December 11, 2013

Rhône-Provence Bell Beaker

Just a brief note on two French language papers from a decade ago that have shown up in my alerts.

The most relevant one because of its wider scope is:

Olivier Lemercier, Muriel Pellissier & Yaramila Tchérémissinoff, Campaniforme et sépultures, au-delà du standard. La place du Campaniforme dans l évolution des sépultures du sud-est de la France au 3e millénaire avant notre ère. Proceedings of the International Conference held at the Cantonal Archaeology Museum (Sion, Switzerland), 2001. → available (with free registration) at

Abstract (only part in English)

Where are the famous Bell Beaker individual burials in the south east of France? What is the nature of the burials wherein we actually find Bell Beaker elements ? And what kind of Bell Beaker is it ? And also : where does the Bell Beakers stand in the evolution of the funeral architectures and rites between the end of the Middle Neolithic and the Early Bronze Age? Answering these questions, thanks to the presence of more than a hundred funeral sites in the area, would change our vision of the Bell Beakers fenomenon itself. These questions are also the occasion to present the diversity and the traditions of the funeral practices by the 3rd millenium BC.

I took some time to read it in spite of my limited skills at French (but it's still Romance, so well... any educated Romance speaker can read it with some effort) and the overall conclusions are not too surprising: Bell Beaker is not only a burial thing, Bell Beaker appears in burial contexts of older local tradition, etc. 

The details and nuances are many more, of course. On one side the authors discern (much as it happens overall within European Bell Beaker) three groupings: 
  • Corded style in Ardèche
  • International style in the left margins of the Rhône
  • A local variant in the later period
Notice that the authors argue that both the Corded and International styles are roughly contemporary. I can't judge this but, if real, it may mean a blow against the classical notion of Corded style being older and arriving to SW Europe via the Rhône. 

Another interesting aspect of the paper is that the authors argue for overall continuity of burial styles, which are varied:
  • individual burials with roots in early Neolithic
  • collective burials of both dolmenic-megalithic and cave typology
  • other rarer types, with a handful of examples each
Bell Beaker seems mostly related to collective burials, although in the BB period Megalithism seems to recede somewhat in favor of collective burials in caves, a tradition common in other parts of Europe, especially in the South and SW. This really casts all kind of doubts about BB in this region being able to be explained as some sort of migration from Central Europe (or anywhere else) because, unlike in this Indoeuropeanized area, BB individual burials as such are extremely rare; instead we must talk of BB elements inserted in local traditions of collective or "clannish" nature, just as we can see in Iberia and other Western areas where Indoeuropean influences was still non-existent. 

The other paper is:

Robin Furestier et al., 1974-2004 le site du Fortin-du-Saut (Châteauneuf-les-Martigues, Bouches-du-Rhône) et le Campaniforme 30 ans aprés. Congrès du Centennaire: Un siècle de construction du discours scientifique en Préhistoireavailable at (registration needed as well).

This is about a particular Bell Beaker site near Marseilles, whose typology seems mostly influenced by the Portuguese VNSP civilizational center. Otherwise there is other non-BB pottery without decoration and what seems locally rooted stone tools and arrow points.

If you are fluent in French and happen to find out any error in my interpretation, please feel free to correct me in comments, thanks in advance.


  1. The origin of Bell Beakers is now well established in Iberia. It is the thesis defended by many archaeologists like Olivier Lemercier. It is also supported by the radiocarbon dating, and by the genetic: see the work of Brotherton: Neolithic mitochondrial haplogroup H genomes and the genetic origins of Europeans, or Brandt: Ancient DNA Reveals Key Stages in the Formation of Central European Mitochondrial Genetic Diversity. Probably the future works about ancient Y-DNA will show the same spread of R1b haplogroup from Iberia to Western and Central Europe with the Bell Beakers culture. See for example the Lee paper: Emerging Genetic Patterns of the European Neolithic: Perspectives From a Late Neolithic Bell Beaker Burial Site in Germany.

    1. "The origin of Bell Beakers is now well established in Iberia".

      Really? This would be quite new to me and therefore I'd like archaeological studies as references so I can learn that not from your words but from more authoritative sources, preferably several (a single paper or two may be debatable and often consensus, especially in such a complicated case as this, comes only slowly, if at all).

