Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Experiment with a sewn-plank boat - Morgawr

Here's a great experiment with constructing a life-size, Bronze Age boat.

A team of UK archaeologists and maritime historians started building this replica sewn-plank boat starting about two years ago. 

Fig. 3  Keel carvers (Van de Noort et al, 2014)

Figure 6.  Basic hand tools (Bronze)
Figure 3 also shows the carpenters  using a mallet and froe, so I imagine a more complete inventory of Copper/Bronze age tools were available.

Modern boats are built around frames and in later times, segmented by bulkheads.  The sewn-plank boats were built more like inside-out 'oak barrels', except with a large solid keel.  The authors admit mixing the inclusion of traditional boatwright framing into Morgawr's construction wasn't 100% true to how plank boats were originally constructed, but that was the whole point for building Morgawr, to better understand the purpose. 
Fig. 5 Keel plates with frame

Fig. 10, Cleat system

Fig. 13, Yew tie

This replica, is a beast at 5,500 lbs.  The paper linked show 18 oarmen and a coxswain.  I doubt double the number would be able to simply lift the boat, waist level.  Was a boat this heavy intended for the open sea?

Morgawr: an experimental Bronze Age-type sewn-plank craft based on the Ferriby boats (Van de Noort et al, 2014) [link]

This paper reports on the construction of a full-scale Bronze Age-type sewn-plank boat based on the Ferriby boats. The boat, which was named Morgawr, was constructed in the National Maritime Museum Cornwall in Falmouth, England, during 2012 and the first months of 2013, as part of a larger exhibition in the museum. This paper provides the background and context of the project, describes the process of building the craft, and reflects in particular on differences between Morgawr and the ‘hypothetical reconstruction of a complete sewn-plank boat’ published in 1990 by Ted Wright and John Coates which formed the basis for this project.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Bell Beaker "Alamo"? Perdigoes mystery.


Descriptions of Perdigoes remind me in some ways of the "The Alamo".  Of course I being a bit sensationalistic, but if it was in the earliest time a religious place and then later a defensive place and still later a settlement with goats and cattle, then maybe it is in some way comparable.

I'm still reading some of the materials from Valera's blog here, but some of the large enclosures sound to me like religious centers modified into forts with man-made defilade which continually expanded to its end.  Their layout suggests defensive tactics that make use of the limited terrain or are in strategic locations. 

Perdigoes believably begins a celestial religious site in the Late Neolithic.  Around 2900 B.C., the site is potentially revitalized, perhaps growing beyond its original purpose and incorporating an aqueduct, if I am reading correctly.

Quite a few burials are recorded here so far.  They seem to be part of distinct social categories, but appear to have occurred within the same time frame according to the paper.  The disparity in the respect for the dead is an interesting question.

In the early chalcolithic, human remains appear to be deposited outside of the perimeter.  This would seem to suggest that the interior was for a while occupied, such as a fort.  But they are later enveloped...
"If, according to our present data, the funerary contexts seem to be near but outside the enclosures during the 4th and early 3rd millennium, from middle of the third millennium onwards they clearly are embraced by the enclosures..."
Fig. 6 (Velera et al. 2014)

A stunning array of grave types are noted here, most of which seem to overlap.  There's a clear differentiation between those re-buried in the Tholoi, those who were cremated...
"...although belonging to exactly the same chronological span, the material assemblages in the cremation contexts differ significantly from those recorded in the re-utilization of tholoi tomb 2.  For example, anthropomorphic ivory figurines only appear in the cremation contexts, the morphology of arrowheads is totally different, necklace beads are from different raw materials and so on, suggesting that the different treatment of the body is associated with contrasting material assemblages, possibly expressing different group identities or people of different social rank."

Perdigoes idols (Part 1)

Anthropomorphic Figurines at Perdigões Enclosure: Naturalism, Body Proportion and Canonical Posture as Forms of Ideological Language (Valera, Evangelista 2014)

This paper isn't open-access, hopefully we'll see it soon.  Here's some initial observations. 

These male idols are typically found with burials according to Valera.  These burials are early Chalcolithic and within the large, ditched enclosures that in later time yield multi-regional Beaker items.  However, he is careful to point out that excavations continue and would like to better understand the site before jumping to conclusions.  As usual, the picture seems to be clouded by variability and monument reuse.


A couple of thoughts...

The stylized lines on the faces of these men, at first glance, look like facial hair.  One interpretation regards them as facial tattoos, and there may be a reason for this, but I don't see it.  

The figure on the middle left has a faint resemblance to later human depictions in Celtic art.  That shouldn't be too surprising since this is Western Europe, but it is surprising to see this form this early.  The wavy lines may depict mustache braids and hair braids or dreadlocks.  Some temperate Europeans did do this with lime and egg yokes in the first millennium.

At the same time, these figures with possible eye insets look Near Eastern.

Found within this region are also the triangle head idols and other aspects of this culture that seem to originate in the Near East.  This also should not be too crazy a suggestion given the probable origins R1b-M269 and its likely Chalcolithic entry into Western Europe.

More on this later...

 (Valera, Evangelista, 2014)


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."


Friday, April 4, 2014

Beaker Blog Preview

I've decided to go with Blogger over WordPress and Weebly. 

I hope I don't regret that decision.

In a nutshell, Bell Beaker Blogger is where I put the latest beaker news, my comments and your comments.  It will accompany bellbeaker.org, which will be more of an educational site and a little more neutral in its positions.  That website is under construction.

More to follow...

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Day 1

[Exterior day 1]

Beaker blog.

Being more of a "pre-chalcolithic" sort of guy, it may take a few weeks to get everything going smooth with interesting entries on Beaker Folk.  I hope to make this a long term sort of thing.

Stay tuned,