Monday, July 3, 2017

Szigetszentmiklós Cemetery (Santa's Six Foot Elves)

Next up is a gigantic cemetery in Szigetszentmiklós township on Csepel Island (Shea-pel). In Hungarian, "Santa Claus Island" (I believe) is broken down: Sziget (Island) Szent (Saint) Miklos (Nicholas). Like the previous Neolithic, the Eastern Domain of Beakers preferred enormous cemeteries to which they grafted themselves.

The first Beaker immigrants were largely buried in the N-S gender differentiated format deriving from further west on the Danube. Over time Beaker graves in this area trend toward cremation urns, which is viewed as regression to native habits.  This cemetery at Szigetszentmiklós is noteworthy for a larger percentage of inhumations than other Csepel Beaker cemeteries.  It also has its fair share of bodiless burials, which is a freaky Beaker thing.

Like the Małopolskan Beakers from the previous post, the initial Beaker ethnic is wholly alien to this region, being characterized as a tall, Alpine, wide-faced, strongly-built people with pronounced brachycephaly.   The prominent noses, cheeks and mastoid processes are often remarked upon, including from the Köhler paper below.

The cemetery described in these three papers is "Felső Ürge-hegyi dűlő", which is a motorway site unrelated to a previous one at Szigetszentmiklós.  This part was excavated in 2006-2007 by Robert Patay (paper below).  These profiles are from "The Beaker Phenomenon and the Genomic Transformation of Northwest Europe" by Olalde et al, 2017.

Köhler, K   Anthrop. Közl. 52; 5576. (2011) [Link]

The Szigetszentmiklós occupants are considered by the osteologist to be highly heterogeneous and that may be evident in the craniometrics of the four individuals genetic tested here, 49, 133, 552, 688 (table 4 of Köhler). This cemetery is also, according to Kitti Köhler, the first time in the history of this Carpathian region that the Bell Beaker ethnic type is determined.

As we look to the Olalde paper, the Szigetszentmiklós individuals are in a genetic sense, a society of mixed ancestries. The individual pictured above (I2787) has the highest concentration of the Steppe-like ancestry of any individual within the Beaker world, and probably Western Europe for that matter. At the same rate, Szigetszentmiklós has an individual (I2741) who exhibits nearly zero Steppe-like ancestry.

It may be tempting to over-interpret the heterogeneity from Szigetszentmiklós, especially having an individual with such elevated Steppe-related ancestry, buried in the Beaker format. But there are several different narratives for these four individuals that can't yet be excluded.

When you look at grave 688 (I2787), you will see below his Y-chromosome haplogroup is identified as R1b1a1a2a2 (Z2103) which is unlike almost all Bell Beakers (that can be discerned) but absolutely like many of the Yamnaya sequenced to date. This can mean several things, but one reasonable possibility is that I2787 was ethnically half Bell Beaker and half Tisza Yamnaya. I could imagine his father as a relatively unmixed Yamnaya pastoralist from across the Tisza River and that his mother was an ethnic Central European Bell Beaker, which is why he was entitled to Beaker rites at Szigetszentmiklós.

It could also be viewed as fray from a region that in some past time sent out founder lineages; but whether true or not, I don't think that would really describe this man's personal history, not on Csepel Island. Some sites on the island have ridiculous quantities of horse remains. I2787's family history may reflect the horse trade and networks that connected different peoples in this area. Maybe his parents were some of those different peoples.

(graphic 1 only) from Robert Patay, 2007  [Link]
Fig. 13. Szigetszentmiklós-Felső Ürge-hegyi dűlő – 1–6: bell beaker examples in the cemetery 

The individual of these four that is most intriguing is the Bell Beaker man buried in grave 49 (The guy with zero steppe ancestry).  His grave is rather close to number 10, so he's reasonably early.  He has a good Central European ring ditch and has a good send-off.  Patay doesn't mention the decoration of his bowl and beaker in his 2007 paper, but I am curious if it is of a plain or epi-Maritime variety.  I wonder if this guy is a Spaniard.

Robert Patay comments on an early western-like halberd which is one of a great many things that connect these people to Central Europe and beyond.  (I've linked Patay's paper below)

Here's the Olalde narratives:

Szigetszentmiklós, Felső Ürge-hegyi dűlő (Hungary)
Contact person: Róbert Patay
The cemetery is located in the northwestern part of Csepel Island near Budapest. The
archaeological investigation of the site was conducted between 2006 and 2007. A total
of 716 features were uncovered, amongst them 218 burials of the Bell Beaker period.
One remarkable feature of this burial ground is the unusually high proportion of
inhumation burials: 102 graves of the 218 excavated graves were inhumations. Another
element of the central European funerary tradition could also be documented in the
Szigetszentmiklós cemetery, namely inhumation performed according to strict rites. The
proportion of the deceased laid on the right and the left side was roughly equal and they
were oriented either northeast-southwest or southwest-northeast. Anthropological
analysis of the skeletal remains indicated that men were always interred on their left
side, while women were laid to rest on their right side, with the face turned toward the
east in the case of both male and female burials. A comparable burial practice was
observed in cemeteries of the Bell Beaker East Group in central Europe.  A series of five AMS radiocarbon dates from the cemetery can be subjected to Bayesian analysis. If we assume that the graves represent a single phase, the time span of the use of the cemetery can be placed to approximately 2420–2190 calBCE
Grave 49 (I2741, GEN 20): Male individual lying of his left side, in contracted position.
The rectangular shaped grave pit, oriented northeast–southwest, was enclosed by a
round ditch. Grave goods include a Bell Beaker, a bowl, a stone wrist-guard and a
dagger. The radiocarbon date for this individual is:
I2741/GEN_20, Grave 49: 2458–2154 calBCE (3835±35 BP, Poz-83641) [I2a1a1 + H1+16189]
Grave 133 (I2786, GEN 56): Male individual lying of his left side, in contracted
position. The rectangular shaped grave pit, oriented northeast–southwest, was enclosed
by a round ditch. Grave goods include a bowl, a jug, and a stone silex. The radiocarbon
date for this individual is:
I2786/GEN_56, Grave 133: 2459–2206 calBCE (3850±35 BP, Poz-83639)  [I2a2a + I1]
Grave 552 (I4178, GEN 58): Male individual lying on his left side, in contracted
position. The rectangular shaped grave pit, oriented northeast–southwest, was enclosed
by a round ditch. Grave goods include a Bell Beaker, and a bowl.
I4178/GEN_58/Grave552: 2500-2200 BCE [R1b1a1a2 + J1c1b1a]
Grave 688 (I2787, GEN 59): Male individual lying of his left side, in contracted
position. The rectangular shaped grave pit, oriented northeast–southwest, was enclosed
by a round ditch. Grave good include a small jar. The radiocarbon date is:
I2787/GEN_59/Grave 688: 2458–2202 calBCE (3840±35 BP, Poz-83640) [R1b1a1a2a2 (Z2103) + T2b]

