Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Domesday, 4066 (Brace et al, 2018)

Even though population replacement should be expected at the start of the British Neolithic, the degree to which it appears to have occurred is stunning.  The numbers are roughly close to the ~93% figure that Harvard estimated in the Early Bronze Age (once you exclude the possibility of full-blooded Anatolians parachuting into the Isles).  In any case, take that percentage of surviving British HG's and then factor its surviving portion into the EBA.  It's not a lot, even in the extremities of the Isles.  In Wales, it's probably zero.  Stunning.

The notion of spear-chuckers snapping spears over their legs and adopting the farming lifestyle didn't happen in Britain.  It looks like they were just out-produced, out-bred and over-run.

Farmer baby machine aside, they make a comment that is difficult to escape...
"In summary, our results indicate that the progression of the Neolithic in Britain was unusual when compared to other previously studied European regions. Rather than reflecting the slow admixture processes that occurred between ANFs and local hunter-gatherer groups in areas of continental Europe, we infer a British Neolithic proceeding with little introgression from resident foragers – either during initial colonization phase, or throughout the Neolithic. This may reflect the fact that farming arrived in Britain a couple of thousand years later than it did in Europe. The farming population who arrived in Britain may have mastered more of the technologies needed to thrive in northern and western Europe than the farmers who had first expanded into these areas. A large-scale seaborne movement of established Neolithic groups leading to the rapid establishment of the first agrarian and pastoral economies across Britain, provides a plausible scenario for the scale of genetic and cultural change in Britain."

I'm eager to see if it's possible to tease out some structure to the farmer groups in Britain based on geography and cultural context.  It seems that could be the case.

Population Replacement in Early Neolithic Britain

Selina Brace1*, Yoan Diekmann2*, Thomas J. Booth1*, Zuzana Faltyskova2, Nadin Rohland3,
Swapan Mallick3,4,5, Matthew Ferry3,4,, Megan Michel3,4,, Jonas Oppenheimer3,4, Nasreen
Broomandkhoshbacht3,4, Kristin Stewardson3,4, Susan Walsh6, Manfred Kayser7, Rick
Schulting8, Oliver E. Craig9, Alison Sheridan10, Mike Parker Pearson11, Chris Stringer1, David
Reich3,4,5#, Mark G. Thomas2#, Ian Barnes1#
bioRxiv preprint first posted online Feb. 18, 2018; doi:


The roles of migration, admixture and acculturation in the European transition to farming have been debated for over 100 years. Genome-wide ancient DNA studies indicate predominantly Anatolian ancestry for continental Neolithic farmers, but also variable admixture with local Mesolithic hunter-gatherers. Neolithic cultures first appear in Britain c. 6000 years ago (kBP), a millennium after they appear in adjacent areas of northwestern continental Europe. However, the pattern and process of the British Neolithic transition remains unclear. We assembled genome-wide data from six Mesolithic and 67 Neolithic individuals found in Britain, dating from 10.5-4.5 kBP, a dataset that includes 22 newly reported individuals and the first genomic data from British Mesolithic hunter-gatherers. Our analyses reveals persistent genetic affinities between Mesolithic British and Western European hunter-gatherers over a period spanning Britain's separation from continental Europe. We find overwhelming support for agriculture being introduced by incoming continental farmers, with small and geographically structured levels of additional hunter-gatherer introgression. We find genetic affinity between British and Iberian Neolithic populations indicating that British Neolithic people derived much of their ancestry from Anatolian farmers who originally followed the Mediterranean route of dispersal and likely entered Britain from northwestern mainland Europe.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Bracers of Budakalász (HORVÁTH, 2017)

In this paper Horvath examines stone equipment from the large Budapest cemetery, Budakalász, which lies on the West bank of the Danube in Hungary.

A number of stone items are interpreted as plausible metal-working equipment, including these large river pebbles with a straight groove.  A case is made that these were used to manufacture pins of sorts, either by casting, shaping or polishing.  One artifact shows evidence of what may be hot shaping from burn marks and the uniformity of the examples are noteworthy.

