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Beaker culture

The Bell-Beaker culture. The term was coined by John Abercromby, based on the culture's distinctive pottery beakers,

which he interpreted as drinking vessels. No definitive association with a particular linguistic group has been proven.

A Celtic connection has been hypothesized though the Celtic migrations are believed to occur long after the Bell-Beaker culture is supposed

to have spread over Europe. Some scholars have suggested that the Beakers may have been an older Indo-European group,

of which the Celts may have been one part originally. Alternatively the Beaker culture may have been shared among different ethno-linguistic groups,

later unified by the Celtic migrations.


[^] The Bell Beaker culture is understood as not only a particular pottery type, but also a complete

and complex cultural phenomenon involving metalwork in copper and gold, archery, specific types of ornamentation and shared ideological, cultural

and religious ideas. The Bell Beaker period marks a period of cultural contact in Atlantic and Western Europe on a scale not seen previously,

nor seen again in succeeding periods. It can be seen initially as the western equivalent of the contemporary Corded Ware culture, though from c.

2400 BC Bell Beaker expanded eastwards over parts of Central and Eastern Europe where Corded Ware previously thrived. Thus in parts of Central

and Eastern Europe, as far east as Poland, there is a sequence from Corded Ware to Bell Beaker, but this is not the case in Iberia, France

or the British Isles, where Corded Ware is unknown. It is important

to note that underlying the Bell beaker superstratum existed a wide diversity in local burial styles, housing styles, economic profile

and local ceramic wares which continued. There are two main international Bell Beaker styles: the "All Over Ornamented", patterned all over

with impressions, of which a sub-set is the "All Over Corded", patterned with cord-impressions, and the "Maritime" type, decorated

with bands filled with impressions made with a comb or cord. Later, characteristic regional styles developed.

It has been suggested that the beakers were designed for the consumption of alcohol, and that the introduction of the substance

to Europe may have fuelled the beakers' spread. Beer and mead content have been identified from certain examples. However,

not all Beakers were drinking cups. Some were used as reduction pots to smelt copper ores, others have some organic residues associated with food,

and still others were employed as funerary urns. They were used as status display amongst disparate elites.


There have been numerous proposals by archaeologists as to the origins of the Bell Beaker culture, and debates continued on for decades.

Several regions of origin have been postulated, notably the Iberian peninsula, the Netherlands and Central Europe. Similarly,

scholars have postulated various mechanisms of spread, including migrations of populations, smaller warrior groups, individuals,

or a diffusion of ideas and object exchange. Recent analyses have made significant inroads to understanding the Beaker phenomenon, mostly

by analysing each of its components separately. They have concluded that the Bell Beaker phenomenon was a synthesis of elements, representing

"an idea and style uniting different regions with different cultural traditions and background." Radiocarbon dating seems

to support that the earliest "Maritime" Bell Beaker design style is encountered in Iberia,

specifically in the vibrant copper-using communities of the Tagus estuary in Portugal around 28002700 BC and spread from there

to many parts of western Europe. An overview of all available sources from southern Germany concluded that Bell Beaker was a new

and independent culture in that area, contemporary with the Corded Ware culture. The inspiration for the Maritime Bell Beaker is argued

to have been the small and earlier Copoz beakers that have impressed decoration and which are found widely around the Tagus estuary in Portugal.

Turek sees late Neolithic precursors in northern Africa, arguing the Maritime style emerged as a result of seaborne contacts between Iberia

and Morocco in the first half of the third millennium BC. AOO and AOC Beakers appear to have evolved continually

from a pre-Beaker period in the lower Rhine and North Sea regions, at least for Northern and Central Europe. Furthermore,

the burial ritual which typified Bell Beaker sites was intrusive into Western Europe. Individual inhumations, often under tumuli

with the inclusion of weapons contrast markedly to the preceding Neolithic traditions of often collective,

weaponless burials in Atlantic/Western Europe. Such an arrangement is rather derivative of Corded Ware traditions although,

instead of 'battle-axes', Bell Beaker individuals used copper daggers.

Expansion and culture contact

[^] The initial moves from the Tagus estuary were maritime. A southern move led to the Mediterranean

where 'enclaves' were established in south-western Spain and southern France around the Golfe du Lion and into the Po valley in Italy,

probably via ancient western Alpine trade routes used to distribute jadeite axes. A northern move incorporated the southern coast of Armorica.

The enclave established in southern Brittany was linked closely to the riverine and landward route, via the Loire, and across the Gtinais valley

to the Seine valley, and thence to the lower Rhine. This was a long-established route reflected in early stone axe distributions

and it was via this network that Maritime Bell Beakers first reached the Lower Rhine in about 2600 BC. Another pulse had brought Bell Beaker

to Csepel Island in Hungary by about 2500 BC. In the Carpathian Basin the Bell Beaker culture came in contact

with communities such as the Vuedol culture, which had evolved partly from the Yamna culture,

and therefore shared the same type of metallurgy practised by Bell Beaker metal-workers. But in contrast to the early Bell Beaker preference

for the dagger and bow, the favourite weapon in the Carpathian Basin during the first half of the 3rd millennium was the shaft-hole axe.

