grave goods Big grave goods
Gold 3 6
Bronze/copper 2 4 6
Amber 3
Faience 3
Bone/stone/antler/shell 0.5 1 1.5
Pottery 0.25 0.25 0.25

2.3.5 Wealth Index

The calculation of each index (QPI, EI, and MCI) is performed on data sets in which the burials are chronological and/or spatially associated, meaning the whole or a chronological phase of a cemetery. QPI, EI, and MCI are separately normalized so that the value of the highest rated grave represents 1 and the others are put into relation.

The single indices do, in most cases, correlate significantly with each other for the data sets, but in many cases show different distributions (see lines 488–638 in Supplementary Material 2). At first glance, the correlation might indicate that one of the indices is adequate to describe the data, as it implies that a burial with a high number of grave goods will also exhibit especially exclusive items. But, depending on the chosen index, the distribution of the index values will lead to different interpretations, as important statistical measures (e.g., median and mean) are not similar to each other and would suggest different social arrangements between the individual burials. With the assumption that each index represents a different aspect of economic and social wealth consumption, the combination of them by adding them up creates an aggregated, and admittedly reduced, measure that does not neglect possible equalizing or differentiating tendencies from one of the created indices.

The three indices are summed up for each grave and converted (see lines 455–481 in Supplementary Material 2) representing a wealth index (WI). These values ranging from 1 (top-grave) to 0 (unfurnished burials) can be plotted and interpreted in consideration of the inventories associated with specific ranges of the WI. Within one cemetery or chronological phase of a cemetery, the burials can be compared regarding the absolute wealth; thus, statements such as “burial X is richer than burial Y” are possible. This is not true if two cemeteries or chronological phases of one cemetery are compared with each other. Here only the structure of the WI distribution can be compared and statements such as “cemetery X consumes similar or different as cemetery Y” are possible.

3 Wealth Consumption in Carpathian Basin Middle Bronze Age Communities

The basic data and the Python scripts to reproduce the study’s statistics and plots (plus correlation tests of the indices and non-parametric test on the WI distribution), as well as a summarizing table of the results can be found in the Supplementary Materials.

Many of the cemeteries used here are urnfields with cremation as dominant burial rite, in which anthropological determinations of the cremated bones are missing. And as the anthropological studies on the inhumation cemeteries are mostly missing too, or are not very reliable, an investigation of differences between gender/sex and age groups will be omitted (see Supplementary Material 1 for available sex/gender and age group determinations).

3.1 The Cemetery of Dunaújváros-Duna-dűlő

The Bronze Age site of Dunapentele-Dunaújváros-Koziderpadlás, Hungary, is located at the west bank of the Danube ca. 60 km south of Budapest. A few hundred meters west of the tell settlements of Koszider-Asztal and Koszider-Padlás lies the urn cemetery of Dunaújváros-Duna-dűlő (from now on Dunaújváros). With more than 1,600 graves recorded, Dunaújváros is one of the biggest prehistoric cemeteries in Hungary, and the burial area is not yet entirely excavated. The settlements and the cemetery were seemingly continuously used from the Late Nagyrév to the Late Koszider Period (2200–1500/1450 BCE). This use is recognizable in the material found in graves and cultural layers of the tells. Furthermore, the eponymous hoard finds of the Koszider Period, Dunaújváros-Koziderpadlás I–III, were found on the settlement sites of Dunapentele-Dunaújváros-Koziderpadlás (Bóna, 1992b; Vicze, 2011).

The site has had an eventful research history, starting in the 1950s. The material of the site went through an odyssey of different storage facilities and museums where it was mixed and, unfortunately, sometimes badly treated (Vicze, 2011). Even so, from the 1,600 uncovered graves in Dunaújváros, at least 918 graves and their inventories could be reconstructed and made accessible thanks to the work of Vicze (2011).

3.1.1 Chronology

The chronological division of the graves into three phases is based on a typochronological investigation of the pottery material of the Dunaújváros cemetery (Laabs, 2014a). The main focus of this work was to test the stated typochronological phases of Dunaújváros by using multivariate statistics on the well-published material. Those results showed three distinguishable horizons which could be identified as the cemetery’s early, middle and late phase. The three phases correspond to the current chronologies (Figure 2). While the investigation was unable to differentiate clear further sub-phases in the way that Bóna (1975) or Vicze (2011) could, it showed the continuous change in pottery forms and decoration over time. The break between Phase I and II (c. 1950 BCE) could be understood by the “disappearance” of influences of the Early Bronze Age pottery traditions Kisapostag and Nagyrév. This is for example visible in cup forms where the flask-like Nagyrév and funnel-neck cups of Kisapostag are significantly less in use and cups with a less pronounced neck-shoulder transition became fashionable. Another grave good that represents the transition from Phase I to II are the pin types. During Phase I (c. 2200–1950 BCE) roll-headed pins and paddle-headed pins can be seen as common, while in Phase II (c. 1950–1650 BCE) hull-headed pins were mostly found. The chronological distinction of Phase II and III (c. 1650 BCE) is quite strong, as the use of specific decorations on urns, bowls and cups, plastic (e.g., studded pottery types) as well as incised decorations (e.g., garland decoration) are found solely or in significant amounts in Phase III (c. 1650–1450 BCE). Pottery types of the Early Late Bronze Age Tumulus Rákóczifalva cultural group can be found and graves including such types can be seen as the latest burials of the Dunaújváros community. Further, the pin fashion is changing toward so-called sickle-pins in Phase III which are not present in the earlier phases of Dunaújváros. The ball-headed pins are a transitional type that cannot be attached clearly to the defined typochronological phases and either can be placed into the late Phase II or the early phase III. Similar is true for this pin type in the Central Europe, where they mark the transition between Early and Middle Bronze Age, c. 1600 BCE (Brunner, Felten, Hinz, & Hafner, 2020). The identification of chronological breaks with the absence or presence of specific type fossils often leaves out graves that contain less distinctive grave inventories, often representing the material spectrum that belongs to both of the established phases. Due to unspecific or fragmented material in the grave inventories, not all graves in Dunaújváros could clearly be connected to one of the postulated phases. Those graves will therefore not appear in the following analyses. A proper absolute chronological analysis of the cemetery’s material is not possible as 14C dates from the burials themselves are not available. In addition, a few well published closed features with pottery material that can be equalized with pottery from graves of Dunaújváros are known from the sites Kakucs-Balla-domb (Jaeger & Kulcsár, 2013), Včelince (Görsdorf, Marková, & Furmánek, 2004), and Győr-Menfőcsanak (Ilon, 2014). Yet, due to the very limited number of this material, a differentiated absolute-chronological adjustment of the results of the multivariate analysis is impossible. However, the finds from other sites do support the general typochronological trend (Laabs, 2014a). Since 2014, new 14C dates from cemeteries and settlement sites with materials comparable to the finds of Dunaújváros were published (Duffy, Parditka, Giblin, & Paja, 2019b; Kiss et al., 2019; Staniuk, 2021) and these support the general trend of the typochronological development represented by the three established phases of Dunaújváros as well. In the following sections, I will work with those three rather rough phases, as they do not stand against the common chronology scheme and have support by 14C dated finds and features.

Figure 2 
                     Synchronization of relative chronologies of the Early and Middle Bronze Age in parts of the Carpathian Basin (Kiss et al., 2019; Thomas, 2008), Southern Germany/Switzerland (Brunner et al., 2020) and the cemetery of Dunaújváros (Laabs, 2014a; Vicze, 2011).
Figure 2

Synchronization of relative chronologies of the Early and Middle Bronze Age in parts of the Carpathian Basin (Kiss et al., 2019; Thomas, 2008), Southern Germany/Switzerland (Brunner et al., 2020) and the cemetery of Dunaújváros (Laabs, 2014a; Vicze, 2011).

