Monday, August 25, 2014

A Late (and telling) Almerian Culture Tomb

The chronology of megalithic funerary practices: a Bayesian approach to Grave 11 At El Barranquete necropolis (Almería, Spain) Aranda & Lozando, 2014 [Link]

Tholus 11 at the El Barranquete necropolis (#1 pictured) demonstrates the coexistence and continuation of the Almeria Megalithic tradition much later than has been proven before (at least according to the authors).  The Tholos of tomb 11 was built hundreds of years after Tholoi were apparently discontinued, and with improved resolution in this region, it may turn out that rather than a sequential evolution of tradition,  that we actually have co-existing traditions of diverse ethnic groups over long periods of time.  Again, this was possible to the number and layering of the bodies.

This tomb, like other Megalithic tombs, appears to have had use and re-use periods.  At least one Beaker man and probably others in his family were buried there in later times.  Because the tomb is so well stratified, it would be nice to see some DNA out from the original Tholos burials, especially given that they were so late.  This could indicate 'who' the Tholos builders were.  I suspect that they were a distinct and late group of Near Easterners, or at least some of them were.

One last interesting note; with the number of individuals dated that the authors were able to obtain, they seem to suggest that individuals in these collective tombs were probably always buried whole, some apparently in the flexed template.  It was only decades or centuries later that people were disarticulated and re-organized to make room for new people. 

This new understanding could really strain the view of how Megalithic people buried their dead and challenge the current notions of individuality ascribed to Megalithic peoples.  The current view is one that stresses the group and continuity.  However, like the emptying of the Tholos at Perdigoes, if they were simply shoveling out bones to make room for new flexed burials, then that seems to be a somewhat different worldview than previously thought.

For the first time on the southern Iberian Peninsula it is possible to determine the timescale and funerary span of a single megalithic grave, as all the Minimum Number of Individuals identified by anthropological study have been dated. Thirteen radiocarbon measurements are now available from Grave 11 at El Barranquete necropolis. Two Bayesian models have been built on the basis of archaeological interpretations of the mortuary depositions. The results stress the late construction of the monument, probably in 2452e2316 cal BC, and the short, but intensive ritual use during the Chalcolithic period of between three and nine generations. The funerary reuse of the monument is one the most remarkable features of this tomb. According to the Bayesian models, these ritual practices began in 2154e2022 cal BC and spans a long period of at least half a millennium. The results are also discussed in the context of the megalithic phenomenon on the southern Iberian Peninsula.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Fulacht Fiadh Find (Irish Coast)

Fulacht Fiadh (Archaeology Magazine)
This find in Galway is about 1,700 B.C., which is toward the end of Irish Beaker Age (EBA) but still comfortably in it.  Regardless of the periodization, these cists were used at some point in the Neolithic and probably to the modern age.  They were used to boil something, probably not food.

They are generally found in soggy places in the middle of nowhere.  Theories abound: baths, beer, leather working, etc.

Personally, my guess is they were used by furriers and long hunters for processing hides and pelts.


Monday, August 18, 2014

Bead Wampum

Emerging economies : late Neolithic and Copper
Age beads and pendants of the Portuguese
Estremadura, Iowa Research Online, Thomas (2014) [Link]

Fig 116.  Calcite and Slate "Wampum" from Cabeҫo da Arruda I (Thomas, 2014)

I guess the most interesting part of this thesis is the theory that a sort of Bead Monetary system (Wampum) had begun to develop in the Late Neolithic (semi-aka Chalcolithic) Portugal.  This system would have belonged to the slate-plaque, pre-Beaker folk from Portugal.  Here's what Thomas writes:

Considering the batch production of large numbers of identically-sized calcite beads in
Estremadura and slate beads in the Alentejo during this period, like other prestige goods, I
suggest that beads may have also served a monetary function between Late Neolithic and Copper Age groups in coastal and interior regions. This pattern of standardized trade bead production between regional groups, similar to the use of wampum beads as commodity money among chiefdom-scale groups in pre-contact North America (Arnold and Munns 2004; Shell 2013), has numerous ethnographic and archaeological parallels among complex, non-state societies across the world (Francis 1990:47; Kenoyer 2003).