      I know about Brotherthon's paper, which I criticized for cherry-picking the evidence, although I was pleased by their good explanation of the procedure followed. IF we dare to follow Brotherton et al., but dissect the arbitrary "MNE" catch-all grouping, we see how the signature of mtDNA "Iberianization" (so to say) is quite older than Bell Beaker, being already present in East Germany (!!!) in the time of Salzmünde culture, which is about 800 years older than Bell Beaker, and part of two wide phenomena: Funnelbeaker and Kurgan.

      This is in the Brotherthon data because only the Salzmünde group is so strong in H1+H3 as BB, or even more (100% H3). But this tendency is already present in previous groups like Baalberge (precursor of Salzmünde and the first Kurgan culture of all Central Europe) and then again in Corded Ware (mostly heir of these). So one could interpret that either the Kurgan or the Funnelbeaker phenomenon could be behind the sharp increase in H1+H3 of the MNE or, as I suggest, that Megalithism (which is related to the origins of Funnelbeaker) could be as well. The data is not terribly conclusive (all these cultures have only 2 mtDNA H samples each, but Brotherthon does not provide non-H data, which is crucial to understand the whole process) so all we can say is that the increase of mtDNA H in Central Europe, which may (or not) be original from Iberia, happened after the Danubian Neolithic proper but in ways that are still unclear.

      What happened in Central Europe in that time? It was a big mess in crescendo until the Corded Ware expansion "leveled it all" (paraphrasing the Sumerian List of Kings on the "flood", which may refer to another "barbarian" conquest rather than a true flood: that of Semitic peoples). On one side we see continuity of Danubian in various forms but with a tendency to become distinct (Michelsberg) and/or decadent (Epi-Rössen), we see the arrival of the Western Kurgan seed group (the expansive Baalberge culture), the expansion of the Southern Danubian culture of Baden, that of Funnelbeaker tendencies from Denmark and the arrival of Megalithism (within Epi-Rössen in the South and Funnelbeaker in the North).

      Does all that come from Iberia? We can't say for sure. I have been probably the first one to suggest so but never with such a false sense of certainty, among other reasons because there are way too many blanks in our knowledge of ancient West and Northern European DNA to be certain. Other possible sources could well be in France/Brittany or in Demark (or who knows?), we just do not have enough data to judge because these areas are understudied.


    2. (...)

      When I recently did a mini-study for another blog (later recycled for this one) on this matter, I found myself bound to use only German (mostly Elbe region), Basque/Cantbrian and Portuguese data, which together comprise maybe half of what was available in those dates for all Epipaleolithic, Neolithic and Chalcolithic Europe. The rest was a bing question mark, with the partial exception of Eastern Europe, having just scattered samples. Since then there has been some extra data on the Mid-Danube Neolithic but that's about it.

      So, in the genetic aspect, Portugal or West Iberia (but not Catalonia for example) may be at the origin of that extra H (H1+H3 essentially) in Central Europe, but there could be other origins as well, which remain non-surveyed or mostly so. Also, even if the origin is in Iberia, it is likely that it's not directly BB which carried it but other phenomena of more clear Iberian origin and more likely demographic impact such as Dolmenic Megalithism.

      ... "the Lee paper: Emerging Genetic Patterns of the European Neolithic: Perspectives From a Late Neolithic Bell Beaker Burial Site in Germany".

      That's quite ironical for you to say because Lee considered Kromsdorf to be Bell Beaker and I pointed out that there's no specific BB signature in those burials and that therefore the site must be considered unspecific Chalcolithic, contemporary of Corded Ware and BB horizons elsewhere. Kromsdorf is most closely related (by mtDNA) to later Unetice sites in the area and seems to have absolutely no "Iberian" connection whatsoever (lacking haplogroup H). Please read:


