Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Iberians in Surprasl? (Manasterski et al, 2020)

In this paper, Manasterski et al. discuss the significance of the Suprasl Beakers in NE Poland.  The sites consist of what appear to have been bags full of intentionally fragmented and incomplete items (a man's room) with burnt bone in a few.  The objects are totally alien to this region.  A few of them are unprecedented anywhere.

They start out remembering the issue surrounding the interpretation of Beaker artifacts has always been what defines the standard cultural package because it differs around Europe.  When its objects and styles show up in other cultural contexts or in the periphery, what does that mean?  Was it imitation, immigration, or cultural imperialism?

Before the discovery of the Suprasl sites, the authors describe the prevailing interpretation of Beaker-like artifacts in the SW Baltic.  These "influences" were viewed as the products of a cultural pollination of Beaker styles via the neighboring Iwno Culture.  These artifacts appeared in previous agricultural centers, so it seemed mere imitation or trade by native farming cultures.  Pretty reasonable.

But the new sites in this periphery (which appear within a bottom-land of hunters) are unambiguously that of the Bell Beakers, and not a watered-down version.  Some of the objects are distinctly Southwest Iberian in their flavor, and others are reminiscent of British objects and jeweler tools, and others of Jutland, the Rhine and possibly Central Europe.

Suprasl really blows a hole through the necessity of diffusion to the periphery, whereby its style simply jumped neighbor to neighbor.  Here, we have the real deal.  The pots are literally not local - or most of them.

Surprising Suprasl (Fig. 1, yellow star)

In one of the cremation graves, a fragmented West Iberian Chalcolithic slate plaque.   WHAAAAAA!!!?  Good luck trying to explain that.  That's a long donkey ride.  The pottery decorations recall the Ciempozuelos style in large part, however some pots are more generalized decorations.   

Below is an amber pendant with the familiar Beaker motif.  It's a strange object, I assume to be worn about the neck.  Strange like the awkward amphibolite blade above, also without precedence. 

The idea of a Ruckstrom is brought up given the connections and pot cording seen between those items distinctly Iberian and those that are reminders of the Lower Rhine and Veluwe groups.  Also, the arrowheads combine features that suggest an origin in either SW Norway or the Czech group.

Hopefully we'll see more of the slate plaque (like actual photos).  The interesting take-away from Manasterski et al, is that these pit offerings/graves (basically in the middle of nowhere) are quite possibly that left behind actual travelers, whatever their business was in this part of Europe. 



  1. It is a pity that Polish archaeologists have not been able to date the site reliably. It is impossible for cultural diffusion to have taken place without human migrations. How could a woman in Poland make vessels with motifs identical to those found in Iberia?. Women learned the techniques from their mothers, grandmothers or sisters and exogamy allowed cultural diffusion. In other cases, as we have seen in Sicily or Narbonne, men established factories or small commercial colonies.

    Iberians in Surprasl? YES

    1-Ciempozuelos Style
    2-Solar motif and extends towards the top of the vessel
    3-Geometric plaquettes from the southwestern part of the Iberian Peninsula, dated to 3500-2750 cal BC

    The Harvardian argument that there were no migrations from Iberia, but there were migrations from Central Europe or Holland to the British Isles is simply ridiculous. BB culture lasted more than 700 years in Iberia (2,750-2,000 BC) and there were hundreds of migrations in all directions. The BB culture was the first thalassocracy in the history of Europe, they dominated the international maritime trade.I do not think that the shepherds of the steppes learned to sail on the Volga or the Danube, but that when they arrived in mainland Europe they encountered a culture that stopped the expansion of the Indo-Europeans on the Tizsa river. Delenda Est Yamnaya

  2. The maritime network along the Atlantic and Baltic coastlines operated during the Megalithic period. Whether that included pre-Beaker people in some way or whether such people migrated in from the East and hijacked it is debatable. What Beaker culture does show is that this network wasn't simply abandoned, so there would seem no reason why we should not see some cross-cultural exchange across the whole of its earlier length, including Western Iberia and the South Eastern Baltic.

  3. Wow! That was not on my 2021 Bingo card.

  4. I've done a long write up at my blog on the site. Some of my introductory summary of my analysis of the paper (which has many surprising gems that your post only scratches the surface of) is as follows:

    "The find is remarkable, because these artifacts were found not in Iberia, but in a cremation style grave in Suprasl in northeast Poland, dated to 5,110 ± 35 cal years BP (95.4% confidence interval 3,976–3,799 cal BCE). At the time of this grave, the region was not even a part of a peripheral area where there was previous evidence of influences from an actual Bell Beaker cultural area.