Here Bell Beaker people assimilated local pottery forms such as the polypod cup. These "common ware" types of pottery then spread in association

with the classic bell beaker. From the Carpathian Basin, Bell Beaker spread down the Rhine and eastwards into what is now Germany and Poland.

By this time the Rhine was on the western edge of the vast Corded Ware zone. The Corded Ware Culture shared a number of features

with the Bell Beaker Culture, derived from their common ancestor, the Yamna culture. These features include pottery decorated with cord impressions,

single burial and the shaft-hole axe. A review in 2014 revealed that single burial, communal burial

and reuse of Neolithic burial sites are found throughout the Bell Beaker zone.

This overturns a previous conviction that single burial was unknown in the early or southern Bell Beaker zone, and so must have been adopted

from Corded Ware in the contact zone of the Lower Rhine, and transmitted westwards along the exchange networks from the Rhine to the Loire,

and northwards across the English Channel to Britain. The earliest copper production in Ireland, identified

at Ross Island in the period 24002200 BC, was associated with early Beaker pottery. Here the local sulpharsenide ores were smelted

to produce the first copper axes used in Britain and Ireland. The same technologies were used in the Tagus region and in the west

and south of France. The evidence is sufficient to support the suggestion that the initial spread of Maritime Bell Beakers along the Atlantic

and into the Mediterranean, using sea routes that had long been in operation, was directly associated with the quest for copper

and other rare raw materials.

Migration vs. acculturation

Given the unusual form and fabric of Beaker pottery, and its abrupt appearance in the archaeological record, along

with a characteristic group of other artifacts, known as the Bell Beaker "package", the explanation

for the Beaker culture until the last decades of the 20th century was to interpret it as the migration of one group of people across Europe.

However, British and American archaeology since the 1960s had been sceptical about prehistoric migration in general, so the idea of

"Bell Beaker Folk" lost ground, although recent genetic findings lend renewed support to the migratory hypothesis.

A theory of cultural contact de-emphasizing population movement was presented by Colin Burgess and Stephen Shennan in the mid-1970s. Under the

"pots, not people" theory the Beaker culture is seen as a 'package' of knowledge and artifacts adopted and adapted

by the indigenous peoples of Europe to varying degrees. This new knowledge may have come about by any combination of population movements

and cultural contact. An example might be as part of a prestige cult related to the production and consumption of beer,

or trading links such as those demonstrated by finds made along the seaways of Atlantic Europe. Palynological studies including analysis of pollen,

associated with the spread of beakers, certainly suggests increased growing of barley, which may be associated with beer brewing.

Noting the distribution of Beakers was highest in areas of transport routes, including fording sites, river valleys and mountain passes,

it was suggested that Beaker 'folk' were originally bronze traders, who subsequently settled within local Neolithic

or early Chalcolithic cultures creating local styles. Close analysis of the bronze tools associated with beaker use suggests an early Iberian source

for the copper, followed subsequently by Central European and Bohemian ores. Investigations in the Mediterranean

and France recently moved the discussion to reemphasise the importance of migration to the Bell Beaker story. Instead of being pictured as a fashion

or a simple diffusion of objects and their use, the investigation of

over 300 sites showed that human groups actually moved in a process that involved explorations, contacts, settlement, diffusion,

and acculturation/assimilation. Some elements show the influence from the north and east, and other elements reveal the south-east of France

to be an important cross road on an important route of communication and exchange spreading north.

A distinctive 'barbed wire' pottery decoration is thought to have migrated through central Italy first. The pattern of movements was diverse

and complicated, along the Atlantic coast and the northern Mediterranean coast, and sometimes also far inland.

The prominent central role of Portugal in the region and the quality of the pottery all across Europe are forwarded as arguments

for a new interpretation that denies an ideological dimension. A Strontium isotope analysis of 86 people

from Bell Beaker graves in Bavaria suggests that 1825 % of all graves were occupied by people who came

from a considerable distance outside the area. This was true of children as well as adults, indicative of some significant migration wave.

Given the similarities with readings from people living on loess soils, the general direction of the local movement according to Price et al. is

from the northeast to the southwest.

Extent and impact

Bell Beaker people took advantage of transport by sea and rivers, creating a cultural spread extending from Ireland to the Carpathian Basin

and south along the Atlantic coast and along the Rhne valley to Portugal, North Africa and Sicily, even penetrating northern and central Italy.

Its remains have been found in what is now Portugal, Spain, France, Ireland and Great Britain, the Low Countries and Germany between the Elbe

and Rhine, with an extension along the upper Danube into the Vienna Basin, Hungary and the Czech Republic, with Mediterranean outposts on Sardinia

and Sicily; there is less certain evidence for direct penetration in the east. Beaker-type vessels remained in use longest in the British Isles;

late beakers in other areas are classified as early Bronze Age. The new international trade routes opened

by the Beaker people became firmly established and the culture was succeeded by a number of Bronze Age cultures,

among them the ntice culture in Central Europe, the Elp culture and Hilversum culture in the Netherlands,

the Atlantic Bronze Age in the British Isles and the Atlantic coast of Europe, and by the Nordic Bronze Age, a culture of Scandinavia

and northernmost Germany-Poland.

