Saturday, December 31, 2016

Last Minute Review of 2016

In a few weeks 2016 will be a distant memory because some spectacular papers are about to parachute in.

Here's a few things that were memorable.

From the "Beakers & Bodies Project" (British Archaeology, 2017)

1.  One of the best forensic reconstructions of an ancient person was brought to life:  "Ava of the Highlands" 

2.  There was the release of a paper "The Beaker People Project" that gave some support to the idea that flatheads could have been a product of infant rearing practices.

My view for a long while has been that flattened occiputs are enticingly a tell-tale sign of infant cradleboard use, most common in North Asia.  That, in combination with a strong genetic disposition for brachycephaly, made for some strange new head shapes in the Beaker period.   (Being Tall)

Discussed this a little further here VanderWaals, 1984

3.  Very recently there was a 'Neolithic Eyebrow' raising paper from Christina Roth, 2016.  I suspect this is part of a drip from a bigger paper, but in any case the Mesetan Beakerfolk clearly have unexpected maternal profiles that are not native to the plateau lands of Iberia.

Roth's paper agrees to some degree with Brotherton et al, 2013 in that Iberia has the kind of components that later appear elsewhere in Europe, while the reverse could also be true in the Mesetas and the Tagus estuary.  Some sort of reflux in one direction or the other seems likely.

On the other hand, kept in mind Hervella et al, 2015 who suggested that the dominant Beaker maternal profiles (H + V) were largely a contribution from a later Neolithic influx (relatively speaking) from Anatolia which also began to expand with the Beakers.

4.  Ancient Canary Islander DNA introduces some intriguing possibilities.   The bottom line is that R1b owes much less to the mission period than expected.  It could predate Berbers.  It's probably not Roman either.

The most backwards, isolated, hayseed hicks of the Canary Islands tested from a millennium ago are also the most Atlantic-like.

5.  Beer can literally be brought back from the dead.  [here].  This is more than analyzing ingredients and reproducing a beverage; it's actually reanimating surviving yeast (gives beer most of its unique character).

If beakers meant for drinking were periodically waterproofed with beeswax, then it's possible that yeast migrated into the liner and survived the harsher processes of decomposition.  Reproducing those yeast cells and then reusing (by the right hands, Alex McGovern?) could tell us volumes about the stages, temperatures and conditions in which that particular beer was made and stored (even if it was a relatively wild and uncontrolled yeast).

That would tell us if there was a radical difference in alcohol content in the funeral beakers of children, women and men.  Also, I suspect Neolithic beer was fermented in 1/4 oak log barrels (which is basically a hallowed-out oak log proofed with wax).

This next year looks to be a good one.  Happy New Year!

Monday, December 19, 2016

North-East Scotland, Age of Metal (British Archaeology 16/17)

A short article by Neil Curtis and Neil Wilken covers some of the highlights of the Scottish "Beakers and Bodies Project", which was an associate project of the British "Beaker People Project", previously blogged.   It is published in the British Archaeology magazine.  (article is linked below)

Northeast Scotland has a relatively high (or apparent) density of Beaker culture materials.  Its river valleys may have desirable to people wanting access to Ireland, the Netherlands and all of the North Sea.  Curtis and Wilken seem to speculate this might partly have been resource driven in combination with location.  In this article, they look at this region's funerary beakers.

Curtis and Wilken build on a theory by Alexandra and Ian Shepherd that the pottery decoration and styles reflect gender and age differences.  Aside from unique local beakers, Tall-Short Necked Beakers are associated with established, older men.  A more balanced Basic-S profile beaker is associated with women, and another with young adults, etc.  An exception is the squatty, short-lip beaker below, which is a local thing.

It also appears likely all funerary beakers in NE Scotland once contained white inlay paste, not unlike most of Europe.  Even if we had a time-machine and were able to ask people why they insisted on doing this, I doubt most could tell you.  I suspect that in its earliest form, white inlay on an iron oxide background was used to paint a schematic, allegorical expression of the underworld in the Beaker mind.  [previously]

A Globular Very Short Necked Beaker

As you can see in the first graphic, NE Scottish Beakerfolk appear to have often been buried in a gendered, East-West manner, similar to many of the Corded Ware.  As we look for ancient DNA in the months to come, it will be interesting if there is a genetic connection that is more direct between the two.

Neil Curtis, Neil Wilkin (2017) "North-east Scotland in the first age of metal"

Friday, December 16, 2016

Bodiless on Broadway (Worcestershire)

Archaeologists Rob Hedge and Jane Evans discuss some of the unique items coming out of a pit this week.

Broadway is a village in Hobbit Country (The Cotswolds) of Worcester. Captions are available.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Ringheiligtum Pömmelte - SALZLANDKREIS

Ringheiligtum Pömmelte is a reconstruction of the "German Stonehenge" based on the archaeological findings.  It is more comparable to Woodhenge and is roughly contemporary. 

The first culture to leave its materials here were the Corded Ware Culture, followed by Bell Beaker and then the Unetice.

Admission and directions on the website.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Mesetas Beaker Tool-Belt

You may want to read this post and comments from Eurogenes for some context prior to this post.  I won't rehash back to where babies come from, but here's an acceptable background:

- Big DNA study 
- Bigger DNA study
- Biggest DNA study (coming soon)
- Surprising Bell Beaker mtdna from Spanish Mesetas (Roth, 2016)

Otero, 2005

I'll start with the unusual Beaker mtdna profiles of Mesetas.  Firstly, this dataset clearly shows discontinuity and social demarcation during the Beaker period of this region.  The Mesetan Bell Beakers were reasonably a close nit group of people who came from somewhere else.  Coming aDNA may tell us more.

