Friday, December 26, 2014

Review 2014

Quick, quick review of 2014

"A tree from Beaker times" Wales News Service, 2014
Four and a half thousand years ago, a Beaker bowyer looking for stavewood glanced at the trunk of this gnarled yew tree before moving on through the woods.  This tree sticks out in my mind as something uniquely special that is a living relict of that ancient age.

But trees aren't the only living relicts of those ancients.  We see their faces when we look into the mirror and DNA may make 2015, 2016 and 2017 the biggest years in the study of Beakerfolk of the last 100 years.

Here's a few highlights from 2014 that stick out in my mind:

1.  Even though there hasn't been much published Bell Beaker DNA in 2014, there have been quite a few important studies on remains of Neolithic and Paleolithic Eurasians to add to last year's.   A larger picture is continuing to develop of the genetic situation leading up to the Chalcolithic and the metal ages that followed.

There were two important studies updating the branching dates of Europe's biggest Y-Chromosomes, R1b (Larmuseau et al, 2014) and R1a (Underhill et al, 2014).  Whatever the mechanism, it's clear that a rapid accession of foreign male lineages supplanted native European ones around 5,000 years ago.  It probably didn't happen in a day, as you can see from the Kromsdorf cemetary, it may have involved the burden of a landed class smothering peasants over many, many centuries.

Autobahn Girl, 2014  (Photographer Steffen Schellhorn)

2.  A tiny segment of a hemp bowstring was preserved over a copper Palmela point in Portugal.  (the braid was not measurable and the twist pattern has not been identified)  The yew longbow with a linen string has probably been the backbone of European archery since the Neolithic.  However, hemp adds a new dimension to Beaker bowyery.  Stuart Piggott suspected at some point Beakers were using doubly-recurve composite bows with sunken gripes.  I think the "radial class" (as I put it) stone bracers* may further evidence along with hemp the brief presence of recurve composites.

3.  A number of personal artifacts were recovered.  The Kirkhaugh second half was discovered after 70 something years and reinforced the notion that 'basket earrings' are always pairs.  The Danish Dagger showed us for the first time what the birch-bark hilt of the Scandinavian daggers looked like.  A metal detectorist in Britain found another lunula, more minature items were recovered from the graves of Bell Beaker children.

4.  Bell Beaker people were unearthed everywhere.  Two children from Buckinghamshire.  A young woman killed by a hammer blow was found near the Autobahn in Germany.  A double burial in Scotland.   A woman in the Highlands, a noble woman in furs and jewelry in the south.

5.  The realm of the Beakers continues to expand, both at its margins in Northeastern Europe and Africa, but also its saturation level in places where Beaker artifacts hadn't been found before.

And of course, the heretical Bell Beaker Blogger made its debut.  Next up, things to come and predictions for 2015.

* BTW, I haven't forgot about my floundering and poorly named Beaker bow draw weight series.  I've put it off awaiting something else.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Thanet Arch Acacia motif? (footnote)

At the hip of this Thanet, England beaker and you'll notice what appears to be an Acacia Leaf motif.

At first appearance, it might be taken as cordage, or pho-cordage, but it doesn't look like a typical corded braid.

"Woman's Burial" (1cm inc) Thanet Arch

I've speculated [before] that Iberian acacia-leaf pottery might be appropriately named and that its derivatives (in keeping with Andrew Sherratt) were taken as a psychoactive, either in tea form or as an additive to alcohol.

I assumed that only a stylized version would have left Iberia, but it appears in this beaker and in other EBA pottery, usually a well depicted, single band is maintained in numerous potteries that went afar.

*Update 1*

The good people of Thanet Arch provided some closeups of the beaker comb impressions and the waist decoration.  See [here]   (I just realized that the hyperlinks have been ghosting instead of turning blue.  They're now blue, see above.)
In a previous post, linked above, I wondered if the herringbone is in fact, stylized acacia.  I think you see this trend with proto-writing as the natural became stylized, divorced from its original expression.
The naturalness of this beaker's waist caught my attention.

The closeups are great.  Hat tip Thanetarch.

*Update 2*

IOT avoid confusion the title was updated to say "motif?".  Hopefully what I am trying to express is coming out clearly.  It is a single motif embedded within a larger expression that I find interesting.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Poll Closed (split decision)

This poll will stay open till Christmas Eve.  Please include justification in the comments section if you dare.

*Update*  I am unable to update the poll, however the "Heavy Pastoral" option, not overweight pastoralists, I have a brief explanation.  The Early Pastoral in North Africa is characterized by the introduction of domesticated bos taurus primagenius, aka Longhorn.  The Middle Pastoral begins around 4000 B.C. and ends around 3100 B.C. or thereabouts.  The Middle Pastoral is characterized by dairying [here] and bovid rock art.

What is the origin of mtdna H among Malians, Libyans, Algerians, Mauritanians, Burkinabe, etc?

Retraction: Lanskie community apparently Corded Ware

Thursday, December 18, 2014

New Archaeoastronomical Findings in the Alto Belice Valley (Sicily)

Researchers present astronomical findings from the previous two years of research in Sicily.
The Summer Solstice on Cozzo Perciata

The calendar is located within the valley of Alto Belice and overlaps the periods of the Bell Beakers and the Castellucciano Culture of the Bronze Age.  Scuderi, Polcaro and Maurici suggest it began use around the last part of the third millennium.  Underneath one of the monuments is the grave of a man with some bell beaker fragments.  Bell Beaker fragments are found at all the sites.

The calendar is very, very large.  The most distant points are about 6km.  Large megalithic eyelets channel light from the rising Solstice Sun to a central alter where, apparently, after walking up the steps, something gory took place.

Campanaru (the Bell Tower) on Monte Arcivocalotto
These artifacts provide an important insight into pan-European Beaker religion and religious holidays.

Click on the site below and zoom in to take the street tour. 

Campanaru           Pizzo Pietralunga          Pietralunga altar        Cozzo Perciata

NEW ARCHAEOASTRONOMICAL FINDINGS IN THE ALTO BELICE VALLEY (SICILY), Mediterranean Archaeology and Archaeometry, Vol. 14, No 3, pp. 93-98, Alberto Scuderi, Vito F. Polcaro, Ferdinando Maurici, 2014 [Link]

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The westernmost “Cypriot” knot-headed pin from Aïn Smene (Morocco)

Thomas Schuhmacher has a paper on a knot-headed pin from a Bell Beaker context in Fez, Morocco.

He dates this pin to around 2300-2000 B.C.  It appears that knot-headed pins were used to fasten clothing at the neck as indicated in European burials, replacing the bone toggle. [See Stuart Piggot here]

As you can tell from the map below, a different style was popular in Atlantic Europe, which may have been the wheel and cross pin-head, which looks like a big letter opener.

