Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Reassessing Depositional Practices beyond Funerary and Domestic Realms (Blanco-Gonzalez, 2014)

This paper speaks to probably one of the biggest problems of historical Beakerology:  Confusing or variable archaeological contexts of Beaker finds which has led to all sorts of highly varied Beaker origin and identity theories.  There is, however, a somewhat established modern notion of what constitutes a Beaker package and a Beaker burial, but this is not without problems.

Here, Blanco-Gonzalez has made a case that some of the so-called Chalcolithic 'tumuli' in Iberia associated with Bell-Beaker 'stuff' should be reconsidered more carefully, especially those where no contemporary body was found.  This may hold true for Chalcolithic and Bronze Age Tumuli in other parts of Europe as well.

He looks at the contents of two sites in the Amblés Valley and Campo Azálvaro in the Iberian Peninsula.

At the first site (Ambles Valley)... 
"Black, ashy, charcoal rich sediment was recovered, but no structure was documented, despite the recognition of a vague line of boulders – a rough peristalith –in the fourth layer of stones."

Los Tiesos II barrow, Ambles Valley (Blanco-Gonzalez)

 The second site (Campo Azalvaro)..

"The tumulus was made up of seven layers of local slate cobble with a sandy matrix. At its centre several slate slabs positioned on a slight alignment suggested a highly disarranged polygonal cist
although no other internal structures were recorded." ...  "This uneven depression was filled with compact dark archaeologically rich sediment; soil-chemical analysis detected high organic signatures of plausible anthropogenic nature."
Both sites contained very tiny orphan fragments of low quality cook ware, flint flakes, ash and a single instance of two necklace beads in Los Tiesos I.  And with regards to a number of post-neolithic tumuli in Spain he says ..
"Likewise, a mortuary purpose for all these tumuli is a contentious overgeneralization since human skeletal remains are actually rare."
In other words, some of the recorded Tumuli that don't have positive mortuary evidence probably need to be looked at with a little more scrutiny.  Blanco hints at a possible alternative explanation for original use of the two sites he cites, but does not elaborate.

 Blanco's description of these sites makes them sound (to me ) like they may have been silages (my opinion) originally in the early Chalcolithic.  Of course, the details may not bear that out, but as I would imagine that Beaker folk thrived off of dairy in temperate regions, you'd expect to see lots of silaging in Beaker communities and so it's not without possibility.

Cato's "De Agricultura" describes silaging of the ancient Germans who covered their silage pits with manure, which may have helped the anaerobic fermentation processes.  More often, modern silages include a cistern to form the base with post-harvest silage heaped then covered with a tarp and large stones.  

Because silage is highly volatile, it is prone to fire and it may have also at times have made an expedient funerary pyre by a bronze age farmer (or a bronze age farmer's wife).  Interestingly, a number of the tiny loner pottery fragments were...

"Undecorated ceramics belonged to coarse hemispheric bowls and cooking pots, very common in nearby Chalcolithic settlements (Fabián 2006). Moreover, most of the sherds are small in size (<4 cm) and bear marks of pre-depositional abrasion and weathering."
A possible explanation for this may be that these fragments came from ruminant manure.  Semi-browsers like goats and sheep often eat weird things and trash in the field, but true ruminants like cows do as well.  Inorganic materials like glass, metal and rocks are not unusual (broken pottery?).  I would guess grazing areas and barns in the Chalcolithic included trash that were stepped on and occasionally eaten by cattle with the manure later collected for other purposes.

Whatever the case, the Beaker Blog is officially inaugurated!  yee-haw

Blanco-Gonzalez, A. (2014) doi: 10.1080/00293652.2014.897749

Evocative Monuments in the Late 3rd Millennium BC: Reassessing Depositional
Practices beyond Funerary and Domestic Realms

"This paper challenges customary archaeological accounts of non-megalithic tumuli during the
Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age. Because of their wide range of regional and chronological variability across Atlantic Europe, rigid interpretative templates based on restrictive Western concepts such as ‘domestic’ or ‘funerary’ become inadequate. The analysis of several well-documented case studies in the Central Meseta (Iberia) through a programme of fieldwork prompts reconsideration of some uncontested assumptions extrapolated from research on megaliths and funerary contexts associated with Bell Beaker pottery. Some of these constructions lack actual layering or clear structures, their material assemblages are scarce, scattered and highly fragmented – including everyday residues and partial Beakers – and luxury items or human remains are barely recovered from them. The article discusses these peculiarities and confusing contents, commonly regarded as being the result of post-abandonment disturbance. A taphonomic assessment of their cultural debris attentive to formation processes and a comparison among depositional contexts within their local settings allow reappraisal of these constructions other than simply as areas of occupation or looted burials. Some of them could be better understood in terms of complementariness and mutual reference, as being the outcome of evocative practices that, through quotation and emulation, linked together absent places, beings and episodes."

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