May 15, 2014

Bell Beaker: very interesting e-book

Michael points me to this very interesting compilation of articles freely available to read online (or to purchase as PDF for a small amount, or even as true book) dealing with the complexities of the Bell Beaker phenomenon in Europe. The articles are mostly in English and French, although there is also one in German.

Several authors, Similar but Different. Bell Beakers in Europe. Edited by Janus Czebrezsuk. Sidestone Press 2014 → LINK

It would be quite worthless that I would try to make any synthesis of such an extensive and plural work on such a complex and hotly debated topic. But I must say that I find most interesting the attempts to describe the regional differences of this phenomenon and very especially the fact that, West of the Rhine and North Sea and South of the Alps, the phenomenon is always found inside previously existing cultural contexts, often as minority element. Therefore the pre-existing division between collective burials' Europe (Megalithic mostly) and single burials' one (Kurgans in essence) stands for most of the timeline and geographic extent of this cultural phenomenon, which no doubt highlights the increased European interactivity of the Late Chalcolithic. 

Hence it is important to establish the regional structure (not strict but notable anyhow) of the Bell Beaker phenomenon and that is indeed addressed by several of the articles. For example, Marc M. Vander Linen proposes the following five regions:

Of these only the Eastern region is single burial senso stricto, all the rest retaining their ancestral practices, which were collective burial in most cases (although this changes gradually in some areas as time passes until the "funerary collectivism" eventually vanishes as the Bronze Age hits in). 

In this map by Marie Besse of the so-called "common ware" (no or very little decorated beakers and similar pots, specific of continental Europe) we can also see much of the collective/single burial dichotomy.

Anyhow, notice that, with limited exceptions, bell beakers are not dominant in most regions and that most burials lack them. One of the main exceptions is Portuguese Estremadura, where beakers are found almost in every burial. However in nearby Alentejo, more rural and much less cosmopolitan, the opposite is true.

Enjoy the read.


  1. Czebreszuk poses the problems of Beaker pottery by reducing down into a big-small-big argument, which I think is helpful.

    I like his ten facts on Beakers at the end (Everything you ever wanted to know about Beakers in ten sentences- I think I'm going to add that to the Beaker blog)

    Vander Linden has an interesting perspective in his 'Polythetic Network'. It allows Beakers room to be Beakers without being disqualified by a single denominator.

    1. For me it is quite impressive to see together so much good stuff on the BB phenomenon not just locally but at continental scale. It's way too easy to see one of those maps of Bell Beaker extension and imagine it as a unified and generalized culture, what is precisely what BB is not, what causes all sorts of misunderstandings.

      I read (most of) the material eagerly and with great interest and no doubt will help me to better understand this important phenomenon in its diversity and complexity. BB is clearly unifying but it's not unity at all. This makes it even more intriguing and interesting.

      "I think I'm going to add that to the Beaker blog"

      Definitely you of all bloggers I know, should be the one most enjoying this stuff. And also such a great work certainly deserves all the publicity we can give it.

    2. I'm particularly fascinated by the micro-note by Gibson on (unnumbered) pdf page 12, which makes clear what a difference good dating makes on archeological argumentation at the large scale that dominates this book. How could Gibson have expected that the rather mixed-up burial situation in Britain represented a resurgence of native Neolithic burial practices in a new Bronze Age context? In particular, it's still unclear where these Neolithic folk continued their traditions, as they must have, since they have left few traces in the in-between times that should bridge to the Middle Bronze Age.

  2. Do Bell Beakers were the primary source of R1b to West Sicily?

    1. At the moment we don't know enough about Western European R1b in terms of ancient DNA to issue a proper judgment. What you say is indeed possible but there may be many other possibilities.

      Ancient accounts considered the Elimi as of Iberian or Ligurian affinity, while the Siculi seem to have arrived from the peninsula and (IMO) might have been in a prior stage (Sea Peoples' Sekelesh) a West Asian population (probably Semitic because of circumcision). These may explain the anomalous eastward shift that Sicily shows relative to Europeans in general, more marked than even Greeks.


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