Wednesday, July 27, 2016

"An Early Beaker Funerary Monument at Porton Down" (Andrews and Thompson, 2016)

The woman in the second graphic (grave 5171, body 5224) was buried in the center of a 15m, segmented ring-ditch, also representing the oldest of subsequent inhumations.  Her N-S timber grave appears to have been reopened on a number of occasions and she is surrounded by 8-12 individuals, 8 graves and 4 cremations.

The Bell Beaker woman, who died in her forties, is later joined over the next 400 years by these 12 infants or infants and young mothers with Bronze Age Food Vessels and Collared Urns.

From Plate 2 Early Beaker/Early Bronze Age burial group 5225: grave 5110 "teenage girl looking at her infant" (Andrews & Thompson, 2016)
From the paper:

"The Beaker from grave 5171 is of Clarke’s Wessex/Middle Rhine type, with all-over horizontal comb impressions. The vessel from ditch 5229 has a more pronounced  globular shape and is decorated with very abraded impressions which may be either cord approximating to the barbed wire technique, or alternatively fishbone impressions  (Salanova 2001, 92, fig. 2:3)."  (Matt Leivers)
"The evidence suggests intentional revisitation and manipulation of the remains once the corpse had become fully skeletalised, as well as potential curation of specific elements. The manipulation, removal and curation of human remains are recognised phenomena in Early Bronze Age contexts, for example at Amesbury Down, though potential purposes and processes are varied and complex (McKinley forthcoming a)." (Kirsten Egging Dinwiddy)
"The two measureable Early Bronze Age skulls fell within the brachycranic range (82.05, SD 1.77) reflecting the general broad/round headed pattern for the period (Brothwell 1973, Abb. 65) and parts of the local population (Amesbury and Rollestone Down; McKinley forthcoming a)."  (Kirsten Egging Dinwiddy)
From Plate 1 Early Beaker/Early Bronze Age burial group 5225: central grave 5171 (Andrews & Thompson, 2016)

At the eastern head of this woman's ring ditch is a large hole that might have held something organic.  The authors speculate it might have held a large post or cenotaph.  Adjacent to this woman's ring ditch is a weird C-shaped monument, roughly the same size. 

What's fascinating is that the babies and young mothers who were buried within this woman's ring ditch were spread across many generations, so they weren't meaningfully related.  This means that for over 400 years the local people knew of this woman's grave and they knew that this was a place to bury babies or babies with young mothers.  Aside from the radiocarbon dates, the pottery also illustrates this story.

Therefore, the only rational conclusion would seem that the people who buried infants in this location did so with the intent to bury an infant or infant and mother with this older Beaker woman that had died, probably, two to three centuries prior.

I've wondered if Bronze Age people were especially frightened when children died for what lied ahead [here].   A small child, teen or other incompetent would be exposed to the same tricksters and riddle-speakers as the other dead, not to mention the pass/fail tests of amoral gods.  It could be that clustering graves around this woman was a kind of chaperoning, having been summoned in some sort of seance using her often disturbed bones.  Being the sole occupant of a ring ditch would seem that she was of some importance, and for whatever reason, a good person to receive small children.  

"An Early Beaker funerary monument at Porton Down, Wiltshire"
by Phil Andrews and Steve Thompson with contributions by Alistair J. Barclay, Kirsten Egging Dinwiddy, Michael J. Grant, Phil Harding, L. Higbee, Matt Leivers, Jacqueline I. McKinley, Lorraine Mepham and Sarah F. Wyles. Illustrations by S.E. James.  Wiltshire Archaeological & Natural History Magazine, vol. 109 (2016), pp. 38-82