Weirdly, the Mesetan maternal profiles are distinguished by the relative absence of Haplogroup H, especially those subclades presumably native to Iberia*.  That was so far observed or inferred to be the norm for Beakers outside the Meseta.  (Botherton et al, 2013)  and that was easily extrapolated on the Isles and other places given additional information.  In any case, the Mesetan Beakers (Ciempozuelos) have a preponderance of U5a, which have may come more directly from the mouth of the Tagus; but as Roth notes, is more often associated with Eastern Europe.

That's not really the focus of this post necessarily, and I'm not advocating any sort of interpretation.
However, it is interesting to view this new information through the lens of various theories on Beaker origins.  One of the Beaker elements that is clearly foreign to Iberia is the growing corpus of All-Over Corded Beakers (AOC), which as Richard Harrison observed, are typically found in the Iberian littorals).

I'm not sure Steppe ancestry in the Meseta will tell us more than expected, but the early emergence of corded pottery may tell us something in the near future or not.  And so, some links...
Suarez Otero

Susana Jorge

To be clear, I'm not suggesting any meaningful presence of AOC in the Mesetas, but could it be another indicator of a reflux movement of people from Northern Europe?

It's seems more likely that the Mesetan Beakers came from Central Portugal based on, at least the Maritime pottery...
"Castillo’s model was not challenged in Spain until Harrison’s book (1977), which adopted Sangmeister’s dualist model (1963), and postulated an origin in central Portugal for maritime Beakers and a central-European one for the later incised forms of decoration.  Harrison compiled the information then available and suggested that both the Maritime and Ciempozuelos complexes were intrusive in the Meseta" (Garrido-Pena, 1997)
 Certainly is looking to be the case.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Sounds of the Neolithic (Tenores di bitti)

Over at Eurogenes there is a paper containing the full analysis on 3,000 something Sardinian genomes.

The paper notes the exceptional closeness of the Gennargentu Regione to that of Neolithic genomes; Sardinians are already close, perhaps the closest of any living people.

Bitti hugs this range for which this strange style of music, tenores di bitti, is known.  Always a quartet, the men sing in octave 5ths, and the base is guttural, which occurs nowhere else in the modern West.

It has been proposed that some of the Neolithic monuments provide acoustics suitable for this style of music, specifically for the tholoi of the North Middle East.  Sorry, can't remember the author at the moment.

Many great songs on Youtube.  Also, on the Wiki page the voices are broken out See demo.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

"Once Upon a Time in the West" DNA (Roth, 2016)

Here's a doctoral thesis by Christina Roth which includes quite a bit of Iberian mtdna.  The most interesting aspect of this paper concerns Beakerfolk maternal lines which presents an interesting situation.

The publish date is 2016 at the University of Mainz website.  She has been a co-author of several of the large DNA papers in the last year or so.  I believe this is includes a large amount of unpublished data, but I don't have time to look at it closely.  You can dig in at page 134.

"The two Bell Beaker groups [North and South Mesetas] show significant differences on haplogroup level to Chalcolithic non-Bell Beaker from the Southern Meseta and all Early and Late Neolithic groups with strong genetic hunter-gatherer background...They are clearly separated from all other Chalcolithic groups in PCA, cluster analysis, and MDS...Furthermore, AMOVA supports – though not significant – separation of Bell Beaker and non-Bell Beaker groups (see table 21, p.104). The Fisher-test with superordinate groups supports significant differences between Chalcolithic Bell Beaker and non-Bell Beaker groups as well (see table 14, p.92). Genetic differences between the two Bell Beaker groups are low but not significant while higher and mostly significant FST values to the Chalcolithic groups of the Southern Meseta and East Spain can be observed (see table 16, p.94)"


"The genetic distinctness of the Southern Meseta Bell Beaker and non-Bell Beaker groups can even be observed on the same sites: Camino de las Yeseras and Humanejos provided both, non-Bell Beaker and Bell Beaker individuals."

This is weird...

"A common feature that is shared between the two Bell Beaker groups [in the Mesetas] and that separates them from other Chalcolithic groups is the low amount of haplogroup H and the presence of haplogroup U5a, which was – apart from the Bell Beaker groups – only found in one Late Neolithic individual from Portugal and the Portuguese Chalcolithic site of Perdigões."  (remember a U5b Phoenician..)

and weirder...

"The only new haplogroup found in the Bell Beaker dataset was the sub-Saharan lineage of haplogroup L1b in the Southern Meseta."

Christina Roth then continues with some interesting interpretation.  In total, this part of the paper is maybe 10 pages or so, but the whole thing looks like a good read when time comes available.

"Once upon a time in the West : paleogenetic analyses on Mesolithic to Early Bronze Age individuals from the Iberian Peninsula" Christina Roth.  Mainz : Univ. 236 Seiten.  [Link]

