I've scoured papers, forums and blogs, and weirdly to no one does it seem important that losing 40,000 square miles* around the time of a great admixture event seem worth mentioning.
A vast plateau of swamps, sand dunes, peat bogs, deserts and alluvial plains wiped out in a matter of generations. And the people? Can we assume people lived there as most humans of our past lived within a few miles of a major water feature? Then came salinization.
Does anyone think it might be important to how two peoples crash into each other?
Potsherds from a few vessels with Cardium decoration were recently found in old collections of some Neolithic sites of the Northern Black Sea area. A good samples of the valves of brackish water ostracods were discovered in the raw material in most of these vessels. This could indirectly indicate the presence of Neolithic settlements with Cardium pottery on what is now a flooded region of the northern Black Sea coast. Some data show that its inhabitants could have been the initial source of the Neolithisation of neighbouring inland territories. Thus, the whole local Neolithic in the region is interpreted as a northeastern branch of the Mediterranean Neolithic with Impresso and Cardium pottery
Update 3. FrankN wrote this in 2019 "How did CHG get into Steppe_EMBA? Part 2: The Pottery Neolithic" He poopoos on Dmytro Gaskevych's idea that Mediterrean-based Impresso folks settled the area based on adna. Given that Circum-Mediterrean Impresso peoples are probably very heterogenous, I think fairly weak argument. It's a matter of which enclave produced the stream of settlers.
Reading further though, some agreement on the presence of CHG in the North Black Sea. Very reason to think it was more prominent across the ancient northern Black Sea, than just the 1/3 northeasternly portion where we know it was abundant.
Another lunar landing controversy. In 2020 a new claim was made doubting the Sky Disk narrative.
To be clear, the Sky Disk is thought by mainstream archaeologists to have been created within the context of the Unetice Culture (and very locally within Central Germany). It has enough odd features to keep people talking, so let's dive right in.
But first, a pre-2019 everything-you-ever-wanted-to-know about the Nebra Sky Disk from Archaeosoup, including the original pre-2020 doubters...
The two German scientists try to make the case that the Sky Disk is an archaeological oddballonly because it doesn't belong to the Bronze Age Nebra hoard site. They argue that the disk becomes less of a weirdo when rightfully placed in the Celtic Iron Age of the local area.
And of course, Nebra supporters Harald Meller and Ernst Pernicka's fire back... "Why the Nebra Sky Disk Dates to the Early Bronze Age. An Overview of the Interdisciplinary Results" Meller and Pernicka review the preponderance of evidence exhaustively; how the disk was found, the significance of the site, why it is unlikely to be an Iron Age object based on current interpretations. They reply point by point, which I find very reasonable. But the doubters have gained traction, and so the discussion has become very heated.
One argument Gebhard and Krauss make is that the isotopic character of the disk differs from the other metallic Nebra hoard objects, and this being unusal for Bronze Age hoards, is a red flag for dating. They also focus on the looter testimony regarding the supposed orientation of the disk as it was struck with the looter pick axe. Gebhard and Krauss think that the puncture damage is not consistent with the testimony about how it was supposedly oriented when hit.
In their view a simple explanation awaits - the looters are lying about which looter dig site the disk came from, had financial incentive to do so, and by-the-way, are lying theives. The authors even go so far to suggest that the state's archaeologist was played and placated by two sly floxes that told him what he wanted to hear in exchange for liniency. This is probably the most direct slight, as they insinuate Meller's idea of a sophisticate Unetice principality in this area is nothing more than a boyish fantasy. Not just that Meller's interpretation of the area's Bronze Age is inflated, but that his pet theory obscured his understanding of the facts.
Countering this, Meller and Pernicka point out that the Sky disk had a developmental history where things were added, moved and removed. The sequence suggests the disk was remanufactured and repurposed several times. As you see below, in one particular modification the disk was perforated around the edge and through the lower arc, which was added after moving one of the gold stars in its way. The development of the disk wasn't within a single manufacturing phase, but it was put to use and later refashioned numerous times with isotopically different metals in a drawn out period of time, perhaps generations. The fact that it does not match the metal artifacts of the Nebra hoard is inconsequential because its isotopic profile would not have matched anything, in any context, of any period.
Meller and Pernicka continue with the exhaustive testimony, reinactment, and all the scientific analysis of the site. It's technical, so you can read that for yourself. Let's return to the Unetice Culture's abilities in a moment.
