Thursday, June 30, 2016

Early Horses in the Czech Republic (Kyselý & Peške, 2016)

If Kyselý & Peške are correct, it's possible horses were being improved in Central Europe well before the early Funnel Beaker Culture and possibly as early as the wagon-wheeling Lengyel Culture.  Although larger outlier horses would have had to come from the Eastern sphere, these potential domestics would be as old or older than the oldest accepted domesticated horses of the Botai Culture.* 

They analyze a large set of post cranial bones beginning with the Magdalenian and look at successive periods to the Unetice then calculate the deltas in adult horses for various periods.  They conclude that within the Lengyel period there is the beginning of unnatural variance and a larger-than-to-be-expected population, suggesting human involvement.


One way to understand the variance argument is to look at the size range of domesticated dogs.  While there may be a place somewhere in the time-space continuum where English bulldogs could survive longer than a day on their own, it probably isn't a place that includes Tibetian mastiffs.  An archaeologist excavating a San Diego suburb thousands of years from now might also conclude that the Tibetian mastiff being excavated doesn't make sense for this ecology.  This is the problem with outlier Lengyel and TRB period horses and it is why human action is implicated.

Kyselý & Peške's dataset reveals that as the Eneolithic progresses through the Bronze Age the variability gradually decreases as well as the overall size of the horses.  This is evidence that the horse breed is being improved and neotenized, and this same trend can be seen in most domesticates.

I'll close with several factoids.  The Bell Beaker and Corded Ware horse remains are rather thin for this area, but they examine surrounding areas and conclude that the Hungarian Beaker horses were generally large (suggesting a horse with Eastern roots for this group), however with a great degree of variability, and possibly co-existing with more than one type of horse in the Carpathian Basin. 

- As the Late Bronze Age closes, horses are at their smallest, being called the 'Celtic Pony'.

- They don't believe environmental changes offer an appealing explanation for the changes in size or population, especially since those changes are not positive responses.

- There is little indication horses were used primarily for consumption and this is also not supported by age at death or sex.

Kyselý R. & Peške L. 2016. — Horse size and domestication: Early equid bones from the Czech Republic in the European context. Anthropozoologica 51 (1): 15-39.  [Link]
We collected and evaluated, by the ‘logarithmic size index’ (LSI) method, all available postcranial equid bones found in the Czech Republic from the Neolithic to the Early Bronze Age. Material from the Upper Paleolithic (Magdalenien) and Bohemian Late Bronze Age (Knovíz culture) was also included. Two different species of equids were documented: Equus hydruntinus Regalia, 1907 and Equus ferus Boddaert, 1785. The variation in the size of true horses was compared with data published for neighbouring countries. In most periods, the horses are found to be larger in the eastern part of
Central Europe than in the western part. The Czech lands appear to span the border of two worlds: the Pannonian plains and the western, geomorphologically diverse regions. The status of horses in the Neolithic Lengyel period from Moravia remains disputable. However, a high size variability in Eneolithic Funnel Beaker culture (TRB, 3800-3350 BC) together with a non-homogeneous distribution in Řivnáč culture (3100-2800 BC) and a significant increase in size between Lengyel and Baden-Řivnáč horizons (probably already in TRB) combined with the occasional occurrence of unexpectedly large individuals probably indicate the importation of tamed or even domesticated horses as early as the times of TRB culture, which is earlier than claimed in other recent studies, and possibly reflect multiple origins of the horse population. The large variability and repeated diminution in size of horses in the Early Bronze Age (Únětice culture, 2200-1700 BC) could indicate advanced domestication or multiple origins of the populations (or both). The persistence of wild horses in the Early Bronze Age cannot be proved osteometrically, but the presence of domesticated horses is considered certain.

See also Horse of Botai [here]

Prehistoric Britain, Part 4 (Neil Oliver)

Part 4 of 4 of a documentary by Neil Oliver on Prehistoric Britain. Hat tip Mandy Chamerblain

This is the story of the arrival of metal workers in Britain.  Around 10.40ish or so is where the Beaker story begins. 

All of the videos are good viewing, about 50 minutes each, posted on the Beaker TV tab.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Out of Iberia and into Germany (Eurogenes)

There is now additional signals of Iberian influence in Northern Europe apart from mitochondrial haplogroups.

See Eurogenes:  "German Bell Beakers in the Context of the Prehistoric Near East"

It'll be interesting to see the Iberian components as they come into focus.  One of the big questions I have is whether there is a presence of anything resembling an Eastern European like ancestry, or will we see something distinct that only later becomes more steppe-like after commingling with the Corded Ware?

