Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Idols at Perdiogoes (Valera and Evangelista x2)

After a long wait, Valera and Evangelista's paper is openly available (linked at bottom).  I'll move back and forth between the paper and other things...

So quick background.  In the Atlantic Neolithic and beyond, you see certain iconography emphasizing power eyebrows and 'seeing' eyes in various expressions.  In some rock art you may have big eyes and eyebrows on a stick figure.  Some megalithic tombs have looking eyes and eyebrows scrawled on the rock.  These 'seeing' characters seem to be very widely distributed in the ancient world, from the Northern Pontic, the Middle East to Southern Europe.

A Weridly Western idol out of Figure 2
There is deep Western Eurasian superstition of the 'evil eye' in the circum-Mediterranean zone which remains strong today.  When the historical period begins in the Middle East, anthropomorphic talismans or amulets with inlaid blue eyes or owl imagery are being used to protect the living and the dead from very bad things.  I would be comfortable with the assumption that the Southern Iberian idol tradition is one distinct variation of this wider and enduring superstition found throughout the Mediterranean and South Asia.

In Southern Iberia certain types of anthropomorphic ivories become increasingly naturalistic and male in the middle of the third millennium (this paper).  Many have lines across the face interpreted by Valera and Evangelista to be facial tattoos, although in some rock art depictions they look like cat whiskers or stylized facial hair IMO.  [See also]

I think a very satisfying case can be made that these lines represent the markings of an owl's face, The eyes of the owl do look 'soul penetrating' and the plumage around and below the eyes do look like many of these representations.  Like cornos, owl figures were commonly used in Roman Italy to combat the evil eye, and oddly enough, in non-Iberian Romance languages the 'streiga' (strix) is the word for the shape-shifting witch.* 

A Common Scops Owl (the 'Boar Owl' in the Basque language) (Brian Scott)
The most populous owls of the ancient Mediterranean world might have been the Common Scops Owl (I believe literally called a boar owl in Basque maybe for its 'tusks'), which has a high flute hoot, and the Screech Owl that sounds like an old woman (or witch) screaming in the night. [example]  (I got to experience this in the form of a heart attack while sleeping in the woods one night)

Back to the paper:

Not to be confused by the title of this blog, these idols are largely a continuation of a long Neolithic religious tradition that is slowly maturing.  The very natural figures are included with the cremated collective remains of some people of Perdigoes and then at some point, and to a degree that I don't really understand, individual burials and beaker artifacts are sometimes present, mostly in the damaged upper layers or in certain quarters of the site.

Now having read the paper, one of the more interesting points is the apparent uniformity in the observant, male figures, and it seems the arms are closely held about the waist and carefully holding something that is not well defined, perhaps a club as tentatively described in the paper.  I've tried to guess at other possibilities to what the figure is holding, and my best guess is either a torch or an ornamented 'hueso largo', as illustrated in Maju's site linked above.

Cutout of Figure 5
What I find especially interesting is that this period of artistic achievement and naturalism is followed by what Valera previously described as the almost 'iconoclastic' tendency of those that followed.  Few material things made by Beakers could be described as naturalistic art.  Those exceedingly few images that could pass (Swiss menhirs, a Millares sun bowl, or the Folkton Drums, for example), are more likely localized deviations due to cross-culture influence.  Really, I cannot think of any denominator of even a single thing in the Beaker sphere that isn't rigidly schematic, geometric or skewmorphic in its expression.  That alone, seems to be its denominator.

A previous post on work of Valera describes the cultural change that begins in this Late Neolithic period in this area and quickly accelerating into the Bronze Age [here].

You can see in Figure 4 below that these figures aren't just some random guy carved in ivory.  There is a specific pose where the individual is engaged in a specific action that people who lived at this time would recognize.  The hair is strange, it's a very long stylized hair that runs down the back.

Anthropomorphic Figurines at Perdigões Enclosure: Naturalism, Body Proportion and Canonical Posture as Forms of Ideological Language

NIA- Archaeological Research Unit – Era Arqueologia, Portugal

This paper focusses on a set of anthropomorphic figurines. It suggests that realistic human proportion
and canonical body posture were pursued in the carving of these objects as a means of expressing ideology, in a context of diversified forms of manipulation of bodies in funerary practices. It is argued that, against a background of predominantly schematic art, the more realistic and canonical anthropomorphic representation of the human body was used to communicate a set of ideological statements in a more controlled and immediate way, in a period of ontological and cosmological transition.