These highly uniform Calcite or Slate beads recovered from collective burials in the region, according to Thomas's theory, would have been used essentially as short payment, like wampam.  They differ from the variable, exotic stones that were used for personal adornment during this period, which probably had real value, but not substitutionary, extrinsic value like money.

Really, it is that imaginary value placed on beads, coins, dollars, credits, debit, etc., that is the diagnostic indicator of a sophisticated economic system.

The development and centralization of the SW Iberian economy in the Late Neolithic and their growing monopolization of water courses and sea lanes is vital to understanding the sudden emergence of the Bell Beaker phenomenon.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Paper: Portuguese Burials (Pre-Beaker)


Fig 7, #337, Adult Female, Monte Canelas (Boaventura, 2014)

I meant to post this earlier in the week along with another paper, but I'll go ahead and post now before it gets buried in a stack of 50k PDF files.  This paper covers the types of burials in Portugal (before the Beakers).  Of course, as with England's troubled Middle Neolithic, one of the main concerns is properly sequencing diverse burial traditions that now apparently/probably co-existed in many places.  There is some interesting re-analysis of the bones, health, endogamy and physical types in this paper.

Reading this paper through the lens of the North Meseta DNA from this week, it seems to make an exotic origin of the Beaker phenomenon more likely.  Theoretically, if you believe Iberia was a Pleistocene refuge that harbored many of Europe's modern lineages, then the Meseta should have been carpeted with ultra West European lineages, but it wasn't for the people of Mirador who had traditions similar to some of the people described in this paper on Portugal.

Footnote:  With dig season coming to a close, we are entering the exciting closing months of the year when we can begin expecting weekly fireworks on ancient Eurasian and African DNA.  There's some exciting stuff in the works, so I think within the five months the entire conversation in Beaker archaeology will be in an entirely new place.  Worlds colliding, total paradigm shift!

ABSTRACT: This paper reviews and updates the anthropological knowledge about Middle-Late Neolithic populations in Portugal. This territory is rich in prehistoric burial sites, particularly those of the designated Middle and Late Neolithic/Chalcolithic periods (4th–3rd millennia BCE). In the past 150 years, more than 3000 tombs, namely natural caves used as tombs, dolmens, rock cut tombs and tholoi (vaulted chamber tombs) were identified and hundreds of
them explored. Within these funerary structures, generally used as collective burials, the bones were frequently found and registered as disturbed and in a very fragmentary condition with total or almost total absence of anatomic connections. The systematic study of these human remains started in the 1990's and are mainly based on data obtained from tombs located in Estremadura and Algarve, two regions with limestone bedrocks that contributed to a better bone preservation. Those studies led to the assessment of anthropological profiles of several tombs. Among the more relevant data is the frequent sex ratio in favor of females, a greater mobility than that expected for agricultural communities and a low rate of main types of pathologies. Meanwhile, mainly due to an increase of Management Archaeology in South Portugal hinterland (Alentejo) new sites and types of tombs were located in the last 15 years: rock cut tombs were unknown in Alentejo, as well as pit graves; also pockets of cremated human bones have been found, as well as human bones lying inside ditches. Besides suggesting a more diversified funerary practice by those prehistoric populations, this new data raises many more questions: Were all contemporaneous? Was there different treatment according to belonging within the groups? Are there regional patterning for those differences?


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

New Chalcolithic DNA!

Mitochondrial DNA from El Mirador Cave (Atapuerca, Spain) Reveals the Heterogeneity of Chalcolithic Populations, PLOSONE, Gomez-Sanchez et al, 2014 

El Mirador bone gallery (Gomez et al, 2014)

I'll go ahead and give a little background to what all this means, at least to me.  As you read, keep two things in mind.  1)  These individuals PCA practically within the same hula-hoop as individuals in modern North Iraq and Armenia.  2)  The mtdna haplogroups show something not typical of contemporaneous, culturally Bell Beaker graves.

Before the emergence of the Bell Beaker Culture (BBC) in Southwestern Iberia (where it appears first), the Iberian Peninsula was already effectively in its Chalcolithic.  Pre-Bell Beaker Iberia was a diverse place.

