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?

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Tales from the Supp. (Booth et al, 2021)

Booth et al, 2021 drill down to a greater time-scale resolution of the genetic turnover in Early Bronze Age Britain (~94%).  Was it a chainsaw massacre or was it a lengthy and complex process?

This paper looks at the 101 C-EBA Olalde samples over time, and adding the archaeological lens, conclude that the Beaker genetic ascendancy was more gradual than sudden, perhaps taking several hundred years.  This means Neolithic genetic enclaves probably persisted to some degree before succumbing to marital annihilation.  (marital not martial - although some married people might claim otherwise)

There's really three major issues this paper looks at with regards to popular interpretation of Britain's transformation.  The initial decrease of the Neolithic stock, which current data shows was rather sudden than an attenuation of Neolithic ancestry over time as the "younger sons hypothesis" would predict.  With that, the lack of a gradual increase in Neolithic ancestry among Beakers for several centuries.  And eventually, a small but significant increase in some sort of Neolithic ancestry which would almost need to be local.  This last point is especially important because it would taken an invasion of people with significant Neolithic ancestry to reverse the shift in a Chalcolithic wipeout scenario.

Barrow at Normanton Down, Wilshire (Historic England)

- They counter the notion of Kristensen and others that demographic change around Europe was mostly effected by bands of exogamous, un-landed warriors (younger sons) who took local wives wherever they went.  (and I will clarify a difference between patrilocality with exogamous female mobility and exogamy based on highly mobile (conquering) males).  And yet, it would seem based on the analysis of British genetic-genealogies from Olalde, British Beakers intermarried a lot less frequently than we might expect, at least initially.

- The selection of remains sampled for testing may have been biased towards crouched inhumations which reflect the dominant burial practice of Beakers.  And that it is possible, if not likely, that cremations (the dominant burial method of the British Neolithic) or burials in more marginal areas were less represented in the EBA genetic landscape, hiding in a sense, the full population demographic.  Booth et al further remark about the resurgence in Neolithic ancestry as testimony to this possibility.  

And while they concede that surging Neolithic ancestry could be coming from France or other places in the continent, essentially confirming a Chalcolithic wipeout scenario, the current genetic analysis may have difficulty distinguishing between Neolithic ancestry native to the Isles and those of France (for example).  (This is a question that might be resolved even without trying to test British cremated remains if, for example, the affinities of MLBA British Neolithic ancestry can be more accurately placed.  

- One of the main problems for British archaeologists with a wipeout scenario has been the fact that Neolithic traditions "appear" to be carried forward in the Beaker Age, suggesting at least some continuity.  The ~94% figure seems rather severe for the degree of influence from less than 10% of a marginalized population.  Whereas the repurposing of monuments may be entirely the work of immigrant Beakers, food vessels are another story.  So the Neolithics may not have been exterminated or genetically flooded in Britain as the numbers initially suggest.  A situation may exist where Neolithics were concentrated into genetic enclaves, such as Southern Ireland or the Irish Sea, to re-emerge if only slightly.

- Although they question the idea of mounted warriors lopping heads off at full gallop, the fact that British Beakers seem so un-shifted for so long in their generations, seems a bit paradoxical.  If the immigration into Britain involved equal numbers of men and women, then that undercuts the need for landscape roasting and booty wives in a younger sons hypothesis.  

If the decrease in Neolithic numbers was more gradual than the numbers suggest, it may be that Beakers immigrated over a span of several hundred years diluting the British Neolithic stock which, as an increasingly mixed population, continued the invisible cremation practice.  Or, it could be the simple and cruel process of elite domination de-landing and marginalizing Neolithics, generation after generation.  And/or, maybe Beakers were more successful in raising large, healthy families.

Here's another possibility (my own), that the Beaker pastoral economy yielded so much more in dreary, rainy, grassy-fields-full-of-rocks, miserable Britain, so much more than molded grain stocks or pulling limp turnips from the ground by people forced onto more marginal and less improved landscapes.  