From S1 of Olalde et al, 2017

Köhler, K.: A Harang alakú edények népe Szigetszentmiklós-Felső-ürge Hegyi dűlő lelőhelyen feltárt temetőjének...  Anthrop. Közl. 52; 5576. (2011) [Link]

Bell Beaker Cemetery and Settlement at Szigetszentmiklós: First Results

This paper is a preliminary report on the excavation and evaluation of the Bell Beaker cemetery investigated in the outskirts of Szigetszentmiklós. A total of 219 Bell Beaker burials were uncovered. The cemetery contained a surprisingly high proportion of inhumation burials compared to the burial grounds earlier investigated in the Budapest area. The burial rites and the grave goods show strong ties with the Central European cemeteries of the culture, with the Bell Beaker East Group. The nds from the cemetery also bespeak the cultural impact of the local Early Bronze Age cultures. The halberd from one of the burials is a unique nd in the Bell Beaker heritage of the Carpathian Basin. The radiocarbon dates indicate that the cemetery was used between 2500–2200 cal BC.

"Anthropological examination of the Bell Beaker cemetery at SzigetszentmiklósFelső-Ürge-hegyi dűlő"

Anthrop. Közl. 52; 5576. (2011) [Link]
Köhler, K.: Anthropological examination of the Bell Beaker cemetery at SzigetszentmiklósFelső-Ürge-hegyi dűlő. The archaeological remains of the Early Bronze Age Bell Beaker culture, known from all around West-Europe, are present in Hungary along the Danube down to the Csepel Island. In this paper we present the results of the physical anthropological analysis of the cemetery found at Szigetszentmiklós, excavated by Róbert Patay, between 2006 and 2007. During the examination 100 inhumation and 74 cremations were analysed. Based on the results of the metrical and morphological examination we may establish that we can for the first time demonstrate the presence of the brachycranial, so called (“Glockenbecher”) Taurid type in the Bell Bea ker popula tions fr om the Ca r pa thia n Ba sin. P r eviously, the pr esence of this anthropological component in this region could be demonstrated only indirectly, through its appearance among human remains of somewhat later Bronze Age cultures. 

See also:

"Funerary Rituals Social Relations and Diffusion of Bell Beaker Csepel-Group" from Current researches on Bell Beakers Proceedings of the 15th International Bell Beaker Conference: From Atlantic to Ural.5th 9th May 2011 Poio Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain [Link]


  1. Did Beaker groups in Poland and Hungary originate further west like in Germany? Also can Bell Beaker in Britain be traced back to a specific part of continental Europe?

    I'v heard that the ambsury archer was born in South Germany/Switzerland, which I guess would maybe mean British Beaker were from there not the Netherlands or somewhere close to Britain.

    1. For the first two, CE or west generally.
      Britain, largely the lowlands, but not exclusively. But the Amesbury Archer really is not reflective of the majority of British Beakers for the reasons you mention.
      What's is interesting is that it would seem that Beakers of different regional origins accepted or tolerated each other to some degree. It would seem that a common language and religion connected the. And obviously family history

  2. Thank you for your work. This accrual of different ethnicities is very interesting. Is it possible that the BB set represents a meritocratic, secret society, like the Masons, or alchemists, but where the prima materia is ore and the Opus is metallurgy? Perhaps, regardless of ethnicity, if one demonstrated a character trait/type or was identified by mystical/shamanistic means one would be offered apprenticeship. Does everyone in this cultural get a BB set burial, or is it only performed for a subset population? Then it looks like R-M269 Y-DNA lineages predominately take on and carry the BB set northeast westward. Do they then wow Neolithic farmers with chalcolithic metallurgy, both product and process? Are they on a quest for tin, following tales of a stannous El Dorado that lay in Cornwall?

    1. Andrew Sherratt had proposed a kind of society of secret knowledge based on the consumption of alcohol and mind altering substances. And there were similar attempts to explain the widespread cohesion by this kind of craft cults.
      After Olalde, Haak and Allentoft papers, it does seem a widespread ethnic, however the aforementioned factors may we have been important during the formative phase of Beaker and helped long-term level the culture and the emerging ethnic.

      Added to the is the importance of controlling trade and the exploitation of rare commodities in the Beakers system.
      I've described there trade networks as a serious of cartels because they are stateless and monopolize trade with threats if violence to the exclusion of others.

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  3. BB culture as confederation of motley crews of drunken and/or high prospecting pirates and warlords?