Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Not So Simple (Lemercier, 2018)

This paper was mentioned over at Eurogenes.  

"It seems vain to want to comprehend all the Bell Beakers manifestations in a single theory."

That's from Oliver Lemercier, 2018.  Local Data and Global Perspectives in Bell Beaker Archaeology in the Journal of Neolithic Archaeology.
From the paper

There is an ironic and inverse relationship between knowledge and theory when it comes to the Bell Beakers.  The more you learn about Bell Beakers, the more difficult it is to make bold declarations.  I believe it was Turek that said this mystery isn't because Beakers were unusual people or something, but because they lived so long ago and left us no written account of their civilization.  So we have to guess at why they did the things they did, why they married who they did, what they spoke, and who they worshiped.

If I remember correctly, Lemercier has read, studied or collected an enormous body of documentation produced on the Bell Beakers; I recall it being several thousand documents.  Remember that much of the primary research on Beakers is documented in twenty-something languages spanning a century.  There's a lot out there.  So when Lemercier says 'it ain't that simple people', he has my attention.

Anyhow, that map above is amazing in the sense that the 'phenomenon' had such a wide arc of influence, even on very distant cultures.  The Beaker stylistic influences actually go beyond the yellow peripheral areas in theory.

While a single theory of their development and motivations may be impossible, some basic statements can be said of their civilization, see Czebreszuk

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Happy New Year 2019!

...goodbye and good riddance to piece of crap 2018!

2018 has sucked a lot for Beakerblog and many opportunities to blog about significant events in Beaker archaeology were missed due to other responsibilities.  Beakerblog shed two major responsibilities at the end of 2018 that should allow for many blogging opportunities this next year.

My new year's resolution is to outnumber previous blog posts by half!   Let's see what happens.

The advent of ancient DNA comes at a precarious time in European history.  Does migration mean nothing?  It looks as if European archaeology is struggling greatly with the facts on one hand, and an ideal on the other.

Expect a year of heated discussion, and more Beaker graves!

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Gimli of Grimisuat?

For some reason this Sion Beaker just wants to have a beard.  Maybe that's because of how the amber beads are situated across the upper chest. 

The helmet appears to be an early form of the common nasal helmet of Western Europe which is at least as old as the Late Bronze Age.  My guess is that it would have been constructed of boiled leather over a wooden frame, the kevlar of its day.  The guy's dress is commonly thought to be a patterned tunic, but I wonder if it is instead scaled armour, also of hardened leather.  Someone's probably mentioned that before, but I can't think who off hand.

One of the interesting things about Bell Beaker men with dagger injuries, they are most often found in the armpits and forearms, at least in Britain.  As demonstrated in the video linked above, in a knife fight you have to get under the scale which indicates how the knife is held and thrust.  But it should be remembered that body thrust wounds may be under-represented in the skeletal record.

Doctored Late Sion Stele by Sebastian Favre, right (Bocksberger Memorial Site)

I'm pretty sure those are amber beads around the guy's neck.  I don't know if this Gimli was a lord or a war king, but he was important no doubt.

One interesting bit is the changing pattern from chest, the apron, then lower portion.  It can't be a single tunic, or at least it wouldn't seem so.  I'd propose that there are two layers of scale, the outermost covering the torso, and then the actual tunic is the bottom-most pattern.  Maybe you see something else?

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Maritime Marnotos? Bread of Salt (Guerra Doce, 2018)

Elvira Guerra Doce has a new paper in 2018* about the original economic currency of the Bell Beaker Phenomenon.  Some of Guerra's ideas here are pretty interesting food for thought.  One of them not so much.  But this first one is really interesting.  So lets' start with a story.

Discriminating Russian oligarchs salt their bread with only one kind of salt and it only comes from the Algarve region of Portugal.  The Portuguese Flor de sal (Times) “Cream of the Salt Pan” is a finishing salt for fine food.  Local salts are for the snotty peasants outside the pallisades and for cow licks.  Since I belong to the second or third category, it wasn't too obvious.

Fleur de sel (Wiki), or any ole' salt generally, is a natural currency for obvious reasons.  It's divisible, transportable, everlasting, and is accepted by everyone.  It has already been proposed by Jonathan Thomas in 2014 that shell beads in the Estramadura region were a kind of proto-currency at this time. See Bead Wampum.  Guerra believes that "white gold" facilitated the development of a Beaker pan-regional phenomenon.
herringbone pattern esparto bag from Portugal (commons)

The Algarve region hasn't exactly been known as Beaker country in the past, but right to the north they fill dump trucks with Beaker pottery.  Guerra Doce believes that the maritime herringbone decoration is a skeuomorph of the traditional, desalinization esparto bags of this region.

Skeuomorph?  Fig 3. Comparison of esparto bag and maritime pot

She believes that somehow the style traveled north by way of fancy salt containers that were of themselves an object of prestige and want.  And why not put a fancy whiskey in a fancy bottle?  Perhaps this skeuomorph copied itself to hillbilly AOC style pottery to create a hybrid pottery form.  Below you can see how a salt container in an esparto bag might have been filled over time.

I'm having a difficult time understanding what "bread of salt" means in Spanish or Portuguese.  It has a similarly weird significance in the Slavic languages as you might treat a guest.  In the Germanic and  Celtic languages there is an association between salt or mixed like *brac and bread, maybe both of which mean break or *bhreg.

