Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Specialized Beaker Archers!! (Ryan et al, 2018)

This study on ancient archers has been in the works for a while, and eagerly anticipated.  Well, it's here.  As this work continues to develop in an upcoming doctoral thesis,  Jessica Ryan's data will add new social dimensions of the Bell Beakers.  There's some surprising results.

Mounted Beaker Archer

This is the first step in what will be an expanding collection of skeletal data on specialist Bell Beakers.  Since trade specialties often leave entheseal and other changes on the skeleton, it's possible to understand the repetitive motions and stresses that may be associated with certain activities.

Because of burial context, Ryan could associate or interpret certain entheseal stress and muscle-headedness with archery stress.  Jessica Ryan took 27 Bohemians, which included 10 suspected archers, and found differences that defined the suspected archers as a group of "specialist archers".  These Central European archers have been hypothesized to have used short composite bows, whose development coincides with mounted warfare.*

As Jessica Ryan will be expanding the study throughout the Eastern Domain for her doctoral thesis, the initial focus on Bohemia is to refine the methodology.  One issue she remains aware of, and in fact has evidence of here, is that most Beakers may have been archers of some competency (similar to the universality of archery in Medieval England). So comparison between groups is formally clarified to mean a distinction between suspected archers (or specialists) and non-suspected archers (presumably mom and pop folks who are not specialists). 

Ryan, Desideri & Besse identify archer burials with the typical diagnostic set.  They look at the stress indicators and musculature, comparing these individuals with non-suspected archer Beakers.  Although the differences between groups are subtle, it's important to define what that means here.  Most individuals had entheseal changes associated with archery, but the distinction between them and specialists is in the severity of those changes and the associated archaeological contexts.  The most important factor in interpretation is not comparison between individuals or groups, it is the network of changes that can be observed working together on the skeleton.  (If enough of the skeleton is present, then it can be used for statistical analysis between groups)

They present an additional line of evidence that stone bracers, whatever their function, are indeed associated with experienced archers.**  Importantly, it is possible to see in the human remains something akin to a social category or distinction in daily labor.  That's what's surprising here.  Non-specialist archers had 'other' physical stresses that the warriors did not.  I don't know what those were, but we've seen in other studies on Beakers where some people work harder than others.

A Mittle-Saale Beaker by Karol Schauer
I'll bet this study expands beyond the Eastern Domain and into potentially related areas, such as hip dysplasia.  This makes me remember Stuart Needham's recent work on Beaker knife fights or Horn's work on halbards.  The data continues to tell a story of a tough people who were frequently feuding with each other or in general war.


J. Ryan/J. Desideri/M. Besse: Bell Beaker Archers: Warriors or an Idealogy?  JNA 20, 2018S, 97-122 [doi 10.12766/jna.2018S.6]

*It would be interesting to see how these numbers correlate with the occurrence of hip dyplasia among archers.  Hip dyplasia is a consequence of frequent horse riding and has been observed in Beaker individuals from Germany and west-central Europe.

**Since I've had a few years to baste on the bracers, my current view is that bracers were worn on the outside of the arm as a dead weight or a shock weight to steady the arm for a short bow or for riding.  I'm guessing if Beakers did ride and shoot that they did not have stirrups and lacked the stability of an Iron Age barbarian.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Sherford Sherlocks

There's a giant planned community being built outside Plymouth (Southwestern Britain) called Sherford.  Wessex Archaeology has been tasked with all the surveying and rescue archaeology.
You can get a glimpse of these barrows and other discoveries [here].

One of the finds was this guy (2200-1700 BC) who was cremated with an inverted Food Vessel. Apparently enough bone remained to have some data on height, but be on the lookout for this guy! 

Anyhow, the guy had a copper dagger with some (arsenic?) hardening.  Will Foster created this 3D visualization based on what is known of the period.


Will Foster recreation via Wessex Archaeology



Thursday, February 7, 2019

Lower Austria Beakers Discovered (Unterirdisch)

This article via unterirdisch.

Drasenhofen.  As the A5 North Autobahn punches through Mistelbach in Lower Austria, a Paleolithic mammoth kill site is discovered and these Bell Beaker graves.

Peter Vizi via unterirdisch

Boscombe 20.0

On second thought...


This just occurred to me.  Now having a better understanding of the bowmen's ancestral origins, I wonder if the style of burial does indeed reflect the collectivist habit of Megalithic farmers?

In the comments of that Eurogenes post, Olalde himself confirmed a likely 3rd degree relation.  So  we might reasonably guess that the person who dug this grave was more similar to peoples found in the lower left quadrant.  If so, their views on death and burial might be reflected in this grave.

And who dug this grave?  In my imagination I see the mother of some of these boys, but who knows.
Who was she and what were her beliefs?  I2416's plotting is instructive.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Ceramic Beaker Census (Bilger, 2018)

This is a census of beaker pots and the context in which they were found: strays, settlements, graves and totals.

As Michael Bilger explains, there are many subjective elements to these analyses and many biases inherent to finds.  But an honest effort is put forth to create beaker maps like this and the many others in  "Der Glockenbecher in Europa - eine Karteirung".

It was published with other papers here.
Before sharing some observations, I'll remind that some of the vacant regions are not without Beaker activity.  Some were not studied and some purposefully excluded.  Population density or rejection of Beaker culture (Corsica) factor in some parts.  There is a bias toward heavily excavated urban areas where large earth-moving projects uncover disproportionate artifacts.  I'm saying this for the benefit of the reader since the paper is in German.

Having said that, there's some interesting out-takes when you look at the maps closely.

Often the volume of Beaker pottery around Lisbon and surrounds is cited as evidence of gravity emanating from this area and its seniority in the development in the Beaker phenomenon.  No doubt, it was a gravitational hub and exerted stylistic influence far away.  But looking at the numbers, almost 85% of that pottery is associated with settlements not graves.  A lot of those graves are also not straightforward.  To me, that's more of a question rather than a supporting fact.

The volume of beakers in the Czech Republic is mildly surprising.  It has more beakers than anywhere else, but that is partly an artifact of these gigantic, flat cemeteries that are continually in the way of major highway projects.  While a much greater percentage of pottery is coming from the graves, a good amount is from settlements.

If you look at France on the other hand, most ceramics come from actual graves, pried from cold dead hands.  So while the volume is much lower than Portugal or Czechia, the map is larger.  In other words, Bell Beaker may have been more significant in the French countryside than raw numbers tell.

The concentration in Central Spain seems to indicate Beakers like this area.  Madrid is probably disproportionately represented due to earth-movers and projects, but I'd guess in was an area of concentration anyway.

The numbers around Wiltshire aren't surprising.  It seems to have been a focal point of religion and trade with Stonehenge and all the other crazy mega-monuments.

If you take the results with some clarity and reservation, you'll notice some fairly reasonable patterns emerge that have been noted by Van de Noort, Lemercier and others.  You can see it in the map above.  The heaviest concentrations of beaker activity are found in favorable positions on the waterways, the mouths of rivers, major fordings and on the side of islands with favorable winds and currents. 

On the other hand, the distribution of beaker ceramic is found somewhat evenly across the map, suggesting that most Bell Beakers lived in small farm hamlets connected to distant villages across the countryside.