Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Thankerton Man

The young guy looks like a slacker.
Thankerton Man, Dundee University

I missed this reconstruction of an early Scottish Beaker as reported by the BBC in 2015.  He was about 5-11" or 180cm and buried in a stone cist. (see also)  If is cist #2 (GU-1117), then he is described as an unusually tall adolescent young man.

Caroline Erolin, quoted by the BBC, said: "Once we built the basic shape of his face we then looked at historical data to get a better idea of how a man would have looked at that time. For instance, we know they had the ability to shave."

Thankerton Man, Dundee University
I believe the carbon dates broadcast by news outlets (2460-2140 b.c.) are calibrated dates for the same GU-1117 in the Canmore database and referenced in a paper by Allison Sheridan, "Scottish Beaker dates: the good, the bad and the ugly".  In other words, he'd be among the earliest British Beakers.  Also, the right side of page 96 will give you something to anticipate as more Beaker and CW genomes are revealed (I'm personally curious of how 'Eastern' the Eastern Scottish Beakers will be and how this is reflected in modern Scots).  

See also the 3d "Thankerton Man" digital reconstruction via Biggar Museum.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Last Minute Review of 2016

In a few weeks 2016 will be a distant memory because some spectacular papers are about to parachute in.

Here's a few things that were memorable.

From the "Beakers & Bodies Project" (British Archaeology, 2017)

1.  One of the best forensic reconstructions of an ancient person was brought to life:  "Ava of the Highlands" 

2.  There was the release of a paper "The Beaker People Project" that gave some support to the idea that flatheads could have been a product of infant rearing practices.

My view for a long while has been that flattened occiputs are enticingly a tell-tale sign of infant cradleboard use, most common in North Asia.  That, in combination with a strong genetic disposition for brachycephaly, made for some strange new head shapes in the Beaker period.   (Being Tall)

Discussed this a little further here VanderWaals, 1984

3.  Very recently there was a 'Neolithic Eyebrow' raising paper from Christina Roth, 2016.  I suspect this is part of a drip from a bigger paper, but in any case the Mesetan Beakerfolk clearly have unexpected maternal profiles that are not native to the plateau lands of Iberia.

Roth's paper agrees to some degree with Brotherton et al, 2013 in that Iberia has the kind of components that later appear elsewhere in Europe, while the reverse could also be true in the Mesetas and the Tagus estuary.  Some sort of reflux in one direction or the other seems likely.

On the other hand, kept in mind Hervella et al, 2015 who suggested that the dominant Beaker maternal profiles (H + V) were largely a contribution from a later Neolithic influx (relatively speaking) from Anatolia which also began to expand with the Beakers.

4.  Ancient Canary Islander DNA introduces some intriguing possibilities.   The bottom line is that R1b owes much less to the mission period than expected.  It could predate Berbers.  It's probably not Roman either.

The most backwards, isolated, hayseed hicks of the Canary Islands tested from a millennium ago are also the most Atlantic-like.

5.  Beer can literally be brought back from the dead.  [here].  This is more than analyzing ingredients and reproducing a beverage; it's actually reanimating surviving yeast (gives beer most of its unique character).

If beakers meant for drinking were periodically waterproofed with beeswax, then it's possible that yeast migrated into the liner and survived the harsher processes of decomposition.  Reproducing those yeast cells and then reusing (by the right hands, Alex McGovern?) could tell us volumes about the stages, temperatures and conditions in which that particular beer was made and stored (even if it was a relatively wild and uncontrolled yeast).

That would tell us if there was a radical difference in alcohol content in the funeral beakers of children, women and men.  Also, I suspect Neolithic beer was fermented in 1/4 oak log barrels (which is basically a hallowed-out oak log proofed with wax).

This next year looks to be a good one.  Happy New Year!

Monday, December 19, 2016

North-East Scotland, Age of Metal (British Archaeology 16/17)

A short article by Neil Curtis and Neil Wilken covers some of the highlights of the Scottish "Beakers and Bodies Project", which was an associate project of the British "Beaker People Project", previously blogged.   It is published in the British Archaeology magazine.  (article is linked below)

Northeast Scotland has a relatively high (or apparent) density of Beaker culture materials.  Its river valleys may have desirable to people wanting access to Ireland, the Netherlands and all of the North Sea.  Curtis and Wilken seem to speculate this might partly have been resource driven in combination with location.  In this article, they look at this region's funerary beakers.

Curtis and Wilken build on a theory by Alexandra and Ian Shepherd that the pottery decoration and styles reflect gender and age differences.  Aside from unique local beakers, Tall-Short Necked Beakers are associated with established, older men.  A more balanced Basic-S profile beaker is associated with women, and another with young adults, etc.  An exception is the squatty, short-lip beaker below, which is a local thing.

It also appears likely all funerary beakers in NE Scotland once contained white inlay paste, not unlike most of Europe.  Even if we had a time-machine and were able to ask people why they insisted on doing this, I doubt most could tell you.  I suspect that in its earliest form, white inlay on an iron oxide background was used to paint a schematic, allegorical expression of the underworld in the Beaker mind.  [previously]

A Globular Very Short Necked Beaker

As you can see in the first graphic, NE Scottish Beakerfolk appear to have often been buried in a gendered, East-West manner, similar to many of the Corded Ware.  As we look for ancient DNA in the months to come, it will be interesting if there is a genetic connection that is more direct between the two.

Neil Curtis, Neil Wilkin (2017) "North-east Scotland in the first age of metal"

Friday, December 16, 2016

Bodiless on Broadway (Worcestershire)

Archaeologists Rob Hedge and Jane Evans discuss some of the unique items coming out of a pit this week.

Broadway is a village in Hobbit Country (The Cotswolds) of Worcester. Captions are available.