European Journal of Archaeology 17 (2) 2014, 286–300 [Link] 

* Also horse-shoes in later times, and boar's tusks in earlier times.  By the way, if you dig a little deeper into Iberian plaque idols, phalanx idols, and the various types, clearly some are owls and this is probably true for the oculado images as well.

The reason a screech owl would be associated with a shape-shifter should seem pretty obvious.  It doesn't sound a little like a woman screaming, it sounds A LOT like a woman screaming.  A Neolithic  person may have heard an old woman scream, then see the screech owl fly overhead.  A WITCH!

Monday, March 28, 2016

Interviews of Barry Cunnliffe on "Steppe, Desert, Ocean"

Most of you are already familiar with 2015's "Steppe, Desert, Ocean". Here's some interviews Barry Cunnliffe gave several months ago on big concepts from his book:

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Lara Cassidy and Dan Bradley on the Rathlin Burials

For St. Patrick's day, several news outlets republished highlights of the Cassidy et al, 2015 findings which I wrote about three months ago [here].  Via New York Daily News, Irish Central, Razib Khan

Irelander with Tripartite Food Vessel (via New York Daily News)

Three Irish men were buried under a Pub [cymbal shot]  But seriously, three Irish men were buried under a pub.  Here's an interesting video interview starting with Lara Cassidy and leading to Dan Bradley.  It's embedded from the NY Post story:

Everything from Britain and Ireland first passes through the lens of Celtic identity, or at least the 19th Century's formulation.  The Rathlin burials demonstrate that the modern Irish genome was effectively established by the Early Bronze Age (something I had predicted for much of Europe) and gives a little fodder for Koch and Cunnliffe's theory of "Celtic from the West".  The latters propose a MBA Atlantic network leading to the formation of Celtic, but I don't believe they define from 'what', eg. more basal IE dialects or something else.

Another paper should be out this year that will challenge Koch and Cunnliffe on the details, but argue something similar; essentially that historic Celtic lacks a center of gravity specific to the Urnfield to La Tene circulation and was rather widely dispersed among Continental and Atlantic Bronze Age trading villages, or something to that effect.

With regard to the Beaker phenomenon and language (assuming its common language never changed), I'd be careful to avoid making that shoe fit.  There probably was a semi-intelligible, pan-European linguistic affinity among far flung Beaker settlements but it may be more something like 1) not European at all, or 2) something ancestral to the entire Centum branch.


Cassidy et al (2015) "Neolithic and Bronze Age Migration to Ireland and Establishment of the Insular Atlantic Genome"

Beaker folk (Video with Andrew Sherratt)

Andrew Sherratt was a leading British archaeologists that contributed a number of prominent theories, notably the concept of a 'secondary products revolution'.

This is a good video with re-enactment.  Don't get to wrapped up in periodization or terms.  It's an older video that predates newer discoveries and archeo-metrics, particularly the DNA of the last two years, but the larger concepts are still on track.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Short Cist at Kilkeddan Farm, Argyll (McLaren et al, 2016)

This is a short cist burial in Western Scotland dating to around 2,100 B.C., maybe slightly older.  It probably contained a young man buried with a brown-reddish tripartite food vessel and a knife.
It's a very short paper. [here]
The food vessel has accidental barley corn impressions from the time it was made.  As you can see in the picture below the bowl was tilted and the liquid content settled and evaporated in the corner of the bowl.
This grave was probably re-opened in prehistory.  The fragmentary bones were also piled in a corner and the archaeologists have good reason to believe that the remains were moved to make room for another burial that didn't happen.  The edges of the stones were sealed with orange-colored clay so that the cist might have formed a sort of container.
As a side note.  Another paper will be coming out soon apparently showing evidence of excarnation on some EBA remains in Britain...

"Important evidence of both excarnation and possible re-burial of previously buried human remains was recognised by the partially articulated state of a number of the burials (Lelong in press)."
This excarnation fetish by the archaeological world is a little weird IMHO.  There's zero evidence for excarnation in the EBA that stands to scrutiny and it just doesn't seem to fit circumstances, mindset or intent of EBA burials.  But anyhow I look forward to seeing...

I suppose I what's so interesting about this burial is how directly tied to Ireland it is.  Comment by Allison Sheridan in the paper..