Although not shown in the map, Gordon Childe commented a little more in depth on knotted pin-heads of pre-dynastic Egypt, the Upper Euphrates and the Indus [here].  There is also a single example from Tunisia, not shown. The European examples are from the Early Bronze Age or a little earlier for those of copper. 

It's interesting that the distribution roughly squares with the "bow-shaped pendant" [here] which also seems restricted to east of the Rhone, except again, Morocco with another single find.

Both objects could have an origin, or at least very early representation, in SW Egypt.  [here]  Hippo tusks or bone were also carved into some sort of similar,  non-functional device.   This could be the result of  trade along the Rhone to places like Tunisia. 

It seems the Beaker cultures to the left or right of the Rhone and Rhine quickly developed unique fashions for their regions.  This map may show how trade influenced these differences in style.

Dancing in the Dark? The westernmost “Cypriot” knot-headed pin
from Aïn Smene (Morocco). 
Thomas X. Schuhmacher
Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, 2014 [Link]

The Bell Beaker Transition in Europe (Maria Pilar Prieto Martinez and Laure Salanova)

Pre-orders are now available for this book coming in June, 2015.

Remember - Most public libraries will pre-order books as requested by the public.  Educational books like this are easy to justify in your on-line request.


Could the circulation of objects or ideas and the mobility of artisans explain the unprecedented uniformity of the material culture observed throughout the whole of Europe? The 17 papers presented here offer a range of new and different perspectives on the Beaker phenomenon across Europe. The focus is not on Bell Beaker pottery but on social groups (craft specialists, warriors, chiefs, extended or nuclear families), using technological studies and physical anthropology to understand mobility patterns during the 3rd millennium BC. Chronological evolution is used to reconstruct the rhythm of Bell Beaker diffusion and the environmental background that could explain this mobility and the socio-economic changes observed during this period of transition toward Bronze Age societies.

The chapters are mainly organised geographically, covering Eastern Europe, the Mediterranean shores and the Atlantic coast of the Iberian Peninsula, includes some areas that are traditionally studied and well known, such as France, the British Isles or Central Europe, but also others that have so far been considered peripheral, such as Norway, Denmark or Galicia. This journey not only offers a complex and diverse image of Bell Beaker societies but also of a supra-regional structure that articulated a new type of society on an unprecedented scale.

Table of Contents

1. Preface
Maria Pilar Prieto Martinez and Laure Salanova

2. Introduction. A Folk who will never speak: Bell Beakers and linguistics
Alexander Falileyev

3. Bell Beakers and Corded Ware People. Anthropological point of view in the Little Poland Upland
Elżbieta Haduch

4. Personal identity and social structure of Bell Beakers: the Upper Basins of the Oder and Vistula rivers
Przemysław Makarowicz

5. Bell Beaker stone wristguards as symbolic male ornament. The significance of ceremonial warfare in the 3rd millennium BC Central Europe
Jan Turek

6. The Emergence of the Bell Beaker set: migrations to Britain and Ireland
Andrew P. Fitzpatrick

7. Bell Beakers – chronology, innovation and memory: a multivariate approach
Johannes Müller, Martin Hinz and Markus Ullrich

8. The long-house as a transforming agent. Emergent complexity in Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age southern Scandinavia 2300–1300 BC
Magnus Artursson

9. Expanding 3rd millennium transformations: Norway
Christopher Prescott and Håkon Glørstad

10. The Bell Beaker Complex: a vector of transformations? Stabilities and changes of the indigenous cultures in south-east France at the end of the Neolithic period
Jessie Cauliez

11. The dagger phenomenon: circulation from the Grand-Pressigny Region (France, Indre-Et-Loire) in Western Europe
Ewen Ihuel, Nicole Mallet, Jacques Pelegrin, and Christian Verjux

12. Long-distance contacts: the north-west Iberia during the 3rd millennium BC
Carlos Rodríguez-Rellán, Antonio Morgado Rodríguez, José Antonio Lozano and Francisco Rodríguez-Tovar

13. Early gold technology as an indicator of circulation processes in Atlantic Europe
Barbara Armbruster and Beatriz Comendador Rey

14. Environmental changes in north-western Iberia around the Bell Beaker period (2800–1400 cal BC)
Manuela Costa-Casais, Lourdes López-Merino, Joeri Kaal, and Antonio Martínez Cortizas

15. Evidence of agriculture and livestock. The palynological record from the Middle Ebro Valley (Iberian Peninsula) during the 3rd and 2nd millennia cal BC
Sebastián Pérez Díaz and José Antonio López Sáez

16. Bell Beaker pottery as a symbolic marker of property rights: the case of the salt production centre of Molino Sanchón II, Zamora, Spain
Elisa Guerra Doce, Francisco Javier Abarquero Moras, Germán Delibes De Castro, Ángel Luis Palomino Lázaro and Jesús Del Val Recio

17. Exploring social networks through Bell Beaker contexts in the central Valencia region from recent discoveries at La Vital (Gandía, Valencia, Spain)
Oreto García Puchol, Joan Bernabeu Aubán, Lluís Molina Balaguer,Yolanda Carrión Marco, and Guillem Pérez Jordà

18. Dynamism and complexity of the funerary models: the north-west Iberian peninsula during the 3rd–2nd millennia BC
Pablo Vázquez Liz, Laure Nonat and Maria Pilar Prieto Martínez

19. Concluding remarks
Maria Pilar Prieto Martinez and Laure Salanova

The Bell Beaker Transition in Europe: Mobility and local evolution during the 3rd millennium BC [Paperback]

Maria Pilar Prieto Martínez (Editor); Laure Salanova (Editor)

Oxbow Books

ISBN: 9781782979272 | Published by: Oxbow Books | Year of Publication: 2015 | Language: English 216p, H279 x W215 (mm) b/w and colour illustrations
Status: Not yet published - advance orders taken

Friday, December 12, 2014

True Colors - Chemists Look at Pottery (Paper)

These guys examine the color intent of Beaker pottery in Northern Spain.

While it's not surprising that the pottery was always red and usually encrusted, it's interesting to take a fragment apart and chemically look at intended color or its post-kiln color of 4.5k years ago.

I've remarked that achieving ideal color was probably difficult for native potter houses due to European geology.  [here]  and [here] The millennia old fragments usually appear pale, pinkish, copper or blood red, as in the Mesetas, but they are always reddish.  It has only been recently that microscopic and chemical analysis has begun to reveal new details about their design.