3.1.2 Spatial Structure

Like other cemeteries of the Vatya complex, Dunaújváros shows an inner organization of the graves in spatially separated oval grave clusters (GCs). In the excavated area, 11 of those GCs could be identified. These areas are oriented along an axis between north-west and east-west. On the Early to Middle Bronze Age cemeteries of Kulcs, Dömsöd, or Lovasberény, similar structures of ship-shaped GCs are documented, but with fewer graves. At those sites, circa 20 graves form 1 group, while the clusters in Dunaújváros consist of up to 200 graves (Bóna, 1975; Vicze, 2011). When visualizing the graves by their affiliation to the chronological phases (Figure 3) on the cemetery layout, one can see that the GCs 1, 2, 3, and 7 were mainly used in Phases I and II, while clusters 9, 10, and 11 were used more intensively in Phase III. Only grave group 6 holds a balanced proportion of graves from all three phases (Vicze, 2011). It is hard to say whether the GCs represent groups of kinship as proposed by Bóna (1975). However, one can assume that they constitute a sociopolitical entity which manifests itself spatially in the cemetery. This pattern hints at an organization of the community in segments (here GC) in which individuals share different relations (e.g., age, gender, or profession) and which further is subordinated to a superior segment, here burial-/settlement community (Ensor, Irish, & Keegan, 2017; Fortes & Evans-Pritchard, 1950; Kurtz, 2001). A validation of GCs as equals to eventually lineage-like groups based on biological relatedness is complicated and only provable with aDNA investigations, which are currently impossible for calcinated bones from high-temperature cremations (Hansen et al., 2017). The long duration of burying the dead in the same separate GC, however, could support the hypothesis of a lineage as sociopolitical important entity, as it would express the stability and continuity of the associated group over time (Ensor et al., 2017) and maybe could be related to ancestral worship (Hahn, 2012).

Figure 3 
                     Cemetery layout of Dunaújváros after Vicze (2011) with typochronological dating of the single burials and their grave cluster (GC) affiliation.
Figure 3

Cemetery layout of Dunaújváros after Vicze (2011) with typochronological dating of the single burials and their grave cluster (GC) affiliation.

3.1.3 Population Size

Due to the model provision of Duffy, Paja, Parditka, and Giblin (2019a) to simulate the living population of the Vatya cemetery of Békés 103, we use the provided measures and uncertainties to apply them on the case of Dunaújváros. The estimated living population (P) of a burial community is modeled based on the formula of Acsádi and Nemeskéri (1970):

P = k + D e 0 0 t r ,

where D is the total number of the dead/graves, e 0 0 is the average life expectancy from birth of an individual, and t is the full duration of the cemetery. k represents a correction factor and is assumed to be ca. 0–10% of t. r is the expected proportion of the living population that will receive a burial and ranges between a value of 1 and 0. Based on their work on the size estimation of the Vatya cemetery of Békés 103, Duffy et al. (2019a) introduced a model uncertainty for D that represents the size-error of the overall estimation of graves. As this information is not available for Dunaújváros, the relative size-error of 0.074 of Békés 103 will be applied. An estimate of average life expectancy from birth ( e 0 0 ) of 23.9 ± 2 years is based on the anthropological data of the Early Bronze Age Maros cemetery of Mokrin (O’Shea, 1996). Although, only 1,600 graves were excavated in Dunaújváros, the overall size is expected to range round 2,400 graves (Duffy et al., 2019a; Vicze, 2011) and will therefore represent D. Due to Dunaújváros’ typochronological dating, (Figure 2) t is set to 800 years. Duffy et al. (2019a) could show that the most probable assumption concerning the proportion of the buried for Békés 103 is 100% to 75%. In regard of this, the population modeling for Dunaújváros is run for two scenarios, one for representing the scenario that all people received a burial (r = 1) and the second scenario in which half of the people were buried (r = 0.5). The calculation has been iterated for both scenarios 10,000 times to arrive at a robust range of population estimates (for the calculation see Supplementary Material 3).

If 100% of the population would have been buried, a range of 63–241 people could be assumed to be contemporaneously alive. Expecting only 50% of the population were buried, 123–483 people are simulated as contemporary. However, based on the medians of the scenario simulations between 152 and 305 people should be expected as a living population. With its 11 documented GC in Dunaújváros ca. 10–30 people would constitute the living group size of such a cluster.

A similar living population as Dunaújváros with about 215–430 people was calculated for Békés 103 based on the 2,447 estimated graves over 320 years, if 100% to 50% the population expected to be buried (Duffy et al., 2019a, p. 11). For the whole Early Bronze Age cemetery of Mokrin (Maros), 50–150 people were modeled based on 312 graves and 150 years duration (O’Shea, 1996, table 8.8). Thus, the results for Dunaújváros seem reasonable and the burial community is comparably big (cf. section 3.2) but has contemporaneous communities of equal size.

3.1.4 Burial Rite

A typical grave from Dunaújváros is an urn burial where the cremated remains of the deceased have been placed inside the urn. The grave furniture often consists of an urn, a bowl (used as a lid), and a cup inside or beside the urn. The amount of pottery can vary, but seldom consists of more than two pieces of one type. Small bronzes such as tubes, spirals, sheet adornments, or buttons were burned with the body of the deceased in the cremation process. Larger bronze objects such as pins, daggers, arm rings, and neck rings do not display traces of burning and seem to be deposited in the grave separately (Vicze, 1992, 2003).

Cenotaphs in Dunaújváros, which are urns deposited with grave goods but without any cremated remains, represent ca. 10% of the whole assemblage. 45 inhumations were recorded, and only 34 of them could be assigned to a chronological phase on the basis of their grave furniture (Vicze, 2011).

3.1.5 Phase I

Phase I (c. 2200–1950 BCE) corresponds to the chronological phases of Late Kisapostag, Late Nagyrév, and Early Vatya. In all three cases, the grave goods are fairly similar. In Phase I, the WI (Figure 4) shows a quite homogeneous distribution of wealth in the lower 50% of the graves and becomes more differentiated in the upper half. The homogeneity below the median is explained by the grave inventories that do not contain bronze, and in which the number of pottery furniture is responsible for the differences. The high variance between the graves above the median results from the differing amounts of small bronzes (sheet-adornments and necklaces), amber and/or faience beads, stone and/or bone tools, as well as from bigger and/or more exclusive bronze grave goods. 34% of the graves contain bronzes in addition to other non-bronze goods. The amounts and exclusivity of these goods can certainly give us an idea about the individual wealth, especially regarding the small bronzes which vary in number. As only around a third of the burials of Dunaújváros in Phase I received bronze grave goods, which can be seen as wealth-related objects in funerals, social and/or economic restrictions in access to bronzes might be assumed. The differences in bronze equipment indicate disproportions. While some graves were equipped with only a few buttons or similar objects, others seem to be covered with bronze adornments. The differences are in some cases striking (Supplementary Material 4). They may display the ability of the individual or the mourners to gain and/or sacrifice objects of presumable economic or social wealth. In addition, graves with more exclusive grave goods like daggers, pendants, neck rings, and arm rings, in most cases contain small bronzes of varying but usually low numbers. Strong disproportion is caused by grave 205. It was equipped with exclusive goods and a high number of bronze buttons, which generated a high WI. As such, grave 205 exceeds the values established for the rest of the graves (see Supplementary Material 4, BID 141).

Figure 4 
                     WI distribution of Dunaújváros Phase I (c. 2200–1950 BCE). Bold black bar indicates the median.
Figure 4

WI distribution of Dunaújváros Phase I (c. 2200–1950 BCE). Bold black bar indicates the median.

