Friday, October 12, 2018

The Handsome Horseman

A 20 year old Bell Beaker man was recently discovered in Rock, Northumberland wrapped in a horsehair blanket.  He was about 5'10" or 1.79m with remarkable skeletal symmetry and healthy, straight teeth.

A short video was later produced by the BBC here.

Handsome Horseman

You can see his grave is practically a vault.  Graves from Howick a few miles away are pretty stout as well.  Even though graves continue to be found in this area and along the beach, archaeologists have had a difficult time locating settlement activity in this neck of the woods during the time of the Beakers.

Head and horsehair (BBC)
The horsehair blanket is an interesting twist.  Assuming the coloration of the hair coat is in fact bay, then we should assume that the horsehair blanket was made from the hair coat of a domesticated horse.

the funerary beaker (Jessica Turner via the BBC)

Archaeozoologist Laura Kaagan has done work on the Beaker period horses and believes the Exmoor pony to be similar in form, if not an unimproved descendant of those early Beaker period horses.  Hopefully we will see some genetic testing of this horsehair blanket since we can be fairly sure of its color and utilization by the Beakers.  Although I'm not too optimistic about genetic analysis on domestics, we may get some surprise relations to the Exmoor.

Exmoor ponies (commons)


  1. Been busy this summer. Hopefully the streak continues!

  2. So were they Beaker horses or Beaker ponies? Knowing nothing about horses, I'm wondering what the Beakers would have used them for. Did they carry packs? I know about horsepower, but not ponypower.

    1. Pony is just a body type and this squatty form is most common for most of the Bronze Age AFAIK, at least in the far West. Until genetic testing disproves otherwise, it's not impossible that some of these horses were sterile mules as both contributors appear to be present in the West at this early time. One hypothesis maintains that horse domestication began in the Pontic Steppe by the very crossing separate breed stocks of wild stallion with the less nervous ass or onager from the Middle East with the onager losing its purpose in life when the horse line was enough improved. I believe from skeletal morphology only its difficult or impossible to tell, so until enough DNA is taken, it's all speculation.

      One important consideration is that Bell Beaker spread from Portugal in the largest part where the Afican Ass may have been common and important in the development of these massive pan-European trade networks.

  3. I asked Alan Outram about this and he didn't think the Exmoor ponies were likely to be as ancient as many believe. No genetic studies on this though. They should get some DNA from that blanket

    1. Thanks for commenting. It'd be too great of an opportunity not to test. I can only imagine how it might cluster.

  4. Thanks for the comments and apologize for waiting to publish. I've got a spam filter on and haven't been screening.