A Pasted Bohemian Beaker replica.  "Beaker Days, 2005"


In this paper we characterise the mineralogical and elemental composition and the colour (CIELab space) of Bronze Age pottery sherds from NW Spain, using X-Ray diffraction, X-Ray fluorescence and reflectance spectroscopy, respectively. For half of the samples we also determined the content in secondary iron oxi-hydroxides (sFe, iron extracted with dithionite-citrate), using atomic absorption. The aim of the investigation was to study the relationship between the colour and the elemental and mineralogical composition, and to explore the intentionality of the resulting colour. Samples had a low luminosity and were located in the quadrant of the CIELab space ranging from red to yellow (hab: 0-90°), showing low hue variability but a wider range of variation in chromaticity. In terms of composition they showed a large mineralogical (12 different minerals were identified) and chemical (from acidic/felsic to basic-ultrabasic/mafic compositions) variation.
A principal components analysis using elemental composition and colour parameters demonstrated that luminosity (L*) depends on organic matter (OM) content and to a lesser extent on sFe content. Chromaticity (C*ab) depends on sFe content, but also on the felsic/mafic relative composition and OM content, while hue (hab) is only related to iron mineral phases. We also verified that these general trends differ to a certain extent depending on whether the pottery contains amphibole or not: the effect of sFe on L* and of OM on b* (yellowing) and C*ab was only detected for pottery sherds without amphibole, while an increase in felsic in relation to mafic minerals has a more decisive effect on the chromaticity (C*ab) of the amphibolic clays. Thus, colour seems to result from the interplay between i) the original colour of the raw material/clays, ii) compositional factors (overall composition -felsic vs mafic-, and sFe and OM content), and iii) interactions between composition and processing (sFe and firing conditions controlling yellowing). We interpret that there was an intentional selection of raw materials (felsic or mafic) and their processing (addition of iron oxides and organic matter) and a control over the firing conditions in order to give the vessels a specific colour.

The colour of ceramics from Bell Beaker contexts in NW Spain: relation to elemental composition and mineralogy.  Journal of Archaological Science.  Oscar Lantes-Suarez, Beatriz Prieto, M. Pilar Prieto-Martinez, Cruz Ferro-Vazquez, Antonio Martinez-Cortizas  (2014)  [Link]

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Brachyceros and The Brachycephlics

They say 'people look like their dogs'.  Early French archaeologists extended that to Beaker cattle, in which the racially distinct short horn (also sub-brachycephlos) appears to spread through Europe with the Bell Beakers.

Short Horn cattle (Bos taurus longifrons*) possibly appears first in Swiss Late Neolithic pile dwelling communities several hundred years before the Beaker Age.**  However, it is with the Beakers that the brachyceros (so named in continental Europe) spreads and emerges as the backbone of the Beaker economy, almost by the square inch.

Fig 14.  Popular Anglo-American Beef - Hereford, Angus and Ayeshire
The short horn forms a racial category within the bos taurus primagenius subspecies.  The longifrons/brachyceros classification has been continuously upheld since its first categorization by Ludwig Rütimeyer.  Most debate since then has centered on how it is related to other taurine cattle and where and how it became refined from taurus primagenius.

The short horn is agreed to have been primarily a dairy cow, although intermixture has produced a large variety of modern beef cattle, such as the ones above.  One of the complicating aspects of its history is that its appearance in the historical record is near simultaneous in Europe, Egypt and the Near East.

Beakers were über dairyists, to the point that it was a defining feature of their culture.  This is visible in the pottery record and inferred from the archaeo-genetic record.  Their legacy defines the genetics of modern Europe as well as its regional hyper-diversity of diary products.

Before the Beakers, almost zero people in North or West Europe were lactase persisent.  After the Beakers (the full trajectory is not yet clear), basically a situation exists in which most modern people are lactase persisent.  If you remove immigrant populations from the equation, the trait essentially defines the genetic situation of native peoples.  (academia continues to flounder with evolutionary explanations for the sudden rise of European LP, which is virtually non-existent before the copper age, which basically means - get a bigger shoe horn.  See their LBK explanation [here])

A number of evolutionary zoologists have viewed the introduction of short horns into Europe as coming from North Africa via Southern Iberia around 3,000 B.C.  (Grigg, 1972)  The European short horns have their immediate relatives in the Libyan Shorthorn, Brown Atlas, Moroccan Blonde and n'damas.  Further south, most short horns have been crossed with Zebu (indicus) for heat tolerance (as is common in the Southern United States with Angus (second pane) with Brahman (indicus) to create the hearty Brangus, etc). 

More to come on cow teats and wagons as I clean out the back pages!

BTW, decent overview on cattle world:
On the History of Cattle Genetic Resources, Diversity 2014, 6(4), 705-750; Felius et al,   [Link]

*     The history of the latin of this animal is complicated.  Longifrons (long-face), brachycephlos (subtype shorthead), and both conventions are various categorized under primagenius and taurus.  Should not be confused with bos brachycephlos, which is a minature, cow-like buffalo of Northern Nubia.  Longifrons is also known as Celtic cattle.
**   The first short horns were excavated in 1844 from Late Neolithic Pile Dwelling communities of Lake Constance. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

R1b = Araratean?

To dovetail off the last paper about R1b's vanishing act, here's another one, different methodology, different results.  Yepiskoposyan was part of previous study, same topic, same results at Nature [here]

Hat tip Bernard [His Blog]

Hovhannisyan et al, 2014

So be on the lookout for a car full of academics driving off a cliff.  Here's another R1b Neolithic agricultural diffusion theory, and here's why it didn't happen [here].

What you are looking at above is the frequency and variance of R1b, J2 and G.  The variance of R1b of the Ceyhan and Seyhan rivers (or Capadocia) is probably the old Armenian kingdom, but this area was also substantially settled by the Armenian Highland during the Pottery Neolithic.

What's intriguing and unexpected is the lack of diversity they show in the Caucasus for any lineage.  That is opposite of anything I would have imagined for this mountainous region.

They have Haplogroup G hovering over the old Natufian Mesolithic, which is essentially where agriculture developed.  I guess that kind of makes sense!

Another interesting take-away is the tight concentration of R1b's diversity over a place where it is mostly a non-factor anymore.  The exception of course is Armenia itself. 

Background: The peopling of Europe and the nature of the Neolithic agricultural migration as a primary issue in the modern human colonization of the globe is still widely debated. At present, much uncertainty is associated with the reconstruction of the routes of migration for the first farmers from the Near East. In this context, hospitable climatic conditions and the key geographic position of the Armenian Highland suggest that it may have served as a conduit for several waves of expansion of the first agriculturalists from the Near East to Europe and the North Caucasus.

Results: Here, we assess Y-chromosomal distribution in six geographically distinct populations of Armenians that roughly represent the extent of historical Armenia. Using the general haplogroup structure and the specific lineages representing putative genetic markers of the Neolithic Revolution, haplogroups R1b1a2, J2, and G, we identify distinct patterns of genetic affinity between the populations of the Armenian Highland and the neighboring ones north and west from this area.