See also [here],

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Risk in a Beaker Economy (Rivero, Nunez, Taylor, 2016)

I've got the paper, read it, here it is.  Thanks to Eurogenes.

This paper examines the set of Plain Common Ware associated with Bell Beaker pottery at the San Blas Beaker settlement/fortress on the Guadiana.  The purpose of the authors isn't so much to understand the habits of San Blas as to create a model that can inform how prehistoric people mitigated food risk.

At San Blas there are two phases, a clearly defined pre-Beaker phase A, and a clearly defined Bell Beaker phase B, both about the same size.  The evolution of phase B is the source of interest because throughout the life of phase B, Type III larger containers and type IV bowls drop off and the number of plates and beaker containers increase.

There could be many reasons why there is an apparent reduction in storage containers and an increase in tableware.  But if Bell Beakers were truly storing less food, then that could indicate a behavioral change, a security change or growing sophistication in the local economy, all suggested by the authors.  It's also possible that in the early days of the San Blas fortress, storing food in the homes behind the walls was important and became less important as time went on.

Might we see something similar in other Beaker settlements?

On a somewhat related note...  I've wondered before if it would be possible to find enough metrics to run a prehistoric culture through something like Gerhard Hofstede's Cultral Dimensions paradigm. You can see that post [here].

One of the key indicators for risk aversion in modern times is personal savings.  If you were able to quantify several aspects among prehistoric cultures, like storage, would there be enough data to make some determinations?

As one example, Materialistic cultures like America save little and engage in high risk activities and ventures, financially, professionally and personally.  East Asia is very risk adverse with low debt and high personal savings. These differences are probably driven by culture since the economic realities of East Asia are as diverse as Western Europe, yet Asians cluster together and Western Europeans cluster together.

So I realize there just isn't enough hard data for Bell Beakers, but I wonder where they would plot below?
One of Hofstede's dimensions

Bell Beaker and the evolution of resource management strategies in the southwest of the Iberian Peninsula
Daniel García RiveroJesús María Jurado NúñezRuth Taylor

AbstractThis paper addresses the plain common pottery associated with Beaker contexts in the Southwest of the Iberian Peninsula. The detailed systematic study focuses on the pottery assemblage provided by one of the region’s most important settlements, San Blas (Badajoz, Spain), while comparisons are made with other important sites in the study area. By means of the stratigraphic, typological and statistical analysis of the data, the main patterns of change in this material culture throughout the temporal sequence are identified and the historical explanatory factors are inferred. Specifically, during the second half of the 3rd millennium cal BC, an important change took place in the management of economic risk, which is materialised by a significant reduction in food storage and by the more immediate direct or indirect consumption of resources. We suggest that these patterns reflect a shift towards a short-term projection of the future, in a context with strong evidence of instability.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Small Cattle Suddenly in EFC with Halaf (Arbuckle et al, 2016)

Here's one of two recent papers that are very prescient when reading the recent Neolithic genomes.

Let me apply some filters first.  The authors here do not apply any distinctions on the race of cattle, which they may have avoided for a any number of reasons.   The distinction is solely size differences with full size animals obviously being aurochs, smaller cattle as domestics and yet smaller cattle.

The important take away is the speed to which cattle 'appear'.  In others, they were imported or more likely, Halafians imported themselves, which, 60 years ago would be like 'duh'.

Link at the bottom.

2.5" Halaf Obsidian Link, part of a collection in corner of house
 (British Museum, 1934,0210.502AN258429001, FI-000841148)

"Documenting the initial appearance of domestic cattle in the Eastern Fertile Crescent (northern Iraq and western Iran)"

Benjamin S. Arbuckle, Max D. Price, Hitomi Hongo, Banu Oksüz


In this paper we address the timing of and mechanisms for the appearance of domestic cattle in the Eastern Fertile Crescent (EFC) region of SW Asia through the analysis of new and previously published species abundance and biometric data from 86 archaeofaunal assemblages. We find that Bos exploitation was a minor component of animal economies in the EFC in the late Pleistocene and early Holocene but increased dramatically in the sixth millennium BC. Moreover, biometric data indicate that small-sized Bos, likely representing domesticates, appear suddenly in the region without any transitional forms in the early to mid sixth millennium BC. This suggests that domestic cattle were imported into the EFC, possibly associated with the spread of the Halaf archaeological culture, several millennia after they first appear in the neighboring northern Levant.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Origins of Druidism (Britain B.C.)

Documentary on British religion narrated by Francis Pryor.