Unfortunately, due to the lack of anthropological estimations, it is impossible to connect graves with or without bronze objects to particular age-groups and sexes. But since the Dunaújváros graves are clustered in clear, spatially distinguishable GC, we can look for reasons behind wealth disproportions within these assumed social entities. Figure 5 shows the graves and their WI ordered by their GC. Clearly visible are the differences in the number of graves that could be used for the investigation of each GC. Nevertheless, some of the GC indicate that their members were capable of equipping their deceased with bronze or other prestigious objects more often than others. GCs 1 and 6 especially contain a lot of rich graves. As the cemetery is only partially excavated, and with other factors limiting the analytic value of some graves, one can only assume that clusters 2, 5, and 7 had distributions similar to clusters 1 and 6. This assumption is also based on the occurrence of several higher WI values in clusters 2, 5, and 7. In the end, the association with a specific grave group did not necessarily exclude people from gaining wealth, as indicated by grave 205 from grave group 5. While it seems reasonable that GC with more economic power were detected, that does not fully explain why some individuals had the ability to be buried rich and others did not.

Figure 5 
                     WI distribution of Dunaújváros Phase I (c. 2200–1950 BCE) by GC. Bold black bars indicate the median.
Figure 5

WI distribution of Dunaújváros Phase I (c. 2200–1950 BCE) by GC. Bold black bars indicate the median.

3.1.6 Phase II

Phase II (c. 1950–1650 BCE) can be characterized as the Vatya horizon. The distribution of the WI shows strong similarities with Phase I (Figure 6). The values below the median include graves containing only pottery, while for the values above the median, a stronger differentiation is caused by the unequal amounts of small bronzes and more exclusive goods. Also, in Phase II, about one-third (35%) of the population were equipped with bronzes and/or non-ceramic grave goods. The WI indicates that this group of graves is structured, probably because of the scarcity of grave goods. Again, this picture indicates individual wealth displayed in the grave furniture, apart from special objects like pins, pendants, dagger, arm rings, and neck rings.

Figure 6 
                     WI distribution of Dunaújváros Phase II (c. 1950–1650 BCE). Bold black bar indicates the median.
Figure 6

WI distribution of Dunaújváros Phase II (c. 1950–1650 BCE). Bold black bar indicates the median.

In regard to the WI distribution within the GCs, it is clearly visible in Figure 7 that GCs 1 and 6 were continuously able to equip more of their deceased with wealth indicating goods. This can be explained either by a higher economic potential or more sociopolitical influence on the burial community of Dunaújváros. Nevertheless, GCs 3 and 5 seem to contribute more to wealth consumption in Phase II than in Phase I. Still noteworthy is that individuals from other GCs did have the possibility to gain more wealth than the average member of their affiliated GC. Whatever sociopolitical entity is represented throughout the GC, the affiliation to it did not exclude a person from economic or social practices that reflected access to bronzes or other prestigious goods. Yet, the overall picture is not clear enough to attest that one of the GCs exercised political dominance over others.

Figure 7 
                     WI distribution of Dunaújváros Phase II (c. 1950–1650 BCE) by GC. Bold black bars indicate the median.
Figure 7

WI distribution of Dunaújváros Phase II (c. 1950–1650 BCE) by GC. Bold black bars indicate the median.

3.1.7 Phase III

The graves of the late, Vatya/Koszider, phase, Phase III (c. 1650–1450 BCE), of Dunaújváros show a WI distribution that contrasts with earlier phases (Figure 8). Only 16% of the graves contain any kind of bronze items. The decreasing numbers of small bronzes like buttons, spiral tubes, etc., in the data set seem to indicate that those goods lost their value in the burial costume. One can see a quite homogeneous group of graves around the median in the violin plot caused by the differences in the amount of pottery or the rare addition of a small bronzes. The outlier in this case can be identified rather by the exclusiveness than the sheer number of bronzes used. Here sheet adornments and necklaces receive high exclusiveness indices because they appear seldom in the data set of Phase III. The trend of depositing less number of bronze objects in graves indicates either a change in social communication of wealth and prestige/status, or the fact that the community was no longer able to gain access to large amounts of bronze. Consequently, the display of wealth needed to be changed. Interestingly, the ornamentation and artwork of common bronzes like pins, pendants, and arm rings became more elaborate (Bóna, 1992a), e.g., pins with incised ornaments or the bronze sheet from grave 88 (see Supplementary Material 4, BID 59).

Figure 8 
                     WI distribution of Dunaújváros Phase III (c. 1650–1450 BCE). Bold black bar indicates the median.
Figure 8

WI distribution of Dunaújváros Phase III (c. 1650–1450 BCE). Bold black bar indicates the median.

Also, the GCs show a clear shift in their number of members as well as in their economic potential (Figure 9). Now, the formerly “poor” GCs 9, 10, and 11, previously incapable of equipping their members with a high number of bronze artifacts, contained more graves than in Phase II, including the richest graves in Phase III. Further, they resemble the overall pattern of the WI. Contrasting with that, GC 6 still shows a distribution similar to Phases II. Unfortunately, GC 6 is not fully excavated and the chronological depth of Phase III itself makes a clear interpretation of the existing picture even more difficult. If there were more graves that contained only pottery, as in GCs 9 and 11, then grave group 6 would show a similar pattern of WI distribution. There are only few graves containing small bronzes and the highest rated graves of GC 6 follow the burial custom of Phase III burial to including one or two pins.

Figure 9 
                     WI distribution of Dunaújváros Phase III (c. 1650–1450 BCE) by GC. Bold black bars indicate the median.
Figure 9

WI distribution of Dunaújváros Phase III (c. 1650–1450 BCE) by GC. Bold black bars indicate the median.

3.1.8 Summary and Discussion

By comparing the WI values of all three phases (Figure 10), we see that Phases I and II have a similar WI distribution, while Phase III differs from them. In all three phases, most graves that contain bronzes belong to the top 50%. Restricted access to bronze objects as grave goods might indicate a group of people capable of consuming wealth in a manner different from the general population. Due to a lack of information about possible connections of grave goods to particular social roles, it is difficult to comprehend or identify the reasons behind the accumulation of wealth/prestige/status. As mentioned earlier, other investigations that used grave indices or analyzed the grave furniture of Bronze Age graves did recognize that more small bronzes are often found in female graves compared to male graves (Laabs, 2014b; O’Shea, 1996; Sprenger, 1999). Membership in a particular grave group might be related to the amount and/or exclusiveness of the grave goods one could receive. Grave group 6 lasted for the whole duration of the cemetery and it had the highest average WI scores. Pins as grave goods are most frequent in GC 6 during Phases I and II. This changes in Phase III when GCs 9 and 11 hold more or less the same amount of pin graves (cf. Supplementary Material 4). As the grave customs are the same, we can assume that the GCs 6, 9, and 11 could be seen as contemporaneous and we can dismiss the possibility that chronological tendencies obscure these relations. The situation of the probable continuity of wealth consumption of specific segments in Dunaújváros encourage a comparison with the recent archaeogenetic study of Mittnik et al. (2019) on the inheritance of social status and inequality from Early to Middle Bronze Age (c. 2000–1300 BCE) in Lechtal, Southern Germany. There it was shown that GC association, wealth, and very likely status were tied to kinship-based succession over nearly 700 years in a patrilocal system with female exogamy. An even more striking similarity, in regard of spatial organization of burial communities in cluster, probably kinship-based, and an internal competition in wealth consumption between them, has Dunaújváros in the Middle to Late Bronze Age (c. 1550–1150 BCE) urn cemetery of Casinalbo, Northern Italy (Cardarelli, 2014). The stable isotope investigation of 24 individuals show that especially non-local female received more grave goods (Cavazzuti & Arena, 2020), which is in accordance with other findings (see above). Both examples do resemble the pattern of Dunaújváros in their respective cultural tradition of wealth consumption.