Conclusions: Based on the results obtained, we suggest a new insight on the different routes and waves of Neolithic expansion of the first farmers through the Armenian Highland. We detected at least two principle migratory directions: (1) westward alongside the coastline of the Mediterranean Sea and (2) northward to the North Caucasus.

Different waves and directions of Neolithic migrations in the Armenian Highland, Investigative Genetics, Anahit Hovhannisyan1, Zaruhi Khachatryan, Marc Haber, Peter Hrechdakian, Tatiana Karafet, Pierre Zalloua, Levon Yepiskoposyan, 2014 [Link]

Turkopoles Fathered Near Eastern R1b?

Mike Maglio argues in this paper that R1b does not have a deeper structure in the Near East than it does Western Europe.  From his point of view, most of the Near Eastern/Middle Eastern R1b could be attributable to Turkopoles (or Turk-child, sons of the Crusaders).

First, I always appreciate someone who can upset the applecart of uncritical thinking.  People are way too comfortable with the usual conventions.  He does have some valid points, one being that R1b was apparently flung at the map with little perceivable evidence of its past. 

I don't know enough about the more basal twigs of R1b's tree, so I can't really speak to his methodology.  However, the conclusion is supported by a weak argument, I think, basically that an historical event saturated the region with DNA from Northwestern Europe.

I take issue with the logical tool known as the proverbial "black gladiator" being used to explain away minority haplogroups in any one region.  A lot of people use this device and it drives me bananas.

There are several reasons to believe that the R1b we see in places like Lebanon, Syria and Iraq is indeed pre-historical or proto-historical.  One is the percentages roughly square to the overall picture of R1a and R1b in the surrounding regions.  Whether its Bedouins, Azerbaijanis, Iranian Assyrians or Kurds, both R1b and R1a are omnipresent in any population from Baluchistan to Sudan and this definitely isn't due to Crusading.  [See here]

Second, the Crusade entourage to the Middle East was overwhelmingly from the incestuous French landed classes.  As we saw from Richard III's recent DNA, the nobility wasn't uniformly R1b.  It would appear possible or likely that the Plantagenet patriarch, Fulk V was G2a. 

The French nobility could possibly be described as a combination of  "Scandinavian" and "Pyrenne".  I could be wrong, but I really don't see this type of paternal ancestry among the referenced populations.  At the macro-level, compared to the surrounding populations, even less so.

Y-Chromosomal Haplogroup R1b Diversity in Near East is
Structured by Recent Historical Events
, Michael R. Maglio, 2014 [Link]

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Haplogroup H and Modern Europe

One puzzling aspect of Northeast European genetics is what appears to be a maternal heritage that has a fair degree of "Western" members.  (i.e. an Iberian cluster identified by Brotherton and others)

The spacial diversity of the entire Haplogroup H comfortably suggests origins in the Northern Euphrates (Roostalu, 2006)  Within the westernmost portion of its original realm, the eldest daughter lineages were party to the earliest PPNA/B expansions across the Bosphrous, the later Danubian and Cardial expansions, ultimately arriving in the North Pontic, North Africa and Europe. (Haak et al, 2010)

Achilli et al, 2004
However, many of these elder daughter H's went extinct or were greatly diminished in later pre-history (Adler, 2012; Brotherton et al, 2013)  On the other hand, a sizable chunk of the modern European distribution within Haplogroup H is characterized by subclades that came of age (at some point in history) either within Western Iberia or Western North Africa (IMO) and expanded from there in a meaningful way.  (Achilli 2004, Brothernton 2013, Roostalu 2006, etc, etc, etc,)

I've used an older graphic of H1 from Achilli for zing factor, but when you look closer at sub-subclades like H1b, H2a & possibly V (characteristic to Russian plain and Siberian H) and then look at coalescent ages, you have no option other than a Holocene expansion, both for its age, frequency coupling and the archaeo-genetic mosaic emerging from Holocene Europe.  Further, this later expansion was not a timid exchange of pottery by pony-tailed people; it involved relocations [See here]  in which certain letters of the alphabet greatly increased in concert, by region, while others greatly decreased.

Let's be clear.  We are talking about a fairly substantial Late Neolithic population movement that included women of certain profiles.

Looking at the map above, it might be tempting to find a proto-historical or historical event to explain changes in the maternal frequency of Slovenia, the Baltic States or the Russian Plain.  But that's a losing proposition, especially after you consider a similar phenomenon for Crete (Hughey et al, 2013), Malta, Sardinia (Francalacci et al, 2003), Corsica and the Balearic Islands.(Morelli et al, 2007)

We have a pretty good idea of what a Cardial Island Hopper/Coast Hugger profile looks like, so that doesn't adequately explain the H1 + H3 frequency in Sardinia, Cyprus, Malta or SW Libya.  We also have predicted coalescent ages for many of these subclades, which by even the most conservative estimates, are probably too young to form any sort of Paleolithic or Mesolithic substrate across Europe and also in the Mediterranean.*  also (Loogvali, 2004)

There is a fairly tall-and-deep stack of studies showing a structure (for variously H1, H2, H3, V, etc) that is deeper in the Iberian Peninsula, having expanded the modern frequency of Europe no earlier than the Late Neolithic.  (Lee et al. showed in Germany 2014)  Even though some of the logic below is contradictory, these studies and a few others have seen a maternal expansion from the West:
(Alvarez-Ilesias et al, 2009; Loogvali et al, 2004, Roostalu et al, 2006; Pereira et al, 2005; Achilli et al, 2004; Behar et al, 2012; Cardoso et al, 2013; Brotherton et al, 2013, Garcia et al, 2011, etc, etc.)

But the plot thickens.  The following authors showed a very similar structure in North Africa, especially among Berbers.  (Ennafaa et al, 2009Ottoni et al, 2010; Bardo et al, 2013; Bekada et al, 2013).  More contradictory, the Enafaa team insisted the structure of African H1 & H3 is older than a Holocene immigration from Iberia, which basically takes us beyond the predicted ages of some of these sub-clades and paradoxically lessens the probably of a late proto-historical event.

Also noteworthy, but not necessarily informative, H1 in particular reaches its maximum human frequency among Berbers of Southwest Libya (near the Acacus and Tassili n'ajjer)  This is achievable if you are willing to accept an invasion of amazonian women from Iberia, otherwise we have severe uni-parental mismatches between the various regions. 

As Brotherton showed, and as more recent ancient DNA studies have supported, the maternal situation of modern Europe was recently transformed, apparently during the Chalcolithic.  Brotherton & co. viewed this as indicative of Late Neolithic/Bell Beaker migrations from the Iberian peninsula.

