Thursday, July 23, 2015

Marlborough Man (Beaker emerges from Wilsford Henge dig near Pewsey)

A Bell Beaker individual was uncovered in a ditch of Wilsford Henge seven miles south of Marlborough, Wiltshire. 

*Update*  Nick T points to the press release in the comments section.  The individual is an adolenscent, still don't know the gender or age.  The individual was buried with an amber necklace, which I think indicates he was male (we'll see).  You may remember another adolecent (male) was discovered near Stonehenge two or three years ago, also weaponless with a rich amber necklace.  Will be exciting to see this develop.

From the Marlboroughnewsonline:

"Archaeoligists unearth a skeleton in a Bronze Age burial at the Wilsford Henge excavation near Marden" Tony Millet 22 July 2015


The individual, gender unreported, was buried with characteristic beaker pottery and a bead necklace.  The archaeologists have given samples for isotopic analysis.  Maybe, since this is the modern age and not the 1950's, someone will take a DNA sample for full genomic analysis.  But hey!


It's difficult to know the orientation looking at the drawing, but it appears the individual is head north, facing West, unless it is a woman head south, facing East and the drawing is upside-down(?)  Jim Leary, the project leader, accepted the public for several days who turned out by the hundreds.  Lucky them!


At the nearby Marden Henge, the same team had in 2011 found a sauna dating roughly to the same period

Several other excavation trenches are part of the project looking at a Roman farm, pigs bones, weird pottery and other things.  Wildsford and Marden Henges are in the Salisbury plain that includes some of the famous monuments like Stonehenge.

more on their layout

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Women in Iberia (Liesau, Blasco, Rios, Flores)

Above all, when constructing paradigms, wear safety goggles and blast shield.

This paper concentrates on women of the Iberian Meseta.  Like many burials of this age, a closer look is revealing some deviance from the mainstream assumptions.  The authors lament the hyper-focus on this culture's men (not completely unwarranted), and it is true that the social changes of the household are the most trans-formative element of this era. 

Most of the women discussed in this paper died in their twenties.  Two of the women appear to have been beheaded, one had an obviously altered skull, one a headdress and a couple with guns. 

"Girls with Guns - and Infants" Los Humanejos (UE 1166)
The authors note how women are at the center of some cemeteries and in contexts traditionally considered to be male.  They contend this is one reason for the disparity of female burials in the Beaker culture.  This topic has also been addressed by other authors, namely Jan Turek, who offered some ideas for the disparity in Central Europe, including the plowing of the woman layers and cremation.  Another author from Britain (his name escapes me at the moment) suggested that women were disproportionately cremated, which may be true as well.

However, these authors suggest that the initial sexing of many burials, historically, were based on the orientation of the graves.  Just recently, a grave from Kněževes, Czech Republic, had a genetic determination of female when the grave had been previously assigned as male based on the male orientation and warrior gear.  So we may begin to see more genetic studies attempting to determine the actual sex of the individual.

The twenty-something mothers and infants above were buried with daggers.


Two Beheaded Girls from La Magdalena, 11 graves total (foto César Heras)
No heads.  As with the Welshman from Brymbo, there is always a voice expressing the view that this is some sort of religious dis-articulation.  The people who buried Brymbo man arranged his few relicts in a flexed format, indicating a desire for completeness.  His larger remains were probably found by his family in a field after having been murdered.

These younger women appear to have been beheaded, victims of interpersonal and domestic violence with a long history.

Beaker Mother and Infant, Camino de Yeseras (Foto a partir
de Blasco et al. 2005: Fig. 7)
It has already been discussed from the Blasco paper and now this one, that the mother's head above has been unnaturally altered.  The most common cause of a flatten occipital in modern times is known from "crib babies".  However in this case, her flattened occipital was probably caused by having spent her infancy on a swaddling board, common in Europe until recently.

I've speculated before that this may be the most likely reason for the unnatural shape of many of the Bell Beaker heads.  Some Beaker heads are not correctly proportional by natural dimension and like some Native Americans and Mongolians, being bound to a board throughout infancy may have in some cases flattened the growing infant head. 

Interestingly, the authors note that aside from her flattened head, distinguishing her from nearby women buried without beaker pottery, that she also lacks the strong muscle ligaments of the other women.  They suggest that her life was "easier" than the other women.   

With regards to infant swaddling, this ancient Siberian practice (with the assumption that this was the case here) may be one more example of changes in the social structure and daily life occurring at this time. 

They note the number of young women and their infants.  It would be interesting to know what percentage of these infants are male and how this corresponds to women having weapons.  Infant death from hemolytic disease must have been stratospheric at this time due to the mescegenation of foreign and local peoples.

In the final analysis, the authors make the case that if the Iberian inventory of graves were reviewed given their understanding of the unreliability of gender-related items, that the number of female burials may actually double, in fact they suggest, surpass male burials!  (I smell a large genetic study)

La mujer en el registro funerario campaniforme y su reconocimiento social.  Women in the funerary Bell Beaker record and their social recognition.  TRABAJOS DE PREHISTORIA.  Corina Liesau, Concepción Blasco, Patricia Ríos, Raúl Flores, 72, N.º 1, enero-junio 2015, pp. 105-125, ISSN: 0082-5638.  doi: 10.3989/tp.2015.12146
[Link]

ABSTRACT
The paper analyzes the Bell Beaker graves with female burials from three sites located near one another in the region of Madrid. The study addresses the female presence within contexts that have traditionally been considered mainly male. The variability of their grave goods and burial rituals and their identification in primary and secondary, single or collective inhumations, is also analyzed.  Their associations with male adult individuals and/or children are reviewed, and the social role of women buried with daggers in significant graves is discussed.  Although the sample is quantitatively insufficient, its
variability at least allows us to refute previons claims about the numerical superiority of male graves that have been made without any empirical support. We conclude with a discussion of why there are fewer women in Bell Beaker tombs than in contemporaneous tombs without Bell Beakers.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Bell Beaker in Light of Yamna, Corded Ware (Allentoft & Haak & Szecsenyi-Nagy) [Part 2]