Whatever its original purpose, by the time it was buried it may have decorated an ornamental shield.
(Fantastic paper Pasztor and Rozlund, 2007) It was plaustibly a
religious standard or sacral ornament and eventually passed down and
repurposed as a boss on a heroic shield. And if you have trouble with
that, read an excerpt from Pasztor and Rozlunds paper quoting Homer's
description of Achilles's celestial shield, song XVIII, lines 478-479 of the Iliad.
First fashioned he a shield, great and sturdy, adorning it cunningly in every part, and round about it set a bright rim, threefold and glittering, and therefrom made fast a silver baldric. Five were the layers of the shild itself; and on it he wrought many curious devices with cunning skill. Therein he wrought the earth, therein the heavens, therein the sea, and the unwearied sun, and the moon at the full, and therein all the constellations wherewith heaven is crowned - the Pleiades, and the Hyades and the mighty Orion, and the Bear, that men call also the Wain, that circleth ever in her place, and watcheth Orion, and alone hath no part in the baths of Ocean.
Given some similarities between Achille's shield and the Nebra Sky disk (likely part of a shield), let's transition to interpretation of the disk...
On the left, Ursa Major (great bear) faces the direction of Orion (not shown), at his feet Eridanus. Lupus (the wolf) hangs over Pleiades and over all else, not insignificant for imagery involving death and the solstices. Ursa Major does not descent below "the water", or a water line on the boat.
Pleiades, which is often subject to lunar and inner-planetary occulations, sandwiches Mercury, Venus and Mars, opposite the Moon because of its distance to the ecliptic. It was at heliacal rising in ancient times peaking around Halloween.
We have two firmaments with a solar boat transitioning from the right side to the left side, towards the Sun. I assume the bronze patina would have originally been dark, highlighting the gold and giving the impression of a night sky.
In the La Tène period, only six stars of the Pleiades were visible, as the Greek astronomer Aratos of Soloi (c. 310– 245 BC) testifies in his Phainómena (celestial phenomena):“Close to his (i.e. the constellation Perseus’) left knee, all the Pleiades travel in a swarm. The place, which is not very large, holds them all, and they are only faintly visible. Seven pathways are called those among the people, although only six of them can be seen with eyes. After all, the star was not lost without news from the house of Zeus, after we heard about its creation, rather it is spoken of in exactly the same way.”
Again, you may look at all the gold dots and see naked ladies, but it appears that Pleiades lost visibility of its seventh star by the Iron Age, or at least in the popular imagination and lore of Iron Age peoples of Europe.
Nevertheless, it is important to note that the ship in particular, which was added in phase III of the Sky Disc,125 is an element that does not appear in the Iron Age but is a central motif of the Bronze Age.12
And the key word here is "central motif". Like the Trundhold Chariot, and new motif had really begun to occupy the minds of Iron Age people, the idea of solar chariots. Now we can see that it had already taken root in Late Bronze Age Scandinavia. Given the solar crosses of the Beaker period, it's not impossible that it was already developing as a motif at that time in parallel with, or budding from, solar boats.
The holes around the perimeter suggest it was attached to a support of some kind, but at 2kg the disc is perhaps too heavy to be worn. It could, however, have been nailed to a shield or standard made of wood. In song XVIII, lines 478-89 of the Iliad, Homer describes in detail how Hephaestus makes a shield for the great hero Achilles: ‘First fashioned he a shield, great and sturdy, adorning it cunningly in every part, and round about it set a bright rim, threefold and glittering, and therefrom made fast a silver baldric. Five were the layers of the shield itself; and on it he wrought many curious devices with cunning skill. Therein he wrought the earth, therein the heavens, therein the sea, and the unwearied sun, and the moon at the full, and therein all the constellations wherewith heaven is crowned – the Pleiades, and the Hyades and the mighty Orion, and the Bear, that men call also the Wain, that circleth ever in her place, and watcheth Orion, and alone hath no part in the baths of Ocean’.
Here, it is important to point out that Achilles' shield is lamenated with numerous layers of animal skin that support this metallic motif. The Yetholm Shield below is probably an example of how the metal was used as the final layer in a build up, for appearance and weight savings, but importantly for effectiveness (composite skin layers being the most effective at stopping projectiles)
Also, I previously blogged about the Dermsdorf barracks. To me, Meller's ideas are total genius, replicatible and make sense anthropolgically.
