Thursday, April 25, 2019

Clean-Cut Beakers? (Nortoft, 2017)

Clean-Cut Beakers?  Maybe some, but shaving culture seems to take off more toward its end.

Beards, mustaches, styling and shaving seems to have always been highly varied among European men, even when one fashion dominates.  It's during the Bronze Age that shaving becomes status-centered and archaeologically visible as a specialized tool set. 

This paper  by Mikkel Nortoft examines the IE shaving phenomenon from its Pontic origins using a multi-disciplinary approach:

"Shaving the Warrior: Archaeo-linguistic investigation of Indo-European warrior identity from the Eneolithic to the Bronze Age - prestige razors and ideology" by Mikkel Nortoft

This follows a recent post on male bone hair pins.
MBA razor at Balnalick (see also NOSAS)

The Beaker Culture was old enough to have possibly lived through several iterations of hair and beard styling.  Looking at the age and distribution of bone hair pins, this may well be the case.  There are a number of examples of Beaker razors or flint blades, and it is well possible that Beaker men most often shaved with their knives, as later razors look like tanged knives or Palmela points.  The Balnalick example above is technically MBA, but is in time close to the Beaker period, assuming the knife isn't an heirloom.

Another flint razor at Rudston was was positioned before the face, showing the importance of this object to the occupant.  But overall, assuming daggers weren't also shavers, the evidence for Beakers shaving so far doesn't appear anywhere as close to what you see with Urnfielders and later cultures.  Again, this may a visibility problem, and it may also be that razors had not yet become status symbols despite universally clean-shaven faces.

Rudston beaker (British Museum)

There's another missing piece of evidence and that is graphic representations of the schematic-fixated Beakers.  Well, there's just a few...

I thought this steale at Sion depicts a bearded Beaker, but that may just be too much imagination on my part.  See Here.

I'll be shifting back to Iberia in the next post.


  1. From what I know Hallstatt males shaved heads and face. But I don't know how old that fashion was or where it came from.

  2. Dear Mr Bell beaker blogger, I am interested in ancient Europe and I have a few questions about bell beakers that I haven't been able to find answers to. Perhaps you can help me?

    1. If the beakers were appropriated from iberians by unrelated Central Europeans there must have been something highly desirable. Alcohol would be desirable but there would be no need to use the same vessels. So perhaps the alcohol was used ritually, before or after battle, or some other occasion? That would explain the beakers being grave goods.

    2. The shape of the beaker doesn't look suitable for drinking but rather for pouring. So perhaps beakers were owned by people who hosted ritual or social occasions and shared the alcohol by pouring into individual cups?

    3. Also about the shape, could the bell shape be for decanting such that the sediment stayed in the beaker?

    4. Regarding ritual, if bodies were laid down north to south and men and women on different sides, could this suggest sun worship in the sense that women face the rising sun and men the sunset? Or if the religion, if not the alcohol, originated in the North, were bodies laid pointing towards the origin of the belief system?

    5. Apart from alcohol most elements of the bb package seem to originate in yamna culture. Could alcohol be the only contribution to the package from South Europe? Perhaps fermentation.was more readily discovered in a warmer climate but do bell beakers mean that no previous culture had stumbled on fermentation?

    6. Neil Oliver has hypothesised that neolithic stone circles did not spread to Orkney but from Orkney. Is it possible that the bb migration into Britain, which extended as far as Orkney and replaced the population, was a deliberate takeover - and since the bb people elaborated on existing stone circles, perhaps it was a religious takeover?

    I'm very interested to hear/read your thoughts if you have time.
    Kind regards, jenny

    1. Hello Jenny,

      This is the second part of my response. The first part is below.

      Regarding the impractical size of the beaker cups, one thing to keep in mind is that before the modern era, many beer containers were very large.

      Regarding alcohol, it has become better understood that beer and wine are much older in Europe than previously thought, so the only major distinction about Bell Beaker drinking habits is that they likely did a lot more of it based on palynological studies.
      But also, the 'drinking set' can be found in a number of the Neolithic cultures across Europe.

      One thing I forgot to mention about burial direction is that it is not beyond the realm of possibility that people were buried facing a homeland, like a Zion. The fact they face East makes that more difficult to answer, but the evidence seems to suggest sun direction.

      "Also about the shape, could the bell shape be for decanting such that the sediment stayed in the beaker?"
      I can say as a brewer myself that beer cleans up during the fermentation process as yeast tend to eat everything and sediment settles into the yeast cake on the bottom. So while the Beaker beer may not have won any awards for clarity, it would be surprising tolerable if not well made. As the beaker would be a serving container, it's likely the beer would already be fairly clear.

  3. Hello again, another thought.

    I'm sure I read somewhere that a pottery sieve was found near stonehenge that had cheese residue on it. The shape of bell beakers looks as if they could collect fluid from a sieve positioned on top and the whey or alcohol that dripped into the beaker would be protected from excess evaporation by the narrow neck of the bell? That could perhaps explain why some beakers are not flat bottomed if it was safer to push the beaker into the earth whilst the liquid was draining into the beaker then it could be left unattended?

    Also, with respect to pouring, perhaps the beaker was passed round for others to sip from?


    1. Hello Jenny, thanks for commenting.

      There are a number of mainstream views on the questions you ask, but they are only educated guesses since these people left no written records.

      To the question regarding the direction of their burial:

      It's been widely believed for almost a hundred years of scholarship that the Bell Beakers look toward the sunrise as opposed to simply looking East in their burial. The grave package often eludes to celestial dualism (the sun and moon), but with an emphasis on the sun. In many Bronze Age religions, especially those of Europe, the sun is associated with beer and re-birth (and also henbane, aka henno wotan, aka apollos herb which was used to bitter many beers). During the Beaker period, the solar deity of their warrior society may have been female, ironically.

      The solar cross on the bottom of the bottom of the beaker may have been a representation of the "Southern Cross" which had significance in solstice (the sun death and resurrection) of the old religions. The Southern Cross is no longer visible in Europe, but it might reveal how Beakers viewed death and life after death. But again, that is just a guess.

      British Archaeologist Andrew Sherratt had an interesting idea, that the solar imagery on the bottom of the beaker rose and fell as the beverage was drunk, and that may be true as well.

  4. Fascinating. Thank you.