Iberian Peninsula

[^] The Bell Beaker phenomenon in the Iberian Peninsula defines the late phase of the local Chalcolithic

and even intrudes in the earliest centuries of the Bronze Age. A review of radiocarbon dates

for Bell Beaker across Europe found that some of the earliest were found in Portugal, where the range from Zambujal

and Cerro de la Virgen ran between 2900 BC and 2500 BC, in contrast to the rather later range for Andalusia. At present no internal chronology

for the various Bell Beaker-related styles has been achieved yet for Iberia. Peninsular corded Bell Beakers are usually found in coastal

or near coastal regions in three main regions: the western Pyrenees, the lower Ebro and adjacent east coast, and the northwest.

A corded-zoned Maritime variety, proposed to be a hybrid between AOC and Maritime Herringbone, was mainly found in burial contexts

and expanded westward, especially along the mountain systems of the Meseta. [^] With some notable exceptions,

most Iberian early Bell Beaker burials are at or near the coastal regions. As for the settlements and monuments within the Iberian context,

Beaker pottery is generally found in association with local Chalcolithic material and appears most of all as an "intrusion"

from the 3rd millennium in burial monuments whose origin may go back to the 4th or 5th millennium BC. Very early dates

for Bell Beakers were found in Castelo Velho de Freixo de Numo in Guarda, northern Portugal. The site was located on the summit of a spur.

A short-lived first occupation of pre-Bell Beaker building phase about 3000 BC revealed the remains of a tower, some pavings and structures

for burning. After a break of one or two centuries, Bell Beaker pottery was introduced in a second building phase that lasted

to the Early Bronze Age, about 1800 BC. A third building phase followed directly and lasted to about 1300 BC, after which the site was covered

with layers of stone and clay, apparently deliberately, and abandoned. The second building phase was dominated

by a highly coherent group of pottery within the regional Chalcolithic styles, representing Maritime Bell Beakers of the local,

penteada decoration style in various patterns, using lines of points, incision or impression. Three of them were carbon dated

to the first half of the 3rd millennium BC.

The site demonstrates a notable absence of more common Bell Beaker pottery styles such as Maritime Herringbone

and Maritime Lined varieties found in nearby sites like Castanheiro do Vento and Crasto de Palheiros. One non-local Bell Beaker sherd, however,

belonging to the upper part of a beaker with a curved neck and thin walls, was found at the bedrock base of this second phase. The technique

and patterning are classic forms in the context of pure European and Peninsular corded ware.

In the Iberian Peninsula this AOC type was traditionally restricted to half a dozen scattered sites in the western Pyrenees, the lower Ebro

and the Spanish east coast: especially a vessel at Filomena at Villarreal, Castelln, has parallels with the decoration. In Porto Torro,

at inner Alentejo, a similar vessel was found having a date ultimately corrected to between 2823 and 2658 BC. All pottery was locally made.

The lack or presence of Bell Beaker elements is the basis for the division of Los Millares and Vila Nova cultures into two periods: I and II.

Balearic Islands

Radiocarbon dating currently indicates a 1200-year duration for the use of the Beaker pottery on the Balearic Islands, between c. 2475 BC

and 1300 BC. There has been some evidence of all-corded pottery in Mallorca, generally considered the most ancient Bell Beaker pottery,

possibly indicating an even earlier Beaker settlement about 2700 BC. However, in several regions this type of pottery persisted long enough

to permit other possibilities. Surez Otero postulated this corded Beakers entered the mediterranean by routes both through the Atlantic coast

and through eastern France. Bell Beaker pottery has been found in Mallorca and Formentera, but has not been observed in Menorca or Ibiza.

Collective burials in dolmen structures in Ibiza could be contrasted against the individual burials in Mallorca.

In its latest phase the local Beaker context became associated with the distinctive ornamented Boquique pottery demonstrating clear maritime links

with the coastal regions of Catalonia, also assessed to be directly related to the late Cogotas complex.

In most of the areas of the mainland Boquique pottery falls into the latter stages of the Bell Beaker Complex as well. Along with other evidence

during the earlier Beaker period in the Balearics, c. 24002000 BC, as shown by the local presence of elephant ivory objects together

with significant Beaker pottery and other finds, this maritime interaction can be shown to have a long tradition.

The abundance of different cultural elements that persisted towards the end of the Bronze Age, show a clear continuity of different regional

and intrusive traditions. The presence of perforated Beaker pottery, traditionally considered to be used for making cheese,

at Son Ferrandell-Oleza and at Coval Sim, confirms the introduction of production and conservation of dairy. Also, the presence of spindles

at sites like Son Ferrandell-Oleza or Es Velar dAprop point to knowledge of making thread and textiles from wool. However,

more details on the strategies for tending and slaughtering the domestic animals involved are forthcoming. Being traditionally associated

with the introduction of metallurgy, the first traces of copper working in the Balearics was also clearly associated with Bell Beakers.

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