But I think one of the most important aspects of the Sky Disk that has not been discussed...and why it should date to the Early Bronze Age instead of a later period. It is that the Unetice People of that era were buried like this...
In this video Crecganford argues for the role of "The Ferryman" in PIE religion. Although his argument is not about Bell Beakers, it's a good background for discussing Beaker religious beliefs and the interpretation of their archaeology.
Previously, I have argued that a solarboat was part of the Beaker death sequence. I'll point to several lines of evidence from Beaker archaeology for a belief in a "ferryman of souls". In fact, depending on how far you want to invest in this idea, some items of the Beaker grave package could have new and different interpretations for gendered burials of both Beaker and CWC peoples.
Using the comparative method, Crecganford argues the Ferryman as "a certain" old man that transports the dead from the realm of the living to the realm of the dead, probably across an underworld river.
Ok, having watched that...
There's a pretty decent chance that the golden lunulae, generally dated to the Beaker Period (as the one below), are highly stylized representations of solar boats. Well, you be the judge. Since so many of them are plow finds and being metal objects, it is their motif and uniformity that place them satisfyingly in the Beaker period. These ornaments are never found on a dead body as ornamentation as you might expect for the worldly Beakers. Curiously, they seem to have been hidden away, folded and reused; in some way like an object used for special occasions.
An interesting phenomenon is when we see solar crosses directly associated with these "solar boats". If we were to suspect that Beakers spoke a language and practiced a religion of the Western Steppe, then these solar crosses help us intentify more clearly the old, bearded man who propels the solar boat (and Crecganford theorizes about this individual's lost identity in the video).
Remember we are talking of a reconstructed god deeper in time before the Beakers, but you may recognize a much later manifestation and recognize his crosses.
What about Bell Beaker grave offerings?
There has been an unchallenged assumption that Beaker offerings are for the occupants themselves. They are part of an idealistic identity and therefore we assume these grave goods reflect ideals and personal needs.
These offerings are different from personal vestment, weapons and tools. They are the accompanying gear, such as drink, meat and odd items. And while most Beaker burials lack the diagnostic riches, most probably had some sort of offering, if only perishables.
But if Beakers did indeed believe in a ferryman, would these items be more convincingly interpreted as bribes or ferry payments? Are the emblazoned, encrusted beakers containing barely and wheet beer, mead, wine, fermented milk and sometimes henbane gruits destined for the old, bearded poleman? Would simple objects, like a chip of flint or a single bead be the primative equivalent to coinage? Little bribes and tips for passage? It's funny, because without knowing it, many of us have bribed him too.
Certainly Beakers were buried facing the rising sun. We might interpret this as hope for a coming day or orientation towards a place we need to go. It would seem aspirational, and so we should remember that the crossing of any river would require a west to east movement (towards the Sun). This could be signifcant when we look at the Nebra Sky Disk in a moment. This might change how we see CWC religion as well. What if instead of viewing some sort of southern constellation, the Corded Ware people simply needed to cross a river from north to south? Perhaps this was a vestige of an older homeland above the bend of a sacred river? And speaking of the Corded Ware especially, it'd be interesting to look at the directionality of her daughter cultures and the procession of the Southern Cross, and especially Acruz.
Finally an enduring question, what is the significance of the funerary beakers? Obviously, their decoration followed a certain scheme and, in at least in the above grave, went so far to paint a ceramic red when the local clay didn't fit the color style. The inlay paste can be made of several materials, apparently it just needs to be white.
My personal opinion at the moment can be seen below. To be clear, I doubt your average Beaker farmer, who spent his entire life growing up above diverse geologies different from below, had any idea why beakers were styled a certain way. If you were to interview the women who created these beakers, I'm sure they didn't know either. They just learned all this from their elder women and so on.
But at one time, above a certain geology, either in SW Europe or the Steppe, a metaphor might have been obvious to people for a little while, if one ever existed at all. Maybe they just thought it looked good, who the hell knows.
Without being too circular in my reasoning, I believe this is an important piece of the puzzle for understanding the Bell Beakers and the religious beliefs of successor cultures in Western Europe.