"Excavation of an Early Beaker−Early Bronze Age funerary monument at Porton Down revealed an unusually complex burial sequence of 12 individuals, spanning four centuries, including eight neonates or infants and only one probable male, surrounded by a segmented ring-ditch. In the centre was a large grave which contained the disturbed remains of an adult female, accompanied by a Beaker, which had probably been placed within a timber chamber and later ‘revisited’ on one or more occasions. This primary  burial and an antler pick from the base of the ring-ditch provided identical Early Beaker radiocarbon dates. Two burials were accompanied by a Food Vessel and a miniature Collared Urn respectively, others were unaccompanied, and there was a single and a double cremation burial, both within inverted Collared Urns.  A C-shaped enclosure nearby may have been contemporary with the funerary monument, but its date and  function are uncertain. Other features included an Early Neolithic pit which contained a significant assemblage of worked flint, and several Middle Bronze Age ditches and a Late Bronze Age ‘Wessex Linear’ ditch that reflect later prehistoric land divisions  probably related to stock control."

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Histórias do Zambujal (Exhibition for next 12 Months)

Here's an exhibition that will be open until 30 June 2017.  It is celebrating 50 years of the German Archaeology Institute excavation at the Zambujal Fortress.

When:  May 2016 through June 2017
Where:  Torres Vedras, Lisbon District, Portugal
Who:  Deutsches Archäologisches Institut,

Exhibition Flyer (Deutsches Archäologisches Institut)

Photographer Maria Latova Gonzalez (DAI Madrid) via  Deutsches Archäologisches Institut

Friday, July 22, 2016

"A Feature for Your Cap" (and basket earrings)

Until a frozen Bell Beaker is discovered in an Alpine pass, we can only speculate about their headgear from those few and over-representative things that have survived.  I'll now run naked through the soccerfield of ideas and speculate on something may have been present but did not survive, Beaker plumage.  This is just an exercise, so don't take it too seriously.  Also, please excuse the cursed autocorrect.

I think it's likely men and women of the Beaker period wore large feathers tucked in their hatbands or affixed to their hair.  They were an archery people and ancestors of the Bronze Age, so colorful fletching and ornamental feathers might have had a special significance in their culture.  It's possible that European falconry was first practiced at this time and for a people bathed in solar symbolism, it's possible that some men wore the feather of birds-of-prey, often associated with European and Egyptian solar deities in later times.

More on this in a moment, but first a little comparative ethnography...

Tarim Basin Mummies of West China  
Early European adventurers in North America were always intrigued by, and often wrote about the culture and dress of the Native Americans.  One early 17th century intellectual remarked how the Indian braves wore a feather 'as our own young men might put on their hats'.  As anthropology matured, those similarities between cultures became more distant and more difficult to explain.  But should we just relegate those similarities to a past that is unattainable and not seriously entertain those questions?


In the English language, to say that a man 'has earned a feather to his cap' is to suggest that he has gained a new skill or passed an important milestone.  Similar traditions around Europe can be found as Richard Hansard noted in the Description of Hungary (1599):
"It hath been an antient custom among them [Hungarians] that none should wear a fether but he who had killed a Turk, to whom onlie yt was lawful to shew the number of his slaine enemys by the number of fethers in his cappe."
This was also true among the Luwian-speaking Lycians:  (Korach and Mordoch, 2002), and this can be easily expanded on in various regions throughout much of early Europe.  This short article by Victor Mair of the University of Pennsylvania has a few good illustrations, especially of the Beauty of Loulan [here].

Sioux, Blackfoot, Navajo, Quecha, Chickasaw, Witchita, Seminole and Ute Peoples (North and Central Americans) (commons)

Another similarity found across feather-wearing cultures is that there does not appear to be any meritorious or hierarchical purpose for feather-wearing women other than it is attractive or indicative of her tribal affiliation.  That also seems to add some weight to the possibility that this was a learned behavior, not a coincidental phenomenon.  (At the bottom of this post there are two papers that consider the possibility of head-feathers among the Paleolithic Magdalenians and Gravattians.)

Cavaliers, Musketeers, Infantrymen, Chiefs, Dragoons, etc. (commons)
At least for men wearing feathers, the common denominator is virility and warriorhood expressed by merit, social role or the making of a social statement.  In fact, most European coats of arms are crested with a helmet bearing a plume.  In Caxton's woodcut of the Canterbury Tales, it is only the military men of the entire party (the knight and his squire) that are adorned with a feather.  The boundaries appear to have been very loose in Europe, but among Native Americans feathers almost define the very ethos of the Indian.  The 'regulation' of the wearing of feathers could also be quite complex as with the Sioux [See here].