    This newly discovered Copper Age archaeological site in Northeast Poland has a mix of local, innovative and remote artifact styles that are out of place of this time and place which was then inhabited by European hunter-gatherers. Its location, which while inland has access to a river network to the sea, and the eclectic mix of artifacts and practices found there, along with innovations found nowhere else, suggests that its founders had roots in the heartland of the Atlantic Maritime Bell Beaker culture. This site was probably one of the farthest frontier outposts of a far flung Bell Beaker trading network that was predominantly maritime in character, but also had connections to some terrestrial trade routes in different parts of Europe, both local and distant from this outpost."

  5. @Gaska While the cremated remains could not be dated, buried in the paper, is a pretty reliable calibrated radiocarbon dating of the site from materials in some of the burial goods that strongly seem to be contemporaneous. That date is 5,110 ± 35 cal years BP (95.4% confidence interval 3,976–3,799 cal BCE).

    1. Yes, perhaps the dating isn't too far out? As Gaska says, there were plaquettes of a style that could be found in Iberia from a similar early date. And we find small traces of Eastern DNA dotted around Europe from very early on. Like L51 itself, Bell Beaker culture must have developed from something, and perhaps this is an important early trace of it?

  6. The early Iberian Farmers seem very similar to the Phoenicians in their Thalassocracy. It doesn't suprise me they made it to the Batic very early if they were able to colonize Ireland.

  7. @Andrew, such high dating may be acceptable for the plaquettes and even for the solar motifs (very frequent in Los Millares culture), but it is absolutely incompatible with the Ciempozuelos style pottery. In Spain, after many years of discussions, the site of Somaén has been accepted as the oldest of this style (2,700-2,650 BC), which had previously been discarded because of its great antiquity. There is a difference of 1,200 years with the Polish site, something is wrong.or perhaps the origin of the incised pottery that we call Ciempozuelos is in Poland. Who knows?
    I don't think they have found any copper objects at the site either.

  8. @Romulus-

    Strictly speaking the first thalassocracy was not the BB culture but the western megalithic culture, which not only reached Hibernia and Britania, but also Scandinavia and why not? the Baltic.That culture was practically exclusive patrimony of clans of men I2a. Actually as Nicolas says the BB culture in Iberia inherited that knowledge of navigation and maritime routes of the great neolithic cultures of southern Spain (Vilanova, Los Millares), and the French Atlantic coast. R1b-P312 did not invent anything new, they simply took advantage of the international trade with Africa, Asia and the Atlantic coast.

  9. In Iberia, there are several sites of the BB culture with I2a men (e.g. Humanejos etc...), and in them, there are always international maritime style pottery (the only one truly common to all of Europe). In these same sites appears later R1b-P312 with Ciempozuelos type ceramics, but with the same BB package (Vperforated buttons, coppers daggers, halberds etc...). We have to analyze many more deposits to establish the exact chronology.

  10. Why is the radio-carbon dating from the bowl fragment reported as two divergent results as if they were the same, especially as the figures in brackets are given such a narrow confidence interval? - '5110±35 cal BP (95.4% probability: 3976–3799 cal BC)'

  11. @NicolasPaul Good question. Should be 3225-3095 BCE (95% confidence intervals are two standard deviations and BP dates are before 1950 by convention), if the former is correct.


  13. I notice that this find was preliminarily reported in 2014, so the 2020 paper has taken some time in coming. It could be a very significant discovery; it will be interesting to see whether it is given due consideration, or whether it will be written off or ignored.

    In my view, North Eastern Poland is very much an area where the autosomal evidence indicates we might find some R1b-L51. After the collapse of Western Pontic/Balkan civilisations in the early 4th millennium BC, I see genetic signs of its mixed populations migrating away in different directions:
    1. The more integrated/mixed people look to have backed into Greece, and from there spread up the Adriatic, across the Mediterranean and into Western Europe and Northern Africa.
    2. The more 'Steppic' of these people look to have moved back East, (i) some to join similar folk in the Northern Caucasus and Southern Steppe (pre-Yamnayans and pre-Corded Ware), and (ii) others to go North (with genetic similarity to the people who joined up with Western Beakers in Central Europe and spread into Western Europe during the Bronze Age).

    It is possible that surviving L51 lineages divided into two on escaping the Western Pontic/Balkans, and that they either remained in contact with each other or met up again later during the Megalithic era (and quickly associated/assimilated through shared elements of ancestral language and culture). The Surprasl site might be our clearest and earliest sign yet of this.

    In this way, perhaps both Western and Eastern models of Beaker ancestry have some degree of truth. It might help explain why Beaker ultimately wiped out most Corded Ware R1a lineages, but preserved and admixed with a few North Eastern ones.

  14. It seems that connections between Baltic and Iberia also had other elements , eg the Amber - V perforated buttons
    Apparently type A & B are found in the east Baltic as early as 3000 BC; then diffused further to southwest

    What lies behind ‘Import’ and ‘Imitation’?
    Case Studies from the European Late Neolithic
    Janusz Czebreszuk & Marzena Szmyt

    (BBB can request copy of article)

    1. Yes, the principle is the same, although the chronology looks different.

      The Czebreszuk study indicates a connection between the Eastern Baltic and South Western Europe at the tail end of Bell Beaker (after 2,400 BC) - and indirectly via Zlota in South Eastern Poland.

