Monday, April 13, 2015

Beakers in Hofstede's Paradigm

Several years ago I was exposed to Geert Hofstede's matrix on Cultural Dimensions Theory.  For about the last year I've had an interest in taking the circumstantial knowledge we have of Beaker culture and plugging it into Hofstede's calculator to see where they fall in relation to modern cultures.

What this does is measure certain foundational values of a particular culture (at a moment in time) against all other cultures.  In many ways it's no different than PCA analysis in population genetics, except here we are using the outcomes of human behavior to create a behavioral mosaic.

To give an example, one evaluated metric is the Uncertainty Avoidance Index.  It measures the comfort level a group of people have with uncontrolled outcomes and spontaneity.  Unsurprisingly, risk avoidance is highly valued in East Asia whereas cultures in the lower left quadrant can't keep naked drunks off the soccer field. This is measured by looking at a broad spectrum of human statistics (ie. personal savings, vital statistics) and plotting them in an x/y with everybody else. 

Uncertainty Avoidance and Individualism Indices, Hofstede (1997)

The other indices are Power Distance (PDI), Individualism (IDV), Masculinity (MAS), Long-Term Orientation (LTO) and Indulgence Versus Restraint (IVR).  It's interesting to see how your own country plots, especially if you've lived in or visited several different countries with very different cultures.

There have been for a long time certain observations about societal changes demonstrated in the archaeological record, especially the time-frame when the Beakers emerge.  Some of these have included the tendency towards individual burial expression (cemetery plot, megalithic or otherwise), idealistic expressions in burial, spatial distance of settlements, pioneering attitudes, cultural conformism and conservatism, etc.

The first question is a controversial question in archaeological theory.  Is it possible to discern mythology, worldviews, societal structure from thin archaeological record without excessive personal bias?

If so, the second question is where would Bell Beaker culture plot within any of the matrices, say within the Power Distance Index?  What is the probability that a powerful Bell Beaker chief would be attacked by a cursing mob of angry peasants?  Where would that plot between Japan and Brooklyn, New York?

Was Beaker culture a culture full of materialistic, ambitious, selfish backstabbers or were they communities concerned with quality of life for all?  How strictly were traditions and taboos enforced?

Where would various Neolithic, EBA, Medieval and Modern European societies plot against each other?

I really don't have time for this now, but having looked at aspects of this culture for a while, I see some similarities and some differences to the moderns.  Overall, they seem more similar to modern Euros than not.


  1. Thanks, this is an interesting post. Although the blog is focused on a narrow range of subject matter, you always manage to keep the site fresh and interesting and do post some quite varied material.

    Gene-environment co-evolution must play a role in culture. As somebody has said elsewhere, culture is essentially 'personality writ large'; and personality traits would be under selection in a given environment. The 'environment' could also encompass the culture I suppose, eg. hunter-gatherer vs. farmer vs. pastoralist; being settled vs. nomadic; urban vs. rural; trading vs. raiding; etc. Each environment would select for a certain suite of personality traits in individuals within a given population. I would be interested to see some data on estimated population size/density in Europe in the Mesolithic vs. Neolithic vs. Metal Ages. I suspect that populations in the more marginal terrain in Europe adopted a culture of nomadic pastoralism and were more sparsely distributed; while those in the lowlands and more fertile terrain became settled, adopted mixed farming, and experienced a population increase. Males in the former may have acquired wives and livestock through a culture of raiding; while those in the latter perhaps acquired them more through trading. And with these cultures, either the best raiders or the best traders would enjoy the greatest reproductive success.

    1. I try to close gap a little more with each 'book report'. Thanks for the compliment.

      The 'Hunter vs. Farmer' hypothesis speculates something similar, that ADHD (Attention Deficit Disorder) is basically a remnant of a hunter's hyperfocus being replaced by a more collected farmer mentality. I've also wondered if there is a 'hoarding gene' that affects populations disproportionately.

    2. "I've also wondered if there is a 'hoarding gene' that affects populations disproportionately."

      Yes, that's always seemed likely to me - "winter is coming" hoarders.