...but while male mobility is viewed as the result of activities such as warfare and trade, women are figured as passive objects of exchange in exogamous patterns of marriage (Frieman et al. 2019). Women, it is argued, moved as wives, while men moved as significant social agents. The language of nineteenth-century evolutionism is reflected in the image of young male war-bands whose aggressive, competitive actions reflect an innate drive to attain political and economic domination. We can call into question the double standards that pervade this difference in the interpretation of male and female mobility.

I don't know that this should be at odds with itself.  It is demonstrable that Beakers practiced patrilocality with female exogamy when they were settled (see Sjogren et al, 2019), while large numbers of men were definitely not settled throughout Europe.  Beaker settlers heading to Britain probably surveyed prospective territories at least a year or more in advance.  As company-sized units comprised of extended families, they would have been interested in land poorly defended or with weak claims.  Advanced parties of men would begin preparations building livestock cores, houses, wells, fences, etc.  Simply parachuting in to a new territory with women and small children would be suicide without physical security.  There in lies the paradox.  De-landing natives from prime real estate requires violence or the threat of violence. 

In fact, as Booth et al show, the genealogies of early Beakers don't show us a love-fest between the two peoples.  However, their main points are valid in that, while the end genetic result is clear, the true demographic landscape from C-EBA Britain probably has some missing folks.


"Large-scale archaeogenetic studies of people from prehistoric Europe tend to be broad in scope and difficult to resolve with local archaeologies. However, accompanying supplementary information often contains useful finer-scale information that is comprehensible without specific genetics expertise. Here, we show how undiscussed details provided in supplementary information of aDNA papers can provide crucial insight into patterns of ancestry change and genetic relatedness in the past by examining details relating to a >90 per cent shift in the genetic ancestry of populations who inhabited Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age Britain (c. 24501600 BC). While this outcome was certainly influenced by movements of communities carrying novel ancestries into Britain from continental Europe, it was unlikely to have been a simple, rapid process, potentially taking up to 16 generations, during which time there is evidence for the synchronous persistence of groups largely descended from the Neolithic populations. Insofar as genetic relationships can be assumed to have had social meaning, identification of genetic relatives in cemeteries suggests paternal relationships were important, but there is substantial variability in how genetic ties were referenced and little evidence for strict patrilocality or female exogamy."

Tales from the Supplementary Information: Ancestry Change in Chalcolithic–Early Bronze Age Britain Was Gradual with Varied Kinship Organization

TJ Booth, J Brück, S Brace, I Barnes - Cambridge Archaeological Journal
… Similar shifts in ancestry have been iden- tified in other parts of Europe in
the third millen- nium BC around the same time as the Corded Ware and
Bell Beaker phenomena, and they have been interpreted as indicating …

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Beaker in Southern Russia - A Thing? (Mimokhod, 2018)

Continuing the discussion on very long distance Beaker mobility...

After the previous post "Iberians in Suprasl?", someone sent me this recent paper, "Paleoclimate and Cultural Genesis in Eastern Europe at the End of the 3rd Millennium B.C." 2018 by Roman Mimokhod.

The question is, if Beaker influences in the SW Baltic now have the option of transmission from actual immigrants rather than chain transmission through intermediary cultures, should we more carefully consider that other peripheries expressing Beaker characteristics may have also recieved direct immigration?  

To put another way, given that we have ample proof that Beakers travelled very long distances in a single lifetime (perhaps even within a few weeks), and given their lack of respect for any sort of boundary (geographic, tribal, climatic, linguistic, moral), and given their propensity to dot regions with outposts in the backyards of native cultures, is it not simpler to assume peripheries with Beaker influences had local Beaker settlers, or at least traders, prospectors, marriage partners?

How about the Middle Volga?  How about early Abashevo?

