Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Gebel Ramlah footnote

While preparing the Beaker genetics page, I thought I'd share this which will fits into a larger context of the North African cultures in coming posts.

Kobusiewicz, Kabacinski and Wendorf (2009)

Above is a amulet or a "magical knife, as referenced.  Obviously it is non-functional, whatever it is.

I am not suggesting a direct relationship with this particular culture, but I do find the similarity in size, decoration and material (a hippo tusk) interesting.

"bow-like ornamented" modified from Fig. 20 (Ruzickova,2009)

And this image borrowed from Ruzickova shows a boar's tusk pendant, in many ways typical of Central European Beakers.  This particular one being nocked on both ends, whereas others are single or none. 

Stuart Piggott believed the boar's tusks are like mini-bows that the wearer wore around his neck.  It could be that it was nothing more than attractive pendant or simply a trophy.  However, I wonder if these mini-bows had another significance?

In Western European mythology the various parts of animals have certain magical qualities.  For example, we all know that a rabbit's foot is 'lucky', hence, "The Lucky Rabbit's Foot".

The Boar's Tusk, to Celts and Scandinavians, had protective qualities and was often used as a charm or amulet to protect a warrior.  It's possible that a bow-shaped amulet was used to protect the archer's arms, which based on osteological survey's, were under extreme stress.  A great many left arm, shoulder and chest injuries are found in men from the LN to the LBA.  This may hold true for Hippopotamus tusks as well.

Tiny, Tiny child arrowhead

WOW, really neat find in the Avebury bury dig!

This was posted one hour ago on the Avebury dig site FragmeNTs.
Arrowhead the size of a DIME!!! (FragmeNTs Blog)

This is most certainly a toy arrowhead of a very young boy, probably at one time associated with a child burial.  It is the size of a D-I-M-E.  Very tiny.

Miniature axeheads are found with boys throughout Scotland and other places.  I haven't seen any miniature arrowheads or bracers, although I'm sure there in papers out there somewhere.

Meanwhile over at the Perdigoes dig from two days ago (July 28)....

Miniature Pot unearthed July 28 (Perdigoes2011, 2014)

More mini pots at Perdigoes.  These miniatures are much smaller than the usual 'child pottery' or 'child beakers'.  These are almost toys.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Relics and bodyparts

Another unusual find from Spain last week.

(It sounds to be within a layer containing Beaker material.)
People hacked apart, but only parts deposited.  Something similar has been found in England where special significance is given to parts.  On the interviews tab of the Beaker Blog, Mike Parker Pearson speaks of Beaker 'mummies' and these 'Frankenstein' combinations of multiple body parts sewn together in a single individual.

Beakercraft appears to have placed special significance to particular body parts, at least in the case of animal sacrifices.  As a bad example, think of a "lucky rabbit foot" or using chicken bones to cast lots.  Every part has a special power to the believers.  Apparently, this held true for humans as well.

It seems these parts being excavated were only cast into a pit.  While the application or deposition of body parts is different, it is interesting their beliefs slowly emerge.

Orphan body parts (Perdigoes 2014)

From Antonio Valera:  [Perdigoes 2014]

"They are being defined. There is not just an individual, but anatomical parts of several individuals. As we have argued in several occasions, human bodies were being butchered apart and then parts of different individuals were deposited in a same space."

Pit of body parts (Perdiogoes 2014)

Monday, July 28, 2014

Lithics in Clairvaux and Chalain

An Approximate Bayesian Computation approach for inferring patterns of cultural evolutionary change Journal of Archaeological Science (Crema, E.R, Edinborough, K., Kerig, T, Shennan, S.J., 2014)

This paper builds on a  methodology for explaining cultural changes in the archaeological record.  It takes a data set spanning a time period (arrowheads in this case) and uses Bayesian modeling to try and explain the underlying behavior or factors behind those changes.

Pointe de Fleche, France [Iron]

The essential question here is about discontinuity in the archaeological record within the context of Cultural Inheritance or Cultural Learning Theory.  Human culture is not inborn, so when lithics, pots or sustainment strategies change in the archaeological record, either these new habits involved biased decision making or unbiased 'sponge' acculturation via some mechanism, say migration by unbiased adherents.