One interesting group, little understood, was the Almerian Culture, which may be related to a few other poorly defined cultures.  These people seem to have had connections with the Syrian highlands, but not many connections with Cardial or other Neolithic peoples.  They may have spread up the Atlantic coast, but they may not have been a single cohesive population either.  They may have spawned similar cultures in British Islands, Sardinia and the tip of France.  They also remained distinct from the Megalithic peoples that had probably originated from North Africa earlier in the Neolithic.

These "Almerians" did a number of very Near Eastern things.  They built Tholoi, worshipped the same "Eye Idols" and had a very similar material culture.  Guttural singing and good acoustics may have been important to them. Some of the elephant ivory they used were imports of the Syrian Elephant.

As one comparison, and Iberia occulo and a Syrian one:

Apontamentos de Arqueologia e Património – 8 / 2012

Eye Idol, Northern Syria
(Found within a context dedicated to Ninhursanga "mother of the mountain", also known as "Mami")

The authors speculate that these maternal lineages may be associated with a Megalithic substrate, and they may well be, but I don't see any evidence for that in North Africa (as I assume Megalithism entered Western Europe from there).  I'd guess that what we are looking at in the haplogroup chart below is something uniquely pointing to a more recent maritime migration from the Northern Middle East.

I'm surprised that the El Mirador people PCA cluster so close to Rossen and other similar Neolithic groups.  But there may be reasons for this that need further exploration.  It may be that what El Mirador and Rossen have in common is what they don't have by comparision.  In other words, Middle Neolithic people and Non-Beaker Iberians may not have the components indicative of later PIE migrations, whereas almost all modern humans in the region have some or a lot.  So maybe they are not that similar.  I don't see any reason to think they would be, either by haplogroup frequency or culture, because they seem very different.

One problem I see though, is that in comparing Rossen and later Baalberg, both had intrusive elements and may not have been unified ethnic cultures.  The few individuals tested to date may not be an accurate representation of the population.  Just food for thought.

I don't know what the material culture of the El Mirador people were; it may have been something typical of the Meseta at that time.  Whether or not these people were Almerian culturally, so to speak, is really irrelevant.  As far as I'm concerned, somebody, somewhere in Iberia at that time had recently immigrated from the Near East in the 4th millenium based on material culture.  Someone's dna should show this.
Previous mitochondrial DNA analyses on ancient European remains have suggested that the current distribution of haplogroup H was modeled by the expansion of the Bell Beaker culture (ca 4,500–4,050 years BP) out of Iberia during the Chalcolithic period. However, little is known on the genetic composition of contemporaneous Iberian populations that do not carry the archaeological tool kit defining this culture. Here we have retrieved mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequences from 19 individuals from a Chalcolithic sample from El Mirador cave in Spain, dated to 4,760–4,200 years BP and we have analyzed the haplogroup composition in the context of modern and ancient populations. Regarding extant African, Asian and European populations, El Mirador shows affinities with Near Eastern groups. In different analyses with other ancient samples, El Mirador clusters with Middle and Late Neolithic populations from Germany, belonging to the Ro¨ssen, the Salzmu¨nde and the Baalberge archaeological cultures but not with contemporaneous Bell Beakers. Our analyses support the existence of a common genetic signal between Western and Central Europe during the Middle and Late Neolithic and
points to a heterogeneous genetic landscape among Chalcolithic groups.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Getting Taller: Study on European Height (DNA & Dietary Changes)

This is a very cool paper.  It richly compiles biometric data on average height of Europeans from the Mesolithic Age, through the Neolithic, Corded, Beaker, Medieval to the Modern.

Grasgruber et al, 2013

The authors make some fairly reasonable assertions in my opinion.  One being that tallness is associated with certain male haplogroups such as I-M170 and R-U106.  Check out the tables in the back of the paper.

That is not at all to suggest that tallness is associated with the paternal lineage, because it is not (unfortunately).  It is suggesting that when looking at a demographic slice that we may associate certain traits with identifiable lineages of ancient groups.  The authors also assert that lactase persistent European populations are taller, on average,  than those who are not.