A Short Cist Burial at Kilkeddan Farm, Campbeltown, Argyll & Bute
Dawn McLaren and Donald Wilson (2016) [Link]
AOC Archaeology Group undertook the excavation of a previously unknown
Bronze Age cist, located in a field close to Kilkeddan Farm, Argyll & Bute,
during September 2005 under the Historic Scotland call-off contract for human
remains. The cist was found to contain poorly surviving unburnt human skeletal
remains along with a finely decorated tripartite Food Vessel and a flint knife. The
incomplete and fragmentary condition of the skeleton suggests that the human
remains were disarticulated at the time of deposition. Radiocarbon dates obtained
from the human bone and associated charcoal confirms an early Bronze Age date
for the burial.
Food Vessel categories and description "Prehistoric Pottery" by Alex Gibson [here]

Monday, March 7, 2016

British Mummification (Parker-Pearson, 2016)


Ok, I have now been able to read the paper carefully and I'll share some points and conjectures.
Hat tip, Ype.

A Cladh Hallan Composite Person from 3 Men (Parker-Pearson, 2016)
This strange story will set off a chain reaction in archaeology.  Older burials are going to be reassessed using similar methods, and for starters it is becoming necessary to definitively determine gender in gendered burials, much less to verify it is a single individual and not a bunch of individuals bolted together.

These specific people are from the regular Bronze Age in the islands north of Scotland, however this process appears to have begun in the Bell Beaker Period and extended all over Britain (at least).

In no particular order, I'll run down some bullets:

1)  People in Britain may have used acidic peat bogs to arrest the purification process, and then reclaimed the body weeks later for the official burial.  This is not proven, but the staining of the bones appears consistent with bog burial in the opinions of the scientists working on this case.

When you look at "Cashel Man" (a 1,700 B.C. bog body of Sligo, Ireland) his body was staked off by birch stakes.  Why stake off his burial with birch stakes?  Are bog bodies those occasional mortuary snafus were the body was not reclaimed?

A Mixed Sex Cladh Hallan Composite Person (Parker-Pearson, 2016)
2)  The Cladh Hallan house is situated over the burial of two, normal young girls (non-freaks).  These Franenstein composite individuals are buried on the north end of the house.

The first individual (graphic 1) consists of (an old?) man's head, with either a man or woman's jaw, on another man's body.

The second mixed individual (graphic 2) is a woman's torso with a man's head and a different man's right arm.  The man's head is missing two lateral incisors which are placed in the left and right hands respectively.

Both of these composite individuals are are a century or two older than the dead girls and the home.  The remaining body parts are found within the walls of the structure.  The individuals who comprise the composite person were already anatomically constituted and long mummified before reconstitution.

3)  This now appears to have happened all over Britain. 

4)  It should be clear that the composite individuals are supernatural protectors of the home and maybe the girls from whatever dark forces lie to the north.

Combining the parts of individual animals into a super animal, such as a Griffin or Pegasus, has a strong history in the West.  Certain parts of people of certain occupations have always had semi-metaphoric powers, like the arms of a smith, the heart of a paladin, the whatever of a whatever.

Interesting the heads are men (an old man in one) and the woman's right arm is replaced with a man's arm.  It looks as if we are putting together certain virtues into a single entity.

Canada Farm Bell Beaker Burial (Parker-Pearson, 2016)
The Canuk Beaker above is much older than his Wessex-Rhine beaker cup.  This man was also very important, a nucleus in a mortuary landscape, so where was his mummy all this time?  There is more discussion by Parker-Pearson on other creepy things going on.

One last footnote.  Often you see women buried with their children or husband and wife Beakers.  Unless they all got sick with the Hong Kong flu at the same time, chances are graves were re-opened.  If not, that may mean people were not always buried right away.

You can find an accessible version linked by Ype in the comments section of the previous post.

"Du cadavre au squelette : gérer les morts dans la Préhistoire"
"From Corpse to Skeleton: Dealing with the Dead in Prehistory"

Mike Parker-Pearson (2016)
Bulletins et mémoires de la Société d’anthropologie de Paris

ISSN: 0037-8984 (Print) 1777-5469 (Online)  [Link]

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Part 1: British Mummification (Parker-Pearson)

I'll touch briefly since it's a pay-per-view.  I may get a hold of this and update later in the week.  It's in a French publication.

"Du cadavre au squelette : gérer les morts dans la Préhistoire"

From the time of the Bell Beakers to the end of the Late Bronze Age, a picture is developing that people in Britain (maybe other places?) performed some kind of mummification on the dead.  Aside from preservation of the body, the creation of special Frankenstein individuals (a new individual whose mummified body parts are sewn together from other individuals) shows that the preparation of the body in normal circumstances could have been more intrusive than simply desiccating, smoking or chemically preserving a body.  In other words, its possible that the internal organs could have been prepared as well.  (That's my hunch, perhaps something similar to Scythian burial)

This is also odd because Britain is a very damp, moldy place.  There should be an expectation that anything would rot quickly, so it's a little difficult to understand the thought process of preserving someone in a hopeless environment for preservation.