As a road test, the authors use data from the lithic transition phase in Southeastern France and crunch the numbers to predict why changes took place here 4,500 years ago near the emergence of the Beaker period.

As far as data goes, arrowheads offer data crunchers a good set of numbers because it is likely that most able-bodied men in these cultures made arrowheads (learned behavior).
Theoretically, lithic production would offer better data over pottery since it is something learned early with universal male participation.

So there are three scenarios that are offered by the authors here as a way of keeping things simple:

-Conformist Bias, individuals copy cultural attributes they perceive to be "mainstream".  In this scenario, native Neolithic peoples may copy what they consider to be "normal", not necessarily better for their personal sustainment.  They may have come to view their own villages as backwards subcultures, out of the mainstream.

-Anti-Conformist Bias, individuals copy what they consider "prestigious".  Again probably native Neolithic peoples imitating a cultural "elite" they deem superior (Beaker), again, not because the arrowheads are better but with some perceived benefit.

-Unbiased Transmission, this is basically osmosis.  This is probably what we would call a thoughtless, sponge-like acculturation.  A boy learns from his father or uncle how to make an arrowhead and doesn't question it. Migration would probably offer the best fit in lithic changes in this scenario.

One solution not offered is Direct Bias in which Beaker arrowheads are demonstrably superior on a technical level and which improves the survivability of individuals.  This could be wrench in the whole equation since barbed arrowheads are functionally better and are thought to accompany a period of military escalation in Western Europe.

The authors conclude that unbiased or anti-conformist bias could reach equifinality.  To put it bluntly (in my own understanding), both migration and the spread of an elite culture could explain lithic changes in Southeastern France and achieve the same result - Beaker Culture.

I'm not quite sold on this just yet.  Changes in weaponry, deeper defenses and deforestation in the Late Neolithic may make the details of arrowhead production more complex than our assumptions allow.

I like the concept but I would package clusters of cultural attributes to see where the various units are in agreement.  If within Beaker culture we have cultural changes that permeate all aspects of life through all periods of development, then when it is graphed it should tell us something fairly clear.
A wide range of theories and methods inspired from evolutionary biology have
recently been used to investigate temporal changes in the frequency of archaeological
material. Here we follow this research agenda and present a novel approach based on
Approximate Bayesian Computation (ABC), which enables the evaluation of multiple
competing evolutionary models formulated as computer simulations. This approach
offers the opportunity to: 1) flexibly integrate archaeological biases derived from
sampling and time averaging; 2) estimate model parameters in a probabilistic fashion,
taking into account both prior knowledge and empirical data; and 3) shift from an
hypothesis-testing to a model selection approach. We applied ABC to a
chronologically fine-grained Western European Neolithic armature assemblage,
comparing three possible candidate models of evolutionary change: 1) unbiased
transmission; 2) conformist bias; and 3) anti-conformist bias. Results showed that
unbiased and anti-conformist transmission models provide equally good explanatory
models for the observed data, suggesting high levels of equifinality. We also
examined whether the appearance of the Bell Beaker culture was correlated with
marked changes in the frequency of different armature types. Comparisons between
the empirical data and expectations generated from the simulation model did not show
any evidence in support of this hypothesis and instead indicated lower than expected
dissimilarity between assemblages dated before and after the emergence of the Bell
Beaker culture.
doi: 10.1016/j.jas.2014.07.014

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Lunula found in Dorset, England

Another one

Dorset Lunula c 1300 B.C. (Portable Antiquities Database)

This is a recent find.  The first fragment was found in May and metal detectorists have found two or three more pieces in a heavily plowed field.

Lunulae were worn around the neck of important Bell Beaker men, perhaps as one have an office, such as a sheriff or a knight.  Funerary stelae depicting lunulae wearers show men dressed in the full idealistic garb with pommeled dagger, bow, tattoos, purse and twill kilt.


