Friday, September 30, 2016

I Can't Believe It's Not Butter! (Nordic Food Lab)

Some of the most fascinating things to come out of British and Irish bogs are the butter churns and butter crocks.  I'll address that separately below, but I ran into a food experiment that I'd like to share.

Why did people deposit butter and tallow in bogs in the first place? Was this for preservation?

Nordic Food Lab

I found this very cool site "Nordic Food Lab" which carries out a scientific experiment to see how the qualities of butter might be improved or preserved in a bog.  It appears they have found some practical success in demonstrating the purpose for making bog butter.  I'm satisfied enough to say 'case closed'.

3,000 year old Butter Container (National Museum of Ireland) via NBC News
Part 2:

I came back to bog butter after seeing the butter barrel above, which is almost identical in size and shape to historic American butter churns.  It's easy to imagine this 3,000 year old barrel having had a plunger before the lid was installed.

Really, the intriguing part is that it is a hollowed out oak log, not a staved cask.  This presents a possibility for clarifying, in my own mind, how beer was fermented in Neolithic Europe, particularly the Early Bronze Age.

It seems like that the predecessor to staved oak barrels was simply hollowed out oak logs, possibly pitched with wax or butter fat, which allowed people to ferment large volumes of beer.  For all of the drinking that Bell Beakers supposedly should do, no inorganic container is available in the record that would be large enough or strong enough to ferment.

There is direct evidence of oak lactones in Middle Minoan wine residues which Patrick McGovern (referred to in the previous post) suggests may be evidence of oak casking in the second millenium.  (McGovern, 2003)

For the most part, beer and wine in the Mediterranean world was fermented in large clay pots (pithoi) then transported in amphorae and it is only in the Christian period when the northern style oak barrels overtake clay ones.  Strabo referred to the Celtic staved barrels as "wooden pithoi", so we can have a fair amount of confidence of the complementary purposes.

I'm trying to guess at what volume a log barrel might hold, assuming something like this existed.  I'm guessing the 3,000 year old barrel has the diameter of a Cornelius keg and slightly taller.  So in my make-believe Neolithic beer keg, I'm guessing it'd hold about six gallons of beer, which is a little less than 3 American cases of beer.

The only way to test this theory would be an ultra-detailed chemical analysis of beer residue from beaker pottery.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Ancient Ales (Dr. Patrick McGovern)

Brewing Archaeologist Michael Brown interviews Patrick McGovern, the leading archaeologist of fermented beverages and two-time discoverer of the world's oldest fermented beverages (China and Western Iran).

It's a bit long if you're not into brewing, so I'll highlight a few points.

McGovern has the view that many humans, if not all humans, are biologically adapted for drinking fermented beverages.  He also thinks that some sort of fermented beverages were made in prehistoric North America and Australia.  At least for North America, it's extremely likely there was at least a  maize-based beer like Chicha.

As materials and remains of ancient peoples are analyzed with greater sophistication, he sees great potential for this field to expand. 

In the United States, you can purchase some of these ancient recreations through a partnership between McGovern and Dogfish Head brewery, a popular microbrewery.  It's likely these Ancient Ales are available in Europe through specialty vendors as well.  [Dogfish Ancient Ales]

Monday, September 26, 2016

Stone Dagger Styles of Britain (UK Knapping Forum)

Here's a quick overview of Beaker daggers in the Island of Britain.  It is with the arrival of the Beakerfolk and metallurgy that large bi-facial daggers come into use. 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Hurlers Frozen in Time

This from Ancient Origins:

"Hidden Fourth Circle at Mysterious 4,000-Year-Old Standing Stones in Cornwall to be Investigated"

These four stone circles are located in Cornwall, the absolute southwest 'leg' of Britain. The three stone circles are called "The Hurlers" after local legend. The Hurlers were men who played hooky from church to play hurling and were instead turned to stone.  Hurling is one of the many native stick and ball games of the Isles (and it's important to point out that sometimes the names of these different games were used interchangeably)

Why would hurlers be frozen in a circle if modern Gaelic hurling is played on a square field?  Well, some of the stick ball games are played on round fields and the 17th century Cornish concept of the game may be different from Gaelic hurling.  In any case...