So going back to Eastern Europe...  The Bell Beaker phenomenon has in years past generally viewed in Eastern Europe as an imitation or trade.  However the situation has been changing rapidly with new or re-interpreted discoveries in Baltic states.  Recently, I reported a rather unspectacular but important find from Suprasil [here] that people possessing a Bell Beaker identity or worldview were living on the Polish/Belarus border.  In light of Suprasil, now serious consideration must be given to consider the actual genetic impact of migration.

This now raises some interesting questions about the maternal contributions to modern Eastern and Western Europe.  As Janusz Czebreszuk put it to  paraphrase, Beaker culture may have been the largest pan-European network in history comparable only to the European Union.

What else could connect Libya to Russia and Cyprus to Britain and Iberia?

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Etymology of "Witch" and witches

I was brewing beer late last night since it is the season for brewing and hunting, which I do happily.

As I was boiling a large kettle of wort, I thought about how this was done in ancient times, surprisingly or not the domain of women.  In almost every beer society brewing was done by women, probably older women.  Later on Christian monks assumed much of the market and still later, professional guilds.

The symbolism of older women brewing over large black cauldrons goes back at least to the Bronze Age.  That got me thinking about the original "craft" and the interesting etymologies of the word "witch" in Western Indo-European languages.

Here's some possible, non-linguist etymologies for various Western words for "witch", just for fun. 

De Lamiis et Phitonicis Mulieribus, 1493 [Cornell]

In the Iberian Romantic languages, a witch is called a bruja or bruxa [bru-ha], which could very simply descend from Proto-Indo-European brewwaną.  These may descend from Celtiberian or a more basal collection of pre-Celtic languages in the Peninsula.

Non-Iberian Romantic languages use the pure latin form of the striga, from which Italian Strega descends.  The etymology of this word originates most likely with strix, the screech-owl and possibly a sacred grove.  This word descends from Proto-Indo-European streyg (line) and includes in its descendants the word 'strike'.

I'm curious if streyg is related to another dark PIE work stug- or steu- from which the river Styx derives its name, being a gloomy boundary between worlds.  The root of that word suggests striking as well.  Maybe the image of primeval claden black, old flying crones "daughters of the Earth and night" derive from a particular conception of the Erinyes or Furies, having a special association with Athena.

To make this fully circular and removed from any sort of logic and accountability, the etymology of Erinyes is suspiciously interesting as to suggest 'raise, stir and excite', which is also a title of Demeter, mother of Persephone and giver of life a cereal corn.

Two Basque words for witch are sorgin and beragin.  The Basque etymological dictionary suggests origins meaning [to give life + maker] and [grass + maker] respectively.  Basically, you have roots for sorcery and beer + maker.  (obviously a non-IE language)

Germanic languages use the word wicce [witch].  Wicce could descend directly from Proto-Indo-European, to mean to bend, modify or change.  Convenient because she is a shapeshifter, or does conversion mean fermentation, which curiously denotes a process after the boil?  When you try and unscramble the egg with the very complicated sound changes in Pre-Pt Germanic, more possibilities come to the surface.

Pitch, as to pitch yeast during brewing descends from PIE pech which variously gave us words for pitch, as a plant resin used to modify, also pitcher as a small beaker for drinking (not for pouring koolaid) or for black.  The word bitch possibly also descends from pech as describing a she-wolf or a whorish woman, which may have frozen in Lappish pittja.

In Irish, Welsh and Scottish there are several words for witch/hag/wretch that have meanings that are curious.  Báirseach and cailleach are two words in Irish referring to witches.  A direct etymology is possible for the first (beer + leach) or (maid + leach).  The proper name would be Cailleach Bhéara or Cailleach Bheur.  The mash process (or the conversion) is basically when sweet liquor is leached from the barely mash.  The proper etymology refers to a place where witches reside, however looks like beer to me.  Whatever. 

I would imagine that within the social framework of early cereal cultivating societies that beer brewing often fell to older women.  Brewing beer may have earned them a place in society that they otherwise wouldn't have had.  Since beer was not hopped originally, other interesting herbal adjuncts (in addition to the ones we already know about) may have given beer other mystical effects that truly made them witch's brew.

**Update 12/14 - I was watching a program on early Scandinavian brewers using brewing 'magic sticks' kept in cool places to maintain yeast cells.  This works in a cool climate with lager yeast, itself probably native to Northern Europe.  I haven't found a clear answer to how top feeding beer (ale) yeast cultures were maintained in warmer climates.  It seems a starter may have been made using old bread or old wort, more likely.  Wild yeast seems less likely, however the wild yeast of Europe may be more suitable that my ruined American beers.

Along with "pitch", the word "beaker", as in glockenbecher or klokbeker, also descends from pech.  In non-largering regions, pitching the yeast may have been somewhat similar to what we do now with a starter, which is pitched into the wort.

A history of the study on etymology for Old English wicce is given in Anatoly Liberman's book on English etymologies [beginning on page 215].  Excite, stir, one-who-knows, modify, change.  All words proposed as meanings of the original word.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Anicent Iberian DNA (new paper analyzing 2012 results)


I've had a chance to look at this and the paper referenced below by Hervella et al, essentially analyzes results from Paternanbidea and Cascajos in 2012.  You can find that paper [here].

Update 1.0

I'm going to peck at this little by little throughout the day.  I planned to shred the 2012 Hervella et al paper at a later time, but it looks like Hervella, Izagirre, Alonso & Fregel have forced my hand.

Let me say from the outset, it is not the Hervella results that bother me.  It is that their results are controversial and problematic.  It would be nice to be able to look back at our freshly excavated, viable and invincibly provenanced and attributed remains with a great deal of confidence. 

For example, we could look at La Braña and feel confident about his 1) material culture 2) stratification and age 3) his weird results that effectively eliminate contamination 4) his recent excavation 5) viability of remains 6) high resolution testing.  This gives us confidence that La Brana accurately represents what some, or most, Northwest Iberians looked like before the advent of agriculture.

The Hervella results leave me with a lot of questions.  Why do we have radically different, partially contemporaneous funerary traditions within forty miles of each other?  Why do we have surprisingly modern results?  Why were severely deteriorated remains selected for sampling?  Given the fact that the Iberian Early Neolithic is a mine field of problems, are we prepared to ascribe profiles to certain populations?

I've already commented about the results from Pasiega and La Chora and why it is unlikely that the entire continent of Europe had characteristically Mesolithic DNA, followed by characteristically Byblian Neolithic Farmer DNA (including Iberia), but Iberia was still a glacial refuge for large chunks of maternal haplogroup H?