Abstract: While the amount of ancient Iberian genetic data has increased over the last years, few studies have focused on population dynamic processes beyond the immediate period of the Neolithic transition. In this study, the Iberian dataset was enlarged by SNP-based haplogroup information for 249 new Mesolithic to Early Bronze Age individuals and 187 reproduced HVR I sequences. These new data allow confident insights into post-Neolithisation population dynamic processes on the Iberian Peninsula and make it possible to compare the development of Iberian and Central European groups over a time span of about 4,000 years.
The results of this study reveal a strong genetic regionalization of Iberian groups throughout the Neolithic and partially in the Chalcolithic. A considerable amount of hunter-gatherer maternal heritage persisted during the Iberian Early Neolithic. The greatest amount of “Neolithic” lineages/haplogroups (HV, J, K, N1a, T2, V, and X) has been found in Northeast Spain and Aragón, suggesting these regions were the main entrance for Neolithic lineages into the Iberian Peninsula, while the amount of mitochondrial hunter-gatherer influence increases with growing distance from these regions, pointing to various forms of Neolithic transitions on the Iberian Peninsula. In some areas genetic continuity between Early and Late Neolithic seems highly likely (Ebro Valley) while other regions show large genetic differences to the preceding period (Central Portugal, Northern Meseta). Central Iberian Bell Beaker groups are genetically distinct to most other Chalcolithic groups.
Although a substantial number of Early Neolithic Iberian individuals share direct sequence hits to contemporary individuals of the Central European Linear pottery culture, the amount of hunter-gatherer mitochondrial heritage is considerably greater in all regions of the Iberian Peninsula than in Central Europe. No genetic connection between Iberian and Central European Bell Beakers or the Corded Ware culture could be found. When focusing on the distribution of sub-clades of haplogroup H, differences between the Iberian Peninsula and the groups from other parts of Europe were recognizable. In the Iberian samples set only sub-haplogroups H1 and H3 could be identified. While H1 was present in all Early and Later Neolithic groups from Central and Western Europe, H3 shows strong Western European affinities and is not detectable in Central Europe before the Middle Neolithic. While no strong differences in sub-haplogroup H variability among Iberian groups of different epochs could be detected, a clear shift between Central Europe´s Early and Middle Neolithic is recognizable.

Monday, December 5, 2016

200 Bell Beaker Genomes Tea Leaves

If you read Beakerblog, you are already aware from Eurogenes of the "Bell Beaker behemoth coming real soon"  This is the combined 200 ancient Bell Beaker genomes from all over Europe.

*Update*  To clarify after Jean Manco's spanking, I'm not suggesting that the genomes will be published in Antiquity or by any of the authors mentioned.  I mistakenly thought Richard Harrison would co-author a paper in Antiquity with Heyd.  Regardless, I think my assumptions would be reasonable to suggest new information supporting Harrison's 1974 hypothesis.  Apparently I'm wrong!

This March paper in Cambridge's Antiquity (could have been) a revisit of an important paper that appeared in Antiquity in 1974, "Origins of the Bell Beaker cultures" by Richard J. Harrison.  Harrison proposed a model for the formation of the Bell Beaker culture, which you can see below in diagram #7.

Another assumption is that the papers in Antiquity incorporate knowledge of the yet-to-be-published genomes that are out there.  I would assume that would be the case, but I don't know.
Took from a presentation by Jan Turek.  (Fig 3.  Harrison, 1974)
Another paper will be penned by Kristain Kristainsen, that I have a hunch will concern the origins of the (specifically) Dutch Single Grave Culture.  I don't know this.  It could be all broad strokes.  But it looks like a re-attack on an older question within the context of a looming genome bonanza. 

If you know better, then point me in the right direction.

Also, here's some older posts that may be of interest...

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

1st Millennium Canary Islander DNA (Ordenez et al, 2016)

Bernard Sécher comments on a genetic study of Canary Islanders prior to Modern European contact.  "ADN ancien d'une population aborigène de l'île de El Hierro dans les Canaries"

He lays out the details, which you'll need since the paper is pay-per-view.

Ferdinand and Isabella receive captive Guanches

These results present a bit of a dilemma for conventional wisdom.  Not only are these 61 individuals before the Spanish missions, the Punta Azul individuals are nearly maternally fixed H1-16260.  It also appears that haplogroup R1b is native to El Hierro, or at least predates Hispanization.  Of course there are also the expected, typical Berber haplogroups. (once again we see a strong relationship between R1b and H1)

No evidence yet suggests habitation before the European Early Bronze Age and the last major immigration event would have been pre-historic Berbers.  Between the Berber influx and the Colonial Period, the islands were sometimes visited by maritime powers, but the islands were home to people with relatively little contact between each other or the outside world.

So this leaves several possibilities as to how and when the ancestry of the cave people of El Heirro formed.  One is that Punic, Greek or Roman settlers or merchants left a paternal mark on the natives and that this was specifically the introduction of R1b-M269 in the largest part.  There could also be unrecorded contact between Medieval Spain and the islands. That's a difficult case to make.

A second possibility is that the presence of R1b among North African Atlas Berbers was at one time much more pronounced than it is now and is reflected in the founding Berber population of the islands.  That's a good possibility.

More conservative potteries with geometries and solar motifs [via Gevic]

A third possibility, and in keeping with the autosomal results and diversity of male lines, is that the islands were already inhabited before the Berber influx and was also genetically monolithic and Atlantic-like, something like if Ireland was invaded by Berbers.  It's important to remember the time-frame in which the islands were first populated in a meaningful way (sometime in the 2nd millennium) and also where they are in relation to Western Morocco. 

Pintaderas Canarias (Gobierno de Canarias)
These three possibilities are not exclusive.  The really big news is that this has implications for how modern uni-parental markers of the contemporary inhabitants are viewed.  Maybe this will encourage Canary men to get the full y-chromosome tested.

Genetic studies on the prehispanic population buried in Punta Azul cave (El Hierro, Canary Islands)


A total of 61 samples from Punta Azul were analyzed for ancient DNA.
Success rate: molecular sexing 88.5%, uniparental markers 90.16%, STR 45.9%.
There is a complete fixation of the H1-16260 mtDNA lineage.
Y-chromosome results show the presence of three lineages: E-M81, R-M269, and E-M33.
Matrilineality could explain the behaviors in maternal and paternal lineages.


