Wednesday, November 5, 2014

International Bell Beaker & Egyptian C-Ware Comparison

The Beaker Blog is on the archaeological road to hell.  The Apostasy continues.

Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology UC14285

In the absence of any big archaeological news, I'll give a comparison of Egyptian White Cross-Lined Ware and early Bell Beaker International pottery.

I'm not going to suggest an especially close relationship between the two types, but rather suggest that a relationship is possible and that both typologies, being distinct from other potteries, fit into a stylistic scheme of the Central Saharan Pastoralist Societies.  (Read that carefully)

First, a few things about Egyptian White Cross-Lined (C-Ware).

C-Ware appears only very briefly in Egypt during the pre-dynastic Naqada IC sequence and probably last no more than a few generations to around IIA, possibly slightly overlapping the Gerzean period.
Naqada II probably heralds the arrival of Mespotamian invaders, at least it would appear so, whereas its predecessor, Naqada I, may involve a limited number of individuals integrating into Egyptian society from the Western Desert or the Southwest.

The latest absolute chronologies of the pre-dynastic era have been compressed to about 800 years and have shifted it to the right (Dee et al, 2013)  The exact timeframe in which C-Ware appears is sometime around 3600-3500 B.C.

Of the several daily-use pottery classes in Egypt, C-Ware is generally a mortuary ware and is found in the graves of about a third of the people.  Overall, the body of the ware is no different than the preceding Badarian and if fact, was probably made by the same pottery houses that made the former and common wares for centuries preceding.
Amratian Naqada IC (Princeton)
The vast majority of C-Ware contains a scheme consisting of triangle, slashed-line and cross motifs, such as the beaker above, but occasionally animals and human figures appear of similar petroglyphic design of the Western Desert.  Curiously, great emphasis is given to the Barbary Sheep when non-abstract depictions occur.

Because C-Ware motifs are overlaid on previous pottery bodies, some of the symmetry can be awkward, which along with other archaeological indicators may point to disparities between scheme and body.  C-Ware is red slip burnish with contrasting white paint before firing, although some of it is encrusted with white paste.  C-Ware vases appear only later, but beakers comprise a third and dishes another third, usually one vessel per occupant (no information on sex distribution).
Beaker Supping dish, Rome, 2500-2200 B.C. Vitrbo, State of Lazio, Museum of Rome [Link]

I've talked repeatedly about functional requirements within a design hierarchy in this blog.  Everything made by men, arrowheads or boats, need to do specific things in a certain order to satisfy his maker (with the assumption he is rational).  Factors may include efficiency, appearance, weight, material availability, etc, etc.

So typology can be a real pain in the ass because you can create a list of similarities between pencils and steak knives.  Deciding which similar traits weigh more than others can skew our interpretation of their genetic relationship.  So I understand that an argument could be made between Beaker ware and Corded Ware, and again the depth of the genetic relationship depends on what and how heavy we weight each factor.

Without further ado, here's some things that are similar between Beaker and C-Ware (and some differences).

1.  Both potteries are always red.  If you find a European beaker that is not reddish, either it is severely faded (usually) or it sucks at being a beaker (reasons vary).  The base coloration was extremely high in the design hierarchy.  Most potteries vary considerably in color - before, during, after.  These two follow strict conformance (regional soil dependent)

Achieving this was difficult for European Beaker potters due to the geology of Europe and in some cases resorted to painting it red.  It's clear, however, that an ideal beaker looks this>
Sardianian Bell Beaker 'coffee cup'

2.  White line highlights contrast the base color.  This is usually done through encrustation with white paste in Beaker pottery, C-Ware is usually lined with white slip before firing (although sometimes encrusted).  The white paste may be hydroxyapatite (bone paste), calcium carbonates (lime) or in the case of Naqada, usually white clay.  The important thing to remember is that different manufacturing methods achieve the same result, so it is the result, not the habit, that is of interest.

3.  Triangle, zig-zag and cross motifs are the most common schemes.  C-Ware sometimes has less abstract depictions, as does Beaker ware, but C-Ware sometimes also includes animals and human figures.  Depictions of C-Ware tend to focus on the more elaborate or the odd, however most examples are more abstract.

Photography of both potteries tend to focus on the profile view.  What's lost is an important image often depicted on both potteries.  Many beakers have a white cross on the base, many C-Wares have a white cross in the bottom.

4.  It occupies a special significance in burial, and one that is apparently foreign to the more localized common ware.  The peculiar pottery is cohesive to a multi-regional identity and occurs in the graves of some people over a large geographical area who possess this identity.

4.  The two potteries appear with the dessication of the savanna (that became a desert).  C-Ware appears around 600-700 years before the first Maritime Iberian Beakers, but this number may yet be compressed with ongoing excavations.  It is also interpretation dependent.  If you look at the changes in Iberia's Late Neolithic and Kunst's writings on the motifs of the Iberian thick-rimmed bowls, it's entirely possible that the two phenomena appear at exactly the same time.

Barbary Sheep with Mountain Triangle Background

5.  Both potteries exhibit foreign elements and native elements within their respective regions.

Cattle Pastoralist Rock Art Belt (Marina Gallinaro)

Why is it more reasonable to believe that the immediate origin of the bell beaker is to be found 6,000 miles away (the steppe) and not a few miles away (Morocco)?


  1. To answer your last question: new metallurgy practices, horses, genes, a trail of stelae, and early IE language as best candidate vector for the *massive* population turnover and distribution of haplotypes seen today. If N. Sarah/anti-Atlas Steppe was the original population they certainly didn't leave much of a trace linguistically or genetically. Also, one can just as easily link CW pottery impressed style to BB as anything else as similar shapes etc. are found in Samara... We just need Iberian aDNA to see if what's there has a PC steppe flavor. I should not be surprised to find that BB are invasive and from the East...

    1. ATP2 (M269 @ 3,500BC) from Portalon has very little steppe-ancestry. If you check out Davidiski's numbers, the German Bell Beakers have almost half that of Corded Ware and the later Beakers were certainly culturally hybridized. I've see this as possibly indicating that early Maritime Beakers had little steppe-like ancestry.

      The Neolithic Green Sahara was at one time populated by R1 lineages, this can be seen in the lineages of the modern lower Sahel. In fact, if you look at the Gallinaro drawing above and shift the rock art belt down a few degrees, this roughly correlates with R1 lineages in North Africa in modern times.

      It's my hunch that the R1 lineages of the Atlantic are mostly from contact with North Africa beginning with the Impresso farmers and then a sudden surge in the 4th millennium from North Africa (Western Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria) into Europe (Iberia and Italy). This does not require any sub-Saharan admixture since these would have been fairly isolated, endogamous pastoral populations that originated in the East.

      I will agree with the last point, ultimately the majority of the ancestry of Beakers came from the East, in different periods.