I find this interesting in light of a recent post "Ritualized Ball Games of the Neolithic"

Also interesting that men would skip church, maybe suggesting the activity was frowned upon in the Christian view.

See also "Scottish Bowls"

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Sexual Dimorphism of Bell Beaker Folk (and VanderWaals, 1984)

In the previous post "Being Tall" the historic purpose of swaddling infants in North Eurasia was explored and its likely use among the prehistoric Bell Beaker groups for the purpose of improving stature and form.

Beaker Mother and Infant, Camino de Yeseras (Foto a partir
de Blasco et al. 2005: Fig. 7)
There is still yet another interesting aspect when looking at the circumstantial clues pointing to the practice among early Beakers.  That is that boys appear to have been more often swaddled than girls, and by a fairly large margin if you were to accept the hypothesis that flattened occiputs are evidence of this practice.   (This by the way has been demonstrated in studies from Kurdistan to Mongolia)

Here's a long excerpt from a 1984 paper by Van der Waals, but the context is important:

In his paper 'Anthropology of Bell Beaker people', presented to the symposium, Professor Kurt Gerhardt summarized and substantiated his views on Bell Beaker physical anthropology (1976).  Gerhardt is a representative of the traditional typological approach in physical anthropology, with a keen knowledge of human genetics. He acquired fame by his definition of one specific cranial type, occurring in Bell Beaker contexts: the planoccipital steephead. At Oberried he pointed out that this planoccipital steephead was the most characteristic and numerically important type identified by him among the essentially heterogeneous complex of cranial types in Bell Beaker graves. The type had
never been found with any of the earlier Neolithic Central European groups. He based his arguments on his own research, chiefly comprising finds from Central Europe (from the Elsass to Southwest Poland), but on the basis of inspection of material published and illustrated in Crania Britannica from 1865 he was convinced that planoccipital steepheads were also represented on the British Isles. What made Gerhardt's contribution remarkable was his emphatic demonstration of a systematic sexual dimorphism. Among male 'Bell Beaker' skeletons in Central Europe, he had found more than twice the number of planoccipital steepheads than among female 'Bell Beaker' skeletons of the same area.  He furthermore noted that many of the male planoccipital steepheads had been found in the richer Bell Beaker graves, and concluded that 'this remarkable situation asked for a sociological explanation'. During the final discussion of the symposium he explained that he could only think of this situation as resulting from strong endogamy within clans, as with Medieval European high nobility. The resolution of such a social system at the end of the Bell Beaker period could account for the disappearance of the planoccipital steephead in the succeeding Unetice period.

Essentially we learn something that has been recently eluded to in Liesau et al, 2015, and that is a sociological dimension in which head shape is loosely associated with status.  In Camino de Yeseras, the flat-head mother lived a good life and was given a rich burial.  Ordinary women buried nearby lived hard lives and had modest burials.

The other aspect is the attention or preference given to the development of boys.  Throughout much of the Old World, especially the modern MENA nations, boys are nursed substantially longer than girls.  In fact, the attention disparity between genders can be cruelly stark.  The degree to which girls were swaddled compared to boys may depend on where Beaker girls fell within the sequence of male children as parents would focus attention and resources on their boys.

An interesting point to dove-tail in a later post is the apparent 'ruggedness' of Bell Beaker males.  Aside from being taller, they are also much stronger with stronger bones and stronger muscle attachments.  Obviously part of this is genetic, part of it is diet, but another aspect could be environmental.  In other words some of the skeletal evidence may point to resistance training, or at least 'feats of strength', among the warrior elite.  Back to Van der Waals:

In comparing the complete groups of the three periods Czarnetzki demonstrates that the
greatest divergence is between the Late Neolithic (=Corded Ware) and Bell Beaker groups, the smallest between Bell Beaker and Unetice groups, the divergence between Late Neolithic and Unetice being intermediate. The same pattern of divergences emerged when male individuals only were taken into consideration, but among females the divergence between Late Neolithic and the Bell Beaker period was smaller than between the late Neolithic and Unetice. In this case, there appeared to be a normal type of increase in divergence through time. In other words, the gene pool in females remained unchanged into Bell Beaker times, only then certain changes appeared to take place. During the Bell Beaker period, the introduction of a new gene flow must be inferred from the shift in the values active in the formation of epigenetic traits, a shift caused
mainly by male individuals.
Here's the irony of all of this:  everything is circular, from the Dutch hypothesis to Clarke's social continuity.  To be overly cavalier in dismissing a particular theory is to miss that often times there is a valid argument to be made, although maybe not an all encompassing explanation.  I do believe that catastrophic population changes are occurring at the end of the Neolithic, but Clarke's points aren't without merit.  Some of the skeletal quirks of Beakers could in fact be environmentally and culturally induced from the Early Bronze Age arms race:
Yet, to many of the participants the elements of convergence in the presentations of Gerhardt and Shennan were quite intriguing. David Clarke then intervened and pointed out that the convergence of ideas was only apparent. 'There is in fact a very basic division between us here', Clarke said. The question of origins . . . is part of the
questions asked by the old school, about how, when and where. The questions of greater interest and deeper explanatory meaning answer the questions why'. Clarke went on to make clear why he had a deep mistrust of all physical anthropological evidence. If I remember correctly he said it was because the skeletal material available was too much the result of heavily biasing regional circumstances, and therefore liable to generate illusory conclusions.

See also [here]

"Discontinuity, cultural evolution and the historic event"
J D VanderWaals, Proc SocAntiq Scot, 114 (1984), 1-14 [Link]

Aspects of the traditional culture concept, the closely connected twin concepts of continuity
and discontinuity, and their usefulness for prehistory are reconsidered. Continuity and discontinuity
are considered as functions of the evolution of culture; it is argued that the role of the historic
element should not be overlooked.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Being Tall

In places where swaddling was recently practiced, the desired end-state was to develop infants into taller, straighter adults.  Algonquians, Mongolians and Swedes bound the child to a board in infancy which would help develop the musculature in the most erect posture.

Why they troubled to do this is simple.  Crooked, curved people are historically looked upon as the lowest social order, whilst the fully erect and tall are viewed as strong, healthy, noble.

The English word crooked, as in "Crooked Hillary" or Richard Nixon's famous retort, "I am not a crook", is to literally say that someone is a scoundrel, felon or thief.  The etymology of crook connotes a crooked (curved) person, such as a haggardly witch, a hunchback or a sickly beggar.  Parents want their children to sit up straight, walk straight, and in many places practice walking with a book on the head.

In all likelihood Beakerfolk swaddled their children based on a number of clues, and by extension they did this to make them straighter and taller.  They likely had an active understanding of the effects of swaddling and did so intentionally if they were like later peoples such as the Mongolians, who did so with the intent of improving height and posture.

When we speak of Bell Beaker brachycephaly, we are usually speaking of two separate, and not necessarily related, phenomena.  One is natural brachycephaly which is a long-term human trend, especially in the northern mammal populations.  This may have been further exaggerated due to child rearing practices of Beakers.  The other is the flattened occiput (common to many Beakers), which is entirely the result of an external factor; as I've speculated for a long time, swaddling bands, clothes and cradles. [See here]

Swaddled Beaker babies may not seem that interesting at first, but given the hypothesized severity of the practice another cultural dimension comes to light, that of physical height.

Most Beaker men across Europe seem to have been the height of the Amesbury Archer, 5.8" (176cm), more or less.  This is taken by measuring the femur, although the health of the collagen may be factored in as well (this would likely make a greater difference between many Neolithic populations).  5.7, 5.8 is the mean height of diagnostic Beakers, which is tall for the age.