"Britian B.C. - Part 2: Neolithic & Bronze Age henges, tombs and dwellings"

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Farmers Almost Completely Superseded Central Hunters (Silva et al, 2016)

This is a model for population continuity testing. I won't address the math since I basically skip numbers, but interested to see numbers that make sense.  Silva, Kreutzer, Papageorgopoulou and Currat estimate a potentially severe population replacement in the Neolithic, something up to 91% in Central Europe, although they have other scenarios as well.

The conclusions of Silva aren't new or strange, but as an interesting side note, there is a new study from last week that looks at the ancient genomic and population movement tendencies of these very people. See Maju's comments [here].

Here's an interesting excerpt:
"We estimated an admixture rate γ between PHG and NFA in central Europe of 0.01 with a high density interval (HDI) varying from 0.001 to 0.066 (Figure 5 and Table 2). This result means that around 1% of the contacts between PHG and NFA resulted in the adoption of farming by PHG or to the birth of a child in the farming community." 
If you look at population continuity in the Americas since the 16th century, you'll find that indigenous farmers with high population densities like the Aztecs contributed significantly to modern populations, whereas low density hunter-gatherer-mixed-agriculture populations like the Comanches were effectively superseded.

I've mentioned this point before regarding farmer density; the farm economy is an economy of scale. The more babies that are born, the more food and water that can be generated with less overall manpower, which enables greater specialty diversification, looping around and reducing elapsed maintenance manhours through higher productivity.  It sort of feeds on itself.  It has.

There is no upper limit to the size of a farm population structure (it keeps expanding) and the density can sometimes be very dense. (The entire landmass of China might support less than 2 million Hunter-Gatherers considering deserts and swamps)

Farmers aren't subject to native ecology restraints either. They basically transplant their own ecology, slashing and burning jungles, forests, draining swamps or terracing mountains. Farmers make babies and sprawl by necessity, and they change the landscape while pushing thinly populated hunters into the margins.

Importantly, there is little evidence of aboriginal hunters quickly adapting to the advance of the farmer baby-factory. On every continent and in every island the hunters are quickly marginalized and confused, often abused.  There is so much more than just food, it is ideas about conquering the material world, property rights and economic worth in a society that values material wealth over more ancient virtues. 

The farmer advance must have been a neutron bomb on Europe, so I'll buy 91% and then some.  Totally believable.

Here's what Silva et al wrote:
"Ancient mitochondrial population samples have been studied independently for different regions in Europe, and most of them revealed regional genetic discontinuity through time, from prehistoric times until today, meaning that the observed shifts in allele frequencies cannot be explained by genetic drift alone."

Effect of population structure and migration when investigating genetic continuity using ancient DNA [link]
Silva NM1, Kreutzer S2, Papageorgopoulou C3, Currat M1,4*
bioRxiv preprint first posted online May. 10, 2016; doi: 

Recent advances in sequencing techniques provide means to access direct genetic snapshots from the past with ancient DNA data (aDNA) from diverse periods of human prehistory. Comparing samples taken in the same region but at different time periods may indicate if there is continuity in the peopling history of that area or if a large genetic input, such as an immigration wave, has occurred. Here we propose a new modeling approach for investigating population continuity using aDNA, including two fundamental elements in human evolution that were absent from previous methods: population structure and migration. The method also considers the extensive temporal and geographic heterogeneity commonly found in aDNA datasets. We compare our spatiallyexplicit approach to the previous nonspatial method and show that it is more conservative and thus suitable for testing population continuity, especially when small, isolated populations, such as prehistoric ones, are considered. Moreover, our approach also allows investigating partial population continuity and we apply it to a real dataset of ancient mitochondrial DNA. We estimate that 91% of the current genetic pool in central Europe entered the area with immigrant Neolithic farmers, but a genetic contribution of local huntergatherers as large as 83% cannot be entirely ruled out. 

Zurich Beaker Site

A rescue archaeology dig is completing after several months of excavation in the Höngg borough of
Zürich.  Via Baublatt

A church of Höngg (eigenes Bild vom 8. Oktober 2005 via Wiki)

I believe these are sherds of the pottery, however snooping around the net I had a hard time determining if other artifacts were discovered.  There were also Celtic and Roman artifacts as well.  I'll update if I can find more information.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Two Crowdfunding Projects by DigVentures

Here's some interesting crowdfunding projects from DigVentures that'll be starting soon.  Dig Ventures combines archaeology with Crowdfunding and Archeao-tourism(?) to raise resources for projects.

The Costa dos Castros project will span a time period between the Early Bronze Age and include Iron Age fortresses in Galicia, Spain.  There are several aspects to the project, but the crux of it is understanding the connections between Atlantic Europe and the Mediterranean.

