Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Rathlin Burials (Cassidy et al, 2015)

For all intents and purposes, a 'Bronze Age Food Vessel burial' on either side of the Irish Sea is essentially a Beaker burial*.  So now with this new paper on the first ancient genomes of Ireland we have three more Beaker men to throw on the pile of diagnostic Beaker men, of whom are to this point uniformly R1b, in stark constrast to the previous ages (still not proven at this point).

If you want to know a little more about these men, check out some of the material from Brian Sloan from Queens College [here].  I'm not a hundred percent sure these are the exact men that were tested, but I believe these three men are from the glebe-land of the local parish.  This guy below might be one of them.  Also, Sloan's page [here]

A Rathlin Food Vessel Burial (Sloan, 2006)
In any case, if you read this blog then you're probably are reading the blogs in the sidebar, so I won't rehash those discussions (but I'd stay tuned in since this is one of a number of papers that will be looking at the Atlantic Neolithic, the Isles in particular)

Much of Ireland and half of Britain was underneath a large ice cube during most of the Paleolithic, receding slowly to oak stands and natural clearings.  Aside from fishing, the number and size of mammals in the Isles is and was very limited and this in turn limited population strength and density of the hunters.

That changed when the baby machine of the Neolithic invited itself into the Isles.  This interaction really is best understood using fourth grade math.  The farmers could generate food, certainly babies and live in larger, protected communities.

The important thing about the farmer food machine is that labor is proportional to food production. It's an economy of scale.  More babies = more food.  Each new worker reduces the individual burden of security, management or harvesting, thus freeing up more time to do other things (like making babies) or building things.  This is kind of a backwards to the Mesolithic economic person/food ratio. Numerically, farmers dominated Ireland.

Finally, the amphibious Bell Beaker phenomenon runs up nearly every beach of the Isles.  The old cultures don't die out either; rather, they seem to be grafted into larger social systems with Beaker culture being the dominant force leading to the regular Bronze Age.  The food vessel tradition is a good example of two cultures fusing.

See also [Eurogenes], [Dienekes], [Razib], and [Dispatches]


  1. Nice summary
    But I believe the paper implies that any middle Neolithic ancestry of the samples individuals was from Central Europe
    This suggests that these individuals had not yet admixed in Ireland, or there was no one to intermix with

    Of course modern Irish have more EEF admixture than the BB 'forefathers', so the question is - did this extra EEF come from subsequent admixture with 'hidden' late Neolithic groups in Ireland or through later still flows from Roman Empire, later continental celts, etc

    1. Thanks. I'm curious about the genomes of Peterborough folk from Britain and the impact of Danubian descended cultures like Rossen on the Isles. It's a little surprising to see this Central European affinity in people from County Down in the Bronze Age. It'd be nice to know exactly what that is.

  2. "Aside from fishing, the number and size of mammals in the Isles is and was very limited and this in turn limited population strength and density of the hunters."

    Interesting insight. Its obvious in a way, but it never occurred to me that islands might make poor hunter-gatherer territory due to a lack of terrestrial food sources from them after an ice age that isn't easily repopulated with relict populations since there were none on the island and many terrestrial food species can't cross water easily.

    1. Or HGs around the coast but a relatively empty interior? and farmers can't spread everywhere if their crops don't grow (acid soils)

      maybe leaving space for cattle herders to expand into.

  3. Do you think this issue of Rathlin's (and modern Irish, etc.) genome implies some sort of recolonization of Ireland from the Rhine province of BB? If so, how can we explain the strong archaeological signal of demographic growth in this period in Ireland with the extremely weak one in Scotland and yet that both countries ended up with similar genomes, similar also to Raithlin's? Was Scotland invaded by "Irish" in the Bronze Age, as it'd be in the Middle Ages? Do we know of any supporting archaeological data?

    Also, in your opinion, should we consider the Rhine province of BB, and by extension the Atlantic Islands, as already Indoeuropeanized in language and culture or just mixed and still pre-IE? If IE, what other signs of Inodeuropeanization can we see, if any, in the archaeological record? How can we explain the continuity of an Atlantic trade/cultural area, maybe most intense in the BA, if Irish & British Indoeuropeanization happened so early in time?

    These are questions I ask myself and for which I don't have clear answers yet, although I'm skeptical of early Indoeuropeanization, notably because Raithlin's R1b-S116 clade seems to originate towards the South, not Central or Northern Europe, so the autosomal component doesn't seem associated.