Unexcavated Hampshire Urnfield to be Dozed

In fairness, I suppose it's next to impossible to build anything in Europe without destroying archaeological material.  In this case, it's at least the Late Bronze Age, although it probably covers an older site.  The cavalier nature of development is what bothers me.  Once the bulldozers go in, there's no going back for "The Urnfield".

"Urnfield" Campaigners (Get Hapshire)
The Yateley, Hampshire urnfield dates to at least the Late Bronze Age, however it has never been excavated so what the full extent of the 25 acres contains, nobody knows.

[link] story

[link] society

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Autobahn Girl Discovered

A fifteen year old Bell Beaker girl was discovered this week.  She was beaten to death.

   Halle/Bernburg – Cörmigk bei Könnern From "The Bild" (Photographer Steffen Schellhorn)

I found this in the Polish "East News" service which has a slate of photographs, and then found a little more information from the German "BILD" news service.  Both articles are linked.

Junior Cabrar points to the impact (Photographer Steffen Schellhorn)

Excavator Junior Cabrar points to the injury on the skull of the girl found in Cörmigk bei Könnern in Halle-Bernburg.

Xandra Dalidowski says that the murder weapon appears to have been a hammer of sorts and speculates that it was not a crime of passion but death by stranger.  She appears to have been given a good burial.  Hopefully more details will follow in the coming weeks.

Gas line installation where Autobahn Girl was found (Photographer Steffen Schellhorn)

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Youth Isotopes from Cremations

This could a big implications in understanding the Atlantic Bronze Age and the importation, or lack of, Celtic languages in Atlantic Europe. 

Obviously, the important data to be gleaned from the inner ear canal bone is that a difference between childhood and adult values can be known.
Cremated bone (Price, Frei, Harvig, Lynnerup 2014)

Strontium Isotope Signals in Cremated Petrous Portions as Indicator for Childhood Origin (Harvig, Frei, Douglas Price, Lynnerup, 2014)

Dental enamel is currently of high informative value in studies concerning childhood origin and human mobility because the strontium isotope ratio in human dental enamel is indicative of geographical origin. However, many prehistoric burials involve cremation and although strontium retains its original biological isotopic composition, even when exposed to very high temperatures, intact dental enamel is rarely preserved in cremated or burned human remains. When preserved, fragments of dental enamel may be difficult to recognize and identify. Finding a substitute material for strontium isotope analysis of burned human remains, reflecting childhood values, is hence of high priority. This is the first study comparing strontium isotope ratios from cremated and non-cremated petrous portions with enamel as indicator for childhood origin. We show how strontium isotope ratios in the otic capsule of the petrous portion of the inner ear are highly correlated with strontium isotope ratios in dental enamel from the same individual, whether inhumed or cremated. This implies that strontium isotope ratios in the petrous bone, which practically always survives cremation, are indicative of childhood origin for human skeletal remains. Hence, the petrous bone is ideal as a substitute material for strontium isotope analysis of burned human remains.


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Cardoso on Middle Portugal, "The Beginning"

I'll reduce this down a bit.  Beaker pottery, such as the Palmela Group and the Incised Group, were at one time thought to have followed an evolutionary format with the Maritime AOO "International" Style influencing local potteries (or being influenced by) resulting in new regional beaker styles.  However, it is shown that these three beakers are all very old and coexist around the Tagus and their distribution corresponds with space rather than time.

Castro do Zambujal - JuTa

Essentially, the primary focus here is the cultural development within the Estremadura, which is the land above the Tagus Estuary (the heart of Portugal).  The Estremadura has the highest concentration of Bell Beaker artifacts in the Iberian Peninsula to date, and both the bay area and these lands were very important in the emergence of the Bell Beaker phenomenon and its spread elsewhere.

It may be that several groups were targeting key terrain and watercourses in Iberia at this time, especially the mouth of the Tagus. 