Cold molds or polishers? (snip, fig 5)

Most interesting is the take Horvath has on the functional use of the wrist guards.  He notes that most of these in Hungary, despite being located on the lower left arm, are actually placed on the outside of the arm rather than the inside.  Horvath makes this comment:

"Perhaps the wrist-guards were also used to sharpen the daggers (the copper’s hardness is 2.5–3 on the Mohs scale: since wrist-guards are harder, they could have been used for this purpose)"
I don't believe I've heard this particular argument before and it does make a lot of sense if the use-wear analysis supports this hypothesis.  Previously, I assumed these bracers were rotated to the outside of the arm when they weren't being actively used, but that really doesn't help much if they were set in a cuff.  Several streams of circumstantial evidence do suggest that many were only part of a larger cuff assembly.

Snip from fig 9
Like the other authors who have written on the topic of bracer placement (Folkens, Smith, Turek), putting percentages to the exact position of these bracer stones on arms doesn't have a clear answer because as Horvath notes, many of the Beaker graves were excavated before quality dig records were made and before this was a topic of interest.

Since copper is rather soft, blade edges would need to be re-shaped frequently.  The magnified micro-edge of the blade would tend to curl after several uses and this is essentially what curved honing steels do for modern knives. 

Finally, you can see that in fig 9 that some bracers were repaired after what should have been throw-away time for looks or any practical use as a bracer.  But they are still valued after repeated corner brakes.  Several other characteristics are worth a second look, like the fact that they are about the length of a blade and that these items die off with the emergence of bronze!?

"The stone implements and wrist-guards of the Bell Beaker cemetery of Budakalász (M0/12 site)" Vjesnik Arheološkog muzeja u Zagrebu, Vol.50 No.1 Prosinac 2017

Monday, January 29, 2018

Beaker Classic (Convertini, 2017)

You might remember Oliver Lermercier's particular implantation model of Southeast France.  Very broadly it seeks to explain the interaction between native peoples in Provence and in Eastern Languedoc and their Beakerization by foreigners to some degree.  It uses Hellenization of the Mediterranean as a model for how numerically disadvantaged foreigners imposed culture and genetics on people, not totally, at least in the beginning.

Here, Convertini uses thin section pottery analyses to look at continuity and change in the pottery manufacture of this region between the Neolithic and Beaker Age.  He proposes two hypotheses, but his preferred one is a situation in which foreigners enter the region with foreign manufacturing techniques and a foreign style.  This is followed by a period in which native people are using native techniques to imitate the sinuous form of Beaker pottery and its character, and then this is followed by a gradual fusion/evolution.

All I have is the abstract, but please share the wealth if you have it and I'll update this post.

"Almost the Real Thing" (Treemix)

Les dégraissants des céramiques des sites d’Avignon (Vaucluse)nouvelles données, nouvelles visions de l’implantation du Campaniforme dans le Midi de la France


The thin section analysis of a series of Bell Beaker geometric dotted style ceramics and of a mixed beaker from the city of Avignon (Vaucluse) allowed us to consider the current state of our knowledge and to reflect in an innovative manner on the Bell Beaker implantation in the South of France. The starting point of the study showed that the majority of the clay resources are local and come from the exploitation of a natural mixture of Rhone alluvions and lateral carbonate contributions. Apart from the mixed beaker, ceramics made from these clays were all tempered only with crushed calcite. The places of origin of the clays of the other two families, represented by only one vase each, are farther away, without it being possible to be more specific. Moreover, these two vases were the only ones that were tempered with grog. These data have made it possible to establish that geometric dotted style productions present in Avignon included various practices implemented in different geographical areas; one of the two foreign vases, moreover, has a paste that also contained crushed carbonates. On the other hand, in Avignon, on the basis of the samples analysed, the practice of tempering ceramics with grog does not seem to have existed; only the presence of crushed calcite could be identified for locally manufactured geometric dotted productions.

Within the series analysed, two types of temper were therefore used. The first, the most commonly used, corresponds to the crushed calcites present in the majority of pastes of decorated Bell Beaker pottery as well as in that of the pre-oral rope vase. Grog, which is the second temper, was introduced only in the pastes of the two foreign vases. In western Provence, crushed calcite is a temper which has already been identified in the pastes of decorated Bell Beakers vases from Les Calades (Orgon, Bouches-du-Rhône) and Les Barres (Eyguières, Bouches-du-Rhône), which are stylistically similar to those of Avignon, as well as in the pastes of Rhodano-Provençal decorated production from Collet-Redon (Martigues, Bouches-du-Rhône). To the west of the Rhone, in eastern Languedoc, very few Bell Beaker ceramics of the same style as those from Avignon are known and none have been analysed. Very few petrographic analyses were carried out on beakers attributed to J. Guilaine’s early phase, which proved to be almost never tempered with crushed calcite. On the other hand, the use of crushed calcite is largely attested for the ceramics of the Rhodano-Provençal group and the associated common ceramics in eastern Languedoc.