Figure 10 
                     Comparison of the WI distribution of Dunaújváros Phases I to III (c. 2200–1450 BCE). Bold black bars indicate the median.
Figure 10

Comparison of the WI distribution of Dunaújváros Phases I to III (c. 2200–1450 BCE). Bold black bars indicate the median.

Supplementary Material 5 shows the different categories of bronze grave furniture and exotic material per phase. It is clearly visible that small bronzes and materials such as amber and faience “disappeared” in Phase III. The same seems true for more exclusive bronze grave goods, such as arm rings or daggers. In comparison with the earlier phases, bronze artifacts in Phase III became rarer and exhibit a lower variety, but from an artistic point of view, they are more elaborated. The obvious change in wealth/prestige/status consumption in graves highlights the typochronological transition of Phase II to III or, respectively, the transition from Vatya III to the Koszider Period.

The analyses reveal a settlement and burial community that cultivated certain traditions, social norms, and wealth consumption over several centuries. The spatially separated GCs could represent sociopolitical entities which are continuous; the number of burials might vary, but nearly all GCs are used throughout the whole occupation time of Dunaújváros. Some identities as well as social rank are communicated independently from the GCs within the whole burial community. This can be shown by the relatedness of graves. Relatedness can be investigated by the shared decoration on pottery of the burials. In Dunaújváros, ornaments are not limited to specific GCs and ties are even stronger between than within those. This implies that important social relations existed beyond the borders of the GCs (Laabs, 2014a; Vicze, 2011).

A refusal from my side to interpret the pattern of wealth distribution described here as a sign of a strong hierarchical structure is based on the absence of graves that contain more than two highly exclusive grave goods (e.g., dagger, neck ring) and the generally low number of graves with such grave goods at all. But in terms of tracing a specific group in the data set, pins might be an indicator of a specific social role in the community, at least with reference to grave goods. Pins appear quite frequently in similar relative amounts in each Phase. In Phase I, 7.6% of the burials contain one or two pins. In Phase II, 3.8% of them do, and in Phase III 7.5%. The disappearance of small bronzes, but the maintenance of pins shows a continuation of this insignia, despite its possible connotation. The distribution of pins follows mainly the distribution of the WI of the GC, those with more high WI burials have more pin graves. For the Early Bronze Age Maros cemetery of Mokrin, eastern Carpathian Basin, pins are only recorded in female graves (O’Shea, 1996). This trend is also true for most Füzesabony burials (Thomas, 2008), due to the cremation of the dead in Vatya contexts, this correlation only can be assumed.

GC 6 stands out in the analysis as it holds some of the richest graves, has the highest average WI scores in Phases I and II, and has most pin graves. This however does not indicate that members belonging to the sociopolitical entity of GC 6 dominated the community. I argue so because other GCs, namely, 1 and 5 in Phases I and II, as well as 9 and 11 in Phase III, are able to participate in the wealth consumption and members of these social entities achieve similarly high WI scores. However, they seem to have lower access to status, indicated by rather few pins, daggers, etc., during Phases I and II. Another argument for a non-dominance is the following: if we assume a ∼800 year occupation of Dunaújváros and a long term economic dominance of one particular group, we would expect, at least with reference to specific theoretical concerns (Earle, 1997; Fried, 1967; Service, 1962), the emergence of some kind of chief or elite system, whose presence would be more visible in the burial practices by increased accumulation of wealth and status. But the WI distribution and burial costume in Phase III show that even in times of change, the social group of GC 6 is not able to restrict other clusters from participating in the consumption of wealth and even status. Also, we need to keep in mind that there might be more GCs that have been in competition with GC 6. In the framework of Furholt et al. (2020) model of political economy, we see that GC 6 had the opportunity to aspiring power and try to establish central control, and maybe to institutionalize their dominance. However, the collaboration between the different scaled segments of the community of Dunaújváros and balancing mechanisms shows that the resistance against centralizing power was possible. GC 6 does not show extraordinary distance in WI values or the appearance of elaborated grave goods that would indicate a strong ability to control, at least, the consumption of wealth. With other GCs showing the participation in wealth consumption, different political constellations of collaboration and competition are imaginable.

All of the GCs over all chronological phases tried to participate in the wealth consumption and did so with varying success (cf. Figures 5, 7, and 9). The will to do so might have been connected to the idea of social signaling, where the burial practices had been one arena in which the socioeconomic potential of the affiliated group(s) were presented and performed. A special performative act of consuming status and prestige can be inferred from the non-burning of bigger bronzes, such as pins or daggers (Vicze, 1992, 2011). These must have been deposited with the dead when the cremated remains were placed in the urn or in the grave pit. This might have been a very visible act for the burial community apart from laying out of the dead, with bronze and other adornments, and the cremation itself, where the affiliated group pointed out the sociopolitical importance of the deceased for the whole community, and even beyond.

We might see a sociopolitical system of social groups constantly keeping a predominant group in check. The social entity of GC 6 might have accumulated some wealth and status, but overall, it was not powerful enough to gain centralized power to institutionalize a system where its members became the only recipients of status and wealth. Maybe the members even did not want such power over other segments as they belonged also to other sociopolitical groups reaching beyond the GC, following other agendas and having other dependencies that would collide with too much power in the hands of one segment. This thought follows the idea of overlapping layers of action of Furholt et al. (2020) or nested networks of sociality within signaling theory (Quinn, 2019; Roscoe, 2009), and how individual and group agendas lead to the emergent properties of the sociopolitical system that vice versa feeds back as norms and rules, as well as constraints for sociopolitical actions of the engaged actors.

3.2 Middle Bronze Age Cemeteries of Vatya and Füzesabony Communities

The case study of Dunaújváros shows a clear shift of wealth consumption in the transition from Phase II to Phase III. In order to test this observation, other communities from the Carpathian Basin will be compared. The comparison will be carried out on the basis of other Vatya and Füzesabony cemeteries, covering different typochronological stages. On the basis of grave goods, such as pottery or bronzes, the Vatya graves can be associated with phases established for the Dunaújváros cemetery.

The chronological division of the Füzesabony graves is based on the typochronological study of Thomas (2008) (cf. Figure 2). His five chronological stages are synchronized with the Dunaújváros phases. Aligning Füzesabony phases to those of Dunaújváros is possible thanks to certain finds, especially pins, changes in the ceramic material are, however, more difficult to align with those of the Vatya-Koszider complex. And as long as there are so few 14C dates available, a synchronization of relative chronologies needs to be handled with care (Duffy, et al., 2019b; Jaeger & Kulcsár, 2013; O’Shea et al., 2019; Staniuk, 2021). On the basis of roll-headed pins, the Füzesabony stage 1 can correspond to Phase I. Stage 2 corresponds to Phase II on the basis of hull-headed pins. The late stages 4 and 5 clearly show a connection to Phase III because pottery types and pins from these stages can be found in the Late Dunaújváros material. Stage 3 of Füzesabony is described as a horizon of major change, since both its pottery style and ornamentation differ from the earlier ones (Thomas, 2008). It is not possible to attribute stage 3 to Dunaújváros Phase II or Phase III. The dominant pin types of stage 3, ball-headed pins and Kollstein, Matzhausen und Malching type pins (after Innerhofer 2000), appear mostly in Dunaújváros Phase II (graves 39, 46, 194, and 251). But there is one Kollstein, Matzhausen und Malching type pin in Phase III (grave 143), and the pottery types of stage 3 have more matches in this phase. Therefore, Füzesabony stage 3 is treated as a horizon of Late Phase II to Early Phase III in Dunaújváros.

