May 22, 2012

Iberian Chalcolithic and Bell Beaker map

A reader asked me about the actual extension of the Bell Beaker phenomenon "in the Basque Country". I do not have complete data right now for all the historical Basque area but I could provide some for the Iberian Peninsula at least. Notably this map (there seems to be some major confusion about the real presence of BB):

Click to enlarge

I have also provided some more generic info on the Chalcolithic and Bell Beaker, specially in Iberia, in a new dedicated page

The discussion thread for that page is this one.


  1. I think there are two different question: the European wide extent of Bell Beaker (what were their defined boundaries?), and the coverage (what percentage of contemporaneous local settlements were Bell Beaker?). I think many lay people overestimate both, but particularly, the latter. I commented on that over at Razib's blog:

    ... Here is another image, from the German wikipedia, and supposedly based on R.J. Harrison, The Beaker Folk, Thames & Hudson, London (1980) (I haven’t checked):

    You can see that there are lot’s of holes – areas that had no Bell Beaker impact but are highly R1b, today, and areas like the East of Germany and parts of Central Europe that had strong Bell Beaker influence but are less than 20-30% R1b, today...’s a matter of coverage. Razib’s (wikipedia) image is misleading if it is interpreted as representative of settlement or population density – which it is not. We would need an expert to chime in, but I doubt that the relative (to Corded ware and related cultures) Bell Beaker settlement density exceeded 10-20% between the Rhine, Danubian and Elbe basins. I mean, it was so thinly settled with Bell Beaker, that so far, in that entire region, AFAIK not a single house has been excavated. Even in Moravia – one of the most densely settled areas, Bell Beaker makes up only 35%, and 10% in Bohemia ( Virtually everywhere, there are contemporaneous (and even mixed) Corded Ware sites...

    1. The German Wikipedia map is clearly wrong, very sloppy, for Iberia (at least, I'd say that the density of findings in Britain is exaggerated and that of France and other regions probably lacking as well - but would need to check).

      For example it gives the impression that there's a lot of Bell Beaker in the Northern Iberian Plateau, when it's all isolated findings (smaller dots) and scattered and, in any case, not disconnected from the Ciempozuelos core zone (south of Madrid). Most of the scatter is along the Central Range, mountain areas, also in the Iberian range, quite intriguingly.

      On the other hand the presence of BB in Galicia or the Basque Country is negated, when it is relatively important (in the case of the Basque Country there's also abundance of V-perforated buttons, typical of BB burials, mostly related in typology to Languedoc and Portuguese Estremadura, not shown in this map).

      The distribution in Andalusia and Valencian Country could also be improved.

      So I personally prefer (not really but less misleading in a sense) the generic map in which "everything is orange" because it has no pretense of detail. A wrong high resolution map is surely worse than an ambiguous low-res one.

      But the really bad thing is when people try to interpret a phenomenon like Bell Beaker apparently knowing nothing or nearly nothing about it. These happy-dippy "intelligentsia" of sorts seem dedicated to make up models based on nearly nothing, and then for example imagine Bell Beaker being not a thinly spread trade network, as it surely was, but some sort of hordes ethnic-cleansing Europe for the convenience of their intellectual laziness.

      If they are so persuaded that Bell Beaker is so central to European prehistory and they think of themselves as prehistory aficionados, or even professionals in some cases, the least they could do is to first read everything available on the matter, or at least a good deal of it, and THEN, only THEN make up their mind.

      But putting the cart before the horses seems to be a passion of some, more fit for preaching in a church, where scientific truth doesn't matter, than to discern the reality of prehistory.

    2. The Turek paper is rather interesting in that it clearly indicates that Bell Beaker is not an independent all-covering culture but as prehistorians usually say a "phenomenon", cultural in nature but not at all your usual prehistoric culture with a well defined distribution and implicit (although often contested) ethnic (or rather pseudo-ethnic, quasi-ethnic) significance. Never mind that ethnicity/language is not genetics either.

      "Even in Moravia – one of the most densely settled areas, Bell Beaker makes up only 35%, and 10% in Bohemia"...

      If Bohemia, which is the generally accepted origin of the phenomenon and the most obvious cultural center of the third phase, BB is only 10% of all burials, then what do they expect for the generality of Europe?

      (Incidentally the Czech Republic is very low in R1b; while Razib's Wikipedia map does not single it out, the Czech Republic has Y-DNA apportions much closer to Poland than to Germany, with R1b in the 20% zone (like Poland and Slovenia), while Germany has it in the 45% zone instead, placing it in West Europe Y-DNA-wise, while Poland and Czechia fall in the Eastern half, dominated by R1a.

    3. "If Bohemia, which is the generally accepted origin of the phenomenon and the most obvious cultural center of the third phase,". -Maju

      Could you point me to some links supporting both parts of that quote?

    4. Not without making a search, exactly as you can.

      I have read that in diverse reputable sources through the years and I also know that there used to be two other hypothesis which nowadays seem discarded or at least very marginal: (1) Iberian origin and (2) Dutch origin. The prototype pre-beaker vessels, for what I know, are from Moravia and such, from where they were copied with modifications in Bohemia.

      There seem to be few doubts about the late period being centered in Bohemia, at least in what regards to Central Europe. Never read any other version.

      Furthermore, I never thought of this before but, now that I think of it, Bohemia was never as important as with BB and its immediate earliest Bronze Age successor: Unetice culture, also centered in that country.

  2. Maju,

    I agree with you that most Bell Beaker maps out there are basically cartoonish, but unfortunately are not presented as such. Of course, your map of Iberia makes a lot more sense in that regard.

    The Czech region is a bit of an outlier, because after the fall of the Roman empire and subsequent instability, it was more impacted by Slavic expansion that some surrounding regions. So, some of the dominance of R1a there could be of relatively recent origin. In Poland one can look at R1a subgroups; I once tried to estimate what is ancient there and what fraction from Slavic expansion, and it looked to me only about 10% the latter. I haven't tried to do the same with the Czech region.

    1. The Czech Country is not a low density region where replacement is easy. Not sure what to think but I'd dare say that most of it is pre-Slavic, even if Slavic and Germanic flows and back-flows may have helped to reinforce those differences, differences which may have been first established in the Metal Ages.

  3. Interesting in regard to the Bell Beakers is the reprint of the collected volume edited by Czebreszuk: "Similar but Different: Bell Beakers in Europe"
    Even though it is from 2004 (with tiny updates from some of the old authors in the new edition),
    the dating of the Bell Beaker phenomenon as originating in Iberia still stands. I also recommend Harrison and Heyd's paper on the transformation in the western Alps that took place with several phases of Bell Beaker transformation, most excitingly including anthropomorphic stelae that actually depict changing fashions of weaponry and clothing from before and during the Beaker periods:

    1. Some of those stelae remind of Iberian plaques and other "idols" of the Chalcolithic. The presence of lunulae drawings also points in this direction, it seems to me.

    2. The e-book is indeed very interesting. I'm reading it with delight, thanks for the reference. Better link: (free to read online, or, alternatively to purchase the PDF).

  4. I had noticed the similarity of the stelae from Sion and Aosta to other anthropomorphic stelae (esp. early "Kurgan" ones--not that I think these are descended from those!), but the triangle patterns from the Iberian ones you're pointing to are an element of the Sion/Aosta stelae I hadn't seen elsewhere. Nice!

    Glad you're enjoying the Czebreszuk volume. I was very happy to find it, too. By the way, thanks for the better link!


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