Since the Early Neolithic, crushed calcite has been traditionally used as a temper by potters in Provence and in eastern Languedoc. A large part of the Late Neolithic productions from Provence contain it and it is omnipresent in the pottery from the other Late Neolithic sites (Fontbouisse) in the Gard and the east of the Herault département.
The Avignon series has especially brought results for local vases of the geometric dotted style that have been confronted with the data previously obtained on other corpuses from Provence and Languedoc.

The new data acquired over the past few years allow two hypotheses to be envisaged. The first is to consider that the Bell Beaker potters originally corresponded to individuals from the same substratum, possessing a unique and common (but no longer determinable) practice, or they may also correspond to geographically heterogeneous individuals, without a single practice concerning the use or otherwise of tempers. In both cases, when settling in, they would have adopted the cultural practices of the populations of the local substratum. This would involve the borrowing of clay preparation recipes from indigenous populations. The second hypothesis resumes a proposition already presented in a previous study. In order to explain the characteristics of the
geometric dotted production of phase 2 of J. Guilaine’s model, we proposed that at the end of the Neolithic, after an initial phase (phase 1) of short duration (probably some decades) during which the beakers were made locally by individuals foreign to the substratum, part of the indigenous population copied these beakers and then quickly created new shapes while diversifying the decoration.

The first proposal implies that the Bell Beaker potters who wished to establish themselves systematically adopted local cultural practices concerning the temper for the preparation of the ceramic pastes of each population of the substratum present on the territory where they settled. This hypothesis is quite plausible because several ethno-archaeological studies have shown that potters displaced into another human group can modify their know-how under the influence of the traditions of the populations in which they settle. Such borrowing may concern the temper but also shaping or decoration techniques. The nature and duration of contacts appear to be important. The reasons given for such borrowing are the ease and speed of shaping as well as consumer demand. These types of borrowing do not seem to be retained in the case of the Bell Beaker potters since the forms and the decorations are radically different from those of the indigenous productions. Nevertheless, the adoption of a locally used temper may have helped spread the beakers among indigenous populations.

The second hypothesis that we have chosen to privilege and develop is the opposite of the previous one. It is not the newcomers who borrow traditions but the natives who adopt a new ceramic form, the beaker. This hypothesis explains why the Bell Beaker productions are identical to the ceramics of the substratum, from the point of view of the use of temper, in particular crushed calcite, since they were made by the same local cultural groups. Moreover, this hypothesis also explains the systematic presence on the Bell Beaker sites of substratum ceramics other than through acquisitions made with indigenous populations. Nevertheless, a specificity can differentiate Bell Beaker productions from other locally made ceramics because, on the left bank of the Rhone, at Calades and Barres, but also in Avignon in the case of the two allochtonous ceramics, grog is found, in association with the crushed calcite still used in most productions.
This hypothesis thus makes it possible to propose a renewed reading of modalities concerning the borrowing, reinterpretation and development of Bell Beaker ceramics by some of the potters of the indigenous cultures of the Late Neolithic following the first contacts with individuals foreign to the substratum. In particular, they highlight the variability of the behaviour of potters who use this pottery with, in particular, the manufacture of stylistically similar ceramics in different places according to distinct practices, but which are largely identical with local traditions. This situation can be observed in current traditional societies where borrowing mechanisms can be rapid, in the region of a few decades. Imitations can be the result of the arrival of a new potter with his own decors, which is very close to the situation envisaged for the Bell Beaker culture. On the other hand, the time required for the appearance of new ceramic decorations and forms is difficult to access by ethno-archaeology, but archaeological examples from lakeside sites which have yielded dilated stratigraphic sequences allow an order of magnitude of a few decades for this period.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Beakers at Bedtime; Segregated in Sleep?

Folkens et al, 2017 asked a question that got my wheels turning.  Why did supine burials appear in the Netherlands (and Europe) and why was this burial position largely irrevocable?  That inspired a host of other questions, the most interesting is why were men and women of the Beaker and CWC were buried in gendered positions.  I'll share a possibility that came to mind.