The aim of this study was to establish the genetic studies of the population from one of the most important known aboriginal funerary spaces of the island of El Hierro (Canary Islands), the Punta Azul cave, which harbors remains of 127 individuals. Sixty-one adult tibiae were examined, 32 left and 29 right. Radiocarbon dating yields an antiquity of 1015–1210 AD. We have obtained an overall success rate of 88.5% for the molecular sexing, and of 90.16% for the uniparental markers. Short tandem repeats (STR) profiles were also possible for 45.9% of the samples. This performance is a consequence of the good conservation of the bones in their archaeological context. The mtDNA composition of the sample is characterized by the complete fixation of the H1-16260 lineage. These results can be explained by a mixture of consecutive founding events, a bottleneck episode at the beginning of the colonization and/or as a consequence of genetic drift. Paternal lineages were also affected by these processes but in a less acute way. These differences lead us to propose social behaviors as an explanation for this difference. The maternal transmission of the lineages, mentioned in ethnohistorical sources of the Archipelago, could be an explanation. These results could be in agreement with endogamous practices, but the autosomal STR results indicate a relative high diversity. These results have allowed us to characterize the Punta Azul cave population and see the way in which geographical isolation, the process of adaptation and specific social behaviors affected the aboriginal population of the Island.

See also "The Sahara and the Canary Islands: reflections within archaeology, politics and rupestrian manifestations" Farrujia de la Rosa, 2008

"The Guanches of the Canary Islands"  Matilda

Thursday, November 24, 2016

New Perspectives on Mont Bego (Thomas Huet, 2016)

Mont Bego is a mountain pass in Southern France where thousands of petroglyphs are documented.  Almost all of them are daggers or cows.  See previous [Link]

He makes the case that these petroglyphs are not the result of a narrow group of artists but the accumulation of art over a vast period of time.  Some daggers overlay old ones.

Nicoletta Bianchi (<2009) via rockartscandinavia

So here's a question.  Why only daggers and cow heads?  A similar phenomenon at Stonehenge; hundreds of engraved daggers, that's it.

Here's one possibility put forth by Michael Bott [here], that is that the daggers are indicative of the activity that took place in this location, perhaps dueling in this location, maybe religious combat sport or venationes.  Since this place is kind of a hassle to get to, maybe the activity was sanctioned in the backdrop of a holy mountain.  Whatever score settling, trial by combat, dueling or contention was settled once and for all?  Anyhow, that seems to jive with Huet's accumulation theory.

Unless you can think of another reason?

New Perspectives on the Chronology and Meaning of Mont Bégo Rock Art (Alpes-Maritimes, France)

Thomas Huet, 2016.  Cambridge Archaeological Journal.

In 1994, H. de Lumley's teams of researchers finished the colossal task—initiated more than 20 years earlier—of recording every pecked rock engraving of Mont Bégo's rock art. The following year, in the book Le grandiose et le sacré, Lumley defined the site as a sacred mountain and attributed rock engravings, considered as ex-votos, to the Early Bronze Age and the Bell Beaker period. However, it is hard to recognize what interpretations can be directly drawn from the data: some exceptional rock engravings are considered as representative of the whole corpus of rock engravings and the most numerous ones are considered as a ‘bruit de fond’ [background noise]. Furthermore, recognition of associations—where rock engravings are contemporaneous and significantly grouped—had been criticised, and the hypothesis that all the rock engravings can be considered as a single archaeological event seems also to be contradicted by studies of superimpositions. We developed a GIS and a comprehensive database, with statistics, to identify specific spatial configurations, seriation effects and, finally, the evolution of the rock art. By going further in the periodization, our aim is to propose some provisional hypotheses about the meaning of Mont Bégo's rock engravings.

See also [Link] 

Monday, November 21, 2016

Beaker Cemetery in Cefn Graianog Quarry

A well preserved Bell Beaker cemetery has been discovered in Northern Wales.

Gwynedd Archaeological Planning Services is conducting the excavation of the quarry near Caernarfon, Wales.

The larger bell beaker was discovered completely intact.

Found this in the Aggregate Industry newsletter Agg-Net

Via Daily Post
 See also the article by the Daily Post.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Differences in Early Neolithic Dairy (Spiteri et al, 2016)

If the conclusion of this research were to hold, then it would appear that dairying was widely practiced in some areas of the Northern Mediterranean but not others, particularly Northern Greece.

The safe consensus view would be that this is a period of subsistence experimentation and nothing more.  That explains the variability of farming and husbandry practices, move on.  I'm not so sure.  Another wretched pay-per-obscurity.

Seen in Popular Archaeology

Cynthianne Debono Spiteri, Rosalind E. Gillis, Mélanie Roffet-Salque, Laura Castells Navarro, Jean Guilaine, Claire Manen, Italo M. Muntoni, Maria Saña Segui, Dushka Urem-Kotsou, Helen L. Whelton, Oliver E. Craig, Jean-Denis Vigne, and Richard P. Evershed "Regional asynchronicity in dairy production and processing in early farming communities of the northern Mediterranean" PNAS 2016 ; published ahead of print November 14, 2016, doi:10.1073/pnas.1607810113 [Link]


In the absence of any direct evidence, the relative importance of meat and dairy productions to Neolithic prehistoric Mediterranean communities has been extensively debated. Here, we combine lipid residue analysis of ceramic vessels with osteo-archaeological age-at-death analysis from 82 northern Mediterranean and Near Eastern sites dating from the seventh to fifth millennia BC to address this question. The findings show variable intensities in dairy and nondairy activities in the Mediterranean region with the slaughter profiles of domesticated ruminants mirroring the results of the organic residue analyses. The finding of milk residues in very early Neolithic pottery (seventh millennium BC) from both the east and west of the region contrasts with much lower intensities in sites of northern Greece, where pig bones are present in higher frequencies compared with other locations. In this region, the slaughter profiles of all domesticated ruminants suggest meat production predominated. Overall, it appears that milk or the by-products of milk was an important foodstuff, which may have contributed significantly to the spread of these cultural groups by providing a nourishing and sustainable product for early farming communities.