Another commonality that can be found across Eurasia and America is that it often appears to have been a personal martial decoration.  For example, in Scotland it went to the best marksman, hunter or chieftain, in Hungary to the man who had killed a Turk. (basically a more ancient version of medals, badges and service ribbons).  Feathers were also use as a trophy, as when The Black Prince slayed King John of Bohemia, taking King John's ostrich plume for his personal coat of arms.

Maori and Papuans (commons)

You can find similar traditions throughout Oceania, the Ethiopian highlands and a few other places.  It's almost certainly a Paleolithic custom that survived in pockets of Eurasia; but I would be hesitant to chalk this up to some universal human behavior.  It is part of the identity of some peoples in Eurasia and Oceania, but not others, and this can be seen the Egyptian stereotype of a Libyan who always dons two ostrich feathers and is always tattooed on the quarters.

Book of Gates (commons)

So now, back to the's two quick arguments.

1.  There's a few items discovered in the grave's of men that archaeologists have struggled to understand.  One of these is the gold basket earrings*, which almost always appear in two's, but never more than this; also, never with a woman (at least not yet), and more specifically, in the cases where they were found with a body, found with high status men with weapons.

The missing Kirkaugh half (photographer Elisabeth Langton-Airey)  (see also Pennies)
What's interesting is that the baskets' circumference is about what should be expected for the quill of larger birds, such as a raptor, goose or ostrich.  I've done some analysis on these items based on measurements taken by the British museum and they appear to curl between 22mm and 30mm and, with a few exceptions, are remarkably close to each other.  This recently discovered (and unmolested) Kirkhaugh basket has an interesting shape because it could be taking the form of an eagle flight feather quill (which is not perfectly round, but more of a spherical triangle).  See [here]

One of two theories I have about the basket earring is that it encased the quill of an ornamental feather right below the veins.  (As a side note, quills aren't perfectly cylindrical either; many are slightly U-shaped or grooved which could explain the open back of the baskets).  For a Bell Beaker man wearing an ostrich tail feather (more round) or an eagle flight feather (not round), it might add a little pizazz to an important item of the dress.  Assuming exotic feathers were imported, and certainly ostrich shells were, then it is possible that the wealthy and powerful men would accentuate those rare things in their uniform and make them a bit louder.

A Golden Eagle Feather w/ a Amesbury Archer basket earring
If basket earrings were attached to a quill, then it may have been the custom for Beaker men to wear two feathers, similar to Bronze Age men of Algeria/Libya.  And at least for Bronze Age Libya, the two-feather configuration can be satisfactorily demonstrated from Equestrian period D-stretch rock art and also from the many copies of the Book of Gates (as the two-feathered Libyan above).  It should be stressed also that the Libyan in the times of the Book of Gates (New Kingdom) would literally owe some or much of his ancestry to a poorly defined but present North African Beaker Culture (however influenced or settled by Europe).

So basically of my two basket earrings theories, this is option A.  The weirdly-long Orbliston baskets might indicate those items were attached to a longer feather, like ostrich or Congo pea fowl.  But as with the Scottish chief in the collage, the quill of a Golden Eagle may be more likely for the Isles.

2.  Headbands.  A number of Beakers (men and women) from Iberia to the Czech Republic appear to have been buried with elaborate headband or headdress.  Again, 99.9% of any headdresses would have disintegrated and we have just a few gold squares that give us any clue at all.  But what did these headbands look like and what did they hold?  Feather?  Many feathers?

Note:. I'll add the artists and photographers tomorrow as I am having trouble with captions

Slide 22, Dvořák & Matějíčková et al, 2014

La Sima by Luis Pascual Repiso, Aratikos Arqueólogos S. L.