Below is a snip I made from some of the material.  You can see that the Hunter-Fisher societies were physically robust.  This big frame ends abruptly with the Neolithic Lengyels and the Mesolithic Western Europeans (BTW, don't be tricked by the nonsensical age system).  Essentially the Neolithic represents a big change in the physique of individuals, being both more gracile, but also more sickly, and with bad teeth.\\

This again changes with people who were likely lactase persistent, being the Corded and Beaker peoples in which the average height skyrockets.  The authors continue to develop this reasoning with more recent data on Europeans in the last few centuries where economic data is well known.

Culture of MenAgecmft/inches
Gravettian, Moravian Paleolithic176.35' 8"
Gravettian (Mediterranean)Paleolithic1836' 0"
Carpathian and EasternMesolithic173.25' 6"
Western EuropeMesolithic163.15' 34"
Lengyel, CarpathianLate Neolihtic1625' 3"
Corded and Bell BeakerChalcolithic1695' 54"
There is an unrelated, but very relevant, study on the DNA analysis of bacteria taken from the mouths of ancient people showing the transition to complex carbohydrates, then to dairy, to sugar, etc.  I'll post if I can find it again.

The Role of Nutrition and Genetics as Key Determinants of the Positive Height Trend.
P. Grasgruber J. Cacek T. Kalina M. Sebera, Economics and Human Biology, 2014 [Link]

The aim of this study was to identify the most important variables determining urrent differences in physical stature in Europe and some of its overseas offshoots such as Australia, New Zealand and USA. We collected data on the height of young men from 45 countries and compared them with long-term averages of food consumption from the FAOSTAT database, various development indicators compiled by the World Bank and the CIA World Factbook, and frequencies of several genetic markers. Our analysis demonstrates that the most important factor explaining current differences in stature among nations of European origin is the level of nutrition, especially the ratio between the intake of high-quality proteins from milk products, pork meat and fish, and low-quality proteins from wheat. Possible genetic factors such as the distribution of Y haplogroup IM170, combined frequencies of Y haplogroups I-M170 and R1b-U106, or the phenotypic distribution of lactose tolerance emerge as comparably important, but the available data are more limited. Moderately significant positive correlations were also found with GDP per capita, health expenditure and partly with the level of urbanization that influences male stature in Western Europe. In contrast, male height correlated inversely with children’s mortality and social inequality (Gini index). These results could inspire social and nutritional guidelines that would lead to the optimization of physical growth in children and maximization of the genetic potential, both at the individual and national level.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Antrope 2014: Papers on the Portugese Early Bronze Age

I can't comment on these monographs at the moment, however perusing through the material there is some language that caught my attention.  This is a compilation of presentations given at a symposium back in May on the Portuguese Bronze Age.

Each of the authors covers aspects of cultural transition within certain sectors of Portugal.  In all, it is a big read, all in Portuguese.  You can download the PDF from the link below and upload with Google translate into your preferred language.

Slide 27 Hipogea "As Practicas do Construcao/Deposicao de estruturas em negativo durante a Idade do Bronze do Alentejo Interior" (Lidia Baptista)

Portugal is basically ground zero for understanding cultural changes and political transformations of the Atlantic system on either side of the third millennium.  There are also a number of presentations on the website and a number of good graphics of burials within different traditions.

"A Idade do Bronze em Portugal: os dados e os probelmas"  Antrope, 2014 [Link]

Friday, August 8, 2014

Klokbeker emerges in Houten, Netherlands

A crane operator in Houten, Netherlands recently brought forth a large fragment of a Bell Beaker that he had discovered while digging a ditch back in the eighties.  According to this article, the fragment is about 4,200 years old.

The Klokbekercultuur potsherd (Houten Archeaology)
Here's the fragment as it would have looked, obviously with reddish coloring:

This and two other recent beakers in Houten are the only evidence of pre-Roman habitation in the area.  Hopefully the three beakers can help triangulate an area or cemetery with Beaker activity.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Big Day at Kirkhaugh Burial

Boom.  Now a complete set for the Kirkhaugh Gold.

Here's the story at the Journal UK 

Kirkhaugh Earring/Tress (PA)

Four boys found the other pair of the gold objects historically referred to as "basket earrings",  challenged by Andrew Sherrat as "hair tresses".  They were helping out at the Kirkhaugh, Alston site.