      But in any case mtDNA H alone cannot and will not tell us anything on the origin of Bell Beaker as such. For that we need archaeological evidence and AFAIK the matter is still undecided with the mainstream model preferring a Bohemian origin, possibly as substrate reaction to Corded Ware (some elements are similar, including the corded decoration of BB vases, but for example burial customs for men and women are inverse). These burial customs, which in many cases define BB in its "purest" sense, are totally unrelated (in Central Europe at least) with the Iberian and otherwise Megalithic usages, which are not of individual burials but collective ones (clannish tombs in dolmen, cave or some other format). As we can see in this Rhône case, many BB burials outside Central Europe are not "standard" but rather follow Megalithic customs (or similar), so maybe these variations indicate strong differences in the populations adopting BB elements, for example cultural expansion (or even political imposition) of single burials in the Indo-European areas East of the Rhine and the North Sea, while in the pre-IE (Vasconic?) areas West of that line such individualist model was at the very least quite less common.

    3. PS- for the discussion on Kromsdorf (Lee et al.) see:

  2. "Really? This would be quite new to me and therefore I'd like archaeological studies as references"
    From Olivier Lemercier, Muriel Pellissier & Yaramila Tchérémissinoff, Campaniforme et sépultures, au-delà du standard. La place du Campaniforme dans l évolution des sépultures du sud-est de la France au 3e millénaire avant notre ère:
    Dans cette région, où les deux tiers des 300 sites ne sont pas funéraires, le Campaniforme correspond sans aucun doute à l’implantation de groupes d’origine ibérique, au contact des populations locales et sur des routes de circulation, d’échange, et peut-être de peuplement.

    1. OK. But they are talking about the BB of the Rhône, not of Central European BB.

      I don't know how to say it but it is overall a very complex matter. For example the Amesbury archer was from Switzerland, it seems (or somewhere nearby). So it may be a complex interaction of processes.

      Also in this area of Rhône-Provence, there seem to be two different traditions: the corded style in Ardèche and the international style in the East Bank. While the international style is quite clearly original from Portugal, the corded style appears original from Central Europe (i.e. related to Corded Ware, whose decorative style is very similar). Generally speaking the corded style is more rustic while the international style is more refined.

      SE and West France are clearly in the area of influence of VNSP but the same can't be said, at least not so easily, of regions further north. Central Europe particularly is a very different context in any case.

      Notice that in any case they say that the "Iberian origin" is attributed to contact and trade and only "possibly" ("peut-être") settlement ("peuplement"). So again we are faced with low likelihood of colonization, at least at important levels, in the context of BB - and in any case, in this particular area it'd be essentially indistinct from the overall megalithic phenomenon of collective burials - so different from the reality of Central Europe and Scandinavia, where collective burials just vanished with Corded Ware expansion.

    2. I imagine that this map should be taken with due caution:


      ... but, whatever the case it illustrates that BB is not a mere simple phenomenon but that it has a variety of manifestations.

      The current version of Wikipedia's entry on the matter suggests that maybe the beakers are derived from the Portuguese copos (→ example), misspelled "copoz" ("copos" means just cups), which is an interesting idea. It also suggests that BB was a "new culture" in Central Europe. However, the article later contradicts these ideas by stating the obvious: the burial rituals associated to BB (individual burial in flexed position, sometimes under tumulus, as opposed to the common collective burial in extended position) are generally intrusive in West Europe and most similar to Corded Ware ones. I must say there was some diversity of burial traditions and, for example, Cardium Pottery originally styled flexed individual burial just like Central European and Balcanic Neolithic (same ultimate origins), although later collective burials (mostly in caves) became dominant. The article again derives later in another fragmentary direction to suggest the Lower Rhine as origin of the maritime or international style. All them are documented somehow (although I haven't checked the sources yet).

      The only thing I have clear is that the phenomenon is complex and may reflect equally complex interactions that certainly existed even before BB emergency. These complex relations probably have one main origin, which is the vast exchange and cultural network of Megalithism, in which much of Bell Beaker appears later as a insertion and/or "fashion".

      It's very plausible, I'd say, that after the "era of conflicts" of early and middle Chalcolithic, in which we see a great diversity of cultural phenomena, some of them innovative like Michelsberg, others intrusive like Baalberge, and others surely inclusive-multiethnic like Funnelbeaker and arguably Megalithism itself, and some attempts (ultimately failed) of Danubian expansion, all them culminating in Corded Ware (i.e. the indoeuropeanization of Central Europe and Scandinavia) East of the Rhine but in a more localized "Vasconic" expansion in West France and Belgium (Artenac), there was some kind of status quo established between Western IEs and Vasconic (?) peoples, in which BB manifested as main inter-ethnic bridge (whichever its exact origins). This status quo lasted for more than one thousand years (a lot!) being only broken in the Late Bronze (Urnfields).

