Thursday, July 16, 2015

Women in Iberia (Liesau, Blasco, Rios, Flores)

Above all, when constructing paradigms, wear safety goggles and blast shield.

This paper concentrates on women of the Iberian Meseta.  Like many burials of this age, a closer look is revealing some deviance from the mainstream assumptions.  The authors lament the hyper-focus on this culture's men (not completely unwarranted), and it is true that the social changes of the household are the most trans-formative element of this era. 

Most of the women discussed in this paper died in their twenties.  Two of the women appear to have been beheaded, one had an obviously altered skull, one a headdress and a couple with guns. 

"Girls with Guns - and Infants" Los Humanejos (UE 1166)
The authors note how women are at the center of some cemeteries and in contexts traditionally considered to be male.  They contend this is one reason for the disparity of female burials in the Beaker culture.  This topic has also been addressed by other authors, namely Jan Turek, who offered some ideas for the disparity in Central Europe, including the plowing of the woman layers and cremation.  Another author from Britain (his name escapes me at the moment) suggested that women were disproportionately cremated, which may be true as well.

However, these authors suggest that the initial sexing of many burials, historically, were based on the orientation of the graves.  Just recently, a grave from Kněževes, Czech Republic, had a genetic determination of female when the grave had been previously assigned as male based on the male orientation and warrior gear.  So we may begin to see more genetic studies attempting to determine the actual sex of the individual.

The twenty-something mothers and infants above were buried with daggers.

Two Beheaded Girls from La Magdalena, 11 graves total (foto César Heras)
No heads.  As with the Welshman from Brymbo, there is always a voice expressing the view that this is some sort of religious dis-articulation.  The people who buried Brymbo man arranged his few relicts in a flexed format, indicating a desire for completeness.  His larger remains were probably found by his family in a field after having been murdered.

These younger women appear to have been beheaded, victims of interpersonal and domestic violence with a long history.

Beaker Mother and Infant, Camino de Yeseras (Foto a partir
de Blasco et al. 2005: Fig. 7)
It has already been discussed from the Blasco paper and now this one, that the mother's head above has been unnaturally altered.  The most common cause of a flatten occipital in modern times is known from "crib babies".  However in this case, her flattened occipital was probably caused by having spent her infancy on a swaddling board, common in Europe until recently.

I've speculated before that this may be the most likely reason for the unnatural shape of many of the Bell Beaker heads.  Some Beaker heads are not correctly proportional by natural dimension and like some Native Americans and Mongolians, being bound to a board throughout infancy may have in some cases flattened the growing infant head. 

Interestingly, the authors note that aside from her flattened head, distinguishing her from nearby women buried without beaker pottery, that she also lacks the strong muscle ligaments of the other women.  They suggest that her life was "easier" than the other women.   

With regards to infant swaddling, this ancient Siberian practice (with the assumption that this was the case here) may be one more example of changes in the social structure and daily life occurring at this time. 

They note the number of young women and their infants.  It would be interesting to know what percentage of these infants are male and how this corresponds to women having weapons.  Infant death from hemolytic disease must have been stratospheric at this time due to the mescegenation of foreign and local peoples.

In the final analysis, the authors make the case that if the Iberian inventory of graves were reviewed given their understanding of the unreliability of gender-related items, that the number of female burials may actually double, in fact they suggest, surpass male burials!  (I smell a large genetic study)

La mujer en el registro funerario campaniforme y su reconocimiento social.  Women in the funerary Bell Beaker record and their social recognition.  TRABAJOS DE PREHISTORIA.  Corina Liesau, Concepción Blasco, Patricia Ríos, Raúl Flores, 72, N.º 1, enero-junio 2015, pp. 105-125, ISSN: 0082-5638.  doi: 10.3989/tp.2015.12146

The paper analyzes the Bell Beaker graves with female burials from three sites located near one another in the region of Madrid. The study addresses the female presence within contexts that have traditionally been considered mainly male. The variability of their grave goods and burial rituals and their identification in primary and secondary, single or collective inhumations, is also analyzed.  Their associations with male adult individuals and/or children are reviewed, and the social role of women buried with daggers in significant graves is discussed.  Although the sample is quantitatively insufficient, its
variability at least allows us to refute previons claims about the numerical superiority of male graves that have been made without any empirical support. We conclude with a discussion of why there are fewer women in Bell Beaker tombs than in contemporaneous tombs without Bell Beakers.


  1. Before, pottery was a woman work. And the techniques were transmitted by the oldest ones to the young ones, like today in North Africa ( Kabyles)
    The position of the women was certainly important in the Bell Beaker culture.

    The Ancestry of the first BBs is probably more present via the maternal lines. The men can be from anywhere, it doesn't matter. BTW, the BB in central Europe are often H3, prevalent in Spain, women are of Iberic Ancestry, even distant, what is not the case for men

    1. Some of the evidence now seems contradictory, so hopefully the resolution of the mtdna will improve to give a better understand of the movements of people

  2. "Infant death from hemolytic disease must have been stratospheric"...

    Oh, c'mon. Hemolytic disease has only 1/13 chance to happen (if, and only if, the mother is Rh- and the father Rh+) and that only after the firstborn (who never suffers it). This cannot be considered "stratospheric" in times when infant mortality was surely very high from other causes, although it would be of course a small extra. Treatments did not exist before the 1960s and yet people were not complaining so much.