This builds on previous analysis of sieve sherds... via the Wall Street Journal, 2013>

See also Salque et al, 2013 "Earliest Evidence of Cheese Making in the Sixth Millennium..."

Monday, November 14, 2016

Iron Age Braggot Beer

Another beer recreation story.  This beer was buried with an Iron Age Celtic warrior and appears to have been similar to Medieval braggot.

The story from NPR

via NPR
Apparently the recreated braggot sucked, which makes sense given the honey content.  Mead tastes like cough syrup, so if you took equal parts of NyQuil, an amber ale, a couple squirts of almond air freshener and a couple of peppermints, then you might be close.

Of course, it's easy to screw a recipe up when you have the directions, probably a lot harder when you don't.  Mead still sucks.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Beer Brought Back to Life (Live Science)

Unlike most multi-celled animals who disintegrate after death, single-cell organisms can go dormant under the right conditions.  See "Amber Ale: Brewing Beer from 45-Million-Year-Old Yeast"

Sydney Cove Shipwreck Beer Bottle (via

Just released today is the announcement of the recreation of 200 year old beer aboard the wrecked H.M.S Sydney Cove.  See "Oldest Beer Brewed from Shipwreck's 200-Year-Old Yeast Microbes" from LiveScience.

Theoretically, Saccharomyces could very well be suspended in the interior wax coating of Neolithic and Bronze Age beakers.  Even if the wax is not visible to the naked eye, small globules may be present under microscopic examination. If wax is present, Saccharomyces is probably present as well.  The real work would be attempting to isolate and reanimate the organisms.  

There's several things we could learn about five thousand year old beer.  The first is the sophistication level of brewing.  One way to know this is by actually tasting the beer.  The other is through genetic analysis.  If multiple strains are present, we might learn about the alcohol content %, the time of year certain strains were used, and what they were used for (mead, barley beer, etc)

Chemical analysis will also do one other thing that I've suspected, the presence of oak lactones would mostly prove that log barrels (as I've hypothesized) were used to ferment and store beer instead of clay pottery.  (See here)

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Tips and Tricks #1

Want to find flint?  Here's two places to look if it isn't common in your area.

Flint and a chuck of quartz-something

Anytime you go to the bank, hospital, college, botanical garden or city park, always be on the lookout for decorative rock beds or landscaping that incorporates rocks.  Attractive river rocks are often trucked in from other places.  If rounded limestone or quartzite are present, you might get lucky.  I found thousands of enormous, dagger-worthy nodules among other rocks outside a doctor's office. 

The easiest way to identify flint is to strike it, and then smell it.  If you roll the wheel on a cigarette lighter, that's the smell.  Do you get edges when you break it?  If you strike it in the dark, you'll get a few sparks.  The outside should be 'nodular' and semi-smooth for flint.

Often railroad tracks and highways are ballasted with some variation of limestone and quartzite.  Technically speaking, depending on one's interpretation, this would more likely be chert, although is basically the same thing since no one definition separates the two.

If I can get past amateur hour, maybe I'll have some stone arrows worth posting.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Arrowhead Shapes in Central Europe (Petřík, Sosna, Prokeš, 2016)

I'll have to rely on a few sentences of a pay-per-view abstract, but one point of interest is highlighted below.  If I'm reading correctly, this suggests that a large percentage of arrowheads (probably those from burial) had not been used or retouched. 

If this was true, then it might also follow that more perishable parts of the burial also followed this pattern.  In other words, there could have been a specific 'burial dress' that included items made for the occasion.  Given the work effort in constructing burial monuments and similar findings from daggers, we might imagine that the burial clothing, belts, hats and footwear were both costly in terms of time and resources.

OTOH, it could be these guys walked around displaying daggers and arrows they never used.  I doubt it, but who knows.

Curious Grave 8 from Kněževes (modified from Turek, 2012)

Shape matters: assessing regional variation of Bell Beaker projectile points in Central Europe using geometric morphometrics

Petřík, J., Sosna, D., Prokeš, L. et al. Archaeol Anthropol Sci (2016). doi:10.1007/s12520-016-0423-z


Despite the large-scale expansion of Bell Beaker phenomenon, there is a tension between the normative Bell Beaker material culture categories and their local objectification in the form of real artefacts. Stone projectile points provide an opportunity to evaluate how much was the general category of such a point influenced by regional and local factors. The aim of this paper is to explore shape and size variation of Central European Bell Beaker projectile points from Moravia (Czech Republic) to elucidate factors responsible for this variation. The sample consists of 194 projectile points from 54 Central European Bell Beaker sites (2500–2300/2200 BC) distributed in Morava River catchment. The size and shape of projectile points were studied by landmark-based geometric morphometrics and expressed as shape groups, which have been assessed in terms of their spatial distribution, raw material, and reutilization. Although several shape categories of points were identified, there is a strong degree of uniformity in the research sample. The dominant shape category (75.4 % of points) was pervasive across geographic space and was not significantly affected either by raw material or reutilization. A lower degree of reutilization of points is interpreted as a consequence of a non-utilitarian role of projectile points, which represented a critical component of Bell Beaker mortuary practices.

See also [here]

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Quirks in Blogger

Blogger has some quirks that I've tried to fix recently.  All of 'blogs I follow' in the sidebar got knocked off.  Other weird stuff happens that seem like stability issues.  So I'm still adding stuff back in to the sidebar as I realize they're missing.

