Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Chemical Analysis of Beaker ceramics ("Campaniforme") from Northern Spain

Bell Beaker pottery (Campaniforme) appear in the Middle Chalcolithic Meseta (in Northern Spanish plateau) and very gradually replace the older pottery styles.  Ballestero, Diaz and Alonzo argue for a methodology of chemical analysis, which is really the main focus of the paper.

Chemical analysis has previously and very convincingly demonstrated that burial beaker cups were used for drinking wheat and barley beers, mead, possibly milk and less frequently, medicinal substances.  The authors argue that knowing the origin of the clay is critical to understanding alien pottery in a region.

Here, chemical analysis was used to determine that roughly 10% of the Late Chalcolithic (Beaker) pottery in the Arlanzon area came from out-of-town.  Pottery that came from outside the region was almost exclusively International Style Beakers.  A substantial portion of that they link to a known pottery studio on the Guadiana River (Southern Portugal).

Arlanzon River Valley pottery (Ballestero et al, 2014)

Of course, 90% of the Arlanzon pottery in the Late Chalcolithic was locally made which the authors leave as a discussion topic for others:  At what point did the Arlanzon region begin producing locally made 'alien beaker pottery' or did the alien potters slowly migrate to Arlanzon?

Chemical analysis of chalcolithic pottery from Arlanzón river middle basin (Burgos): a way to examine the origin and exchange (Ballestero, Diaz, Alonzo, 2014)

The study is aimed on pottery that it is recovered in Chalcolithic contexts from Arlanzón River Middle Basin. Within these sets of pottery there are similarities and differences —morpho-typological and technical—, which it is necessary to study in order to understand its significance in archaeological terms. To doing so, we need to use a different method than typology. In fact, we used chemical analysis of ceramic as a way to obtain less subjective observations. The results allow discussing about origin and exchange of Chalcolithic pottery in this zone of the Spanish North Plateau. Data show a mainly local origin of ceramics with some exchanged artifacts. In archaeological terms, the pattern may be related to a domestic model of production.


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Boar's Tusks & Bowmen

Pavla Ruzickova wrote a paper back in 2009 on "Bow Shaped Pendants" made of Boar's tusks
of the Central European Bell Beakers.  Her thesis paper brought together a couple of previous thoughts.

Before I begin, I should note that any sort of Boar's tusk ornament or trophy in a Beaker burial is not exceedingly common.  However, tusks or tusk ornaments are periodically represented in graves throughout the entire Beaker horizon and may represent a low frequency, but unifying element across Beaker cultures.  It's only in the Central Continent that they are carved in this way.

Bell Beaker Culture in Moravia (ppt), Matějíčková & Dvořák et al, 2014

Boar's Tusk Pendants, like the ones above, are sometimes found on Beaker bowmen in decreasing frequency from Bohemia, Moravia, Austria, Bavaria, Poland, Hungary, Italy, Switzerland, Baden and Brandenburg (Ruzickova, 2009).  They are also sometimes found in habitation assemblages. 

They were usually made of Boar's tusk, although finer, substitute materials were sometimes used in lieu.  I will trust most were discovered in an unambiguous, arched-down position.

Bow-Shaped Pendant 'nocks' (Ruzickova, 2009)

Fig. 18 modified (Ruzickova, 2009)
The ends of the ornament are usually nocked and this as interpreted by famed archeologist Stuart Piggott (1971) as imitating the nocks on a bow.  Some are nocked on both ends and some on one end. (and it is worth pointing out that some of these early bows, for example Otzi's, one end of the bow is nocked and the other end the string is tied in a timberjack knot)

"Beaker Bows" modified from Fig. 20 (Ruzickova,2009)

Upcoming on the Beaker Blog... 

Consider this an intermission on "Calculating the draw weight of a Beaker bow" series.

In part 2, I discuss how the arm bracers can inform us of how the bow was held.  From that, I deduced that there were three major bow classes used in those times.

I have several other non-metrics to cover in future posts, including (hopefully), osteological data that would seem to support compression and torsional injuries in the left forearm, lower humerus and clavicles of post-Neolithic archers, at least in the British Islands.

Tomorrow, I would like to discuss what Otzi's unfinished Italian yew longbow can tell us about Chalcolithic longbows and its development and impact on Late Neolithic societies in Europe, and a few other things...