When someone dies in the United States, the body is usually embalmed the next day or so.  The burial is typically 7-10 days later to allow the family to drive and fly in; almost never before this.  It may have taken a week to several to prepare the grave, allowing family and outlaws to come in, and to settle the estate.  That's all I can think of; interesting story that is developing...

Predynastic Egyptian "Ginger" (British Museum)

"Du cadavre au squelette : gérer les morts dans la Préhistoire"
"From Corpse to Skeleton: Dealing with the Dead in Prehistory"

Mike Parker-Pearson (2016)
Bulletins et mémoires de la Société d’anthropologie de Paris
ISSN: 0037-8984 (Print) 1777-5469 (Online)  [Link]


The shortcomings of the archaeological record raise many challenges for the interpretation of prehistoric funerary practices, particularly because the remains of most people in prehistory have left no trace at all. Throughout prehistory, most human remains were treated in ways that are archaeologically invisible. A brief review of the sequence of funerary practices in British prehistory reveals major gaps and deficiencies in the burial record. It may well be that the normative rites for much of British prehistory were those that left little or no archaeological trace, such as excarnation through exposure of corpses or scattering of cremated ashes.
One form of mortuary practice only recently demonstrated for British prehistory is that of mummification. Scientific analysis of Late Bronze Age skeletons from Cladh Hallan, in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland, has revealed that they were not only composites of multiple individuals but were also mummified prior to burial. In particular, histological analysis of bioerosion in the bone microstructure reveals that putrefaction was arrested soon after death. This method of histological analysis has been applied to a large sample of prehistoric and historical human remains, and reveals that patterns of arrested decay are particularly a feature of the British Bronze Age from the Bell Beaker period onwards.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Buša Cattle, Cetina Culture and the Balkans

This is post that delves a little deeper in the development and geographic spread of the longifrons.    Reading the literature, you'll quickly find that it is necessary to constantly define terms within context of the person who wrote it.  Not everyone operates from the same sheet of music.

To simply things for the sake of conversation, longifrons belongs to the Taurus species.  It is either 1) the absolute oldest Taurus and all other Neolithic Taurine have Auroch admixture 2)  It is a more refined, younger Taurus 3)  It is a refined Taurus with something Indicus like, but not Indicus; and humpless.  4) it is no longer believed to have been a separate domestication event.  With that...

Busha Cow (Gatačko?), Stara Mountain, Serbia (photo by dobrogled)
Buša cattle (Illyrian Cattle) are an endangered domesticate of the Balkans whose ancestral racial type first appeared in this region at the beginning of the Early Bronze Age.  (Eric Issac, 1962) They actually form a dwarf Illyrian group with branches that can be found across the Balkans and Greece in low numbers.  (There is a paper that claims the presence of longifrons in Vinca Culture, the evidence of which is very thin IMO)

Busha belong to a race typified by Jerseys, Ayshire, Red Devons, Menorquinas, etc, although admixture with larger cattle has greyed the distinctions.  Busha are rather small, even for longifrons, and most seem to have a white nose and belly.  Some Busha will exhibt a very rare tiger strip pattern while others may be solid grey or black.  The Dinaric cattle [cymbal shot] are vigorous and do well in rocky landscapes, but they also have been out-performed by improved cattle and caught in the middle of destructive people wars.

In the last few decades there were as few as 20 in Croatia that were unmixed and maybe a total of a 100 in the entire region that were considered standard types.  Already under extreme pressure, one of the last unmixed herds was completely destroyed in Sarajevo during the war leaving an extremely tiny population to preserve.  There is now a fairly robust conservation effort in all of the Balkan countries to reclaim the Busha heritage (UN Croatia, Macedonia, SaveFoundation, Albania) (See also Prespa Cattle)

The very first documented longifrons in the British Isles is found in a Bell Beaker settlement (Trow-Smith, 2005) (Dale Serjeantson, 2011) and this, for all intents and purposes IMO, is almost always the case throughout Europe and its archipelagos [post on Balearic Islands] While it may not be the only cow utilized by the Beaker Culture, a very fair case can be made that it's expansion was driven by the Beaker culture (I'll develop this in a later post).  The earliest longifrons are considered to have a solid reddish brown coat (as observed in bogs for example), smaller body, short legs, a long forhead with a short and narrow face, short & forward facing-small-diameter polls that are partly cleaved, bug eyes, considerable sexual dimorphism, and to use the terminology of the Blues Brothers, their lips and asses are black.  