It seems that in many places supine burials follow changes in bedding, from fetal nest beds on cave floors and huts to footed beds in the later Metal Ages.  Seems to reason that grieving people buried those who will not wake in a comfortable and familiar position.  Also, people generally lie in a familiar resting posture in the closing hours of life.   Sian Mui of Durham University wrote this in an introduction to a conference on posturing the deceased in burial:
"Postures may ... be used to stimulate an illusion of sleep, to ensure rest for the undead, or even to defy death." 

If we accept this premise - that many cultures bury the dead in sleeping pose, then we might be able to ask Folkens' question in reverse - what do the archaeological burials reveal about the sleeping habits of the ancients, particularly the Beakers?

We might correctly assume that Bell Beakers (often buried with pillows and bedding it seems) recreated a fetal sleeping arrangement and comfy enclosure to protect the resting dead (and like us, idealized in death).  (A look at Medieval and Renaissance effigies could be compared to the Beaker ideals of virtuous warriorhood and respectable ladyhood in a bedding position familiar to their era)

"A Sleeping Knight Idealized and Dressed for Battle in Death" (saffron100_uk)
Idealization in death is common across many cultures.  The pose in a modern casket is restful but also idealized.  Modern burials are supine and it follows a familiar fact that Westerners in hospice care generally die in the supine position.  I found this interesting hospice care study by Verboeket-Crul, Thein and Teuniessen (2016) that questions if this common position is comfortable to the person being handled or if caretakers and circumstances were forcing this position on dying humans.  Verboeket-Crul et al look at different comfort preferences of the dying and in studying death in the Netherlands and make this comment:
"In the last days and hours before dying, patients are usually to be found in the supine position.  After death as well, people are often place in the supine position.  This attitude is in line with the Western historical and cultural notion that the supine position of a dying person expresses dignity...  In some non-Western countries, it was traditional to die in foetal posture.  Those people were also buried in this position..."
In any case, they conclude that comfort preferences vary person to person.

From a previous Harry Folkens presentation.

Sleeping is so natural that we may assume there is only one way to do it.  But even a quick survey of readers from this blog would quickly reveal that our cultures sleep differently:  rising and waking at different times of the day, siestas, opportunistic slumber, daytime alert, sleeping alone as individuals, collectively as a nuclear family, or like hamsters, infant with mother, infant in crib, kids together or individually, with or without clothes, gender segregation, night watches or other nighttime duties.

But now this question.  Why are Bell Beaker men and boys differentiated in the burial configuration from women, girls and sometimes small boys in the heading of the grave?

I wonder if gendered burials reflect a sleeping arrangement where genders were segregated at either end of the Beaker cabin.  If we assume that each Beaker home represents the habitation of a Yankee nuclear family, then we may assume too much.  It's possible two or three families lived in homes along with old uncles, invalids, foreign spouses, night-time travelers, drunk people, very drunk people, orphans, displaced husbands and a host of other people and situations.

Aside from practical realities like screaming babies, vomiting kids and tired men, taboos requiring separation may have been present as well.  If Beakers were like American pioneers living with 14 kids in a 16 x 16 cabin, most intimacy occurred outside the home anyway.  It's a different way of looking at what we consider an intimate setting.

Reconstructed Bell Beaker Boat Shaped House, Százhalombatta Archaeological Park, Hungary (Bozor Magdi)

Rather than Beaker gendered burials being reflective of some kind of sexual duality, could it be that it is just an extension of the modesty and pragmatism expressed at bedtime?

(The past several weeks have been crazy-town.  That's slowed Beakerblog down considerably.  But things are clearing a bit.  Hope to have more in the coming weeks.)

"Burials, Houses, Women and Men in the European Neolithic" (Hodder, 1990)

"Aloofness and Intimacy of Husbands and Wives: a Cross Cultural Study" Whiting and Whiting, 2009

"At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past"  (W.W. Norton, 2005)

"Sleep We Have Lost: Pre-Industrial Slumber in the British Isles" A. Roger Ekirch

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Looking Forward

I'm looking forward to blogging on a few papers in the queue.  Stuff is a little piled up now but hopefully next few days will offer a break to post a few things.  Happy New Year!