In the following section, we consider the overall patterns of the wealth consumption expressed by the WI value distribution between the different cemeteries and chronological phases.

3.2.1 Vatya Cemeteries

For the WI analysis, five additional Vatya cemeteries were taken into account. To create a representative base for comparison, I chose the cemeteries of Dömsöd (Phase I, (Butler & Schalk, 1984)), Adony (Phase II, (Jungbert, 1985)), Lovasberény (Phase II–III, (Miske, 1898; Pósta, 1897; Reich, 2006)), Csanytelek-Palé (Early Phase III, (Lőrinczy & Trogmayer, 1995)), and Kelebia (Early Phase III, (Bóna, 1975; Reich, 2006)).

Figure 11 illustrates the WI distributions within the Vatya cemeteries. The sites of Dömsöd, Adony, Lovasberény, and Dunaújváros Phase III show narrow distributions that indicate a homogeneous group of graves in those WI ranges. Outliers can be seen as individuals separated from the rest and differentiating between each other in their ability to gain access to non-ceramic and/or bronze grave goods. Clearly, the Dunaújváros Phase III outlier shows a different structure because the distances between them are smaller, and because larger gaps between burials or cluster of graves are absent. Similar developments of the WI values are also visible in Dunaújváros Phases I and II. Nevertheless, small amounts of bronze sheet adornment and necklace jewelry in some burials cause the above median data points to vary. This form of wealth consumption makes Phase I and II of Dunaújváros different from the other cemeteries.

Figure 11 
                     Comparison of the WI distribution of Vatya cemeteries Phase I to III (c. 2200–1450 BCE). Bold black bars indicate the median.
Figure 11

Comparison of the WI distribution of Vatya cemeteries Phase I to III (c. 2200–1450 BCE). Bold black bars indicate the median.

The WI distribution in the cemeteries of Kelebia and Csanytelek-Palé show different results than the other cemeteries. This is due to the low number of bronze artifacts present, as well as due to the high number of unfurnished graves. Also, both cemeteries can be labeled as bi-ritual and bi-cultural, since both Csanytelek-Palé and Kelebia urn cremation burials were accompanied by inhumation and they are situated geographically near other cultural groups (Figure 1). The graves from Kelebia comprise urn burials consisting of vessels strongly connected to the Encrusted Pottery style. Since most inhumations are unfurnished, it is hard to link them to a specific cultural group. Despite this limitation, their arrangement still indicates chronological affiliation. In Csanytelek-Palé, the burial rite and pottery style of the Maros exist together with the Vatya tradition of cremation. The communities of both cemeteries can be chronologically linked to the early part of Dunaújváros Phase III.

If one would consider only Dunaújváros as the reference point for wealth consumption development, one would come to the conclusion that we are dealing with a major change in the social structure. This is because of the very different distributions of wealth on the individual basis. But when Dunaújváros is compared to other contemporary burial communities of the Vatya complex, we see that the consumption of wealth seems also to be ruled by the communities’ economic potential and their access to resources. In most of the communities, the same objects representing wealth/prestige/status are consumed. But in Dunaújváros, their number and distribution differ in comparison to those in the other cemeteries. In Dunaújváros Phases I and II, more than 30% of the graves contain bronze, while in Dömsöd that figure is ca. 16%, in Adony it is ca. 15%, in Lovasberény it is ca. 14%, and in Kelebia and Csanytelek-Palé only 1% received bronzes. All those values can be rather compared to the 16% found in Dunaújváros Phase III. The percentage of pin-wearers, except from Kelebia and Csanytelek-Palé, range between 4 and 9% (Supplementary Material 5). For Vatya communities, one might assume that the individual display of wealth is strongly connected to the economic potential of the burial/settlement community. If the community was able to access enough resources, a bigger part of it was able to profit from it and had the opportunity to display wealth through the consumption of bronze objects, especially bronze sheet adornments and necklace jewelry during Phases I and II. Starting from Phase III, the habit or practice of depositing small bronzes in burials vanished. This is exemplified by the cemeteries of Kelebia and Csanytelek-Palé, Dunaújváros Phase III or Lovasberény. The change in wealth consumption from Phase II to Phase III visible in Dunaújváros is therefore one that can be assumed for most of the Vatya communities.

3.2.2 Füzesabony Cemeteries

To estimate the wealth consumption of the Füzesabony complex, I analyzed the cemeteries of Hernádkak (Phases I–II, (Schalk, 1992)), Gelej (Phases II–III, (Kemenczei, 1979)), Pusztaszikszó (Phases II–III, (Kőszegi, 1968)), and Streda nad Bodrogom (Phase III, (Polla, 1960)). Generally speaking, the grave furniture of Füzesabony burials differs from the Vatya ones. For example, sheet adornments are quite seldom, while small Lockenringe are more common.

For the sites of Gelej, Pusztaszikszó, and Streda nad Bodrogom, the analyzed WI distributions of the Füzesabony cemeteries (Figure 12) show narrow distributions and several outliers, and therefore characterize a wealth consumption comparable to the Vatya cemeteries (Figure 11). In Phases II–III (e.g., Thomas, 2008, stage 3) and Phase III (e.g., Thomas, 2008, stages 4–5), only few members of the communities received bronzes. Often, only small amounts of bronzes are found in burials of the late stages. One or two pins are more frequent, but only a few sheet adornments and beads are present.

Figure 12 
                     Comparison of the WI distribution of Füzesabony cemeteries Phase I to III (c. 2200–1450 BCE). Bold black bars indicate the median.
Figure 12

Comparison of the WI distribution of Füzesabony cemeteries Phase I to III (c. 2200–1450 BCE). Bold black bars indicate the median.

In contrast, the Phases I–II cemetery of Hernádkak resembles the early phases of Dunaújváros in its WI distribution. There is more variance in the upper 50% and more diversity of grave goods. Lockenringe, sheet adornments, and necklace jewelry are more frequent and appear in bigger amounts here. Also, the presence of weapons, amber, faience, and gold, which is lacking in the later Füzesabony cemeteries (Supplementary Material 5), suggests that in the transition from Phases II to III, the consumption of wealth marked a transformation, that is visible in the changes in pottery style and decoration too (Thomas, 2008).

In Hernádkak, more than 41.4% of graves received bronze, amber, faience, or gold, while in Gelej, it was 11.7%, in Pusztaszikszó it was 13.8%, and in Streda nad Bodrogom also 14.3% of the graves contained bronze. Since pins also possess certain qualities in the Füzesabony complex, the percentages of pin-wearers appear in relative amounts similar to those in the Vatya complex. In Hernádkak, it was 24.2%, in Gelej, it was 10.3%, in Pusztaszikszó, it was 13.8%, and in Streda nad Bodrogom 7.9% of the analyzed graves contain pins (Supplementary Material 5). Because loop-headed pins are considered to be used to close a death shroud rather than as an adornment, the relative amounts of pin-wearers would decrease in Hernádkak to 13%, in Gelej to 5%, and in Pusztaszikszó to 11%. In addition, loop-headed pins normally appear in graves with at least two pins, one loop-headed and at least another type (Bóna, 1975). The decrease in small bronzes and the continuous grave good of pins illustrates that the structures of wealth/prestige/status consumption of Füzesabony and Vatya had certain common traits. Unfortunately, materials recovered from the four cemeteries do not present enough data for associating the higher number of exclusive materials and grave goods found in Hernádkak with a chronological issue or higher economic potential.