Some Beaker men were very tall for the times.  Cornaclery Man, Racton Man, Gristhorpe Man and Hindow Burial 1 were all in the 6.1 to 6.3 range (186-192cm).  (There are others, but I just pulled these out of the backpocket)  Now remember, this is based on the skeletal structure alone and other factors may be at play, such as the elongation of the spine as a result of infant binding.

The curvature of the spine is measured in Cobb Angles, which would suggest a person with a "theoretically" flat back would be 3" (or 7.6cm) taller than natural.  It's difficult to know the degree to which Beaker backs were malformed by cradle boards, but their heads were definitely malformed, so low degree backs (not zero degree) are not impossible.  So with that being said, it's possible that many Bell Beakers (men and women) were even taller than their skeletal predisposition, if only by an 1 to 1.5 inches (2 to 4 cm).

Maybe, maybe not.  But people will do anything to add an inch.

Updated Genghis Khan Haplotype (Redux)

Well, Genghis Khan may have been R1b-343 depending on the exact relation of a group of Bordjigin clan individuals from a Mongolia cemetery.

So if you paid the $150 dollars to a screwball firm like and were disappointed that you were unrelated to Genghis Khan, well maybe you can get your money back.

The article is available from PlosOne which examines remains from Таван Толгой.  This may still require some confirmation with other occupants to determine familial ties.  Via Russian REACTOR  Чингисхан оказался европейцем

Molecular Genealogy of a Mongol Queen’s Family and Her Possible Kinship with Genghis Khan

Lkhagvasuren G, Shin H, Lee SE, Tumen D, Kim J-H, Kim K-Y, et al. (2016) Molecular Genealogy of a Mongol Queen’s Family and Her Possible Kinship with Genghis Khan. PLoS ONE 11(9): e0161622. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0161622  [Link]

Friday, September 9, 2016

Basket Earrings Again (Fitzpatrick, Doce, Vazquez, 2016)

I thought I had already blogged this chapter of the Guerra Doce and von Lettow-Vorbeck compendium "Analysis of the Economic Foundations Supporting the Social Supremacy of the Beaker Groups", but after a blog comment I realized I have not yet..

So hat tip to La Senora Biblioni for linking to this.

Tablada del Rudron (Museo de Burgos via Fitzpatrick, Doce, Vazquez 2016)

Very briefly, the items we are discussing are properly called "basket earrings" despite the fact that no one believes they are earrings.  They were called early-on based on their pairing, relation to the head from a single burial and the semi-resemblance to Bronze Age Trojan basket earrings.

Andrew Sherratt torpedoed the earring idea, but his hypothesis that they were tresses had as many problems; notably their open-circumference, wafer thinness, delicate-to-ineffectual tongue, paring...and that fact that native Britons have thin, flaxen, oily hair and that British males have very high incidence of frontal thinning, or a receding hairline.

One hypothesis I've put forward is that their circumference, shape and pairing could indicate they attached to the quill of large ornamental feathers [here] similar to Bronze Age Libyans.  The irregular shape of the Amesbury pairs look somewhat similar to the cross-section shape of an eagle flight feather.  Other bird feathers like Ostrich are possible as well (maybe Orbliston).  Given that depictions of Bronze Age Libyans are only shy of contemporary to British Beakers, and the fact that many of them literally had, to some extent, Beaker heritage I think this is a plausible possibility.

The material connections between Burgos and Southern Britain (to include these basket earrings) could be interesting when the isotopic and genetic evidence is released [here].  It's possible that these connections go well beyond trade.  Seldom mentioned is a Polish basket, nearly identical to Tablada del Rudron, however it was lost in WWII.

Interesting out-take, though a little off topic:

"...but in the second half of the third millennium cal BC many of them [megalithic tombs], despite having been damaged during the passage of time, were re-used for Bell Beaker burials...This practice, which was quite frequent in the megalithic tombs of Iberia, has been interpreted as an attempt of the incipient Beaker elites to legitimate their position. In order to do so, they would have created a “fictitious genealogy” to link themselves to the sacred lineage of the ancestors..."
This sounds like a highbrow explanation but this almost standard human behavior.  Take almost any intrusive dynasty of the ancient world and you'll find a monumental effort to create legitimacy through real or imagined ancestries, co-opting royal burial locations and an attempt to weave itself into the national mythology of another.  Perfectly plausible that Beakers were writing themselves into the local histories of others, especially if they were trying to legitimize their right to dominance in various aspects.