If the Ferryman is indeed part of an IE motif, then it is possibly one line of evidence, along with genetics, that point to Beakers being one of the first cultures in Europe with strong IE affinities. We should bear in mind however, that other religions of this time had a solar ferryman, notably in Egypt. So while a ferryman belief could be exclusively IE-derived, it could equally owe some or all of its character to North African beliefs, especially given the influence North African pottery had on funerary beakers.
An even more complex scenario might exist, and Crecganford eludes to this, where the solar boat or ferry motif among PIE's drew from a larger mileu of Near Eastern, and maybe directly Egyptian influence late in its history.
Let's move now to the apparently controversial Nebra Sky Disk. I will do a separate post on the Sky Disk controversy this weekend, because I think the interpreation of many archaeologists is still correct and I'd like to add a few supporting arguments for the traditional interpretation.
It has been assigned to the much more sophisticated Unetice Culture in Saxony-Anhalt which supercedes the old Beaker culture. You may see naked ladies in it, and there's all sorts of retarded interpretations, but I see a solar boat transitioning from firmament to firmament, from the realm of the moon to the realm of the sun. Mythologically, the realm of the dead.
While I'm still considering the interpretation of some of the proposed constellations, I do feel very comfortable with the assignment of Lupus and Pleiades. I think these assignments were very clever and very correct. They also tell us something very important about the mythological associations with the solar boat and the disk.
Lupus hints at the identity or association with the solar boat and the judgement that awaits our transition to death. Lupus stands ready to devour the condemed and his position in the disk is notable.
Below it is Pleiades, often subject to lunar and inner-planetary occulations (Mercury, Venus and Mars) because of its distance to the ecliptic. Additionally, it was at heliacal rising in ancient times peaking around Halloween. So it is easy to understand how in the comparative mythologies of the Greeks, Celts and Germans that the maidens are often associated with the Sun god and death.
Pleiades is important in when looking at what they mean for a dead person. Taken from across the Western religions; they are present at judgement. In the book of Revelations, they are held in the right hand of the Messiah.
They prepare and guide us on sea journeys. They were transformed from maidens into birds (Freya's hen, or Atlas's doves). They sift among the dead. There are various myths in which one of the maiden's abandons the others (and I'm curious if this was a template for the devleopment of a separate motif in Germanic myth for the Valkyries).
In any case, it's interesting that the boat is oriented towards the Sun. I think this is consistent with a night journey through the underworld to heaven, aka hell. (to be distinguished from actual hell, aka Earth 2022)
Replica of a beaker from the Wilsford Beaker Group by Graham Taylor
You can buy one of these at potted-history.co.uk
...and quite honestly, given the meaningless fucking crap that fills the box stores these days, to give one of these beautiful vessels as a birthday or Christmas present would mean a lot to just about anyone.
Crecganford is my evening go-to for reconstructed PIE mythology.
This video concerns the phylogenetic branching of flood myths in deep history. I'm more interested in the secondary branch spreading from the Pontic-Caspian Steppe. I commented asking if he could give his opinion of the Black Sea Deluge hypotheses and how this catastrophe became a basis for PIE myth.
In some ways, the PIE flood myth may point to a real event that repackaged an older Paleolithic myth. For example, in the United States many families have a "three brother myth", whereby the immigrant progenitor to a particular family, say McFarland, came to the US as one of three brothers. There was a real event, but whose lost details are able to ride in the wagon of a relatable narrative of deeper antiquity.
Crecganford's view (I believe) is that the modern Near Eastern flood myths are borrowings of one originating in the PIE urheimat. I think locationally that may be true, but it may be complicated by the possibility that parts of the northern Black Sea were home to the water-hugging Impresso Peoples, ultimately originating from the Levant (although not a linear or simple migration), prior to the flood/or salinization tipping point. Given the patrilocality of hunter-gatherers in this forest-steppe region, there may be a situation in which female exogamy was occurring between two peoples before the territory of one became uninhabitable.
It should be interesting to note that in the Bible, it is the Ararat Mountains in which the Ark finally rests. In other words, in the southeast of the Black Sea. So of course, it would be reasonable to assume that the Black Sea is a focus area of the Near Eastern tale, just as it might be for the PIE one. And remember, this is 40,000 square miles of farms, settlements, deltas, estuaries and hunting lands; not real estate on the moon. This was probably home to specific peoples of a specific archaeological tradition, one originating secondarily in the Levant, one which is now mostly under water.
