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"


  1. One of the interesting things is gender differentiated burial origins. AFAIK, this first occurs in north Balkan/ Hungarian Copper Age groups (eg Tiszapolgar e.a.), but then re-emerges in CWC after a veritable hiatus. It is absent in Yamnaya.
    What are your thoughts ?

    1. It wouldn't surprise me if the BBC/CWC gendered tradition has roots in a culture such as Tiszapolgar, but I don't know if that would necessarily mean anything as we would understand it when speaking to the essence of a culture or its beginnings.
      I guess this has a lot to how you weigh different cultural components.
      The BBC genisis is especially difficult because so many of its defining international features come from other previous cultures who may have no meaningful genetic relation to the whole group. I think for CWC, the above is plausible, and from CWC to BBC.

    2. Yes I don't propose any direct filiation from Tiszapolgar to CWC. They are genetically distinct (although we don't have actual TP samples, I'd imagine they're basically EEF/WHG), and there is a significant time gap to deal with. But somehow and at some point, groups moving from steppe to southern Poland adopted aspects of funeral rite present in the preceding cultures of the Carpathian basin. So we're seeing selective adaptation of non-steppic customs by incoming "proto-Corded Ware" men. This specific custom was then passed on to BB, but reversed ? as a rebellion / antagonism to CwC.

  2. I've always been intrigued with the fusion/fission (reflux) situation that Desideri, among others, studied. There was significant conflict and changes took place in Central Europe related to different Bell Beaker factions and on the edges of the Corded Ware and the Unetice zones. It could be that new Bell Beakers had a strong male influence from Corded Ware or some elements of Corded Ware. The Bell Beakers that entered the British Isles were not the early Western Beaker folks necessarily, but a result of the fusion/fission. Of course, this would a lot of P312, particularly L21.

    1. I'm eager to see how this pans out in the next few weeks.