The complexity of the Beaker phenomenon in the Tagus estuary does not fit well with the model of three successive groups (International, Palmela and Incised Groups). The above seems to result from the nature of the settlements rather than from its chronology, as all three groups are present during the second half of the 3rd millennium BC. Therefore while 
artifacts of the International Group predominate in the fortified sites, the Incised Group appears almost exclusively in open sites. The Palmela Group seems of minor importance, at least in the north region of the Tagus River estuary. The remarkable antiquity of Beaker pottery found in the FM hut at Leceia (which dates from the 2nd quarter of the 3rd millennium BC, re-confirmed by AMS dating) has parallels both in the North and South of Portugal, as well as in Spain. Thus we conclude that in the Lower Estremadura (one of the most important regions in Europe for the discussion of the origin and diffusion of Beaker “phenomenon”), the Beaker social formation with its own distinct cultural characteristics, coexisted with local Chalcolithic cultures, although never merged with them.

Absolute chronology of the Beaker phenomenon North of the 
Tagus estuary: demographic and social implications (João Luís Cardoso, 2014)  [link]

Some background [link]

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Beaker Chickens?

Can some inlaid beaker pottery tell us when chickens entered Western Europe?
The White-faced Iberian Blacks, one of several ancient chicken races

Several days ago I posted a paper by Všianský, Kolář & Petřík who analyzed the elements of white inlay of Beaker pottery.  I thought about it while reading a paper on the mitochondrial diversity and dispersion of domesticated chickens from Southeast Asia.

The encrustation of "white inlays on a red-slipped ware" seems to have been very common throughout the entire Beaker horizon.  According to the Vsiansky paper, bone paste was the more frequent choice in Central Europe (and Britain and Spain), whereas calcium carbonate ranked second followed by gypsum or a combination of materials thirdly. 

Pavla Růžičková pasting a beaker "Beaker Days, 2005"
Since calcium carbonate paste was applied after the main firing, it may be possible to discern the crystalline structure, unique for the eggshell and whether it contains coccoliths or not, which would tells us where the potters extracted the calcium carbonate from or whether they manufactured it themselves. (1)

As I mentioned before, I haven't actually read the Vsiansky paper since it is behind a pay-wall, so a connection between calcium carbonate paste and eggshells may have already been made.  But with the exception of several coastal outcrops in the Northwest, I doubt Central Europe has much white chalk, much less greyish chalk.  Eggshell on the other hand, if available, is about 95% calcium carbonate.  So did Moravian Beakers have access to chicken eggs?

Now let me quote from "The Cambridge World History of Food" (Kiple, Ornelas, 2000)

[Europe]  The discovery of bones - collated by West and Zhou (1988) - in central Asia seems to indicate that the chicken had reached the borders of Europe by 3000 B.C.  The earliest finds come from Romania, Turkey, and Greece, where there are at least eight late Neolithic and early Bronze Age sites from which bones have been dated to the third millennium B.C...
The ancient "English Dorking"
West and Zhou (1989) actually suggest the migration of Cambodian jungle fowl as being domesticated in Northeastern China about 7,000 years ago and spreading Greece and Iran as early as 4,000 B.C.  Surprisingly, they show chickens spreading to the Indian Subcontinent much later, the Middle East as well.

More recently, Zlatozar Boev (2009) showed heavy game fowling and poultry-breeding at a site in Bulgaria which included the Gallus gallus domestica dated to approximately 3,500 B.C.  According to Boev this large Leghorn fryer was prevalent across Bulgaria at that time.  This fits classical notions of gallus, with Balkan & Greek birds being largely fryers and Italian & Iranian birds being primarily egg-layers.  He further notes:

It is interesting to mention, that Gallus gallus, believed to have been introduced in
the Iberian Peninsula (HERNANDEZ 1992) in the Early Iron Age (8th century BC), has been probably spread there even in the Chalcolithic (GOURICHON, CARDOSO
The Storey et al paper (2010) gives some further insights on the genetic origins of European chickens which may reflect the egg-layer and the fryer:
The distribution of chickens from Asian domestication centers through the Middle East and Europe has been traced along two distinct routes of dispersal using historical, archaeological, and morphological evidence [12,19,22]. If these reconstructions are
correct then at least two distinct domestication centers contributed chickens to ancient European flocks.