      The Manasterski study notes an apparently direct connection between the Eastern Baltic of 3,100 BC and South Western Europe of 2,700 BC with no similar early finds anywhere between the two.

    2. Oh wow. That's a good paper, just downloaded. Actually it's open access at Research Gate

    3. The amber buttons paper is interesting, as the migration of type B buttons mirrors the migrations of autosomal genetic profiles:
      1. From the Eastern Baltic/Belarus to Southern Poland after 3,000 BC (outlier Corded Ware, e.g. RISE 431)
      2. Picked up by Beakers moving into Bavaria and Czech Republic from North Western Europe
      3. Spread West and South West by P312 Beaker networks after 2,400 BC and into the Early Bronze Age.

  15. Excellent BBC documentary yesterday with research showing that Stonehenge was first constructed around 3,300 BC near to the Welsh coast,and that locals evacuated the area in 3,000 BC and took the stones with them, rebuilding an identical replica henge in the current location.

    My suggestion is that this chimes with Surprasl as a sign of upheaval caused by maritime proto-Beaker adventurers at an earlier date than expected (3,000 BC).

    1. I've just noticed that one of the earliest Beaker female pioneers in Britain (I2459) had a major chunk of DNA found only in the far North West of Russia. There are also Eastern Baltic subclades that are not far downstream of L21 (BY326 and Y20987).

      If Bell Beakers explored everywhere else accessible by sea, why would they have stopped before reaching the Eastern Baltic and its major waterways?

    2. Maybe because Surprasl was where Bell Beaker originated from. Something very interesting came to mind. Polish White Backed Cattle, Lithuanian White Backed Cattle, White Backed Cattle from the Netherlands, Irish Moild and Droimean Cattle, Pustertaler Cattle and Vosges Cattle. Interesting locations with the same colour pattern...

  16. Seems to me BB is many different things hanging together. Ware. Archery. Metal. Trade. Ethnicity, all sorts of. Being everywhere at the same time ... No need to migrate when you already are everywhere! But if pushed you are well aware of your migratory options. Talking networking, of course. Well in place during the eneolithic, and providing a sort of sinewy tract to be called upon in the era of migrations, when apparently push came to shove.
    Maybe the old texts can give an idea of what the trappings of this trade network were. I do not think the Germanic lays hark back much beyond Roman times. But the Irish certainly do. So I would suggest not only brides plus their ware manufacture, and metal working. What about hostages? What about international students of royal lineage? Both? Celtic folklore abounds with persons being apprenticed to powerful allies who were powerful foes before. The Celtic royals had a lot of off spring that were a bother to have around once the succession struggle dawned. In historic times it was either shanachies, monks or rebellious warlords. I wonder what these well manicured bog bodies would have to say about that. Even if that was a giving back of precious objects and precious people, there might well have been a hidden agenda. Sorry to digress.
    When pondering these issues I am not surprised that no origin for BB can be found that is quite uncontested. Why not stop looking? Suddenly everything was everywhere! And all the preparation happened in times and locations we can only see scraps of. There is TC, pretty huge actuallly. There is other places where people hoarded treasure from afar. In exchange of what? Guaranteed by what? It seems to make perfect sense to me that the lines get blurred after 3K BCE ...
    Hope I am not just stating the obvious here.

    1. I wouldn't say it's origins are contested to the point of having no origin. A lot of the questions have surrounded reconciling an Iberian and Dutch origin and the speed to which a new identity was born and spread. Actual physical relocation is a big part of the phenomenon, however it was a normal folk migration. It does have the smell of an elite system, perhaps in part religious, as you say, and other based on trade.

  17. I think there is an argument for both of these viewpoints.

    Perhaps Bell Beaker was an amalgam of different cultural elements and peoples (drawn from a wide geographical range) that was synthesised by a mobile male elite? In this way, it could be seen as having no specific origin or a single point of origin, depending on which way you look at it.

    If you examine the genetics of the early Beaker people arriving in Britain (e.g. the group buried on Boscombe Down), they were a ragbag of different origins. One of the males is barely distinguishable from prior Neolithics, another looks to have a significant Levantine/Fertile Crescent component, and a female with them has clear Eastern Baltic ancestry. The only real common feature is that both of the men are R1b-P312 (DF27 and L21 respectively).

    It is only later that Beaker autosomal DNA became standardised by the incorporation of heavy Central European Coded Ware-like admixture.

  18. I thought some Irish tales were surprisingly similar to Lithuanian tales...If Bell Beakers originated in Northeast Poland it will certainly be more than extraordinary coincidence and basically strengthen my view that some R1b L51 guys took a Northern route to Denmark, Northern Germany and eventually Britain and Ireland...