3.2.3 Summary and Discussion

In Dunaújváros Phases I and II, as well as in Hernádkak, opposing burial rite graves are present. But their low number and their non-participation in wealth consumption suggest that those individuals did not have strong social and economic influence in the community. This changes in Phase III cemeteries, such as Pusztaszikszó, Streda nad Bodrogom, Kelebia and Csanytelek-Palé, all show an increase of inhumation, respectively cremation burials. Those cemeteries witness a change over a vast geographical area. Individuals buried in a different burial rite now had the opportunity to receive similar grave furniture as the “norm” burial, as seen in in grave 57 from Streda nad Bodrogom, and in graves 85, 88, 547 and 752 from Dunaújváros Phase III. In Pusztaszikszó, the four highest rated graves are inhumation, while cremation burials are ranked similar to the rest of the graves. The Kelebia and Csanytelek-Palé cemeteries can be labeled as generally poor, as very few bronze objects are present there. Some graves of opposed burial rites there belong to the highest rated graves, but they contain no bronze (see Supplementary Material 4).

Supplementary Material 5 shows the frequency of graves in a cemetery possessing specific artifact groups made out of bronze/copper, gold, amber, and faience. When comparing the wealth consumption in communities of the Middle Bronze Age cultural groups of Vatya and Füzesabony, we see similarities in their chronological development as well as in their internal distribution of prestige/status objects. The early Phases I and II are mainly represented in the cemeteries of Dunaújváros and Hernádkak, and they display the ability of those communities to equip a higher number of their dead with bronzes or rare materials (e.g., gold, amber, and faience). Also, weapons and tools (e.g., daggers and spearheads) are more frequently found in the cemeteries. The Vatya cemetery of Dömsöd (Phase I) has the same repertoire of bronze types as those found in Dunaújváros, but clearly a smaller group of people that received them in death. When it comes to its WI distribution, Dömsöd rather displays the same pattern of wealth consumption as Lovasberény (Phases II–III) and the Phases II–III cemeteries of the Füzesabony complex. While necklace jewelry and pins are usual in both Vatya and Füzesabony, sheet adornment, daggers, pendants, arm- and neck rings are rather attached to Vatya. Small tools and Lockenringe are more frequent in Füzesabony graves. The shift to Phase III is clearly visible in Vatya and Füzesabony cemeteries. At the same time, as the frequency and number of grave goods were decreasing, pins stayed a more or less stable grave good in both the cultural groups. Behind all the similarities of wealth consumption/distribution showed by the WI analyses, and the similar handling of decreasing wealth (shortfall of small bronzes), similar social mechanisms can be assumed. Even when all the traceable differences (e.g., burial rite, pottery forms and decoration) of Vatya and Füzesabony were accelerated, these cultural groups shared a common understanding of wealth consumption (small bronzes/adornments), status/prestige (e.g., pins, seldom elaborated bronzes) in their burial practices.

In regard of the issue of pyre goods that are lost for the index calculation, Supplementary Material 5 shows that there are significantly no more bone or stone artifacts found in Füzesabony (inhumation) than Vatya (cremation) cemeteries. Considering sheet adornments and small bronzes placed with the dead for the cremation, however, due to their “normalization” into adornment sets, the differentiation of graves based on these inventory categories should be less affected by the possible pyre loss.

The spatial organization of GC in Vatya cemeteries throughout all phases gives us an idea of stable sociopolitical structures that are resistant to the circumstances which transformed the wealth consumption. In Füzesabony, rows and loose GC dominate throughout the whole Middle Bronze Age (Kovács, 1984; Thomas, 2008), which indicates the stability of a sociopolitical organization responsible for the cemeteries’ structuring, maybe in societal segments similar to those of Vatya communities. Assuming a similar sociopolitical organization in segments, this may have contributed to the convergence of the Vatya and Füzesabony communities in times of change, and made them more accepting of new ideas, rites, pottery practices, etc. from people whose sociopolitical lives were not too different from their own.

Another aspect that the comparison over a bigger geographical area, over cultural boundaries and in chronological depth, shows that the communities are not necessarily equal, neither in their size, duration, nor in their ability to access bronzes to consume in the burial practices (Supplementary Material 5). This is well visible for the Phases I–II for the nearby situated Vatya cemeteries of Dunaújváros, Dömsöd, Adony, and Lovasberény in the Mezőföld and Danube plain, where Dunaújváros was much wealthier than the other cemeteries, although, Lovasberény displays comparable wealth too. For Phase III, the available Vatya cemeteries are rather distant from each other and Kelebia and Csanytelek-Palé are situated in regions that can be labeled as periphery to most other Vatya communities. Both mentioned cemeteries are poor, while Dunaújváros stays rich. The location of the settlement of Dunaújváros directly overseeing the Danube (Bóna, 1992b) might be a reason for the community’s ability to access more bronze, as the control over a part of this important trade route came with the advantage of the possibility of claiming tributes (Kiss, 2011). The situation for the analyzed Füzesabony cemeteries looks different. They are geographically more close and situated at similar locations landscape wise, at the foots of the Carpathians and the fringe of the Tisza valley (cf. Figure 1). For Phases I–II, Herdnádkak is the only available data set and an actual chronological overlap with Gelej is rather improbable. For Phase III, the three cemeteries of Gelej, Pusztaszikszó, and Streda nad Bodrogom might be even partly contemporaneous and they display a rather equal accessibility of bronze and wealth. The findings on the inter cemetery level is in correspondence with the results of Duffy (2020). His results show the changing wealth consumption (development of decreasing accessibility of bronze) from Early to Middle Bronze Age in the Eastern Carpathian Basin (Füzesabony and Maros) by the percentage of burials containing bronzes (with difference in the number of analyzed burials of the cemetery of Streda nad Bodrogom). And based on his approach to combine the cemeteries’ location in the Carpathian river networks with their bronze consumption, he could show that the geographical situation plays a major role in the prosperity of a community, for his data set especially in the Early Bronze Age (Phases I–II). Based on the WI analyses, it is hard to argue for any signaling effect of wealth consumption beyond the local burial community. Flat graves, even though they might be indicated on the surface, have little effect to present a group’s ability to access wealth or mobilize labor. In the presented data set, Vatya cemeteries seem less equal in access to bronze during all phases, while for the sample Füzesabony cemeteries, during Phase III, there is no dominant community.

4 What Else?

It could be shown that wealth consumption in the realm of the burial rites changed from Phase II to Phase III and that Füzesabony and southern Vatya communities were more open towards the acceptance of burial rite choices during Phase III (Stig Sørensen & Rebay-Salisbury, 2008). To paint a broader picture of the cultural changes emerging during the transition from Phase II to Phase III (c. 1650/1600 BCE), the chronological development of the pottery practices, hoarding tradition, and settlement history within the Carpathian Basin should to be shortly elaborated. Although the “Transformations in the Carpathian Basin around 1600 BC” is well summarized in the book contribution of Fischl et al. (2013), it has to be noted that Phase III or the so-called Koszider Period coincides with major cultural and socioeconomic changes in the whole Europe around 1600 BCE (e.g., Brunner et al., 2020; Kneisel, Kirleis, Corso, & Taylor, 2012; Kneisel, Dörfler, Dreibrodt, Schaefer-Di Maida, & Feeser, 2019; Meller, Bertemes, Bork, & Risch, 2013; Vicze et al., 2013).

4.1 Pottery

Füzesabony and Vatya were always considered to be rather opposed to each other, not only because of different burial rites but because of their pottery styles. The same applies to the other cultural groups of the Middle Bronze Age Carpathian Basin (e.g., Transdanubian Encrusted Pottery, Maros, Vatin/Vattina, Otomani/Gyulavarsánd) which are, at least partly, contemporary with the studied ones. In Phases I and II, the forms and decorations of the pottery were quite distinctive. Recognition of a specific affiliation on the basis of the pottery is reliable in many cases. Around 1600 BCE, or Phase III, the pottery decorations in the regions, where two or more cultural groups met, started to converge, but within their local contexts. Specific decoration features introduced were more wide spread (Duffy, et al., 2019b; Fischl & Reményi, 2013; Kiss, 2012). For the “core” region of Vatya, it is attested that a continuous change in pottery tradition, rooted in the preceding phases, occurred during the so-called Koszider period (Staniuk, 2020; Vicze, 2013a).