    A separate issue I'm considering is that of stone circles, which appeared suddenly in Iron Age Basque Country (pastoralist mountain areas only) and Scandinavia (with surprising similar aspect and social function) and whose only precursors (other than the short-lived Boléraz group of Chalcolithic Pannonia) are in Britain. Do you think it makes any sense to imagine them as spreading from a British center? How? Which are the implications?

    1. According to Julian Heath's book (searchable in the blog), some of the earliest Beaker signals in Britain were from the Irish Sea or Ireland and from West to East.
      The Isles are complicated though since Beaker influences seem to be coming from many directions: Central Spain, Western Portugal, Britanny, Central Europe, and the Lower Rhine.

      I've kind of expected all Beakers to have some Corded Ware ancestry (or significant Eastern European) if only because of their avenues of expansion. The evidence so far from the Northern Germany is kind of a red flare because I know for certain Beaker and Corded Ware mixed, we have DNA of both. But in these cases Beaker is about half of Corded Ware of what we'd assume is Pontic ancestry. Given this and the Spanish EN and MN results, not to mention Iberia's archaeological connections with the Near East and/or Morocco, I have a lot of skepticism of certain scenarios.

      Overall, I think the Isles are a bad place to look for questions about identity because it's a mixed bag.

  4. West to East? That's interesting and a bit unexpected, thank you. It would seem to preclude an East to West migration from Germany, as argued by some.

    "Central Spain"

    Ciempozuelos late Beakers is what you mean? I thought they were too late for that: just a marginal note in the final BB period: a stylish vortex of convergence leading to a rather riff-raff semi-nomadic culture (Cogotas I). Maybe you have some other sort of Plateau beakers in mind?

    Anyhow, as you describe it, it looks to me as some sort of expansion from the backwaters, as I would not have expected Ireland, a rather remote island on the way to nowhere, let alone the Iberian Plateau, to have any major influence outside their immediate neighborhood.

    Of course Portugal, Brittany and Central Europe are sort of expected, although... what about Switzerland? Isn't that another "backwater"? Yet it seems to have produced at least the Amesbury Archer. What's up with the rise of these previously relatively marginal areas in the BB context? Is it because of increased importance of herding?

    1. Let me caveat that there is a lot of disagreement and it's all conjecture.

      You might find this paper interesting "Some Iberian Influences on the Copper Age Pottery of the Irish Channel Area" H.N. Savory.

      This paper discusses influences of some pottery groups in Late Neolithic Ireland possibly coming from the Portuguese forts, VNSP is specifically singled out. Some pottery items have appearance of some Almerian items as well.

      As far as Beaker pottery, some notched, flat rimmed Beaker bowls are given as an example of contact between either Southern Portugal or the Spanish Meseta. There is another paper out this last year making the case for direct contact between

      In Scotland the Beaker influence seems to have more directly come from Holland and heavily influenced by the CWC. I think a percentage of the R1a in Eastern Scotland and the English Danelaw could have come from these people.

      Southern Britain around Wessex seems to have strong contacts with Central Europe.

      I know the weather in the Isles was at a sweet spot of being warm and dry, so it would have been an attractive place in the middle of the third millenium, after that the weather turned rainy and cool.

    2. Got it, thanks. On first look anyhow all the comparisons (and they do look good ones) in figs 1 and 2 are with Vila Nova culture (Portuguese Estremadura), nothing with the Plateau. That fits with what I thought I knew.

      "Some pottery items have appearance of some Almerian items as well."

      Could not find any illustration of that but anyhow Almerian BB is likely to have been influenced by VNSP, which is clearly pivotal, and South Portugal, which shares with Los Millares the preference for tholos princely tombs (unlike VNSP, which styles artificial caves, as happens in Treilles - the Treilles-VNSP connection is probably a big one judging also on artifact exchange between both centers).

      "In Scotland the Beaker influence seems to have more directly come from Holland and heavily influenced by the CWC. I think a percentage of the R1a in Eastern Scotland and the English Danelaw could have come from these people".

      Interesting idea. Although it might have arrived later as well.

      "Southern Britain around Wessex seems to have strong contacts with Central Europe."

      With the Eastern Province or rather the Rhine Province? Two different animals, you know.