      In that "great peace" period, which includes all the BB era but also later times, we mostly see local evolution. There is one important exception but it is in essence internally Iberian and unrelated to Central Europe.

  3. Maju, the Kromsdorf samples were indeed buried in Bell Beaker style, basically opposite to the Corded Ware style.

    Based on radiocarbon determinations
    obtained from three burials (Table 1), the north–south
    orientation of interred individuals and a characteristic
    Glockenbecher vessel that are hallmarks of Bell Beaker
    cultures, Kromsdorf dates firmly to the Late Neolithic
    [2,600–2,500 cal BC (2 SD)].

    Also, the Unetice-like mtDNA can be explained by female exogamy with local Corded Ware groups. Especially at that early stage, the Bell Beakers weren't very numerous in Central Europe, but they had to get women from somewhere.

    1. That's not what defines a standard BB burial. Your typical BB burial has:
      → beaker
      → bone ornaments
      → buttons with V-shaped perforations (possibly part of the original clothing)
      → moon-shaped necklaces
      → triangular copper knife
      → flint arrow points (probably whole arrows originally, maybe in a quiver and with corresponding bow)
      → archer bracelet (usually of schist)
      → gold spiral ("money" of the age most likely: small pieces detachable from the extremes as need be)
      → distinctive placement of corpses depending on gender (opposite of CW but similar to Globular Amphorae): females on the right side, males on the left side.

      These may not be ALL necessary to define a burial as BB but at least a number of them should be present, nothing of that is apparent at Kromsdorf. Just the orientation to the North (first time I read of it but let's take their word) is not enough.

      All this was discussed back in the day:

      The lack of grave goods in Kromsdorf is notorious and the few graves with some goods are not within typical BB parameters at all (two regular cups, a bowl, a needle, loom weights and one chert flake). They are definitely not BB and rather look old-school Danubian burials (without goods or with some lesser private goods such as bowls with, presumably, food/drink).

    2. Glockenbecher vessel = beaker

      By the way, what would be old school Danubian in that part of Germany exactly?

    3. Alright. However they only mention "a characteristic Glockenbecher vessel", so either just one ("a") or at most two (the two listed as having "cups") would be somehow related to BB. The overall site is definitely not BB in any case.

      These two are grave 1 and grave 8. Only grave 8 produced a useful mtDNA sequence, which was K1.

      Still for a BB burial it's extremely poor and anomalous. So I'd say that they must be considered a distinct group with some blurry relation to BB but in any case not BB as a whole community (just one of the sequenced individuals could even remotely approximate the notion of a BB burial).

      From the previous comment:

      ... "the Unetice-like mtDNA can be explained by female exogamy with local Corded Ware groups".

      I think that the main problem here is that you tend to think of the cultures as being genetically homogeneous and that's not necessarily the case, especially in times of fast-paced change as was the early/middle Chalcolithic.

      They don't need to be identified as BB community (actually they can't be), and in fact, from their location at the Elbe-Saale basin, they are more likely to be descendant from early Kurgan settlements with whatever Danubian substrate, i.e. their "Indoeuropean" mtDNA pool may well be locally rooted since Baalberge times (we'd have to research to be sure but it's plausible).

      Quickly checking at , there are some sizable samples now of older Kurgan populations in the area. Unlike Kromsdorf, all them have some H but not much.

      In synthesis:
      → Baalberge: 4 T2, 2 X, 2 H1, 2 H*, 2 K1a and singletons: T1, H3, U8a, U5b, N1a, H7 and HV*
      → Salzmünde: 5 J, 2 K1, 2 H3, 2 K1 and single sequences of: H5, V, U3a, HV*, X2, T2 and U5b.
      → Bernburg culture: 3 U5b, 2 K1 and single samples of: U5a, T2, W, H*, H1, H5, X and V.
      → Corded Ware: 3 K1, 3 U4, 3 T2, 3 U5a, 2 J, 2 T1 and singletons: H1, U2, K2, U5b, H*, H10, I, X2, H5, H2, K*, W and X.
      → Kromsdorf: all singletons: U2, W, K1, I, U5a, K1.