There is little question that major clade frequencies of Europe expanded from Iberia.  This most likely happened because of Iberian Beaker immigration into Europe.  It's also possible, to a degree, that major subclades such as H1, H3 and V were present in Iberia in the Early Neolithic, so I'm not discounting the various possibilities.


An analysis of the burial characteristics of the individuals recovered from two Early Neolithic sites in Navarre (Los Cascajos and Paternanbidea), in the Spanish Basque Country, revealed a complex funerary ritual. The individuals recovered from the Paternanbidea site were distributed in three double graves and a multiple one, while the individuals from Los Cascajos were buried in individual pit-shaped tombs; furthermore, the tombs had a variety of cultural and funerary features. The aim of this study is to evaluate the burial ritual by means of mitochondrial DNA data and the funerary characteristics of 36 individuals recovered from these two sites. The results show that the diversity of these Early Neolithic burial practices from the northern Iberian Peninsula cannot be explained by means of maternal kinship relationships.

Early Neolithic funerary diversity and mitochondrial variability of two Iberian sites.  Montserrat Hervella, Neskuts Izagirre, Santos Alonso, Rosa Fregel,
Concepción de-la-Rúa, 29 November 2014 [Link]

Friday, November 28, 2014

Mound of Hostages - Tomb Re-Use

Here's a theory about megalithic tomb reuse that Quinn argues can be backed with one site's solid chronological evidence.

The abstract tells us about 90% of what we want to know.  I'll let university on-line library administrators figure out the details.

The Mound of Hostages (photo Rob Hurson)

Previously, I posted a paper by Jeunesse [here] that seemingly busted the myth that Bell Beaker burials in the Southwest largely maintained the collective megalithic tradition while those in Central Europe were largely individual burials.  He showed this to be demonstratively false as the vast majority of Beaker burials in any region are small plot, individual inhumations.

Both Bell Beaker and Corded Ware people re-used Megalithic tombs to a similar degree according to Jeunesse. Does this reflect continuity, imitation, awe, privilege?

Quinn suggests that the evidence shows another force is at play.  It is precisely because they were intruders that Quinn suggests they temporarily established in abandoned tombs.  (Yes I got all that from the abstract)

This makes sense to me.  The Normans and Anglo-Saxons exhibited similar behaviors when they invaded England.  The object is to convince the poor, unwashed people whose lives suck that the new predatory lords have ancient rights and privileges by virtue of their noble births.  Demonstrating this includes prominent burials in ancient abbeys, assumption of native arms, claims of descent from ancient native kings, and co-opting symbols of ancient power.

I think the chronology of most Megalithic sites will show similar behaviors.


Archaeologists studying multi-component cemeteries have argued that the societies who reused cemeteries were motivated by connecting to the past. However, often overlooked are the potential roles of mortuary events and sites as key social and political venues for creating, contesting, and unmaking relationships and identities for the later community independent of a connection to the past. In this paper, I explore the social and political roles that mortuary rituals at the Mound of the Hostages, Tara, Ireland played during the Middle Neolithic (3350–2800 BC) and Early Bronze Age (2300–1700 BC).
Tara’s emergence as a regional mortuary center occurred only several hundred years after its initial reuse by Early Bronze Age peoples. Just as importantly, the burial activity that marked Tara as special in the Early Bronze Age was very brief, revealing that the regional centralization at Tara was ultimately unsuccessful. The analysis of cemetery formation at Tara is only possible due to the development of a fine-grained site specific chronology. These results have broad implications for how we understand cemetery formation, the reuse of mortuary monuments, and the dynamics of social complexity in prehistoric societies.

Returning and reuse: Diachronic perspectives on multi-   component cemeteries and mortuary politics at Middle Neolithic and Early Bronze Age Tara, Ireland.  Journal of Anthropological Archaeology Volume 37, March 2015, Pages 1–18, Colin P. Quinn, 2014 [Link]

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Known Knowns and No-no's

Here's a quick review on the new paper "The Known Knowns and Known Unknowns"

Don't misunderstand.  Large parts of the paper are largely agreeable.  Actually, the Brandt crew has smartly navigated some treacherous waters and diplomatically questioned some of the more questionable studies.  However, some of the genetic studies coming out of SW Europe that this paper references are either too old or sucked.  This is hugely problematic for Beaker studies since the phenomenon is mostly accepted as having spread from this region.

From the paper:

If we followed the logic above, then the U haplotypes could likely be interpreted as a Mesolithic legacy.  However, the situation is more difficult to decipher in the case of haplogroup H, which has not been observed in Mesolithic Central Europe and Scandinavia but is present in Iberian huntergatherers (as shown above)
Let me put it succinctly.  Haplogroup H did not expand into Mesolithic Europe from Iberia because it wasn't in Iberia in the first place.  See my last post on the shellmiddens and then take a close look at the contexts of La Chora and La Pasiega.  The nominal typing of any of Hervella's H remains is questionable.  It is a very weak link.

Most of the subgroups in present-day Europe show late glacial or post-glacial coalescence dates, arguing for a re-expansion during the major warming phases after 15 kya (Achilli et al., 2004; Pereira et al., 2005; Soares et al., 2010).Subgroups H1, H3, and H5 are believed to have spread from a Western refugium in Franco-Cantabria based on largely overlapping dates (11.1 kya, 11.5 kya, 13.9 kya, respectively) (Soares et al., 2010) and the fact that these are the most common types in Western Europe.
I'm not sure how the coalescence ages of H1, H3 and H5 help the thin notion that these expanded from a LGM refuge in Iberia.  In fact, when you further break these clades into their subclades, not only are they too young (Loogvali, 2004 & Roostalu et al, 2007) but all three are present within archaeological contexts of the ancient Near East of the early Pottery Neolithic. 

What kind of convoluted logic gets us immediately from the Near East to Iberia where it doesn't expand, but then does expand to its original home via some unknown route, waits, then explodes like a pinata over Russia, Siberia and the rest of Europe?

While haplogroup H has been reported from Iberian Mesolithic individuals, the typing resolution unfortunately does not provide an unambiguous assignment to any of these subgroups (Chandler et al., 2005; Hervella et al., 2012).
Not that this ever mattered to begin with.  Regardless of the typing, the provenance and age of the remains selected by Chandler or Hervella were very tenuous to begin with.  See my last post on the middens.  I haven't got to Hervella yet, that will be another hour long post, but while Hervella's results are often cited, few have taken the time to look at situation surrounding the stuff being shoveled out of La Chora and La Pasiega.

