Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Maybe Not Offerings (Kysely et al, 2020)

We can suppose that Beakers engaged in some sort of necromancy and divination through several different means, a likely one was bothroic ritual, which would be by no means an exclusive practice.  The many empty pits they left near cemeteries with conjurable-worthy items and alcohol containers testify to this possibility.

This paper, "Scapulae and phalanges as grave goods: a mystery from the Early Bronze Age" Kysely et al, 2020, speculates on another magic practice widespread in Europe into historic times, but here focused on EBA Central Europe, that is the likelihood of some sort of scapulimancy and astragalomancy in Unetic graves.

Trinovantes by Peter Froste.

Unfortunately this is ppv, so I won't dwell on this topic unless I get a copy.  But maybe what we see in other regions, and as the authors suggest here, is that the selection of cuts appear prescriptive instead of a general offering or practical equipment.  Certain parts and certain animals.

Maybe Ava had this done in her grave as well.
Based on a study of animal bone finds from the Únětice Culture cemeteries (2200–1700 BC) in Bohemia, Czech Republic, the study analyses selected aspects of the funeral rite in the Early Bronze Age in Central Europe. The focus is on unworked and unburned cattle, pig, sheep/goat and red deer scapulae, phalanges (+ some astragali) and ribs—significant burial phenomena in the Únětice Culture—determined as undoubtedly intentional components of funerals, that is, as grave goods. Radiocarbon and other evidence show that the phenomena existed for the whole of the Únětice Culture and perhaps longer. The presence of scapulae in 41% of the graves in the cemetery at Mikulovice and tens of other cemeteries in Bohemia and Moravia, and the complete domination of phalanges among the animal bones in graves in the funerary area at Vliněves provide evidence of the importance of these customs in the funerary rite. Rib cuts certainly represent meat offerings but the meaning of isolated (unarticulated) scapulae and phalanges/astragali is difficult to determine. The hypothesis that scapulae found always singly could also be real meat offerings is difficult to accept, so further roles, whether practical or symbolic, should be considered. An earlier suggestion that scapulae were used as a trowel for digging grave pits is highly improbable, as follows from our analysis, and we were unable to confirm the use of the flat scapula as a plate for other offerings or a base for paintings. The choice of the (near-triangular) scapula to symbolise the triangle must be left in the realm of speculation. Unworked and variably positioned phalanges and astragali are unlikely to have been used for clothing or hair decoration but, based on analogies, might have been used in magic or games (amulets, tokens, dice, game pieces). The possible use of scapulae and phalanges + astragali in divination is considered in the light of ethnographic and historical records of scapulimancy and astragalomancy on four continents. As scapulae and phalanges do not usually appear together in a single grave, they could represent attributes of different social groups or statuses.


  1. Are there indications of bothroic ritual/necromancy in any cultures prior to Unetice/Bell Beaker?

  2. LeFranc and Feliu (2015) wrote a paper on the Michelsberg libation pits which they interpreted, as one possibility from historic examples, as bothroi pits.


    In all likelihood, given appropriate attention, it's likely that this was a common practice in the Neolithic, it certainly was by the Iron Age. Scapulimancy and astragalomancy are so common in virtually all primitive cultures that it is near certain that this was often practiced during, before and after the Beaker Age.

    1. So it doesn't seem likely that these traditions were imported from the Steppe with L51 people (either in Bell Beaker or at an earlier stage)?

      Michelsberg is interesting, as it is located roughly where yDNA phylogeny would suggest that R1b-L51's early development is indicated.

      The odd thing is how R1b-L51 seems to have dominated in Bell Beaker and all points subsequently. Its subclade L21 was already present in Britain at least around 2,000 BC, but its predominance persisted over later centuries, despite its genetics being heavily diluted by different waves of migrants mainly from the East. And its predominance also seems to have been unaffected by later import of Celtic people and culture, also apparently from the East. In particular, L21 seems to be have been closely associated with the religious leaderships that were seen to have authority in respect of divination and other mystical practices, with Wales having been considered the homeland of the Druidic leadership and also where we find the greatest and most diverse concentration of L21.