The Blogger app for small devices sucks as well.  You'd think a zillion dollar company would have an app that is a little more stable and user friendly.  Nope.

Anyhow, bear with me.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Britain's Bronze Age Mummies (Time Team)

Bronze Age freaks, articulated display skeletons, mummies and other weird stuff.
Beam to you tv.  1 hr episode.

Click settings for subtitles, then click your preferred subtitle language.

Barbarians Don't Need Archaeology or Cursive (Tony Robbins)

Sir Tony Robinson (the narrator of Time Team) is in the news recently (Guardian) concerning the removal of archaeology and certain other subjects from the A-Level GCE exams in Britain.

For all intents and purposes, the British GCE is the college entrance equivalent of the SAT or ACT in the United States, also required for a high school diploma.

This follows a general trend in the West to gouge out everything that isn't one of two or three core subjects, but 'reading' may be too controversial or discriminatory to last much longer itself.  Much of this is being driven by institutional reaction to social change and trends, but there is also modern pedagogical cancer that views learning as a statistical science; achieve the most economical effort with minimal divergence in outcomes.

At one time adults taught and children learned with the goal of becoming roundly capable and independent citizens, maybe some would even become enlightened.  Now it's all metric-based bullshit.

I guess barbarians don't need to know cursive, speaking, music, history or archaeology.  We shouldn't challenge students.  In a way, that makes sense.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Call for Boggers (Guardian UK)

I just entered a contest to blog on an archaeology/anthropology topic for the Guardian UK.

The submission page is rather simple; click on the link and it'll take you to an easy day question form. I know that some of you commenting on this blog have blogs, degrees and professional experience, so just want to throw this out there for the hoodied masses.

I'd post my submission but I'm running through airports this evening.  My own idea was concerning the destruction of our archaeological heritage and landscapes.  Let me know if you submit something and good luck!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Creating Ancient GeoSpatial Model (Pellegrini, Pouncett, Pearson, Richards, 2016)

An Isotope Geostastical Model via Nature:  Supplementary excel on burials [here].

All previous human mobility studies have compared ancient individuals directly against various geologies that imprecisely deduced that person's history of movement.  The authors spend some time describing why this is problematic, the obvious problem being that without context, the isotopic values are even more difficult to interpret.

What they do here is slightly different in that they look at the variation of an area and subtract the obvious movers (or account for greater variation).  They presume that the majority of non-misfits are local (and on predicted values by the local geology) and then create a profile for what a local of a given area looks like.  (I read it quickly, but I think that is close to the reduced version)

This is part of steady drip from the Beaker People Project

Tooth enamel oxygen "isoscapes" show a high degree of mobility in prehistoric Britain
Pellegrini, M. et al. Tooth enamel oxygen “isoscapes” show a high degree of human mobility in prehistoric Britain. Sci. Rep. 6, 34986; doi: 10.1038/srep34986 (2016)
A geostatistical model to predict human skeletal oxygen isotope values (δ18Op) in Britain is presented here based on a new dataset of Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age human teeth. The spatial statistics which underpin this model allow the identification of individuals interpreted as ‘non-local’ to the areas where they were buried (spatial outliers). A marked variation in δ18Op is observed in several areas, including the Stonehenge region, the Peak District, and the Yorkshire Wolds, suggesting a high degree of human mobility. These areas, rich in funerary and ceremonial monuments, may have formed focal points for people, some of whom would have travelled long distances, ultimately being buried there. The dataset and model represent a baseline for future archaeological studies, avoiding the complex conversions from skeletal to water δ18O values–a process known to be problematic.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Environmental Changes in the Balearic Islands (Burjachs et al, 2016)

As surprising as this may be, the Balearic Islands were unoccupied until around 2,200 B.C.  If before this, then it must have been an almost invisibly small population.

In essence, it is at the cusp of the Beaker period that humans begin occupying the islands and very quickly a number of its weird native animals suddenly go extinct and massive soil erosion begins taking place.  It is within this frame that it was speculated (maybe Waldren?) that people with a Beaker identity were responsible, as I believed due to slash and burn agricultural practices.

At least from the abstract, this process was independent of human activity and began occurring before human occupation and those climatic factors are almost totally responsible.  Maybe there is a combination of climate change that is exasperated by human activity.

Overview of environmental changes and human colonization in the Balearic Islands (Western Mediterranean) and their impacts on vegetation composition during the Holocene

Francesc Burjachs, , Ramon Pérez-Obiol, , Llorenç Picornell-Gelabert, , Jordi Revelles, , Gabriel Servera-Vives, , Isabel Expósito, , Errikarta-Imanol Yll,
(2016) Journal of Archaeological Science


According to radiometric dates and the current state of research, the Balearic Islands were not colonized by humans prior to c. 4420/4220 cal yr BP. Therefore, it is possible to know the natural evolution of the landscape of the Balearic Islands for the first two-thirds of the Holocene (c. 10,000 to c. 4300 cal yr BP). This study aims to improve our understanding of the respective roles of human societies and/or climate in the transformation of vegetation cover during the Late Holocene in this Western Mediterranean archipelago. The results show the importance and control of climate oscillations in the evolution of vegetation throughout the Early and Middle Holocene. Our data clearly show that the transformation of the landscape started before the first human settlements. In Minorca (north-eastern Gymnesian Islands), this upheaval occurred between 5825 and 4675 cal yr BP (fourth to third millennium BC), while in Majorca (the largest of the Gymnesian Islands) the transition is less well dated, oscillating between 7169 and 2535 cal yr BP. In the southern Pityusic Islands, observed changes in Ibiza are less pronounced and coincide with the 4.2 cal kyr BP climate event, synchronous with human colonization. The correlation between forest fires and rapid climate events, as well as the resilience of vegetation until the Middle Ages (tenth century) in Ibiza, suggest that the evolution of climatic conditions is the preponderant parameter for explaining Holocene vegetation changes on these islands.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

"7 Bizarre Ancient Cutlures"

Andrew sends clickbait via LiveScience

"7 Bizarre Ancient Cultures That History Forgot"

7 of 7 is the Beaker Phenomenon..