Second and third pages to Beaker blog coming soon.

(1) "Bow-Shaped Pendants of the Bell Beaker Culture" (Ruzickova, 2009)

Thursday, May 8, 2014

"Beaker Days on Danube 2014" Conference (Bratislava & Vienna)

Dvořák & Matějíčková gave a Power Point presentation on the Moravian (Czech R.) Beaker excavations at last week's "Beaker Days" conference.

"Bell Beaker Culture in Moravia: 30 questions, 30 answers, 30 pieces of evidence"

Slide 22, Dvořák & Matějíčková et al, 2014

Hoštice-I is the largest Bell Beaker cemetery in Europe, or at least, has the most excavated individual graves at around 157 (from the paper).  As you click through the Q&A slideshow, the presenters make it known that there is clear and detailed cultural continuity/contact with Beaker groups throughout the Atlantic.

I'll keep comments brief...

The most common Beaker graves at Hostice-I are the cist graves and mini-ditched enclosures.

Slide 11, Dvořák & Matějíčková et al, 2014

These mini-enclosures in Hoštice-I were built around the graves of some men, kind of like little chapels or mausoleums.

Slide 13, Dvořák & Matějíčková et al, 2014

Here's what Dvorak and Matejickova think the burial enclosures likely looked like:

Excerpt from Slide 14 (modified), Dvořák & Matějíčková et al, 2014

There was also a presentation on boar's tusk.  I'm very interested in what the presenter had to say, and I'll share as soon as I get it.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Swiss-German border Beaker economy - A Brand New Thing

Bell Beakers on the Swiss/German border lived in different types of places, ate different foods, did different things and in a different time period from the preceding Corded Ware folk.

If you look at the previous blog post featuring a presentation on Moravian Beakers by Matějíčková and Dvořák, you'll find a similar reference to discontinuity from a previous layer of Corded folk in the Czech region.

"According to our pattern of reasoning (Fig. 1) discontinuity between the settlement phases connected to CW and BB material cultures, as well as continuity between BB culture and EBA, becomes visible. It can be seen foremost in the use of different parts of landscapes for plant and animal production, as indicated in the pollen record and in the macro remains."

[CW = Corded Ware] 
[BB = Bell Beaker] 
[EBA = Early Bronze Age]

"Advanced Cat Skinning"  Fig.1 (Lechterbeck et al, 2014)

 How was Bell Beaker economy related to Corded Ware and Early Bronze Age lifestyles?  Archaeological, botanical and palynological evidence from the Hegau, Western Lake Constance region   (Lechterbeck, Kerig, Kleinmann, Sillmann, Wick, Rösch, 2014)


"The Europe wide spread of what has been called the Bell Beaker phenomenon remains an enigma of European prehistory. While most of the recent research stresses the ideological aspects of using Bell Beaker material culture, here we take a regional and economical perspective. We look for the chronological relationships and the economic choices of the Bell Beaker phase and of its closest neighbours in time and space: the Late Neolithic Corded Ware and the Early Bronze Age. We focus on the regional archaeological settlement history and present the hitherto richest European Bell Beakerassociated collection of palaeobotanical macro-remains, together with our high-resolution palynological work on annually laminated lake sediments. These different lines of evidence are tied together by an absolute chronology derived from new radiocarbon accelerated mass spectrometry (AMS) dates (now more than 200) and from the dendrodates from the World Heritage wet preserved pile dwellings. We show the preceding Late Neolithic, the actual Bell Beaker, and the following Early Bronze age economies each relying on different agricultural strategies that focus on distinct parts of the landscape. There is no link obvious between Late Neolithic and Bell Beaker, but there is between Bell Beaker and Early Bronze Age.  Related to different modes of production, differences in ideology become visible in food preferences as well as in other parts of the material culture. We conclude that the Bell Beaker economy represents a  reorientation of the mode of production focusing on single, rather small farmsteads which often do not leave a distinct signal in the archaeological record."

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Calculating the draw weight of a Beaker bow (Part 2)

This is the second part of several pieces I'll do on the Beaker bow.

In the first part, I tyrannically cast away all doubt with regards to Beaker wrist-guard functionality.

But we still are not done with wrist-guards...