 Croatian Busa Cattle (via Fraxinus)
From the Illyrian group another dwarfed subset can be found in Greece, also endangered.  It appears longifrons followed settlers to the Peloponnese, Cyclades and Crete by way of communication or expansion of the Cetina sphere of influence (a baby Beaker) where it appears as a distinct cattle race, especially among the Achaeans.  Another longifrons appears out of thin air with the formation of the IE Hittites, but it is more likely the modern Turkish Black Anatolian came via Celtic migration in later history.  The Damascus group is a little more difficult to trace, but it could be residual of the Halaf or Hassuna Cultures, both at times implicated for its spread.

Domesticated animals are absolutely one of the strongest artifacts of prehistory.  It's important to remember the most valuable chattels of prehistory were not materials, they were beasts.  Until recently Europeans literally lived with the animals that defined their wealth, English "chattel", "capital", "fee", "fief".  The word 'fidelity' implies fealty to one's lord secured through fee (cattle).

People also do not necessarily migrate and adopt new animals in route, which is a common and utterly retarded belief (no pun intended).  For example, the Moors brought African cattle to an Iberia that already had cattle, while during the Reconquista, the Spaniards attempted to completely eradicate the infidel animals of the Moors and there is a large shift again (however complete) toward European breeds.  If people migrate, animals migrate.  I'll go to battle on this point.

A Gatačko govedo, mixed Buša in the mountains (Planinac)
I would like to further delve into the armshutzeplaatzen-equipped Cetina Culture and some of the writings of Volker Heyd concerning the Beaker impact on the Northwestern Balkans in the mid-3rd millennium.  Aside from lithics, decoration, adventurism and people genetics, I think a strong co-pilot for this Cetina influence is in fact the Brachykeratiki.  It's also a very portable cow, maybe not backpack size, but a weened calf (230kg or 500lbs) can sit quietly in a boat full of people paddling between islands.  It may be why Greek longifrons are even smaller from its parent, sounds goofy, but Greece has always been a maritime culture.

Busa in Lika, Croatia.  Notice tiger strip in middle cow

As far as I'm concerned, the longifrons is very likely 'the Beaker cow' and that case might easily be made in a number of ways, something I plan on poking at in the future.  Basically, I think longifrons, to bolt on the Damascus group, is likely a dairy adapted for semi-arid regions and I think that is telling when we consider the spread of lactase persistence by a people already implicated.

See also:

Broxham, Kugler, Medugorac (2015) "A Case Study of Genetic Strains of Busa Cattle..."

A Brief History of the Shorthorn Cattle Migrations...

Grigg (1972) "The Agricultural Systems of the World: An Evolutionary Approach"

McInernet, Jeremy (2010)  "The Cattle of the Sun: Cows and Culture in the World of the Ancient Greeks"

Hristov et al (2015) "Mitochondrial diversity in autochthonous cattle breeds from the Balkan Peninsula"

SIMČIČ et al (2008) "Genetic Characterization of Auochthonous Cattle Breeds, Cika and Busha, Using Microsatellites"

Budimir et al (2014) "Mitochondrial DNA as a tool for identification of genetic diversity among domestic animals"

* Quick note.  Understandably, many resources online confusingly equate longifrons, which is Latin for "long faced" with longhorns, which it is not by definition.  Remember: longifrons have short horns!

** The earliest accepted absolute date of longifrons in is the LN Swiss Pile Dwellings and this is also true for pressure formed, bifacial retouched arrowheads.  Switzerland, OTOH, may have some weird dating problems (Alasdair Whittle, 1988) and, aside from being a bit of an outlier, the clines appear to come out of SW Iberia.

See also: "On the Breeds of Cattle—Historic and Current Classifications" Felis et al, 2011 [Link]

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Dunstable Echinoid Burial (Henry Rothwell)

Here's and article in Digital Digging [Link] by Henry Rothwell in which he examines a very old excavation of what is now identified as a young Beaker wife and several small children.  (Called Celtic in the original excavation)

There is an AMAZING wreath of echinoids that surround the occupants, something we've talked about [here] and [here] recently.

A diagram, I believe from the original excavator, via Digital Digging.

If you read the article, you'll notice that there is mention of cow 'horn cores', probably from the longifrons bones mentioned in the excavation.  These are likely baby bottles as are commonly found among the Asian steppe cultures.

*Update.  I'm curious about the placement of echinoids in burials.  At least in this one, they surround the occupants in a perfect ring.  In later times, the echinoids would be associated with the thunder and lightning war god.  I wonder if this is protection or a warning?. Either way, the grave appears to have been plundered in antiquity.