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