However, all Middle Neolithic individuals from Treilles in Southern France could be assigned to subgroups H1 and H3 via coding region SNP typing (Lacan et al., 2011b).
Firstly, the Treilles individuals were Late Neolithic, not Middle Neolithic, and further came from the very cusp of the Chalcolithic.  With this was a host of technological changes creeping from the Eastern coast of Iberia along the Mediterranean coast of France as far as the Po Valley.  The Los Millares, Treilles and Remedello-I cultural changes reflect significant changes in the material culture of those regions.  Rather than the Treilles mtdna lines being native, it is equally possible that the combination of H1, H3, H5 and Haplogroup I pairings reflect an immigrant population from, say, nearby Sardinia. 

Taken together, this suggests that genetic elements of the ‘Neolithic package’, which had reached Central Europe via the Continental route (event A), also arrived in Southwest Europe through the Mediterranean route (Fig. 3A). However, the huntergatherer legacy is more dominant in the Iberian Neolithic compared with Central Europe, indicating a Neolithic transition with a larger contribution of the indigenous population [in Iberia] combined with a reduced impact of early farmers.
The Iberian Mesolithic almost completely imploded into a period of "archaeological silence", as described by Cortes-Sanchez (2012) while referring to Northeastern Spain.  (The same is true for the Mesetas, and with the exception of the Pyrenees, there's not much hope to believe in the prosperity of La Brana and his ilk in the Northwest of Iberia.

In fact, there isn't much reason to believe that Mesolithic Iberians fared well at all with the onslaught of Neolithic farmer immigration coming from three directions, not that they didn't already have problems with what Cortes-Sanchez called their "subsistence crisis".

My rant here is to draw attention to cards at the bottom of the house of cards.  There have been a lot of assumptions about ancient European DNA over the years that were built off of previous assumptions.  All I'm saying is that we need a solid foundation built on recent, high-resolution studies on remains that are invincibly provenanced.

DNA - Shellmiddens or Shenanighans?

This post is a gripe at a new paper (which I largely agree with) (*update 1* -I've changed my mind-I'll put in the next post) called "The Known Knowns and Known Unknowns" which briefly discusses the odd presence of mitochondrial "haplogroup H" among the people of the Mesolithic Portuguese shellmiddens.  I've finally reached the maximum vomit threshold with shellmidden DNA, so please bear with me.

The progress of ancient DNA research in Europe is beginning to show that these results are indeed outliers.  It was already a logical fallacy to suggest Haplogroup H was in an Iberian LGM refuge and remained there at an extremely high frequency but failed to expand to the rest of Europe and then, by-the-way, remained relatively hidden in the midst of fairly typical Neolithic farmer genomes within the region and finally went gang-busters to the Russian plain in the Early Bronze Age.  But looking closer at the "modern" results from the shellmiddens and a little background on the bones (that were probably licked by half the Portuguese population) the results become even more suspect.

Skeletons 7 & 8 Amoreira 1933 (Jackes,

Chandler, Sykes, Zilhão, 2005

This important study became confirmation for the retarded notion that modern Western Europeans are in large part maternally descended from indigenous, Mesolithic hunter-gatherers.

Chandler's results showed that Mesolithic Iberian maternal lineages were virtually indistinguishable from high frequency modern ones of Western Iberia and gave credence to the theory that Iberia was an important glacial refuge (for modern Europeans) during the Last Glacial Maxim.

I will offer a very respectful criticism here, especially since ten years have past, but this study becomes increasingly problematic the more you look at it and it is the foundation for so much wasted debate.  I will say that it is critical for those interested in the genetics of Western Europe to know the archaeology and conditions from these early studies.

This research used available remains excavated between 50 to 130 years ago.  No remains tested, as I understand, were excavated at least within the last thirty years.

Of the fifteen Mesolithic burial sites in Portugal, only half are "dated" and "of those" half are from shell middens.  Several are on the Rio Muge at the mouth of the Tagus, the Sado Valley and a single Atlantic site at Alentejo.  Most of these sites were excavated beginning more than a century ago, although intermittent work has continued in the last six decades.
From these, Chandler describes most being from the Sado Valley, including Amoreiras (which I will pick on):
"Mesolithic sites were primarily sampled from the Sado valley estuary [Alentejo], including Arapouco, Vale de Romeiras, Poças de São Bento, Cabeço de Pez and
Cabeço das Amoreiras (São Romão) (Arnaud 1989, Cunha and Umbelino 1995-1997). The two sites sampled outside the Sado valley were the early Mesolithic site of Toledo in coastal Estremadura (Araújo 1998) and the coastal Algarve site of Fiais (Araújo 1995-1997, Morales and Arnaud 1990)... "

Let's start by looking at the materials taken from Cabeço da Amoreira [on the Sado, not similarly named site on the Muge].  Keep in mind the quotes you are reading are concerning other anthropological studies, not this DNA study, but will help you with context.
"The Muge shellmiddens were found 150 years ago in 1863 by Carlos Ribeiro. Since then, several projects in the area excavated the various sites at the archaeological complex of the Mesolithic Muge shellmiddens. The result was the recovery of more than 300 human skeletons. However, most of those burials have insoluble problems of associated materials, provenience, stratigraphy and chronology.(Bicho et al, 2013)
Also this from Diniz:
"More recently, a 14C date from human bones put Amoreiras [in Alentejo] first (?) occupation in the beginning of the 6th millennium cal AC and our pottery analysis clearly show that beside Early Neolithic ceramic, Final Neolithic pottery is also present both recovered in the same artificial levels giving Amoreiras a chronological and cultural complexity not expected before." (Meiklejohn et al, 2009)
You will notice that Diniz refers to the levels within the middens as "artificial".  So in Amoreira [Alentejo] we have Early & Final Neolithic materials within a supposed Mesolithic level, which was man made to begin with and where intrusive burials continued for a great amount of time. 

Properly stratifying an un-contextualized find within a midden depends highly on carbon dating to verify its "authenticity".  The majority of radio carbon dates from the middens have come from bone, which by the way, come from individuals whose diet consisted of at least 50% shellfish.

Given the delta between charcoal dates and bone dates in this area, its easy to lose confidence in early C14 dates of particular materials quickly, not that much confidence would be had in the bones of a brackish marine life eater. 

Christopher Meiklejohn address the increasingly erratic radio dates of Mesolithic remains throughout the Portuguese middens: (Mesolithic Mescellany V20-9, 2009).  Keep this in mind as you read further.