Aside from its physical expansion, why should the PIE urheimat be central to this secondary expansion? I believe it is because the PIE urheimat bordered an area with the greatest losses in terms of land area. Again, if we look at the Biblical version, it may be that the landing in Ararat Mountains is emblematic of a locational and protagonist shift in the narrative. From one location to the next scene.
A few thoughts on Bell Beaker "iconoclastic" tendencies.
Crecganford notes Indo-European gods were originally spirit gods. Theologically, they lacked incarnation, but also the iconography and idolatry that was prominent throughout the Mediterranean and temperate Europe at that time.
Every culture before them had art, any art. What does this mean?
If Bell Beakers had a largely IE religion, then it would make sense that their gods were worshipped in song and story, not in ways that involved incarnations. Physical representations might have even been taboo.
A "long-tanged" British Beaker of the class 2 type, distributed across of England and Wales.
According to the video, the source of the British dagger flint has never been found, and it made me think of the industry at Sussex, see proceeding post. Quite a few of these daggers have traces of chalk remaining on them, which suggests that these items were probably knapped by a specialist and then traded across the island.
Phillip Stockhammer looks at the patterns of social position among women within the Lech Valley farmsteads.
He makes a fairly compelling case that some of these imported women were wet nurses. All women are non-local, but the mistresses are less non-local than women in servitude. Or however one wishes to phrase it.
Although quite a few halberds are found in scattered and wrecked contexts, it's rare to find in a grave. It may well be that elite tombs were more susceptible to plunder and vandalism and so halberds might be under-represented for that era. The authors point out that halberds were Europe's first metal-conceieved weapon.
The weapon below appears to have been repaired many times after impact. The first indication is that it was re-hafted several times due to blunt force. The most recent hafting involved substituting a nail for a rivet. Clearly it was not a letter-opener.
Close-up of replacement nail and use-wear
Tomb 1 is located near Madrid and features a man and woman. The tomb had an entrance and was not filled in, so the woman's body had already decomposed before her husband (?) was laid to rest. Her body was "scooted over" and the authors suggest the ivory buttons from her vestment might have been collected in hand to her pot.
While it is clear she was buried first, the man radiocarbon dates older even though it is clear that they both decomposed in the tomb itself. I may revisit this issue in a subsequent post. In any case, she is buried with women's gear and he is buried with warrior gear.
Reverse-engineering needs requirements takes us to an interesting place in Beaker warfare. We have long-range weapons (at least two types of bows), a personal space and dualing fighting weapon (daggers), beyond arms length offensive/defensive weapon (the spear or javelin). And then we have this weird, centrifugally accelerated, blunt force weapon. Why?
I think it's probably an indication of primative armor and sheilds. Of course armor of that time would have been boiled leather and probably quite effective. The real question is that if a halberd is nothing more than a dagger on a stick, then why position it at 90 degree angle? Without the need for penetrative force, there is no advantage for killing someone extra.
Use-wear and common sense point to a rotation plane, something like an axe or hammer. That means a halberd point is approaching a victim with multiples of speed and force than would be required if we are simply dealing with defenseless, naked humans. It's like shooting someone with a bazooka. Is shooting someone with a bazooka as effective as a rifle? Yes, same result I guess. But we would correctly suppose that a high-cost, single-shot, shoulder-fired weapon like a bazooka was developed to bust armor.
As was the case throughout the Medieval Period, it may have been the elite or professional warriors who wore armor while commoners were outfitted modestly. So there are several scenarios in which Beaker halerds may have been used. Armored warrior elites against armored elites. Anyone versus armored warrior elites.
If all the above is true, we have a new problem. Being equipped with a Palmela point makes sense if we are dealing with a warrior on foot who can punch a spear beyond arms length. But this warrior is equipped with both a halberd and two points. I doubt the mourners just threw a bunch of man stuff into a grave. Could it be that the Palmela point (having no barbs mind you) was specifically used in equistrian combat? Similar weapons were used in the Medieval period simply for punching sorry souls on the ground by mounted warriors.
And finally, another clear example of a "bracer" that fell off the outside of a decomposing arm. I think at this point we can safely say that these are not actually bracers but an exterior (or sometimes interior) backbone of a larger bracing cuff. Maybe this was to protect the wrist from injury to to relieve stress on the lower arm. Who knows.