    Interesting what you say about gender-inverted grave positions and also swaddling practice. I still do not understand what you mean by "guns", surely there was no such thing in the Chalcolithic, right?

    1. I'm picturing the calendar, bikinis and AK-47s. Seriously just daggers though.

      Stratospheric may be relative but I'm curious what the highest incidence of A- carriers are and if it ever reached fixation in a population. Probably no, but the question as what a worst case scenario would look like at the meeting of two populations where there was heavy introgression of men of one and the women of the other. So as a hypothetical, assume that IberiansAtlanteans in ancient times were heavily A- and became subject to a largely positive male introgression, what that looks like

    2. Why A? The dominant blood group in Western Europe is 0 (or O) and is also the most strongly associated to Rh- (Basques for example are dominantly 0+ and secondarily 0-, much as Irish, etc.) A is indeed important and I did in the past speculated about it having some connection with Neolithic (B is clearly Asian-centric and therefore Indoeuropean input) but there are diverse theories on how blood groups evolved, maybe even implying several instances of evolution of each. In any case I would not link Rh- with A but, if anything, with 0.

      Also I would not think Rh- as something intrusive but rather ancient, probably Paleolithic because it is much weaker in West Asia than in Europe. In fact one can well say that Rh- is the most European-specific genetic marker, at least among classic ones.

    3. Sorry, I meant Rh- not A-.

      Also I meant above that Rh- types may have been prominent or native to the Atlantic and poitives were intrusive at some point

    4. Do we know if Epipaleolithic hunter-gatherers from Europe were Rh-? I don't recall having read anything on this detail but it'd be interesting to know, of course.

    5. I've looked for but haven't found anything on ancient blood types.

  3. Interesting about the male / female grave positions - young princes and their mothers / wet nurses?

    (Although that would only fit if all the females buried as males had male infants with them.)

    Beheading - i have a vague recollection of this practise somewhere where they kept the heads of their ancestors in their homes - forget where from though.

    1. He says clearly that the women are buried with weapons and the typical "male" stuff. Those were "amazons" of sorts.

  4. Your interpretation of the La Magdalena burial does not match what the article by Liesau says. According to that these women were a young adult and an old woman, not girls. Also there is no suggestion of decapitation, just an absence of the head and the first vertebrae. The photograph makes it clear that the grave has later been disturbed, so unless there are cutmarks on the surviving vertebrae it would seem far more likely that the head and topmost vertebrae were removed some time after burial.
    The other examples with daggers are interesting, but certainly not uncommon across Beaker Europe.

    1. See, BBB: you can't allow yourself any poetic license! I was confused about why "guns" and Nick here is in disagreement about your use of your term "girls" to describe adults. :D

    2. Thanks for your comment, Nick. Maju is right, I'd make a terrible poet and worse lawyer. I mean female XX.

      I disagree with head removal however. The lack of cut marks on the vertebrae only means they didn't die during the French Revolution. You mention the absence of the first vertebrae, which I missed, but I think this would indicate that the head was removed while fleshed instead of the skeletalized skulll being removed. Whether or not the women were alive when beheaded, it may never be known.

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  6. BBB, Regarding which seems now Confirmed-
    Those Yamnaya Nomads who came from Somewhere around Caucasus, is it logical to propose that Yamnaya Spoke a
    Caucasus related language rather than Indo-European?.

    1. I wouldn't speculate too far on Yamnayas' language affinity either way. You could argue that the mixture shows meaningful linguistic contact between the Caucasus, where Kartvelian languages are spoken (in the South) and the Steppe (where Uralic languages were probably spoken (now in the forrest zone). So you could say that the Yamnaya area was where the two creolized if you want to take on faith that Kartvelian-like languages were also at one time spoken above the mountains (in addition to NWC & NEC) and show some genetic evidence to support this.

      I would only counter that a mirror argument can also be made for the plains below the Caucasus. If we were to tentatively propose a geography of languages structurally similar to proto-Uralic and those similar to proto-Karvelian there is still a sizable gap, meaning one had to initiate contact with the other at some point in history. I think a better case can be made that it was semi-nomadic PU speakers intruding on settled, farming PK speakers, not the other way around. The pronouns of IE seem to suggest that the dominant element of the creoles were Uralic-speaking or similar. In my mind, the most sensible background where this likely occurs is in the heart of North Euphrates, when "foreign elements from the East" begin encroaching on the native Southern Caucasus-like farmers. After some time this begins expanding North into Maikop and then the Steppe.
      Either way, I look forward to surprises as the year progresses.

    2. BBB, PIE definitely not a creole.the idea gets tossed around too frequently without critically analysing the actual language. Contacts, substrate effect, language shifts, etc- yes, but certainly not creolisation, which has a very specific meaning in linguistics.

    3. @Mike Thomas

      Admittedly Creole is the wrong description. Hybridization is what I meant. In this case, not simple borrowing from one into another, but a full fledged atom smashing event between two very different language families that brought about PIE suddenly (in relative terms over centuries).

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  8. BBB, cutmarks on vertebrae are quite common on Roman and Anglo-Saxon decapitation burials and have been found on Mesolithic decapitations at Ofnet in Germany, so I would say that their absence argues against decapitation, although it is not definitive.
    I should have said in my previous message thanks for pointing me to the Liesau article, which I hadn't seen.