Friday, June 24, 2022

Wet Nurses in the Lech Valley (Stockhammer, 2022)

Phillip Stockhammer looks at the patterns of social position among women within the Lech Valley farmsteads.  

He makes a fairly compelling case that some of these imported women were wet nurses.  All women are non-local, but the mistresses are less non-local than women in servitude.  Or however one wishes to phrase it.

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Humanejos Heavy-Use Halberd (Garrido-Pena et al, 2022)

Here's the only Iberian halberd deposited in context as part of the warrior package.  It's context is discussed in "Atlantic Halberds as Bell Beaker Weapons in Iberia: Tomb 1 of Humanejos (Parla, Madrid, Spain)"

Although quite a few halberds are found in scattered and wrecked contexts, it's rare to find in a grave.  It may well be that elite tombs were more susceptible to plunder and vandalism and so halberds might be under-represented for that era.  The authors point out that halberds were Europe's first metal-conceieved weapon.

The weapon below appears to have been repaired many times after impact.  The first indication is that it was re-hafted several times due to blunt force.  The most recent hafting involved substituting a nail for a rivet.  Clearly it was not a letter-opener.


Close-up of replacement nail and use-wear

Tomb 1 is located near Madrid and features a man and woman.  The tomb had an entrance and was not filled in, so the woman's body had already decomposed before her husband (?) was laid to rest.  Her body was "scooted over" and the authors suggest the ivory buttons from her vestment might have been collected in hand to her pot.

While it is clear she was buried first, the man radiocarbon dates older even though it is clear that they both decomposed in the tomb itself.  I may revisit this issue in a subsequent post.  In any case, she is buried with women's gear and he is buried with warrior gear.


There's several things that come to mind with halberds.  One is that they may be indicative of social rank, perhaps as part of a social division of arms (Meller, 2017).  At the same time, these weapons were used a lot and the use-wear suggests more than (Horn, 2017) some domestic chore like punching holes in domestic cattle skulls.

Reverse-engineering needs requirements takes us to an interesting place in Beaker warfare.  We have long-range weapons (at least two types of bows), a personal space and dualing fighting weapon (daggers), beyond arms length offensive/defensive weapon (the spear or javelin).  And then we have this weird, centrifugally accelerated, blunt force weapon.  Why?

I think it's probably an indication of primative armor and sheilds.  Of course armor of that time would have been boiled leather and probably quite effective.  The real question is that if a halberd is nothing more than a dagger on a stick, then why position it at 90 degree angle?  Without the need for penetrative force, there is no advantage for killing someone extra.

Use-wear and common sense point to a rotation plane, something like an axe or hammer.  That means a halberd point is approaching a victim with multiples of speed and force than would be required if we are simply dealing with defenseless, naked humans.  It's like shooting someone with a bazooka.  Is shooting someone with a bazooka as effective as a rifle?  Yes, same result I guess.  But we would correctly suppose that a high-cost, single-shot, shoulder-fired weapon like a bazooka was developed to bust armor.

As was the case throughout the Medieval Period, it may have been the elite or professional warriors who wore armor while commoners were outfitted modestly.  So there are several scenarios in which Beaker halerds may have been used.  Armored warrior elites against armored elites.  Anyone versus armored warrior elites.

If all the above is true, we have a new problem.  Being equipped with a Palmela point makes sense if we are dealing with a warrior on foot who can punch a spear beyond arms length.  But this warrior is equipped with both a halberd and two points.  I doubt the mourners just threw a bunch of man stuff into a grave.  Could it be that the Palmela point (having no barbs mind you) was specifically used in equistrian combat?  Similar weapons were used in the Medieval period simply for punching sorry souls on the ground by mounted warriors.

And finally, another clear example of a "bracer" that fell off the outside of a decomposing arm.  I think at this point we can safely say that these are not actually bracers but an exterior (or sometimes interior) backbone of a larger bracing cuff.  Maybe this was to protect the wrist from injury to to relieve stress on the lower arm.  Who knows.

Friday, May 7, 2021

Claiming the Landcape (Tempo of a Mega-henge..Greaney et al, 2020)

The Smithsonian "Evidence of Neolithic Construction Boom Found at British Mega-Henge"...  

Mount Pleasant may have been built in 35 years, like so many of these expensive projects, right on the cusp of the Beaker invasion of Britain.  (Soft Language option available here.)

In "Tempo of a Mega-henge", Greaney et al. consider the flurry of mega-project activity in relation to the subsequent appearance of early Beaker pottery and monument vandalism.  Suggesting somewhat indirectly, a prelude of apprehension on the landscape.  Or, using my words, possession insecurity, invasion anxiety or perhaps even a "siege-mentality".  This is not an insignificant question as the entire archipelago was followed by several centuries of immigrant implantation and foreign cultural ascendancy.  

The "positive structures", as Antonio Valera terms, might then be evidence of a deeper psychological need to strengthen entitlement to ancestral lands, marking the landscape as the established domain of a people, living and dead.  Legitimate title being conveyed from the ancestral to the living, reinforced by increasingly permanent memorials and spiritual monuments.