In any case, the 'salt loaf' is important for covenant-making, as in the wedding covenant, which is why throughout Europe the bride and bridegroom exchange bride-cake, which is a salt-bread loaf.  There are other customs like the bride throwing salt over the shoulder and whatever.

The deeper question is what this says about Bell Beakers if it were true that Portuguese salt was widely distributed in Europe.  They liked very fine things.  But why?  Would they have valued it for religious reasons, weddings or funerals?  Does currency necessarily mean anything, like the Spanish Dollar?

“La sal y el Campaniforme en la Península Ibérica: Fuente de riqueza, instrumento de poder ¿y detonante del origen del Estilo Marítimo?”. En V.S. Gonçalves (ed.): Sinos e Taças: Junto ao océano e mais longe. Aspectos da presença campaniforme na Península Ibérica. Lisboa: UNIARQ, Estudos e Memórias, 10, pp. 342-353  [Link]

ABSTRACT Among the mechanisms that Beaker individuals might have drawn upon
by the mid-3rd millennium cal BC in order to attain wealth and power, and consequently
acquire a social position, Iberian Beaker groups might have assumed control over the pro
duction and circulation of salt. This paper is aimed at further exploring this issue, and
assessing the possible link between the origin of the Beaker phenomenon, or, more specifically, the Maritime Beaker pots, and the production of salt in the Portuguese Estremadura region.
KEY-WORDS: Bell Beaker. Salt. Circulation. Tagus estuary. Skeuomorphs.
savory spices

*This forthcoming paper was mentioned in 2015 in "The Bell-beaker complex in Portugal: an overview" by Joao Cordoso.  He has this paper coming in 2016, but I'll assume that Guerra had already delayed some of these present ideas.  She did publish this in 2016 "Economic Foundations of Social Supremacy of Beaker Groups"  and this paper concerning salt production and beaker pottery in 2015.  I'm guessing that some ideas were delayed until this paper.

Amber in Prehistoric Iberia (Murrillo-Barroso et al, 2018)

Almost all the amber in Late Neolithic and Copper Age Southern Iberia is of Sicilian origin.  Simitite is a dark red color and found around the mouth of the Simeto River on the Eastern shore of Sicily.

This new paper by Murrillo-Barroso et al (2018) looks at the sources of Iberian amber through the ages.

It is proposed that Sicilian amber made its way to Iberia via North Africa, perhaps through Tunisia, rather than direct trade during the Copper Age.  Then strangely, this rich amber trade in Iberia is completely disrupted in the 2nd millennium along with most of Southern Europe when Baltic amber is most common.  The authors are not sure to what degree the Bell Beaker phenomenon is responsible for this.  Even then, Baltic amber appears somewhat restricted to the Northeast of the Peninsula in the Bronze Age, at least for the moment.

Also, the disruption in the southern amber trade is indicative of a larger disruption in the Mediterranean economic network involving other commodities and styling.  What kind of disruption?  Plague? Pillaging? Piracy?

Amber decoration and over 1Million shell buttons on thirty women in a prince's grave!

One interesting question I would ask is to what extent Bell Beakers eventually settled or traded in Eastern Sicily around the outflow of the Simeto.  Not much or nothing that I see.  So it would seem that the Beakers were either unable to wrest control of this resource from the natives in Eastern Sicily, and/or perhaps the Sicilian cartel was a competitor of an increasingly powerful Central European network?

Maybe Baltic amber was cheaper, more abundant, stronger networks.  But looking at other materials it seems more than just economics or social re-alignment.  Disruption seems like the right word.

Murillo-Barroso M, Peñalver E, Bueno P, Barroso R, de Balbõ Ân R, Martino Ân-Torres M (2018)
Amber in prehistoric Iberia: New data and a review. PLoS ONE 13(8): e0202235.
10.1371/journal.pone.0202235  PLOS ONE


 Provenancing exotic raw materials and reconstructing the nature and routes of exchange is a major concern of prehistoric archaeology. Amber has long been recognised as a key commodity of prehistoric exchange networks in Europe. However, most science-based studies so far have been localised and based on few samples, hence making it difficult to observe broad geographic and chronological trends. This paper concentrates on the nature, distribution and circulation of amber in prehistoric Iberia. We present new standardised FTIR analyses of 22 archaeological and geological samples from a large number of contexts across Iberia, as well as a wide scale review of all the legacy data available. On the basis of a considerable body of data, we can confirm the use of local amber resources in the Northern area of the Iberian Peninsula from the Palaeolithic to the Bronze Age; we push back the arrival of Sicilian amber to at least the 4th Millennium BC, and we trace the appearance of Baltic amber since the last quarter of the 2nd Millennium BC, progressively replacing Sicilian simetite. Integrating these data with other bodies of archaeological information, we suggest that the arrival of Baltic amber was part of broader Mediterranean exchange networks, and not necessarily the result of direct trade with the North. From a methodological perspective, thanks to the analyses carried out on both the vitreous core and the weathered surfaces of objects made of Sicilian simetite, we define the characteristic FTIR bands that allow the identification of Sicilian amber even in highly deteriorated archaeological samples.