Oliver Lermercier made this point in a recent presentation, that 'the real enigma of the Beaker Culture is not the Beakers themselves, but the limits of archaeological science given such a narrow period so distant in the past and without a historical record' or that effect.

And to that point, as this distance in time is closed with decades of research to come, maybe the adjective 'enigma' will be replaced with 'pioneering' as the people of this time become slightly less mysterious and much more personable.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Origin of Domestic Cats

Of cats and men: the paleogenetic history of the dispersal of cats in the ancient world
bioRxiv preprint first posted online Oct. 9, 2016; doi:

The origin and dispersal of the domestic cat remain elusive despite its importance to human societies around the world. Archaeological evidence for domestication centers in the Near East and in Egypt is contested, and genetic data on modern cats show that Felis silvestris lybica, the subspecies of wild cat inhabiting at present the Near East and Northern Africa, is the only ancestor of the domestic cat. Here we provide the first broad geographic and chronological dataset of ancient cat mtDNA sequences, drawing on archaeological specimens from across western Eurasia and northern and eastern Africa,
dating from throughout the Holocene and spanning ~9,000 years. We characterized the ancient phylogeography of F. s. lybica, showing that it expanded up to southeastern Europe prior to the Neolithic, and reconstructed the subsequent movements that profoundly transformed its distribution and shaped its early cultural history. We found that maternal lineages from both the Near East and Egypt contributed to the gene pool of the domestic cat at different historical times, with the Near Eastern population providing the first major contribution during the Neolithic and the Egyptian cat spreading efficiently across the Old World during the Classical period. This expansion pattern and range suggest dispersal along maritime and terrestrial routes of trade and connectivity. Late trait selection is suggested by the first occurrence in our dataset of the major allele for blotched-tabby body marking not earlier than during the Late Middle Ages.

Upcoming Stuff...

Here's some upcoming symposiums:

1.  Archéologie et Gobelets XXI

May 17-21 in Kiel. Societe Prehistorique Francaise [Link]

"Preliminary programme
Wednesday 17th May 2017
Arrival, registration and welcome/reception
Thursday 18th May 2017
Session I: “Beakerscapes”: New Perspectives on the Bell Beaker Phenomenon
Conference dinner
Friday 19th May 2017
Excursion around Kiel
Saturday 20th May 2017
Session II: Beyond the Beaker: New Finds, Methods and Data
Practical workshop: bring your own Beakers!"*
(From the Call for papers [Link])

2.  Neolithic and Early Bronze Age Research Student Symposium

November 18, 19 at UCL London [Link and Link]

"The 3rd symposium aims to explore how archaeological research can aid our understanding of social change during the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age periods (4000 – 1500 cal. BC), both in the UK and beyond. The theme of this year’s conference; ‘anarchy in the UK?’, challenges speakers to construct alternative pasts that either diverge from, disrupt, or invert linear narratives of social evolution. Must ‘progress’ remain inextricably linked with increasing levels of hierarchical control, or does the evidence suggest a more chaotic and socially pluralistic past?"

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Brotlaibidol, Brotlaibidole, Loaf Idols

What the heck are these things?! 

Via Welt

The above brotlaibidol came out of grave that is being called "Prince of the Nebra Sky Disk".  Story at Welt.

Brotlaibidol aus Mangolding Lkr. Regensburg (commons)
Brotlaibidol (German) or Brotlaibidole (Italian) or in English commonly known as "loaf idols", they appear from North Central Italy and Slovakia to Northern Germany in the Bronze Age, mostly with cultures born from or influenced by the prior Bell Beaker including Polada, Terremerre and Unetice, although one partial loaf from Italy appears to be from a Beaker context at the turn of the 2nd millennium.

These are called "loaf idols" and are rather small, usually made of unbaked clay in a tiny tablet format.  Some appear to have been painted red and included white encrustation, similar to Beaker pottery, which may further highlight their funerary function.

There is a great question as to what these objects were for.  Do they contain primitive proto-writing like the pre-Elamite tablets?  Are they stamps for leather or another material?  Do they record quantitative or contractual information in primitive way?
Closeup from the Polada Culture

Seeing 3D images might be helpful from The Brotlaibidole project.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Netheravon collared urn (3D Interactive)

I can't get this interactive Sketchfab model to work.  I'll post now and try on another device later.

At Wessex Archaeology, Karen Nichols has posted the reconstruction and modelling of this weirdly enormous Early Bronze Age urn that was found in Wiltshire.  It was found with an archer's bracer, copper chisel, a decorated bone handle of a sort, and containing cremated human bone.

Based on the materials I'm guessing a single man was cremated, not an entire village!

This is just a snip, you'll have to click below.

Here's the link to Karen's blog [here]

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Economics and Assery (Shai et al, 2016)

Here's an interesting paper on the importance of the ass in the developing Near Eastern World Economy.  Before I get to the paper, let's start by asking a simple question.

Based on the morphology of horses in Western Europe in the Early Bronze Age, is it possible that many of the unrefined tarpan-like domestic horses are in-fact hinnies or mules?  I'm not sure a tarpan or hinny are distinguishable from the skeleton or teeth alone because they are very similar, but we do know that 1) morphologically modern horses were present 2)  asses were also present before disappearing again.*

Generally, it is in the Beaker period that horses begin appearing in Western Europe before exponentiating rapidly in the Bronze Age.  (Davis, 1987)
Donkeys from Tomb of Ti, 5th Dynasty (2,500-2,300 B.C.)

