Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Beakers at Bedtime; Segregated in Sleep?

Folkens et al, 2017 asked a question that got my wheels turning.  Why did supine burials appear in the Netherlands (and Europe) and why was this burial position largely irrevocable?  That inspired a host of other questions, the most interesting is why were men and women of the Beaker and CWC were buried in gendered positions.  I'll share a possibility that came to mind.

It seems that in many places supine burials follow changes in bedding, from fetal nest beds on cave floors and huts to footed beds in the later Metal Ages.  Seems to reason that grieving people buried those who will not wake in a comfortable and familiar position.  Also, people generally lie in a familiar resting posture in the closing hours of life.   Sian Mui of Durham University wrote this in an introduction to a conference on posturing the deceased in burial:
"Postures may ... be used to stimulate an illusion of sleep, to ensure rest for the undead, or even to defy death." 

If we accept this premise - that many cultures bury the dead in sleeping pose, then we might be able to ask Folkens' question in reverse - what do the archaeological burials reveal about the sleeping habits of the ancients, particularly the Beakers?

We might correctly assume that Bell Beakers (often buried with pillows and bedding it seems) recreated a fetal sleeping arrangement and comfy enclosure to protect the resting dead (and like us, idealized in death).  (A look at Medieval and Renaissance effigies could be compared to the Beaker ideals of virtuous warriorhood and respectable ladyhood in a bedding position familiar to their era)

"A Sleeping Knight Idealized and Dressed for Battle in Death" (saffron100_uk)
Idealization in death is common across many cultures.  The pose in a modern casket is restful but also idealized.  Modern burials are supine and it follows a familiar fact that Westerners in hospice care generally die in the supine position.  I found this interesting hospice care study by Verboeket-Crul, Thein and Teuniessen (2016) that questions if this common position is comfortable to the person being handled or if caretakers and circumstances were forcing this position on dying humans.  Verboeket-Crul et al look at different comfort preferences of the dying and in studying death in the Netherlands and make this comment:
"In the last days and hours before dying, patients are usually to be found in the supine position.  After death as well, people are often place in the supine position.  This attitude is in line with the Western historical and cultural notion that the supine position of a dying person expresses dignity...  In some non-Western countries, it was traditional to die in foetal posture.  Those people were also buried in this position..."
In any case, they conclude that comfort preferences vary person to person.

From a previous Harry Folkens presentation.

Sleeping is so natural that we may assume there is only one way to do it.  But even a quick survey of readers from this blog would quickly reveal that our cultures sleep differently:  rising and waking at different times of the day, siestas, opportunistic slumber, daytime alert, sleeping alone as individuals, collectively as a nuclear family, or like hamsters, infant with mother, infant in crib, kids together or individually, with or without clothes, gender segregation, night watches or other nighttime duties.

But now this question.  Why are Bell Beaker men and boys differentiated in the burial configuration from women, girls and sometimes small boys in the heading of the grave?

I wonder if gendered burials reflect a sleeping arrangement where genders were segregated at either end of the Beaker cabin.  If we assume that each Beaker home represents the habitation of a Yankee nuclear family, then we may assume too much.  It's possible two or three families lived in homes along with old uncles, invalids, foreign spouses, night-time travelers, drunk people, very drunk people, orphans, displaced husbands and a host of other people and situations.

Aside from practical realities like screaming babies, vomiting kids and tired men, taboos requiring separation may have been present as well.  If Beakers were like American pioneers living with 14 kids in a 16 x 16 cabin, most intimacy occurred outside the home anyway.  It's a different way of looking at what we consider an intimate setting.

Reconstructed Bell Beaker Boat Shaped House, Százhalombatta Archaeological Park, Hungary (Bozor Magdi)

Rather than Beaker gendered burials being reflective of some kind of sexual duality, could it be that it is just an extension of the modesty and pragmatism expressed at bedtime?

(The past several weeks have been crazy-town.  That's slowed Beakerblog down considerably.  But things are clearing a bit.  Hope to have more in the coming weeks.)

"Burials, Houses, Women and Men in the European Neolithic" (Hodder, 1990)

"Aloofness and Intimacy of Husbands and Wives: a Cross Cultural Study" Whiting and Whiting, 2009

"At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past"  (W.W. Norton, 2005)

"Sleep We Have Lost: Pre-Industrial Slumber in the British Isles" A. Roger Ekirch

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Looking Forward

I'm looking forward to blogging on a few papers in the queue.  Stuff is a little piled up now but hopefully next few days will offer a break to post a few things.  Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Mad Skills, Meaning Nils (Kuijpers, 2017)

Kuijpers argues that archaeometric examination of early metal works have produced results that are often projected directly as raw data onto a social framework.  In doing so, much of the context is absent or a different picture is created altogether.

It's simplifying those things that require great skill and time at the forge but look easy in the mature hands of the craftsman.  Through the eyes and in the hands of the craftsmen were ancient works created; it's in this dimension where Kuijpers argues so much of our understanding depends.

"The Blacksmith",  Minneapolis Museum of Art, (Franz von Defregger)

"There are two distinct frameworks in which prehistoric technologies are studied: a material framework and a social framework."  [Kuijpers, 2013 proposed a third "psychophysical framework"]..This framework takes into account prehistoric skill, cognition, and the senses"
Kuijpers proposes a 'sensory update' to the chaîne opératoire in reconstructing the processes of metal production, limited to the smithyVandkilde, 2010, had suggested applying this approach to metal production, which had been applied with success by lithics researchers. 

This sensory update optimizes the operational chain by including those ques used by the smith: colors, smells, hardness, speed, malleability, plumes, etc.  From these ques a decision tree forms that illuminates the mental processes of the smith during the initial production using raw materials.  From this expanded approach, additional information is learned, such as the skill-level of EBA craftsmen, which is highly variable and more often 'motley' in Kuijper's view.

But most important a decision tree emerges based on the way different materials were worked in order to achieve a desired endstate.  In this way, much more can be reverse engineered out of an object, particularly it's use need if the artisan was skilled.  About 10-15 pages.  See also: Kuijpers, 2018

A Sensory Update to the Chaîne Opératoire in Order to Study Skill: Perceptive Categories for Copper-Compositions in Archaeometallurgy
Kuijpers, M.H.G. J Archaeol Method Theory (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10816-017-9356-9

This paper introduces the methodology of perceptive categories through which an empirical analysis of skill is achievable, taking European Bronze Age metalworking as a case study. Based on scientific data provided by the material sciences, in this case compositional and metallographic analyses of Late Copper Age and Early Bronze Age axes, the thresholds to categorise and interpret these data, and organise them in a chaîne opératoire, are centred on the human senses—and thus on metalworking as a craft. This is a pragmatic approach that appreciates scientific measurements of metal objects as essential empirical evidence whilst recognising that a considerable share of these archaeometric data are inapt or too detailed for an understanding of skill. This empirical approach towards skill is relevant to our knowledge of the role of crafts and materials in the past. After all, skill is a fundamental asset for the production of material culture, and a distinct human-material relationship characterised by an intimate form of material engagement.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

More Loch Ness Beakers (AOC Archaeology)

New Beaker cist from across a medical center in Drumnadrochit via DailyMail.

(AOC Archaeology via Scotland Herald)
Previously, there was a stone lined cist discovered under during construction of the medical center [this post].  A lot of superlatives here and there, still trying to figure out what it is that is so exciting.  In one article they seem to suggest that there are more graves??

(AOC Archaeology via DailyMail)

One thing that is astonishing, however, is how far Beakers spanned in the Island of Britain within just a few generations and considering what appears to have been near total population replacement by the Middle Bronze Age.  That's epic.