    2. L21 has been present in Britain since at least 2,400BC (Amesbury archer a then recent beaker migrant found buried outside Stonehenge) and the “greatest concentration” of L21 to this day is ultimately in the west province of Connaught in Ireland due to various internal migrations after Oliver Cromwell’s conquest of Ireland forced most of the Catholic population to the region. Despite this L21 is still the most common haplotype of all the island’s provinces including even Ulster!
      Though it is less prevalent there for obvious reasons.

      And just so you know L51 has nothing to do with Michelsberg or any LBK offshoot.
      It’s been found in a Sredni Stog sample from Dereivka.

    3. @all

      To clarify above, this post refers to a component of culture that extends beyond genetic groups or periods. I did not mean to suggest continuity, rather the probably of an archaeological interpretation because of its pancultural ubiquity

  3. I'd rather say that it is difficult to tell now if the practice is really relevant to the migration topic because it may have been widespread at that point in history. Maybe time will given more resolution to this problem.


  4. This should interest you:

    Djehutynakht, an Egyptian Middle Kingdom Nomarch, died c.2100 BC. His mtDNA haplogroup is U5b2b5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29494531

    The same mtDNA haplogroup has been found in two female samples from Sardinia dated to c.2300 - 2010 BC, and in two female samples from Spain (near Alicante) dated to c.3519–3370 BC. https://anthrogenica.com/showthread.php?19817-Why-is-it-that-the-oldest-DNA-we-have-from-Egypt-and-Carthage-is-European&p=651813&viewfull=1#post651813


    One of the U5b2b5 females from Sardinia was buried in a 'Domus de Janas' tomb, but with Bell Beaker pottery. The tomb is known as ‘Padru Jossu’.


    Bell Beaker pottery from the Padru Jossu tomb appears to have a very close resemblance to earlier predynastic pottery from Egypt. In particular, this Bell Beaker footed bowl from Padru Jossu: https://i.imgur.com/KVs4SNh.jpg looks extremely similar to the footed bowl from predynastic (‘Amratian’) Egypt depicted in this drawing:


    The above images are from Helene Kantor (1965) ‘The relative chronologies of ancient Egypt and its foreign correlations before the Late Bronze Age’ (published in ‘Chronologies in Old World Archaeology’, edited by Robert Ehrich). I haven’t been able to find a photo of the footed bowl as yet. Maybe you know of one?

    Whilst DNA indicates an influence from Sardinia and Spain to Egypt, the pottery suggests a cultural influence from Egypt to Sardinia and Spain, given the chronology of Egyptian and Bell Beaker pottery.

    At the same time, more evidence indicates that the R1b-V88 found in Africa originates from either Sardinia or Spain:


    This comment is in response to your earlier blog post on the subject:


  5. I am doubtful bothroic practice was widespread in the Neolithic, or we should find more evidence suggesting it. There are signs of it in Varna, with the majority of 'graves' containing no human remains, and some bearing life-size human masks and other objects recreating the human form.

    Varna was very wealthy, and according to Anthony probably the most sophisticated and technologically advanced place in the world and the leading community in all Europe. It appears to have been appropriative, sucking in a variety of products as the final consumer from a very wide area. It was multi-cultural (differing burial practices and grave objects, with a mixture male and female-centricism) and genetically diverse (indicating probable long distance migration of its inhabitants). It was heavily involved in early copper-working. Bows and quivers were found buried there. It appears to have practised the kind of necromancy that pops up later in Western and Central Europe in the Bell Beaker/Unetice eras. Its DNA profiles show traces over a huge geographical area in the late Chalcolithic, ranging from Iberia to Scandinavia to the Caspian Steppe.

    These powerful, wealthy, technologically-advanced, genetically and culturally-mixed migrant coastal people adandoned their settlements at the start of the 4th millennium BC. It seems unlikely that they all simply ran off to die somewhere. Where did they go?

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  8. Sorry for the very late response. Been dealing with bullshit and coronavirus shit for several weeks. Back in the saddle yet again this week and I'll answer comments and post new stuff.