Broadly speaking, there have been proposed three rough shape classes of wrist-guards associated with Beakers (most recently by Folkens et al, 2008)

This is important because this could yield three major bow-classes used by Beaker archers.  We may be able to infer the size of the bow and the weight of the bow depending on how the bracer was worn.  So I will modify some of the previous classifications from papers dealing with the subject to how I view wear of the wrist-guard and with which bow size & weight is most appropriate.

Radial bone guard #1

This bracer was worn to protect the radial bone on the inside of the weak forearm.  One end is widened to allow for wrist movement, the other end for the increase in forearm. 

2200 - 2000 BC, Kellythorpe Barrow, British Museum

It may suggests that the wearer of the guard fired his bow vertically with a locked wrist, as in the picture below, and not like a longbow.

 The depth of the bow would be a mid-size, vertically-held bow because the right arm draws the string across the upper body and the left radial bone is exposed due to the required midcarpal supination locking required from a heavy bow.  Locking the wrist allows us to project great force with our hands, such as when using tools like a hammer.  Modern compound bows alleviate the force on the locked wrist because the breaking weight in draw is reduced but with the benefit of substantial acceleration on release.  

Fig. 19 (Van der Vaart, 2009)

You can see how the archer draws the bow with his right arm and the left arm and wrist are locked.  The bow used in the picture is probably between 30-40 lbs and may inflict a painful lash, but not a dangerous one for the occasional sport shooter.  

 Modified Fig. 19 (Van der Vaart, 2009)

I added a red circle to the second picture where the radial bone is located and where the radial bracer would need to be placed for a substantially more powerful bow.  A combination of the stone core and the leather outer cuff may have also provided rigidity for higher tension forces on the forearm.

Large Longbow guard #2

By "Longbow" I'm referring bows generally taller than the archer and much more powerful.  (The definition seems to vary)  Given the width of this bracer and where it would need to be placed, I'd suggest that the wearer of this bracer fired his bow in a canted manner, such as many of the larger longbows.

2280 - 2030 BC, from Barnack, British Museum

Simple wrist guard #3

I would guess without knowing actual numbers, that the very vast majority of Beaker bracers fall into this simple group with varying size and quality.  Unlike the two cuffed versions above, this one was probably worn exactly like Jayne's wonderful illustration of the Amesbury Archer below:

"Amesbury Archer" thanks to Jane Brayne

The coloration of these Class #3 wrist-guards seems to have had some special significance.  Some natural red or greens were sought out and transported widely (1) and some were colored red with ocher in slate Dutch examples (3).


The Bracer's tell us very broadly about three major types of Beaker bows.  We can tell from the bracer how each bow was held and with the robustness of the bracer, have a general idea of the size of the bow it supported.


(Fokkens, Achterkamp, Kuijpers, 2008) "Bracers or Bracelets? About the Functionality and Meaning of Bell Beaker Wrist-guard"

Smith, Jonathan (2006) "Early Bronze Age Stone Wrist-Guards in Britain: archer's bracer or social symbol?"

Van der Vaart, Saaja (May 2009)  "Bell Beaker Wrist Guards Reconsidered:  A Research into their Functionality and Possible Uses"

*When yew is cut right, it makes a natural composite with inner heart and outer sapwood forming the 'perfect bow'.  So its hard to imagine any kind of composite laminating being required at any point in European bow history.

**Google 'Mary Rose archers' and you'll find reference to an on-going study on the skeletal adaptations and large forearms of heavy medieval archers.

Monday, May 5, 2014

A Palmela Broadhead and Hemp Braid (Portugal)

I was sitting on my couch pecking away on (Part 1) of the "Calculating the draw weight of a Beaker bow" series and then I saw this post by Antonio Valera the Portuguese Prehistoric Enclosures Blog:

"Hemp in Bela Vista 5 enclosure"

Palmela Points (Commons)

The earliest hemp in Western Europe is a braided thread looped over a copper Palmela arrowhead/javelin head which helped preserve the material.

Below is a recent paper by a group of Spanish researchers looking into the issue by constructing lances, javelins and arrows using various Palmela points.  The conclude that arrowheads equipped with Palmela heads were more than doable, especially given the exceedingly low bow weight used for the experiment.