4.2 Hoards

Dani et al. (2016) could show that there is a chronological development in the deposition of hoards during the Bronze Age in the Carpathian Basin. In Phase I, hoards already decreased compared to former phases, and in Phase II, the number drops drastically. During this time, the wealth consumption in graves is the highest. The practices of depositing hoards increased again in Phase III, while small bronzes disappeared from the burial custom. Like the burial rite, the hoard traditions reflect a cultural border, where the inventory composition of hoards from the western and eastern Carpathian Basin were different during Phases I and II (Fischl et al., 2013). In the Western part (Encrusted Pottery and Vatya), the Tolnanémedi hoard type dominated, mostly containing jewelry of different kinds, pendants, and small bronzes, often in larger amounts. The objects deposited in hoards are in many cases the categories of items found in graves (Hansen, 2005; Honti & Kiss, 2013; Kiss, 2012). The Hajdúsámson hoards of the Füzesabony complex mostly consist of weapons, swords and axes (Fischl et al., 2013; Hansen, 2005). In Phase III, the so-called Koszider hoard type emerged in the west of the Carpathian Basin. The composition changed according to the objects deposited in graves; fewer small bronzes but pins became more frequent and also weapons, dagger, axes, and/or items connected to metallurgy (e.g., ingots and casting residue) were deposited (Fischl et al., 2013; Kiss, 2012; Mozsolics, 1967).

The decreasing display of wealth within burial in the transition of Phases II–III is, as Dani et al. (2016) showed, accompanied by a change in the communal wealth consumption from the burial rite to hoarding practices. What all hoard types have in common is that status and prestige objects are especially consumed on a different, probably collective level (Hansen, 2005). Some of the artifacts in the hoards were fragmented when they were deposited (Vachta, 2008). Hoards are found in the catchments of settlements (Mozsolics, 1967; Staniuk, 2020) and can be expected to represent a balancing or signaling mechanism of wealth consumption within one’s own community or a small regional network.

4.3 Settlements

In Phases I and II, tells and tell-like settlements already appeared during the Early Bronze Age and were settled further on, sometimes accompanied by an increase in settlement size. Also, new tells were found during those times. In Phase III, there were very few new findings and some tells had been abandoned (Fischl & Reményi, 2013; Gogâltan, 2005, 2008). This development might indicate a population increase, followed by a decrease in the Carpathian Basin which is reflected in the areas of both cultural groups, Vatya and Füzesabony (Fischl et al., 2013). Through the dating and integration of surface findings into the settlement history in the south-east of the Carpathian Basin (Maros), it could be shown that there was no pronounced population decline during Phase III in that region and that missing or superficially dated non-tell settlements might change the picture (Duffy et al., 2019b).

Most excavated sites exhibit rather a uniformity in house sizes (Dani et al., 2016; Kienlin, 2015). Yet, there are sites where bigger than average houses are present (e.g., at Százhalombatta-Földvár and Túrkeve-Terehalom), but those are rather connected to specific economic activities, such as food production (Vicze, 2013b) or storage (Csányi & Tárnoki, 1992, 2013). There is no indication of social differentiation expressed by house sizes. The internal organization of houses in the often-fortified settlement area of tells also does not exhibit a clear pattern. Tightly packed house rows are known, as well as the clustering of houses which left space for open (communal?) places (Kienlin, 2015). Fortifications (e.g., ditches, ramparts, and palisades) are a usual feature of tells and tell-like settlement throughout the Early and Middle Bronze Age in the Carpathian Basin (Gogâltan, 2005, 2008). The cases of the Early to Middle Bronze Age fortified settlements of Monkodonja, Croatia (Hänsel et al. 2020), or Feudvar, Serbia (Falkenstein, 1998), suggest an inner division that can be connected to social strata of the community, where the ruling class is situated in a so-called acropolis. This pattern of social segregation and argument for hierarchization is tried to be found in Early and Middle Bronze Age tells and tell-like settlements in the Carpathian Basin (Earle & Kristiansen, 2010a). If present, a seemingly inner division by ditches, etc., can be proven to be a chronological development rather than a sociopolitical choice. This is shown for example by the Mad’arovce tell site of Vráble Fidvár, Slovakia, c. 2400–1600 BCE (Bátora et al., 2012; Skorna, Kalmbach, & Bátora, 2018). Excavations and 14C dating showed that the ditches were dug at different times and suggest the adjustment of the fortifications to the changed settlement sizes. The Vatya tell-like settlement of Kakucs Turjan near Budapest is another likely case of such a development (Jaeger, Kulcsár, Taylor, & Staniuk, 2018a; Staniuk, 2020). However, the circumstance of an inner division by ditches or palisades, even if a chronological development, must had impact on the social life of the inhabitants inside and outside the fortification and can be perceived as a form of social signaling (cf. Roscoe, 2009). But, if the inner compartmentalization of settlements can be translated into unequal economic power relations needs to be proven. The social stratification of a settlement community is not deducible from the interior organization of settlements, as reoccurring patterns are missing which would indicate clear power relations between individual houses or house clusters (social segments?).

The general settlement pattern for Vatya and Füzesabony is assumed to be a bigger tell or a fortified settlement surrounded by tell-like settlements or smaller tells, as well as flat settlements (Earle & Kolb, 2010; Kienlin, 2015; Szeverényi & Kulcsár, 2012). Tells and tell-like settlements are considered to be central places of power and commerce, specialized in trade and warfare, and the smaller tells or non-tell settlements in their proximity are tributary to such polities (Earle & Kristiansen, 2010a; Gogâltan, 2008). Although many tells exhibit storage facilities inside and outside of the settlement area, that could hold (communal?) surplus (Kienlin, 2015), tributary relations between tells and non-tell settlements cannot be drawn reliably as empirical or simulation studies that would make them more plausible are missing. However, tells and tell-like settlements often exhibit better access to resources and nodal points of over-regional traffic (Duffy, 2020; Quinn & Ciugudean, 2018), fortification features (e.g., Jaeger, 2016), and/or raised wealth consumption of the community, witnessed by grave inventories of associated cemeteries (this study; Duffy, 2020) or finds of specialized activities (e.g., metallurgy) or exclusiveness (e.g., gold and amber) (Jaeger, Kulcsár, Taylor, & Staniuk, 2018b). These circumstances indicate that geographically advantageous locations offered the possibility for communities to accumulate wealth through the control (and securing?) of trade routes and/or through the primary production of commodities (e.g., ore and crops), with the disadvantage to invest labor into signaling (defensive) military power towards other communities.

5 Synthesis

The results of the analysis show that the opposing cultural groups of Vatya and Füzesabony share common ideas of the consumption of wealth, but with different objects. Because it was possible to reconcile the WI with the GCs in Dunaújváros it could be shown, that those GCs had been in completion and communicated their ability by consuming wealth on the individual and GC level. I assume that this mechanism is the same for other communities, due to similar spatial arrangements on the cemeteries. For Phases I–II, the same pattern of wealth consumption is repeated over a vast geographical area and for quite long time. Little change is altering the consumption of wealth, prestigious and status goods, the communities are embedded in a historical development which seems rather stable. With the transition to and in Phase III, wealth consumption patterns (e.g., burial vs hoard bronzes) alter together with increasing acceptance of different identities (e.g., burial rite), change in material culture expression (pottery forms and decoration), and settlement habits (slow abandonment of tells and tell-like settlements).