We have seen unequivocal genetic proof that the ass was present in Chalcolithic Iberia (Cardoso et al, 2013) and there should be reasonable certainty that this misplaced Iberian beast was a domestic work and trade animal.  Within the context of Iberian trade networks reaching into Continental Europe, the importance of proving the existence of this animal at this location/time period cannot be underscored enough.

The authors of this paper examine the surprisingly deep domestic history of the ass, but also consider the physical stress indicators that point to the ass being used as a pack animal.  They stress the importance of this animal in the formation of a sophisticated economy that allowed commodities to be moved with greater efficiency.

Another interesting facet to the Shai et al case is the architectural implications in ancient Near Eastern cities for accommodating a donkey with a pack.  This may be true as well for some of the passageways of walled enclosures of Portugal.    

The Importance of the Donkey as a Pack Animal in the Early Bronze Age Southern Levant:
A View from Tell es-Safi/ Gath

By Itzhaq Shai, Haskel J. Greenfield, Annie Brown, Shira Albaz and Aren M. Maeir
Deutscher Verein zur Erforschung Palastinas
(2016) [Link]

In this paper, we review the evidence for the use of the domestic donkey as a mode of transportation in the Early Bronze Age. The study will present the domestic donkey remains (artefactual and zoological) and their archaeological context from the Early Bronze Age III domestic neighborhood at Tell esSafi/ Gath. The remains indicate the significant role that donkeys played in the daily life of the inhabitants. This reflects on our understanding of their role in the trade networks and mode of transportation that existed within the emerging urban cultures in the southern Levant during the 3rd mill. B.C.E.
* It could be that the ass periodically fell out of favor due to innovations and circumstances that kept making it obsolete in Europe.  These could be the improvement or availability of roads, bridges, carts, wagons, shipping, shepherd dogs, ponies, draught horses and fields.

Conversely, as the lion and wolf population dwindled and Europe became less wild, attacks on livestock [this post] became less common.  The frugal mid-line browsing donkey is less desirable as Europe is deforested.  Basically it's a case of having the awesome skills but in the wrong job.

Friday, September 30, 2016

I Can't Believe It's Not Butter! (Nordic Food Lab)

Some of the most fascinating things to come out of British and Irish bogs are the butter churns and butter crocks.  I'll address that separately below, but I ran into a food experiment that I'd like to share.

Why did people deposit butter and tallow in bogs in the first place? Was this for preservation?

Nordic Food Lab

I found this very cool site "Nordic Food Lab" which carries out a scientific experiment to see how the qualities of butter might be improved or preserved in a bog.  It appears they have found some practical success in demonstrating the purpose for making bog butter.  I'm satisfied enough to say 'case closed'.

3,000 year old Butter Container (National Museum of Ireland) via NBC News
Part 2:

I came back to bog butter after seeing the butter barrel above, which is almost identical in size and shape to historic American butter churns.  It's easy to imagine this 3,000 year old barrel having had a plunger before the lid was installed.

Really, the intriguing part is that it is a hollowed out oak log, not a staved cask.  This presents a possibility for clarifying, in my own mind, how beer was fermented in Neolithic Europe, particularly the Early Bronze Age.

It seems like that the predecessor to staved oak barrels was simply hollowed out oak logs, possibly pitched with wax or butter fat, which allowed people to ferment large volumes of beer.  For all of the drinking that Bell Beakers supposedly should do, no inorganic container is available in the record that would be large enough or strong enough to ferment.

There is direct evidence of oak lactones in Middle Minoan wine residues which Patrick McGovern (referred to in the previous post) suggests may be evidence of oak casking in the second millenium.  (McGovern, 2003)

For the most part, beer and wine in the Mediterranean world was fermented in large clay pots (pithoi) then transported in amphorae and it is only in the Christian period when the northern style oak barrels overtake clay ones.  Strabo referred to the Celtic staved barrels as "wooden pithoi", so we can have a fair amount of confidence of the complementary purposes.

I'm trying to guess at what volume a log barrel might hold, assuming something like this existed.  I'm guessing the 3,000 year old barrel has the diameter of a Cornelius keg and slightly taller.  So in my make-believe Neolithic beer keg, I'm guessing it'd hold about six gallons of beer, which is a little less than 3 American cases of beer.

The only way to test this theory would be an ultra-detailed chemical analysis of beer residue from beaker pottery.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Ancient Ales (Dr. Patrick McGovern)

Brewing Archaeologist Michael Brown interviews Patrick McGovern, the leading archaeologist of fermented beverages and two-time discoverer of the world's oldest fermented beverages (China and Western Iran).

It's a bit long if you're not into brewing, so I'll highlight a few points.

McGovern has the view that many humans, if not all humans, are biologically adapted for drinking fermented beverages.  He also thinks that some sort of fermented beverages were made in prehistoric North America and Australia.  At least for North America, it's extremely likely there was at least a  maize-based beer like Chicha.

As materials and remains of ancient peoples are analyzed with greater sophistication, he sees great potential for this field to expand. 

In the United States, you can purchase some of these ancient recreations through a partnership between McGovern and Dogfish Head brewery, a popular microbrewery.  It's likely these Ancient Ales are available in Europe through specialty vendors as well.  [Dogfish Ancient Ales]

Monday, September 26, 2016

Stone Dagger Styles of Britain (UK Knapping Forum)

Here's a quick overview of Beaker daggers in the Island of Britain.  It is with the arrival of the Beakerfolk and metallurgy that large bi-facial daggers come into use.