      So we don't need to think of Corded Ware as the direct source but all or most of those lineages were floating around in the Elba-Saale area since long earlier. Only U2 and I may appear more specifically "Corded" but all the rest are almost certainly older in the area. The district had low frequencies of H all the time (often with some H5, typical of Danubian Neolithic), which are generally consistent with Danubian origins of the bulk of the mtDNA pool.

      So I think that way I answer to your question "what would be old school Danubian in that part of Germany exactly?" Unless you refer to archaeology. In that case I must say that the area first belonged to generic LBK, then evolving to Rössen culture and then segregated to become a distinct local group known as Gatersleben (under the influence of both Rössen and Lengyel). It's characterized by burials in flexed position, just as all the typical Neolithic ones (and unlike Megalithic and Dniepr-Don ones, which use the extended position instead, maybe because of pre-Neolithic fundamentals).

      On Gatersleben it appeared the Baalberge culture, which has clearly Kurgan traits (tumuli burials in flexed position) but also adopts Funnelbeaker fashion. It's centered at the great fortified settlement of Halle-Donauer-Heide, where "rural" affluence is quite apparent in pottery and such. This Baalberge culture, which expanded to Cujavia and North Moravia (later lost) and also colonized the Brandenburg forest for the first time, is the seed, I understand of Western Indoeuropeans, leading, via the Cujavian second core to Luboń, Globular Amphorae and (after a mysterious Catacomb-related influence) to Corded Ware itself.

  4. "They are definitely not BB"

    The Lee paper about DNA on Kromsdorf is signed by Sven Ostritz who is archaeologist at the Thuringian State Office for Archaeology. Do you think really that he is not able to recognize Bell Beaker graves ? He saw and studied the graves goods. You haven't. So I have no doubt about this: the Kromsdorf graves are really Bell Beaker graves although you can think.

    1. I think that there are different interpretations in these matters and where one may find enough a single beaker to be signature of BB, another would say that no way. I have read other books and studies on BB and most their authors would probably raise their eyebrows with that classification.

      But feel free to think whatever you find best. We can agree to disagree in these matters of judgement. In any case, in the genetic aspect Kromsdorf is radically different from other German BB sites (these very clear ones), which have lots of H.

  5. Cite: "For that we need archaeological evidence and AFAIK the matter is still undecided with the mainstream model preferring a Bohemian origin, possibly as substrate reaction to Corded Ware (some elements are similar, including the corded decoration of BB vases, but for example burial customs for men and women are inverse)."

    In the german version of the Bell Beaker Wikipedia site is a link to a dissertation on bohemian and bordering BB graves and finds. It covers extensively all known archeological finds in this area and comes to the conclusion that BB came probably from the west, but is definitely not native. Metallurgy, horses and the typical beakers are attested to the first "immigration horizon".
    The women burials in the first phases where often accompanied by ceramics from non BB, neighboring cultures. The author took this as a sign of highly mobile immigrants taking local wives.
    A Bohemian or Central European origin is not the mainstream model in german speaking archeology. An origin in Hungary is definitely ruled out in this paper.
    Even if you dont speak german there is a summary in english and plenty of additional material in the second pdf (mostly graphic).

    1. Wow!, that looks most interesting and really opens my mind to alternative possibilities. Would it be possible that BB East of the Rhine really originated in Portugal being a "great power" intervention of sorts that succeeded the "regional power" action by Artenac culture in West France and Belgium? I'm puzzled, so I am admittedly letting my imagination run a bit wild right now.

      Sadly I do not speak any German, so I have a proposal for you, Xaver: would you like to write a guest article for this blog on this study? I would greatly enjoy reading it, and I bet so would many readers. I can help with the images if need be. If so, please email me at lialdamiz [at] gmail [dot] com with ideas, doubts or even the whole finished article...