Where do Bell Beakers come from?  Has DNA brought us any closer?  This post follows [Part 1]

If I had to offer one small takeaway from two of these papers, it would be that Bell Beaker is not looking like the genetic offspring of Central European Corded Ware or Swedish Battle Axe.  (this by excluding one of two individuals (RISE98) designated as Battle Axe/Nordic LN.*)

While this is not surprising, there have been no individuals tested of the Single Grave Culture in the Northwest facade which is the last hurdle to prove or disprove a particular theory.   If the trend continues, the failure of CWC to be the Beaker-daddy is news enough because until recently it had been the most conservative and plausible view on Beaker origins.  That leaves the outer-space theory.
Other than that, there is still a long road ahead in understanding the genetic history of Europe.

Kingsmead Quarry Woman (Wessex Archaeology)


The first two papers were not focused on Bell Beaker and as such, the authors did not make any discussion about the Beaker identity.  They did connect a lot of dots between the Steppe, Indo-European language and the Corded Ware.  Their reasoning (David Anthony) was that Corded Ware had genetic components similar to Yamnayans, which suggested to them that the impetus for Corded Ware possibly came from the Steppe (after Gimbutas), which is where the Indo-European languages are thought by some to have developed.

Lolita Nikolova wrote a sharp reply criticizing David Anthony and the Haak authors for what she considers a poorly developed argument or 'pseudoscience' [see here].  Her complaint is that 1) the Haak authors implied that Corded Ware was somehow partly descended from the Steppe and 2) that associating language with a people who lived 5,000 years ago has no validity.

Regarding autosomal similarity, this is what the Haak authors wrote:
"We caution that the sampled Yamnaya individuals from Samara might not be directly ancestral to Corded Ware individuals from Germany. It is possible that a more western Yamnaya population, or an earlier (pre-Yamnaya) steppe population may have migrated into central Europe, and future work may uncover more missing links in the chain of transmission of steppe ancestry."
I agree with Nikolova's first point; the above statement is seeking a phantom population to be the sperm donor of a more distant population with a different material culture.  Just because Yamnaya and Corded Ware are within the same PCA hula-hoop doesn't mean that Corded Ware has any cultural or geographical roots in the steppe, nor does it mean that Yamnaya or a pocket population of the steppe is ancestral to everybody or anybody.  It's not clear that the sparsely populated, hillybilly Yamnayans are ancestral to much of anything just yet. 

What?  From ScienceNews



Nikolova is critical that DNA is being used to connect dots rather than looking closely at the material relationships.  Nothing illustrates this more than the deceiving map above (not picking on this one in particular).  What maps like this don't show is the directionality, span and space of each culture.  These two are not bros.

DNA has become the rational behind those seeking stepping-stone populations, now in the Balkans for the Bell Beaker folk.  Since one individual from the M6 motorway in the Vucedol period (first half of the third millennium) is R1b* some have found the "stepping stone".  Nevermind the material cultures are from another planet, "this must be our pre-Beaker, we can put the archaeology together

later". DNA is a very important tool, but doesn't prove anything by itself. The material facts are how we can conclusively determine that Australians are not descended from Americans. Try explaining that to some bug-eyed person five thousand years from now.

Since both the Yamnayans, Vucedol and Bell Beakers have been shown to be almost universally M269+ or supposed, that has caused a very natural question as to whether Bell Beaker somehow originates among Yamnaya or earlier, after all Bell Beaker is in many ways genetically and culturally alien to Western Europe. There are some similarities between these very distant cultures, but there is also a gulf of differences that is impossible to overcome in my opinion.

In any case, that'll be the next post [Part 3] sometime around Friday. I'll draw from the modern authors who have laid out the history's history on the archaeology of the Beakers and what the major theories were till now on the mysterious origins.


*In all likelihood RISE98 is one of the pioneering Westerners who made their way to Scandinavia and the Baltic in later times.  In a similar manner to another test subject, Kněževes grave 8, RISE98 may have been selected by the archaeologists because their curiosity was already piqued by some contradictions.  In may be the case that some cultural hybridization was occurring in the later Battle Axe populations in the Southwest, so I chose to separate.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Sailboats and Solarboats

This post follows "Reefing and Tacking from Libya to Crete" and goes along with an earlier post on  "Solar Jewelry - Mary Cahill"

Beakers traveled in logboats and cleated plankers, but there may be another boat known to them.
Irish lunulae and solar cross (Coggalbeg, Co. Roscommon)


The Egyptian vessel I included is several centuries younger than the British lunula above, and also the type of boat differs somewhat.  There are better examples of boats with similar prows, however you'll notice some similarities between these two which will suffice...



The decoration of the bow and stern is similar between the two examples.  The EBA plankers that we have were internally cleated and sewn, whereas these boats appear to be externally sewn on the bow and stern in a shoe-lace pattern or are at least skeumorphs of an obsolete design of greater antiquity.

Another interesting aspect are the high prows of the lunulae.  This seems to indicate a boat with a greater surface area above the water line and that may be indicative of how the boat was propelled.

I believe in that original paper Mary Cahill noted how the prow fans appear to have been intentionally twisted in a number of the gold lunulae that have been found.  And finally, you'll notice that all golden lunulae (I believe) lack any decoration below the gun rail on the hull.  The last evidence seems to seal the deal on lunulae being solar boats (although there are complex mythological associations between this boar's tusk, bows, the moon, etc)