Burial rites become less uniform during the Koszider Period (Fischl et al., 2013) as the recorded and analyzed Phase III cemeteries show (Supplementary Material 5). Based on the results of Rebay-Salisbury (2012) and Stig Sørensen and Rebay-Salisbury (2008), the cremation of a person in Middle Bronze Age societies in the Carpathian Basin did not mean the total destruction of the person. The treatment of the dead after the process of cremation was quite similar to inhumation. This issue might have made it easier for people to change their habit of burial rite, as concepts of afterlife were not opposed with the idea of either being cremated or inhumated.

The estimated living population size of Dunaújváros, probably as a tell or tell-like settlement community, of about 152–305 people fits, very well to the (evolutionary) models of human community sizes and assumptions about scalar stress for farming communities (Alberti, 2014; Coward & Dunbar, 2014; Johnson, 1982). Often populations below or about 200 people have no authoritarian leaderships, as face-to-face communication between most members of the community is possible. Exceeding such population sizes is connected to the establishment of institutionalized decision-making and might lead to aspiration towards leadership of individuals or groups to gain control of the decision-making institutions (Dunbar & Sosis, 2018; Feinman, 2011; Hofmann et al., 2019). The sociopolitical organization of Bronze Age communities in the Carpathian Basin in segments, which may represent lineages or household communities, was accepted early on (Bóna, 1975). Even though there is no data from natural sciences (e.g., aDNA) which would prove those assumptions, e.g., the spatial organization within cemeteries or inner arrangements in settlements (Kienlin, 2015; O’Shea, 1996) seem robust enough to conclude that communities and cultural groups did organize as segmented societies. In the case of Dunaújváros, we would expect about 11 of such segments, and based on the population estimation, their size would range between 10 and 30 people.

Staying in the framework of Furholt et al. (2020) we can attribute burials with high WI to the realm of aspiring power, as either individual or group intentions lead to the equipment of the dead and the intentional communication of one’s abilities. The results of Dunaújváros and between the communities of Vatya and Füzesabony show the constant struggle of segments, segment of a community or segment of a regional network, to participate in the sociopolitical organization by communicating and restating their right to participate with the consumption of wealth in the burial rite or hoarding practices. Taking part in the daily political arena of a group collaboration as well as resistance in different intensities and on different scales needed to be performed. The example of GC 6 in Dunaújváros is seemingly a good one of a societal segment which would have had the possibility of aspiring power but might have been kept in check by collaborating other segments enforcing and demanding balancing acts (e.g., consume more wealth in burial rite) and therefore showing resistance. We can assume that similar behavior is also true within other burial communities, but on the scale of inter-communal interactions. Non-violent resistance is possible as long as social mechanisms are in place to do so and are accepted by all participants (e.g., redistribution through feasting). Physical conflict and warfare were rather last resorts of resistance. The questions how deep property rights were rooted, what was perceived as private property, and what was communal property are not yet answered. The loyalty of individuals was not necessarily bound to their segments or communities but everybody was also bound in a number of social roles (e.g., age and gender groups) in which they act. This overlapping of layers of action enables individuals to take influence in the different scaled sociopolitical areas. All five mentioned aspects after Furholt et al. (2020) describe specific basic social constrains and opportunities of action in which the sociopolitical life of a community, whole cultural groups and beyond is happening and becomes the historical trajectory in which further development is embedded. Although this sounds deterministic, the contexts we study, past people in a given area, are open and non-deterministic systems where change will occur either triggered from the outside or by internal developments. But, in any case, the future will be influenced by the past, even though it is sometimes hard to recognize the historical rudiments in the new. I would argue that the sociopolitical organization of most Vatya and Füzesabony communities of the Middle Bronze Age can be described as quite stable, as it remained the same during prosperous times (Phases I and II) but also during times of change (Phase III). There are no signs of over-equipped burials indicating institutionalized chiefs or increased number of warriors like known form Únětice (e.g., Meller, 2019), Mycenaean regions (e.g., Georganas, 2010), or Nordic Bronze Age areas (e.g., Vandkilde, 2014). This corresponds with the findings from inner settlement organization where no universal pattern of sociopolitical differentiation can be found and is only contrasted by a seemingly centralized settlement system dominated by communities of specific tells. However, this is rather a sign of inter-community competition and inequality based on geographical location and culture-historical developments of over-regional networks and not for the establishment of chiefdoms.

In light of the recent strontium isotope study on the Vatya cemetery of Szigetszentmiklós-Ürgehegy, dating from Late Phase I to Early Phase III, of Cavazzuti et al. (2021), the presented findings can be extended. The isotope values indicate a patrilocal system and practiced exogamy, shown by the non-locality of many females and local signals in male burials. It has to be agreed when Cavazzuti et al. (2021) conclude that non-local females, with alleged average wealthier grave furniture than males, are “agents of cultural hybridization and change” (Cavazzuti et al., 2021, p. 24). Thought further, the inclusion of non-locals might be a way of signaling a segment’s ability, not only to consume wealth but also to show their integration in (over-) regional networks of exchange or political alliances. In addition, it also has to be noted that the few sampled inhumations in the urn cemetery of Szigetszentmiklós-Ürgehegy show slightly different isotope signals which might indicate that those individuals are non-local too.

However, this work cannot and does not want to solve the major problem of estimating what was initially responsible for the transformations in the Carpathian Basin around 1600 BCE. Times of crisis, environmental, economic, and political ones, can change beliefs and identity affiliations. The developments seen in wealth consumption, burial rites, hoarding practices, material culture, and settlement behavior all indicate a period of constant change in the late Middle Bronze Age in the Carpathian Basin, rather than an abrupt shift or collapse of society. A re-communication of socioeconomic consumption of wealth and identities as well as an openness to new ideas is visible. The former accelerated otherness toward other cultural groups is softened and maybe the commonalities were brought into focus, to profit from an intensified interaction beyond one’s own cultural realm with likewise organized groups. What is visible is that conservatism and compartmentalization were not necessarily the strategy that the Vatya and Füzesabony communities pursued c. 1600 BCE.

6 A Short Epilogue

The method of creating a WI on the basis of the grave goods is a suitable way to bring burials and different ways of wealth consumption into relation and make them accessible for comparison. The transformation of the data under given assumptions (e.g., importance of the exclusiveness of grave goods) creates interpretable patterns, where preconditions of the investigation can be criticized. In this study, plausible ranking orders of burials from Middle Bronze Age cemeteries in the Carpathian Basin have been calculated, which offered a good basis to investigate the wealth consumption within the communities, on the regional and over-regional level.


Special thanks go out to the whole KEX (Kakucs Archaeological Expedition) team for the inspiring and helpful discussions about Hungarian Bronze Age. Also, I want to thank Magdolna Vicze for her tremendous work on Dunaújváros-Duna-dűlő. I am grateful to Robert Staniuk, Paul Duffy, and Maria Wunderlich for their comments and challenging critiques on the earlier versions of the text. Furthermore, I very much like to thank the unknown reviewers for their comments and suggestions, which helped to improve the manuscript.

  1. Funding information: This work was funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation, project number: SFB 1266/290391021).

  2. Conflict of interest: The author states no conflict of interest.

  3. Supplementary Materials: The online version of this article ( contains supplementary materials: supplementary_material_1_base_table.csv (CSV table), (Python script), (Python script), supplementary_material_4_WI_table.csv (CSV table), supplementary_material_5_frequency_ratio_table.csv (CSV table).

  4. Data availability statement: The data generated or analyzed during this study are included in this published article and its Supplementary Materials and are available online in the Zenodo repository:


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Received: 2022-04-18
Revised: 2022-11-27
Accepted: 2023-01-09
Published Online: 2023-02-20

© 2023 the author(s), published by De Gruyter

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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