Bell Beaker connections along the Atlantic façade: the gold ornaments from Tablada del Rudrón, Burgos, Spain 
Fitzpatrick, Guerra Doce, Vazquez (2016)  [Link]

The gold ornaments from a well-furnished burial in the Bell Beaker tumulus at Tablada del Rudrón, Burgos, in northern Spain are very similar to ornaments best known in Britain and Ireland. The insular ornaments, which were either earrings, tress rings or parts of headdresses, have been found in well-furnished graves of the 24-23rd century BC and were symbols of high status. Although the Tablada del Rudrón ornaments are similar to finds from England, they are not identical and their decoration is related to those on a different type of object found in Ireland. This fusion of ‘similar but different’ reflects the nature of the Bell networks along the Atlantic façade.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

"Beginning of Beaker" (Jos Kleijne)

This is the blog of Jos Kleijne who is researching the foundations of the Beaker phenomenon with respects to pottery technology and subsistence, as well as mobility in the Late Neolithic.

"Beginning of Beaker"

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Settlement Sought at Seven Sisters Chalk

A news story via Culture 24

"Could archaeologists be about to uncover an early Bronze Age settlement on the cliffs of Seven Sisters?"


From the article, it is thought by archaeologist that a large Early Bronze Age settlement was located in the vicinity of the Seven Sisters cliffs. 

An excavation project begins today near the cliffs' edges and runs about two weeks.  There is probably some added sense of urgency to identify ancient materials since this year saw a major landslide of one of the cliffs [here].  

Friday, September 2, 2016

Neolithic Scottish Bowls?

There are unusual Carved Stone Balls found in the Late Neolithic of Scotland.  They are almost perfectly uniform in size, about the size of an American baseball or croquet ball.

I'll expand from a previous comment to Charles about Neolithic sports and revisit a theory about the purpose of stone balls first proposed by Dorothy Marshall (1976) that these balls were possibly from an ancient sport.  I suspect that they could have been more specifically, "boules" and that their irregularity is intended for a biased ball game such as Scottish bowls.  Let's do some reverse engineering...

Nisbet, 2014
As you can see, the balls (or bowls) are nearly uniform in size and, as noted many times before, they fit perfectly in the human hand.  Therefore we can assume that they are more appropriate in the hand, not on a rope, stick or in a caldron.

They have also different denominations of knobs and rings in an inventory that seems to reveal a structure.  In the game of bowls, the bowl is rolled along a particular trajectory and at the end of the roll takes an erratic course when nearing the jackball.  The selection of the bowl and how the bowl is release is part of a strategy to get to the jackball.

Although there are several versions of boules games in Europe, such as Bocce Ball, the modern professional games of biased Lawn Bowls was refined in modern Scotland, rather conveniently. [more]

Stone Balls from Hunterian Museum (cosmic via Megalithic Portal)
Another interesting fact is that the Medieval bowls jacks may have been an irregular cone shape and it is noteworthy that of the 375 something Neolithic stone balls that about seven of them are cone or cylindrical shaped.

It'd be interesting to take an arm full of these items down to the green and see how they roll and stop.  Are any of them biased in a particular way?  Do some stop short and others go long?  Do some veer hard right? 

Going back to the seeming structure of the 375 inventory, it could be that a Neolithic bowl set, however standardized, consisted of different divisions of knobs and biases for different uses, similar to a bag of golf clubs.  The bowler picks a 3, then a 7, then 9, so forth.

The Carved Stone Balls of Scotland:  Who made them, and why?
Jeff Nisbet (2014)  Scottish Heritage [Link]

See also : Malagabay Blog

David Teniers the Younger (1610-1690) Playing Bowls at an Inn