Good on the boys (PA)

Together again:

Found two days ago (PA)
Found in the 30's (British Museum)

Monday, August 4, 2014

Food Vessel tradition

Here's a thesis posted recently on British Food Vessels:

Food vessel from child's grave Doune in Perthshire (National Museum of Scotland)

"Food vessel" substitution is a distinct tradition in the late Insular Beaker Culture, although it was variously practiced both before and outside the Beaker Culture.  Other continental Beaker cultures did incorporate other vessels into graves, but usually not as substitutions for Beakers and not of this heavy, flower pot style.

Because British Beaker Culture drew from several origins, its distribution is also not uniform.  The Central European derived Wessex Culture wasn't really into food vessels and the earliest Beakers in both Ireland and Britain are not associated with food vessels.  So food vessels are variously viewed as a late development, possibly a re-emergence of an older tradition and something preceding Collard Urns.

Food vessels have a strange origin because while they are similar to Middle Neolithic types within the region, they don't seem to have direct continuity at the local level.  They do look like Peterborough Ware, but it would be something like Early Mississippian or Woodland Indian pottery suddenly becoming popular again.  It's kind of hard to imagine how clunky pottery like this became a popular burial vessel.

NEIL C.A. WILKIN, 2013/2014 [Link]


This thesis demonstrates the significance of Food Vessel pottery and burial in Northern England during the Early Bronze Age (c.2200 to 1800 cal BC). It represents the first original and sustained study of this burial tradition for several decades. It is argued that the interwoven relationships between Food Vessels, other ceramic types, and trade and exchange networks are both a reason why the tradition has posed interpretative problems for prehistorians, and a central component of its significance during the Early Bronze Age. The chronological relationships between British Food Vessels and other ceramic and funerary traditions are reviewed using the first comprehensive and critically assessed dataset of radiocarbon determinations. Previous approaches to Food Vessel typology are critically reviewed and a new approach based on the ‘potter’s perspective’ and contextual studies is proposed. A contextual approach is applied to Food Vessels from three regions of Northern England: the Northern Counties; North-East Yorkshire, the central lowlands and North-West England; and South-East Yorkshire. Each study reveals significant inter- and intra-regional similarities and differences in how Food Vessels were used and understood. The significance of Food Vessel pottery and burial is then discussed at a national scale.
[More on food vessels]

Friday, August 1, 2014

Caulking of the Boatwright

This paper positively identifies a complex mix of not-so-native mosses that were used to caulk the hull of an Eastern Lake Constance region Log Boat.  The boat carbon dates to the Early Bronze Age, which for this region is really at the cusp of transitioning away from the old Beaker culture.  The mosses were packed tightly into the transom board as seen below.

(Dickson et al, 2013)

European logboats have continuity to the modern day.  The only real difference is that the massive oaks once available no longer exist, so modern logboats are much smaller than their sea going ancestors.  The paper just hit the net even though the abstract is dated 2013.

More on caulking sewn-plank and logboats [link] and [link]

Mosses Used for Caulking the Early Bronze Age Logboat from Degersee, Southern Germany  Dickson, Maier, Mainberger, Lecrivain (2013) [Link]

4,500 Logboat with Mixed Features? (Ireland)

This logboat was found in the Spring.  I thought I'd add this from the backpage to preface the next post. Apparently the Galway, Annaghkeen boat has some EBA carpentry techniques.
Annaghkeen Logboat (hybrid?) (Current Archaeology)

It's a "Logboat", but it's said to be cleated, and honestly the picture provided looks a bit shallow, of course the sides may have eroded.  The nature of the cleats isn't described or whether they were integral to the original log or added later.  I haven't been able to find how the cleats were arranged or their number.

The description of the carpentry (their description) almost sounds like it could be a hybrid or a refit.  Of course, the entire reason for building a plank boat might have been the lack of very girthy trees, which Ireland and Northern Europe had in abundance in the EBA.  It's probably a mistake to think that one people made logboats, liked Grooved folk, where others made plankers, like Beaker folk.  In reality, the construction technique was probably more dependent on it functional purpose, timber availability and school of the boatwright.

This one dates to 2,500 B.C.