As to the Corded Ware Culture, I find it hard to believe people with origins in the North Pontic Sea did not have chickens.  It is also difficult to imagine that the Bell Beaker peoples did not have chickens being the international traders par excellence.  For that matter, it's hard to imagine Funnelbeaker or Lengyel "farm-wagon" people not having acquired chickens in their later years.

So the question, do the carbonate pastes in Central Europe show the structure of chalk, egg or manufacture?

"Pigment Compendium" (2008)*

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Re-evaluating Beaker garbage

Blanco-Gonzalez continues to chip away at some of the older, prejudicial notions of Beaker life.  His new chapter kind of dovetails on a previous paper, the very first commented on by the new Beakerblog.

Rajasthani cattle (Marcin Białek)

The most intriguing part of his work is how he is re-interpreting orphan pottery fragments from fills in the Spanish Meseta to come to a more logical understanding of sites previously understood as habitations, burials and festival trash pits.  Apparently, there is a preponderance of orphan fragments weathered on one side (El Ventorro among others) indicating they were exposed by the elements for a period of time before being filled into a non-occupied structure (presumably).
Typical orphan from Los Tiesos. <1" (Evocative monuments, Blanco, 2014)
I speculated in the very first Beakerblog post that the shear volume of orphan fragments could be coming from cow poop, it being a plausible explanation for the many tiny, broken and orphaned fragments.  There is no doubt that Beakers, being agriculturalists, collected cow manure.  They may have used it for fertilizer, pig feed or for accelerating compost or silage.

If Beakers were anything like the American wildlife that throw their beer cans in their front yard, chances are Beakers had heaps of garbage scattered about or in the barnyard. 

Not picking on India here, but this Youtube clip exposes a common sight through most of Asia, Africa and the Middle East.  Understand also, they're not just picking through the garbage, they are actually eating inorganic materials such as plastic bags and metals. 

You may ask, 'why the heck would a cow eat rusty nails, rocks, glass or pottery?'
A lot of it has to do with the mineral requirements of cattle.  Modern ranchers supplement cows with licks, however range cattle or cattle in developing countries will either eat rocks or hang out at the local dumpster.  There's only 50,000 of these videos on youtube.  Half of these cows end up at McDonald's.  If this bothers you, don't google what pigs or chickens eat!

So while it may be a gross question, I have to ask.  What would we find in a manure heap in some of the cattle communities above?

These guys looked at the chemical content of Ciempozuelos Beaker pottery.  Meseta pottery seems to have had respectable levels of Fe (Iron), Na (Sodium), Mg (Magnesium) along with other trace elements, notably selenium and copper (important for cattle).  While I've added my own twist to this, and I'll admit I don't have first-hand experience with the evidence.  I do think, however, that Blanco-Gonzalez is heading in the right direction.  He is challenging the cartoonish notions of Beaker life and re-evaluating old sites more carefully.


Domestic chores or community feasts? A taphonomic and re-fitting
approach to the Chalcolithic ceramics from El Ventorro (Madrid, Spain) (2014)
The understanding of how cultural remains entered the archaeological record has been a neglected topic in the research on later prehistory in Iberia, even though its discussion should be addressed in advance of any functional or spatial account. This paper presents an analytical protocol designed to characterize the patterns of breakage, abrasion and representation of prehistoric pottery. A taphonomic and re-itting operation has been carried out with the selected ceramic assemblage retrieved in 1981 from an unusual residue-rich context: the so-called ‘pit-hut 013’ and its annexed
pits at El Ventorro. This has allowed to test divergent hypotheses about its formation processes and meaning. This sunken feature has been interpreted either as a pithouse illed with domestic remains in primary context or as a gully quickly illed with bulky refuse as a result of repeated collective celebrations. The results are inconclusive, but allow to reject the idea of being dealing with fossilized occupation soils representative of house-loors and domestic activities. All lines of evidence point to this feature actually being a ditch segment illed with a very partial and cumulative aggregate of freshly discarded remains mixed with secondary residues exhibiting great variability in their temporalities and depositional histories.