Puntas de palmela: procesos tecnológicos y experimentación (Gutierrez-Saez et al, 2010)

Gutierrez & co.'s reconstructed boradheads
The function of palmela points has generated a certain confusion, being interpreted as the tips of a lance, javelin and of an arrow or exclusively as elements of prestige. The aim of this work is to present the results
of experimentation on a prey with 36 palmela arrowheads of copper and low tin-bronze, in tests of distance and also of ballistics. It is a question of determining also the function from the archaeological contexts where these pieces appear. The results throw light on the possible utilization of these objects as effective weapon.
Test article javelin and lance (Gutierrez et al, 2010)
"The Beast" with a Palmela broadhead at only 35lbs.  (Gutierrez Saez, 2010)

Calculating the draw weight of a Beaker bow (Part 1)

This is the first part of several pieces I'll do on the Beaker bow.  New and exciting information is coming out (just this morning with a find of hemp thread on an arrowhead)  We'll start with wrist-guards.

I've been reading several pieces on the functionality of the Beaker wrist guard.  It seems that modern scientific opinion has long questioned their functionality.  While I think a good argument has been made (Fokkens et al & others) that they had some social significance beyond simple function, I am surprised that their actual function in everyday life has been underplayed.

Of course, ordinarily the wrist-guard is used by archers to protect the arm from bow slap.  Wrist-guards are found with Beaker men and typically on the lower left arm as demonstrated in burial.  They were typically made of slate or finer stones, but as Fokkens pointed out, they often appear on the outside of the forearm.

"Amesbury Archer" Special thanks to artist, Jane Brayne

Back in 2008, Fokkens, Achterkamp & Kuijpers surveyed the distribution, placement and construction of the common Beaker bracers in Beaker burials throughout Western Europe.  What they found was that a majority of the wrist-guards were actually discovered on the outside of the arm, not the inside.  Also, the functionality of the wrist-guards was questioned as some wrist-guards were highly ornamented, embossed, riveted or only had two holes.  A few guards were too wide, which may have affected their functionality.  Some examples below:

(Fig. 1) H. Fokkens et al., 2008

After having looked at several illustrated papers (Smith, 2006 & Van der Vaart, 2009) focusing on some of the major bracer outliers, I've come to the conclusion that the wrist-guards were simply wrist-guards. 

My logic is fairly simple:

[archers do not inhibit archery]:

(Beaker men were archers)   >   (archers do not inhibit archery)   >   (archers need bracers) THEN (wrist-guards found with Beakers could not inhibit archery or aided archery)


(If Beaker bracers inhibited archery)   THEN   (those who wore them were not archers)

Unconvinced by non-functional arguments


Personally, the wearing of the wrist-guard on the outside of the arm makes sense to me.  Sorry, not trying to be snarky here.  But, the wrist guard may have been rotated when needed and kept on the outside of the arm while not in use.

We shouldn't expect wrist guards to appear on the inside of the arm in a burial any more than the position of other effects.  If you did a survey of men buried between 1850 and 1950, you'd find that the placement of the pocket watch varied or was absent.

Actually one of the three bracer types appears to have been worn on the radial bone rather than the wrist interior. A figure of a man shooting in Van der Vaart's paper illustrates why this would be the case. This could be confusing the understanding of placement during excavation.


The choice of slate for a bracer also makes sense.  River slate is cool to the touch and usually soft or soapified.  It's easier to shape lengthwise, easy for drilling holes and its water properties for wearing against the body (sweat, rain) make it ideal.  The greenstone and redstone of the isles is more elaborate but likely similar in comfort properties. 


The size and shape of Beaker wrist-guards probably varied because Beaker bows varied.  The kind of wrist guard used for a long bow is different from a short bow.  It's placement would vary because bending the bow is different in both cases.

(continue to part 2)


(Fokkens, Achterkamp, Kuijpers, 2008) "Bracers or Bracelets? About the Functionality and Meaning of Bell Beaker Wrist-guard"

Smith, Jonathan (2006) "Early Bronze Age Stone Wrist-Guards in Britain: archer's bracer or social symbol?"

Van der Vaart, Saaja (May 2009)  "Bell Beaker Wrist Guards Reconsidered:  A Research into their Functionality and Possible Uses"