This is not to suggest any part of the Abashevo Complex should have any significant Beaker ancestry.  If it did, it would surely be a fraction.  Rather, the point here is identifying those attributes that remind us of the Beaker Culture and trying to understand how these elements surfaced in such a far away place.  

Beaker settlements in the Ukraine/Southern Russia should not seem too absurd; as I have suggested before, their migration does not appear to have been a mindless process, like a liquid spreading equally in the absence of resistance, seeping into every crevice along the way.  Their earliest presence in any area appears to target raw materials or favorable positions.

There is no doubt that migrations from Central Europe laid the foundational layers for the rise of Abashevo.  Did cultural Beakers migrate?


РАМимоход, 2018

РОССИЙСКАЯ АРХЕОЛОГИЯ, 2018, No 2, с. 3348


At the end of the 3rd millennium, a block of post-catacomb cultural formations was formed in Eastern Europe on the genetic basis of catacomb cultures. It consists of the Babino cultural circle and the Lola cultural circle. The first of them was formed due to the migration impulse from Central Europe and the Carpathian-Danube region, the emergence of the second was stimulated by the migration of pastoralists of the North-Eastern Caucasus to the Ciscaucasian steppe. In turn, the movement of population groups from Europe led to the emergence of a bright, distinctive Middle Volgian Abashev culture of a Central European appearance. Large-scale migrations in Eastern Europe XXIII / XXII centuries. BC. coincided with the peak of aridization in the Old World. These two phenomena are in a causal relationship.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Iberians in Surprasl? (Manasterski et al, 2020)

In this paper, Manasterski et al. discuss the significance of the Suprasl Beakers in NE Poland.  The sites consist of what appear to have been bags full of intentionally fragmented and incomplete items (a man's room) with burnt bone in a few.  The objects are totally alien to this region.  A few of them are unprecedented anywhere.

They start out remembering the issue surrounding the interpretation of Beaker artifacts has always been what defines the standard cultural package because it differs around Europe.  When its objects and styles show up in other cultural contexts or in the periphery, what does that mean?  Was it imitation, immigration, or cultural imperialism?

Before the discovery of the Suprasl sites, the authors describe the prevailing interpretation of Beaker-like artifacts in the SW Baltic.  These "influences" were viewed as the products of a cultural pollination of Beaker styles via the neighboring Iwno Culture.  These artifacts appeared in previous agricultural centers, so it seemed mere imitation or trade by native farming cultures.  Pretty reasonable.

But the new sites in this periphery (which appear within a bottom-land of hunters) are unambiguously that of the Bell Beakers, and not a watered-down version.  Some of the objects are distinctly Southwest Iberian in their flavor, and others are reminiscent of British objects and jeweler tools, and others of Jutland, the Rhine and possibly Central Europe.

Suprasl really blows a hole through the necessity of diffusion to the periphery, whereby its style simply jumped neighbor to neighbor.  Here, we have the real deal.  The pots are literally not local - or most of them.

Surprising Suprasl (Fig. 1, yellow star)

In one of the cremation graves, a fragmented West Iberian Chalcolithic slate plaque.   WHAAAAAA!!!?  Good luck trying to explain that.  That's a long donkey ride.  The pottery decorations recall the Ciempozuelos style in large part, however some pots are more generalized decorations.   

Below is an amber pendant with the familiar Beaker motif.  It's a strange object, I assume to be worn about the neck.  Strange like the awkward amphibolite blade above, also without precedence. 

The idea of a Ruckstrom is brought up given the connections and pot cording seen between those items distinctly Iberian and those that are reminders of the Lower Rhine and Veluwe groups.  Also, the arrowheads combine features that suggest an origin in either SW Norway or the Czech group.

Hopefully we'll see more of the slate plaque (like actual photos).  The interesting take-away from Manasterski et al, is that these pit offerings/graves (basically in the middle of nowhere) are quite possibly that left behind actual travelers, whatever their business was in this part of Europe.