Sunday, May 14, 2017

A Real Mesetan Mama (I4245/RISE695)

Continuing with the profiles from "The Beaker Phenomenon and the Genetic Transformation of Northwest Europe" by Olalde et al, 2107.   This was the live breaking post if you missed it.

Part of what's interesting about the Camino de Yeseras archaeological site (Central Spain) is that 1) it's freaking huge 2) gross inequality among its inhabitants.  As you will see in the Olalde narrative below, the Beakers at this site are notable for gigantism and deformed heads.

I wrote about this site and this woman previously in this post.

Liesau, Blasco, Rios, Flores, 2015
Right now I4245 is the single individual of the Iberian test group that is without question a 'real' Bell Beaker, at least in my opinion. Oddly enough, her maternal haplogroup is not common to Europe, being L1b1a, which we already knew from the previous RISE study. Genetically, she is a Neolithic European.  For that reason, she's a good candidate for connections between the Meseta and Morocco/Algeria.  When her genome is released and later as the Moroccan Beakers at Stanford are published, maybe we'll learn more about these connections.

Wiki commons

Her head is clearly deformed, which I wrote about several times, so that makes it more likely that she was a Beaker baby, not just the wife of a Beaker.  In other words, she was raised with Beaker infant practices.  Also, as the archaeologists had noted in that first post, her life was much easier than the other women where she lived.

Like most of the Iberians she has no apparent Steppe admixture.  Personally, I'm nearly 100% certain that steppe admixture is in Iberia from the earliest Bell Beaker, the MBA Iberians show that this will be the case.  But as I had cautioned before, Iberia will take some time to sort out.  4245 is highlighted below.

Fig S1 from Supp 1 Olalde et al, 2017

Footnote.  Today is Mother's Day in the United States so Happy Mother's Day to you mothers! It's a good opportunity to see the humanity in a woman we only know as I4245.  But she had a real name and someone stood at this freshly covered mound personally destroyed.

I4245 was buried with her likely child, from the archaeologists' opinion, at the same exact time as the child based upon the decomposition science.

Sometimes I wonder why Beaker women are buried with (presumably) their children.  Did plague or misfortune strike the house all at once within the day or two of burial?

I suspect in some cases there may have been one final act of sacrifice that took place as the Beaker belief system may have viewed small children as woefully unprepared to navigate the underworld.  It's also worth considering that in some cases the women buried with children were not the mothers, but nurses or slaves.

Hopefully we will see future studies on women and children.

  1. Camino de las Yeseras (San Fernando de Henares, Madrid, Spain)
  2. Contact person: Corina Liesau, Patricia Ríos, Concepción Blasco, Pilar Prieto
  3. Most of our knowledge about this site has been gathered from four excavation campaigns, three of which have been rescue archaeology interventions by different companies. This has conditioned the information available about the site. The site of Camino de las Yeseras is one of the greatest Chalcolithic ditched enclosures (approximately 22ha.) in central Iberia. It is essential to our understanding of the Chalcolithic period: the Pre Beaker burials and the impact that Bell Beaker customs and funerary rituals had on the consolidation of social inequalities among the first metallurgical societies of the Central Iberian Peninsula20,21.Strategically located at the confluence of two important rivers, it was probably a central place located on a suitable and well-communicated landscape comprising two valleys for livestock and farming activities, and close to a rich resource catchment area where flint, salt, and clay are found. From the end of the fourth to the middle of the second millennia cal. BCE it was an important production and exchange centre of raw materials and objects. Since the second half of the third millennium cal. BCE, Bell Beaker burials are documented mainly on the south area of the site, and comprise different types of tombs, contemporaneous to other non-Bell Beaker ones, mainly collective burials with scarce grave goods.
  1. Except for one collective Bell Beaker burial in a pit, three so-called Funerary Areas reveal the intentional delimitation of space and can be placed chronologically between the end of the third millennium and the first centuries of the second millennium cal BCE. Like pantheons, the huts with sunken floors at Camino de las Yeseras have two or more tombs excavated at the bases of their edges, as well as one deep hypogeum and one or several artificial caves. These pantheon-like structures were respected through time and reveal consecutive funerary and commensality activities within them.  Although the sizes of the tombs are independent of the number of individuals buried within them, the hypogea include relevant prestige items such as ornaments in gold and ivory, and the covering of bodies with cinnabar. The artificial caves, on the other hand, include mainly Bell Beaker pottery of the Ciempozuelos incised style. The osteomorphological and size features noted on some of the Bell Beaker individuals suggest they had a peculiar appearance (e.g. gigantism, deformed head) when they were alive.

  2. Sample I4245/RISE659 was obtained from a tomb with a double inhumation in a small artificial cave from Funerary Area 2. A 1–5-year-old child was inhumated at the far end of the cave and was covered by the body of a 20–30-year-old woman, carefully placed in supine position with the head to the left and flexed legs. The woman's head, which rested on a pillow made with a grass fill, revealed an intentional cranial deformation from childhood. Both bodies are known to have decomposed within the infilled space.  In terms of the grave goods, a small decorated cup was found on the child, whereas two bigger decorated inlayed cups had been placed between the breast and left arm of the woman. The child was radiocarbon dated to 1960–1740 calBCE (3525±40 BP, Ua-35021). No date is available for the woman, who was sampled for aDNA analysis, but the context suggests that both were interred at the same time:
  1. I4245/RISE695: 2280–1790 BCE 

Here's the original archaeological paper:

La mujer en el registro funerario campaniforme y su reconocimiento social.  Women in the funerary Bell Beaker record and their social recognition.  TRABAJOS DE PREHISTORIA.  Corina Liesau, Concepción Blasco, Patricia Ríos, Raúl Flores, 72, N.º 1, enero-junio 2015, pp. 105-125, ISSN: 0082-5638.  doi: 10.3989/tp.2015.12146

The paper analyzes the Bell Beaker graves with female burials from three sites located near one another in the region of Madrid. The study addresses the female presence within contexts that have traditionally been considered mainly male. The variability of their grave goods and burial rituals and their identification in primary and secondary, single or collective inhumations, is also analyzed.  Their associations with male adult individuals and/or children are reviewed, and the social role of women buried with daggers in significant graves is discussed.  Although the sample is quantitatively insufficient, its
variability at least allows us to refute previons claims about the numerical superiority of male graves that have been made without any empirical support. We conclude with a discussion of why there are fewer women in Bell Beaker tombs than in contemporaneous tombs without Bell Beakers.


  1. So your impression is that there was arrival of people in VSNP / early Iberian BB which then moved north ?
    Any good overview papers ?

  2. I'm not saying necessarily yes, but I would say that there is an unnatural cultural trajectory in Iberia that is very sudden and coincidental. Kossinna's Smile is worth a second look

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  3. Yes I know what you're referring to. I hope those sites are tested soon