Aside from the fact that Cardial folk also used the middens for burial (more clearly in Northeastern Iberia), the processing of the material itself may has left numerous problems for further scientific research.
"In the absence of commentary on the date and possible contamination, especially the issue of the use of paraffin in the preservation of the burials [1865], interpretation of this and the other direct dates on Sado midden burials should be made with considerable caution." (Meiklejohn)

Viability and Provenance of DNA extraction from Muge and Sado middens:

In general, the remains from Amoreira were neglected for anthropological study for an especially poor state of preservation (Cunha and Cardoso, 2001).   Because of this, they were contained in parafin, another issue.  The alkalinity of the middens is an issue.  Almost all of the material from Amoreira, Moita and Arruda were calcified in a dense matix.  (Cunha and Cardoso)

The remains from the Muge were spread across three museums, one of which caught on fire in 1974, causing multiple remains to become mixed.  (Cunha and Cardoso)  Some of the remains excavated at Amoreira were lost after excavtion, but some remains not from Amoreira somehow became associated with it.  Cunha and Cardoso also state (unrelated to the DNA study)
"Since some of the material lacked labels, some radiocarbon dates were performed in order to demonstrate their Mesolithic provenance (Cunha and Cardoso, 2002). The human bones retrieved at Amoreira were analised in this context."
Bear in mind that after the provenance of the materials being handled became questionable, the authenticity of the materials were reaffirmed through carbon dating.  They did exclude some skeletal material that came in a box labeled "Mesolithic" but later turned out to be skeletal material from the Iron Age that somehow became mixed in the Amoreira materials.  Those remains not calcified were easily removed from this association.

There are issues with how the bone material was cleaned in the months prior to DNA testing (unrelated to this study)
"Acetic acid seems to be efficient in removing the calcite, however, as secondary consequences are not fully known, we opted to study the material as it was."  (Cardoso in unrelated study)
**Update 2**  After re-reading Cardoso's comment it would appear that acetic acid was not used on remains after all, being as he said, the 'secondary consequenes not being fully known'.

There are other issues with these remains.  I don't want to come off like a chimpanzee on xanex, so I will leave it at that for others to study, but some of these early DNA studies from Southwest Europe and Italy need to looked at with a little more caution before we spend a lot of time debating European pre-history.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Iberian & Egyptian Acacia-Leaf Comparison

This next post will deal with a weird, globular-shaped Iberian pottery called Acacia-Leaf that appears in concert with stippled Maritime Beaker pottery within walled settlements but lacking elsewhere.  It seems to have a curious parallel within the Naqadan II/III landscape*.

This follows my previous comparison of Maritime pottery with C-Ware [Link]
Be sure to click on the Princeton link below as well for some context...

Naqada IC Globular Acacia Leaf Pot (Princeton SD 30-39)
Tagus Acacia-leaf seems to have a lot of questions from who used it, when it was used, what it was used for and why it appears in these narrow-rimmed, globular configurations.  A few of the Iberian Acacia-left potteries are in the form of tall drinking glass, but these are mostly outliers compared to the otherwise standard globe shape.

Another question is whether Acacia-Leaf even represents a valid cultural horizon.  Generally, it is found in contexts associated with early Maritime ware or preceding it, but not in country settlement contexts.  Basically, it is found in wealthier, denser, fortified areas and lacks the functionality and diversity of typical pottery sets, assuming it was an independent ceramic.

Carvalho-Amaro makes this observation regarding Acacia-leaf "culture":
"Also, I believe that the justification of a horizon for pottery with these features [Acacia] is very tenuous, as this type of decoration is absent in the funerary contexts, and is almost exclusively associated with one specific shape: the globular vase" (2)

Folha de acacia de Zambujal (Courtesy of Mike Argueo - See PhotoArch)

It's worth pointing out that Acacia Gum is where much of the world derives its stabilizers for carbonated beverages and confections.  This in turn is largely grown in the form of Acacia Senegal on plantations in the Sahel with about 70% of the modern supply coming from the vicinity of modern Sudan and Northern Niger.

In ancient times it was harvested across the North African pastoral belt (Western Sahara to the Red Sea) by transhumant pastoralists and exported.  It's also a psychoactive plant, a stimulant and an Aphrodisiac according to its historical use. 

The plant was closely associated with the primordial mother goddess Iusaaset, from under her tree the sun god, Ra, was born according to Egypt's central myth.  Within her crown is the sun within crescent horns which presents some interesting parallels with Beaker dualism. 

That Isis would bury her murdered husband Osiris under Iusaaset's tree in order to have posthumous intercourse would seem to imply one of its uses.  This was especially important because she could not find a particular part of her dismembered husband.  Ra was conceived nonetheless through the tree's "magical" properties.  (I'm not going to go there)

So, in reading some of the researchers in this area, I think there are several key questions regarding Acacia Leaf pottery in Iberia:

One, is there any such thing as an "Acacia-Leaf Culture person"?

Two, is it just a special ceramic, perhaps a tea cannister or a tea pot?

Three, why is its material constitution different from other local potteries; perhaps more volcanic or insulating?

Folha de acacia de Zambujal (Courtesy of Mike Argueo - See PhotoArch)
I was reading some things from Michael Kunst regarding the formation of Bell Beaker pottery from the wide-rim bowls of the Tagus Early Chalcolithic.  What raised my antennas was seeing for the first time (as an epiphany) that there are multiple elements of proto-Beaker (not just pottery) within parts of late 4th millenium Iberia (in my view) coming from the African Steppe into the fortified trading ports of Portugal.

Here is something he wrote that can be challenging:
"Did the people who brought the bell beakers invade Spain and Portugal? This idea has to be rejected, at least in the case of Portugal. There, bell beakers appear with items of longer traditions, such as, for example, the vessels with acacia leaf designs." (3)
This is problematic if you can't adequately separate Acacia and Beakers, I think.  I don't know how the pottery is found within settlements compared to Maritime pottery.  They may in fact be very separated.  But if they are not substantially separated, need they belong to different cultures, different peoples instead of one?  If they are separated, is the Acacia-Leaf concentrated in certain places but not others?

*Update 20*

Let me go way off the rails for a moment.  In Western Europe there are a number of potteries that have 'goat feet', 'maggot impression' or pinnate impressions.  I suppose this begins in the Middle Neolithic and extends into the Late Neolithic Cultures, such as the Grooved Ware culture of the Isles.

I find it hard to believe this is just an 'attractive' motif, for one, because it's not attractive.  I do think you see a trend towards stylization ultimately towards the herringbone pattern in many bell beakers.  Summoning my inner Sherratt, it's awfully tempting to view this as a drug culture.  Whatever the plant, people seem to like it a lot.

1.  Cardoso  "Absolute chronology of the Beaker phenomenon north of the Tagus estuary: demographic and social implications"

2.  Carvalho-Amaro "Pre-Bell Beaker ware from Estremadura, Portugal, and its likely influence on the appearance of Maritime Bell Beaker ware"

3.  Kunst, 2001.  "Invasion? Fashion? Social Rank? Consideration conceming the Bell Beaker phenomenon in Copper Age fortifications of the Iberian Peninsula"