Owning the landscape, American-style

Once thought to be an evolution of hundreds of years, Mount Pleasant was one of many British and Irish sites built very quickly:

The estimate for the construction of the Mount Pleasant palisaded enclosure, 2530–2465 cal BC...places it firmly within the currency of large timber palisades constructed across Britain and Ireland in the late Neolithic...tightly cluster in the centuries around 2500 cal BC. These date estimates do not support previous suggestions that enclosures with continuous ditches developed out of earlier enclosures with well-spaced individual posts

and using an illustration from Stonehenge, by coincidence:

The evidence from Site IV [the probable vandalization of Stonehenge by early Beakers] raises interesting questions about the relationship between those people involved in frenetic and labour-intensive monument construction [Groove Ware folk] and the arrival of Beaker-using people.

We cannot know what native Neolithic peoples thought of Beakers or why they increased building activities toward the end of the Neolithic.  Were projects simply one manifestation of a local prosperity that attracted immigrants?  Or do the monuments represent a psychological reaction to disruptions in the continent? 

One way to analyze the behavior of Neolithic building projects is to approach it from the aspect of evolutionary psychology.  I've discussed such pre-programmed behaviors here an here.  How humans create defensible space and territoriality is part of the basis of environmental psychology.

We impose our claim to spaces with artifacts of our belonging.  Whether it's piling stuff on your desk at work or leaving a jacket on a diner's table while you head to the restroom; we derive these behaviors from our animal programming, not from cognitive thinking.

Fake Chinese island.  Or modern Crannog?

We leave our jacket on the table by building intrusive, fake islands in the waters of other nations to claim oil and gas.  Planting a flag on the moon, repurposing religious spaces into that of a foreign religion, destroying and cultivating outright.  There's no shortage of examples, from Jerusalem to Azerbaijan, New World, Old World.  Claims, identity and security are projected on to the landscape.

The most beastial example of this being when insecure people feel they must destroy our ancient heritage when it conflicts with their shit ideology in a new territory.  We remember the destruction of the Buddhas in Afghanistan.  Certainly repurposing, rearranging and outright destruction of sacred spaces was occurring in the Early Bronze Age.  Beakers were no stranger to this; vandalizing the sacred spaces of others.   Rearranging, repurposing. and probably, ancestral appropriation.

While it can be true that these development campaigns reflect the personal wealth and technical developments of these societies, it may also be true that Islanders, and indeed Atlantic Europeans, were deeply unsettled by changes in trade, religion and immigration. Maybe these great structures are more appropriately "monuments of fear".

Durrington Walls site (Midnight owl, commons)

Tempo of a Mega-henge: A New Chronology for Mount Pleasant, Dorchester, Dorset

Greaney, S., Hazell, Z., Barclay, A., Ramsey, C. B., Dunbar, E., Hajdas, I., … Marshall, P. (2020). Tempo of a Mega-henge: A New Chronology for Mount Pleasant, Dorchester, Dorset. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, 1–38. doi:10.1017/ppr.2020.6 

Radiocarbon dating and Bayesian chronological modelling have provided precise new dating for the henge mon- ument of Mount Pleasant in Dorset, excavated in 1970–1. A total of 59 radiocarbon dates are now available for the site and modelling of these has provided a revised sequence for the henge enclosure and its various constituent parts: the timber palisaded enclosure, the Conquer Barrow, and the ditch surrounding Site IV, a concentric timber and stone monument. This suggests that the henge was probably built in the 26th century cal BC, shortly followed by the timber palisade and Site IV ditch. These major construction events took place in the late Neolithic over a relatively short timespan, probably lasting 35–125 years. The principal results are discussed for each element of the site, including comparison with similar monument types elsewhere in Britain and Ireland, and wider implications for late Neolithic connections and later activity at the site associated with Beaker pottery are explored.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Biological Basis for Military Unit Structure?

Psychologist Robin Dunbar believes there are numerical ranges of "friend categories" that most efficiently support us, but also biological lower and upper limits to these categories.  In others words, we are all wired with the same social limits.

See "Revealed: The EXACT number of friends you need to be successful" DailyMail.

What caught my interest is that Robin Dunbar believes these divisions may also be the basis for infantry unit structures, from squads to platoons, etc.  The nomenclatures and weapons vary across the ages, but at least in West Eurasia, seem to follow similar social blueprints, roughly falling in numerical categories with high and low limits.

Of course, each unit can be reinforced or have detachments, and units were sometimes perfected by sexagesimal or decimal factors.  It's also worth pointing out that specialized units (artillery, calvary, oarsmen, dragoons, archers, aviation, engineering companies) may be numerically structured for specific tasks.  

This got me thinking about Harald Meller's paper looking at ceremonial weapons deposits at an "Unetice barracks" at Dermsdorf in Sömmerda District, Germany.  There, we see what may be strangely reminiscent of modern units, complete with a social division of arms.  Meller's ideas are by far, the most logical and intelligent interpretation of weapons depositions from the Bronze Age.  They are military deposits, possibly of a ceremonial or religious natures.  Practical is not impossible either.  (everything other theory is rolled eye whites, foaming at the mouth, holding snakes and murmuring devil words)

If Dunbar is correct, then maybe we shouldn't be so surprised by Dermsdorf after all.  For that matter, what precludes sufficiently-numbered Neolithic people from organizing war units this way?