Here's the page for Costa de Castros [Link]

The site near Attleborough will begin in three weeks and appears to be an undisturbed, Early Bronze Age mound. 

Here's the webpage [Link]

Also, for those of you who live local, you have an opportunity to join the team as an archaeological beast of burden.  

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Interesting Genomes in Medieval North Africa (Gunther et al, 2016)

Quick snippet from a paper that will be presented this July at the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution Conference 2016.  Thanks to Matt for posting at Eurogenes.

"The genomic enigma of two Medieval North Africans"

"Both individuals – which represent the first ancient genome sequence data from North Africa – do not exhibit particular genetic affinities to modern North Africans or any other present-day population in published genotype data sets despite relatively extensive data has been produced from many areas of Africa. In fact, the most parsimonious way to model them genetically is as two-source admixture between Mediterranean Europeans and Southern Africans."
Let me break this down.  Two medieval genomes of North Africa are not immediately akin to Berbers.  They appear to be a mixture of something Khoisan-like and something Southern Europe, Mediterranean-like.*

The authors interpret this in the most parsimonious way (at least from the abstract), that the Barbary-Moorish slave trade could have brought together these individuals' ancestries. 

"Both individuals could represent a Medieval African population without population continuity to modern-day populations"
This has the potential to get very interesting, very quick.
Tassili Round Head Period (Libya)
The original inhabitants of the Saharan Early Neolithic 'wet phase' are generally called 'Roundheads' after their abundant rock art.  These people inhabited a landscape and an ecology very similar to those of modern San-Khoisan peoples and their theorized ancient domains.  Given that fact, I'd expect these people to be more similar to Khoi people than to Pygmy or West African peoples.

Modern San-Khoisan also have Southern Europe (Mediterranean)* admixture somewhere between 14% or more and I'll link to some recent articles below.  The San-Khoisan element could be a substrate across much of the continent in addition to introgression from the Neolithic expansion, maybe in multiple places.

To put it directly, these Medieval individuals could be the remnants of native, North African ethnicities that were progressively destroyed in the Berber, and later Arab, expansions.  I'm not saying that will be the case, but I'm satisfied knowing something I had predicted, that when the first genomes of North Africa start coming in, they'll be diverse and look neither Berber or Arab.

Khoisan People [PBS]

There is also a new paper by Zvelibil et al 2016 that I have lost for the moment.  It proposes that ceramic pottery was independently invented in North Africa based on some very early sherds from Mali.  While I'm always very deeply skeptical of 'independently' this or that, I think the North African Neolithic will soon become a very interesting place.

See also from
Newscientist [Khoisan have Eurasian DNA]

[Khoesian have West Eurasian admixture]

*I had mis-spoke and said South Mediterranean, which obviously doesn't make any sense in genetic terms.  The question will be if it is possible to sufficiently distinguish admixture between a modern and Neolithic sources

Friday, June 3, 2016

Monumentalizing Covenants?...Revisiting (Rojo-Guerra et al, 2014)

There are now quite a few Beaker 'graves' across Europe that lack a human body.  They are called graves because they have all of the accoutrements that might follow a person to the grave; yet there is no body, no ashes.

This phenomenon seems to be gaining the attention of archaeologists and a paper I previously discussed by Rojo-Guerra et al (2014) addresses the problem square on.  It has been variously proposed that these 'graves' may be very common as older sites are reconsidered.

Some of 50+ beakers from Hanácký Stonehenge.  Národního památkového ústavu (NPÚ)
It's important to note that these pits are not 'empty graves'.  There may be a drinking set, a quiver, a knife or two, a bead...just no human remains.  Also, I don't believe these bodiless burials are occurring within cemeteries, at least where other bodies are present.  So the Rojo-Guerra authors asked 'what was the purpose of these burials?'.

My hunch is that these pits with drinking gear and personal effects are the material instruments of contracts or covenants for the preliterate Beakers.  It might offer an explanation for the often intentionally broken beer containers and plates, many times half missing.  These covenants were materialized as instruments and monumentalized by piling stones or building mini alters atop.

Building of Gilgal, artist unknown (via St. Takla Coptic Church)

For starters we can look to an example of Bronze Age covenant-marking in the Bible beginning with the patriarchs down to Joshua who monumentalized their covenants with God into the landscape.  This was the case at Gilgal where the remaining Israelite men were circumcised on their last leg of the journey leaving Egypt.  This was to serve as a reminder to the remaining men of the twelve Israelite tribes and their son's sons that they had entered a covenant with God through the process of circumcision.  This contract would be perpetually reaffirmed through the circumcision of each successive generation.