  6. Must add: Xaver has sent me some brief synthesis on the German-language paper (and declined to write an article) but most importantly I have used time in general and that occasion to rethink my previous opinion (a bit wild and irreflexive).

    First and foremost: the scope of the study is Lower Austria, Moravia and Hungary. Although they speculate of this pattern being extensible to Bohemia, I do not see clear if this is objectively acceptable or a mere speculation. They say in the abstract:

    "The basic concept drawn up for the area under investigation can also be applied to the neighbouring culture of Bohemia".

    I would like to know if there is any objective reason for this statement. If the answer is yes, then it would certainly contradict the Bohemian origin hypothesis and add weight to the Iberian one but, if the answer is negative, then the Bohemian origin theory would still retain all its weight, because the Mid-Danube region discussed in this study is peripheral to the overall BB phenomenon and a relative Western (i.e. German or Bohemian) origin is almost necessary in any case.

    Overall, regardless of this paper, is that BB looks much more Central European than Western in its elements, for example "typical BB" would share with the Central European traditions (Danubian, Funnelbeaker and/or Western Kurgan) the following key elements:

    → Individual burial in flexed position (typical of Danubian and also often Kurgan cultures but contrary to the Megalithic tradition of collective burial, usually in extended position). The gender patterns are identical to those of Globular Amphorae (and inverse to those of Corded Ware).
    → The Corded style of BB (traditionally believed to be the oldest one) is almost the same decorative style as that of Corded Ware
    → The beaker shape may have evolved out of Funnelbeaker (→ example from the Netherlands).

    Barring an origin of the bells shape in the Portuguese "copos", the only clear element of relation with Western traditions seems to be utilitarian: the adoption of bow and arrows as key weapon (at least deducing from funerary contexts), in contrast to the dominance of the axe in previous Central European Chalcolithic cultures. This does not seem enough at all to deduce an origin in the West or SW.

    Of course, only careful international study of all the available data can provide a definitive answer.

    In this sense I would appreciate all kind of feedback.

  7. Can you post the brief synthesis here, or mail it to me?

    Also, don't take this too hard, but I think you're in denial. A Bohemian origin of Bell Beakers is not mainstream anywhere. Moreover, the Kromsdorf burial was indeed Bell Beaker, but with local women taken as wives.

    1. He said it was not for the public and I certainly agree that it looked a bit limited. It's his text, so up to Xaver to make it open.

      Don't you speak German? I thought it was a common second language in Poland? Seems I was wrong.

      ... "the Kromsdorf burial was indeed Bell Beaker, but with local women taken as wives".

      For me it's not BB. Only one of the sequenced tombs had a beaker and the results are completely different from those of other German BB.

      But one of the problems is that BB seldom appears as something clearly distinct from its highly diverse local precursors, so I'm falling back to reluctance to accept the phenomenon as demic vector (although it might be in some specific cases, of course).

      Also if BBs men adopted local women as wives, as they say it's the case in Hungary, Moravia, etc. How on Earth could there it cause a radical change in mtDNA precisely?

    2. Also, as I discussed earlier in your blog, in Treilles we have a Megalithic and BB group that nevertheless is nearly identical to Catalan Neolithic (ref 1, ref 2) in everything genetic, having no R1b nor much mtDNA H (21%). We can't argue for BB being the main vector of demic change in that case either.

    3. "A Bohemian origin of Bell Beakers is not mainstream"...

      Bohemian or Dutch or Portuguese, I do not care. But I still say that it does look original from the Central European area with clear links in several important elements to traditions from there, as outlined above, and no obvious cultural roots in the West instead.

      It's a very complex phenomenon that you and some others are trying to oversimplify just because it seems you don't seem able to accept greater complexity. I would gladly fall into that trap, as shown in my "wild comment" above, but I cannot do that without falling in serious contradictions. So I remain skeptic of your seemingly ultra-simplistic Bell Beaker explains all vision. Actually BB makes all quite blurry, it seems to me, especially if you want to imagine mass continental demic replacements in it (where I only see a confuse phenomenon and most likely just a trader guild embedded in various cultural contexts).

    4. Yeah, German is quite popular in Poland these days, but I'm from Australia.

    5. I didn't know. I was all this time believing you were from Warsaw (or some other Polish town maybe).


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