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.


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