See also:

Street, M. & Turner, E. 2015: “Eating crow or a feather in the cap? The avifauna from the Magdalenian sites of Gönnersdorf and Andernach (Germany). Quaternary International (2015), ArticleinQuaternary International · October 2015with50 ReadsImpact Factor: 2.06 · DOI: 10.1016/j.quaint.2015.10.006

 Fowling during the Gravettian: The avifauna of Pavlov I, the Czech Republic,  Article (PDF Available)inJournal of Archaeological Science 36(12):2655-2665 · November 2009with82 ReadsImpact Factor: 2.20 · DOI: 10.1016/j.jas.2009.08.002

* The overwhelming majority of basket earrings are found in the Isles.  However, one was found in Poland, but lost in WWII. 



In many of these cultures women sometimes wear feathers as well but in none of them does there appear to be any merit associated with it.  A scientific explanation of why this is the case can be found [here].

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Make a Slate Plaque (Jonathan Thomas)

This is a pretty cool idea.  Very easy project for an archaeology aficionado.  I think I might give it a try once I get my free time back and I have the luxury of goofing off.

They're just using floor slate, the same you could buy at any home improvement store for $2 a square foot.

I'm guessing these are students of archaeologist Jonathan Thomas. 

(Clearly some students are better than others!!)

And then the finishing touches.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Genomic Sequencing of Philistine Cemetery (National Geographic)

Via National Kristen Romney

This is a story on the unprecedented discovery of a Philistine Cemetery in Ashkelon, Israel.

I think everyone knows about David and Goliath or Samson and Delilah or the capture of the Ark of the Covenant.  Since this appears to be the first actual cemetery found of the famed Philistines, a lot of questions may be answered about the supposedly Indo-European people.

Genetic analysis may help confirm where the Philistines actually came from; Crete is a likely candidate.  This would be the first time a people associated with the Sea Peoples would have been analyzed.

PHOTOGRAPH BY TSAFRIR ABAYOV via national geographic
"An international team of researchers is currently conducting DNA research, isotopic analysis, and biological distance studies to determine the origin of the population of the Ashkelon cemetery, as well as their relation to other groups in the area. Since the majority of the burials date to at least two centuries after the initial arrival of the Philistines—which may have involved generations of cultural exchange and intermarriage—direct insights into their original origins may be complicated."

Palest Captives of Rameses III (Drawn by Faucher-Gudin, commons)

See also [Alien Minorities in Cyprus and Crete]

and [here]

Friday, July 8, 2016

Bokpot Yusef Interview (ثقافة بيل بيكر)

Here's an interview just posted with Bokpot Yusef on a Moroccan nightly news channel.  It starts about 1:20

Captioning isn't available for this stream yet.  Yusef is an archaeologist that has written extensively on the Bell Beaker phenomenon of Morocco.  Several of the Moroccan Beakers are on the burial pages.

This cave is d’Ifri n’Amr ou Moussa.  This becomes more clear as some of the artifacts are displayed.

I'll put it on the interviews page with the others.  Youtube has auto-captioning when the poster enables.  It's a mouse click. From there you can have auto-translation.

>See also Moroccan Genes at

ثقافة بيل بيكر

Lidé kultury zvoncovitých pohárů (Národní muzeum)

Good luck with the Czech, no subtitles...

Narrated by Elizabeth Peterkova

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Czech Man Buries Dog Finds Woman (

A man in Budkovice, Moravia Czech Republic walked into his backyard with a shovel to dig a grave for his pet dog and instead began to dig up the grave of a Beaker woman.  This from Blesk

You can the north arrow below that shows the orientation within the grave.  At her head is the funerary beaker at at her feet were two more containers, one is like a little handled jug and the other looks like a plain beaker.

Beaker woman (FOTO:
The buttons of her cloak are interesting because rather than a simple v-perforation, there appears to four perforations along with remnants of the button thread.

Another cause of intrigue was a group of bone links about her pectoral area, either a necklace of some sort or some kind of attachment to another decoration.  (I'm using a translator on several pages and it's garbled)