So we can peer directly into Bronze Age business practices and see that materializing and monumentalizing contracts was practiced at this time (at least in the Middle East).  This would have been especially important for preliterate, pre-state legal systems where the majority of legal code was devoted to contractual law, as was the case in Anglo-Saxon and Celtic tribal law.*

We also have in modern times the remnants of prehistoric social practices that may have roots in pre-state legal behaviors.

The first in the absolute broadest sense is the toast, which has many different forms in Eurasia.  Sometimes the glasses are chinked, sometimes the arms are inter-twined, sometimes the alcohol is taken together from one cup, or two share from a specially-made double cup.  To be clear, this goes far beyond the narrow bandwidth of the Bell Beakers; this is a pan-Eurasian drinking culture phenomenon, and it is probably much, much older than the 2nd millennium.

As we look to the artifacts from Hanácký, Suprasl or the Ambrona Valley, we see the occasion is more serious than a cheap get-together.  Serious and capable people came together for some reason; to pay homage to stronger septs, make religious offerings or conduct business.

The second is the curious single bead of amber or two that are found on some of these sites.  Hanácký, interestingly, is East-West oriented.  In Celtic law, as one example, an oath was taken by the Celtic god Mapanos (Apollo) or Lugus (Hermes, whose name may mean oath in Celtic via PIE).  (see Green, 1995) The oath taker also pledged his honesty on the fact that he would be swallowed by the Earth if telling lies.  It makes me wonder if this is a 'blood in, blood out' sort of agreement.  To put another way:  We dig an empty grave together, we make a covenant, we drink on it...   ... don't screw up!

New Year's in Denmark (Jane Street Clayworks)

The third is the shattering of pottery.  Whether it's to end bachelorhood in a Germanic Polterabend, turn the leaf in a Greek wedding, or end the year in Denmark, it is a widespread tradition across Eurasia that goes back to at least the Middle Neolithic in Europe.

The items in the pits don't seem substantial enough to be supplies or sustenance for those in the netherworld and in the case of Hanácký, we'd have to believe these people were very sentimental to memorialize so many lost souls at one location.  When these things are added together I'd lean slightly toward the idea that these empty graves are either homages toward higher ranked septs and lords or regular contractual agreements between two or more parties on court day as witnessed by others.


BEAKER BARROWS (not) for the dead: El Alto I & III, Las Cuevas/El Morrón and La Perica (Soria, Spain) CuPAUAM 40  Manuel A. Rojo-Guerra1, Rafael Garrido-Pena, Íñigo García-Martínez-de-Lagrán, and Cristina Tejedor-Rodríguez, 2014 [Link]

In this article we will discuss on a peculiar and interesting feature recently discovered in the archaeological record of Copper Age Bell Beakers in the Ambrona Valley (Soria, Spain), that is the existence of barrows which look like tombs but they were not. They even include valuable items (finely decorated pottery, gold jewellery) but no sign of human bones. This absence could not be explained by selective preservation of the materials, since those barrows are not located in acid soils, and faunal remains are usually found in other sites of the same area. We could interpret this special finds as the archaeological testimonies of eventual ceremonial activities, perhaps including commensality rituals (intentionally broken pots are found inside them), being the stone mound the commemoration in the landscape of those important events (a possible cenotaph evoking the death of someone important away from his hometown?) or places (the location of special features of the environment in their mythic geographies).

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Bodiless Graves at Brodek u Prostějova (Hanácký Stonehenge)

This from the Prostejovsky Denik magazine in the Czech Republic [here].

Last spring construction workers building the motorway near Brodek u Prostějova discovered what's being called the local Stonehenge.  Apparently there are quite a few celestially oriented, symbolic graves with a number of personal artifacts to include textiles!  Few to no human remains!  Phosphate analysis is being used to confirm this..;

More [here], [here], [here]
Svatyně v Brodku u Prostějova usiluje o cenu Národního památkového ústavu (NPU)
On first glace, these beakers look to be painted or glazed red, at least the one on the bottom.  I'm only guessing looking at the picture.  I can't tell what the mass on the top right of the picture above; It almost looks like a mat of cloth?

This project was nominated for a recognition in the local state for how it was excavated and preserved.  You can see below how the site is aligned.  Right above it is the motorway that cut through it.

Aerial of the Site (Link)

I have a theory regarding the bodiless graves which I will share later today in the next post, time permitting....

post script:
This site, "Hanácký Stonehenge" may yield some pretty substantial information.  The textiles are being studied now and may offer some really interesting insight to the style and uniform.