Beaker culture (sometimes shortened to Beaker culture),
c. 2900–1800 BC is the term for a widely scattered
archaeological culture of prehistoric western and Central Europe,
starting in the late
Chalcolithic and running into the
Bronze Age (in British terminology). 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 have occurred 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
Beaker culture may have been shared among different
ethno-linguistic groups, later unified by the Celtic migrations.
3 Expansion and culture contact
3.1 Migration vs. acculturation
4 Extent and impact
4.1 Iberian Peninsula
4.2 Balearic Islands
4.3 Central Europe
4.6 Italian Peninsula
5 Postulated linguistic connections
6 Physical and genetic anthropology
6.1 Skeletal studies
6.2 Genetic studies
7 See also
10 Further reading
11 External links
The distinctive Bell Beaker pottery vessels shaped like a reversed
bell, early examples from southwestern
Germany (Stadtmuseum Bruchsal)
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
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 (including incidences
of cremation rather than inhumation), housing styles, economic profile
and local ceramic wares (Begleitkeramik) which continued.
There are two main international Bell Beaker styles: the "All Over
Ornamented" (AOO), patterned all over with impressions, of which a
sub-set is the "All Over Corded" (AOC), 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.
Part of a series on
List of Indo-European languages
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Old Irish glosses
Alternative and fringe
Paleolithic Continuity Theory
Domestication of the horse
Painted Grey Ware
Northern Black Polished Ware
Peoples and societies
Religion and mythology
Copenhagen Studies in Indo-European
Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture
The Horse, the Wheel and Language
Journal of Indo-European Studies
Indogermanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch
Indo-European Etymological Dictionary
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 ("folk migrations"), smaller warrior groups, individuals
(craftsmen), 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
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 2800–2700 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
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
Neolithic traditions of often collective, weaponless burials
in Atlantic/Western Europe. Such an arrangement is rather derivative
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
Spain and southern
France around the Golfe du Lion and
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
Gâtinais 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
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 Vučedol 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
Rhine and eastwards into what is now
Germany and Poland. By this
Rhine was on the western edge of the vast
Corded Ware zone.
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
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
The earliest copper production in Ireland, identified at Ross Island
in the period 2400–2200 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 (including religious beliefs as well as methods
of copper, bronze and gold working) and artifacts (including copper
daggers, v-perforated buttons and stone wrist-guards) 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
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
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
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
A Strontium isotope analysis of 86 people from Bell Beaker graves in
Bavaria suggests that 18–25 % 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
to Portugal, North Africa and Sicily, even penetrating northern and
central Italy. Its remains have been found in what is now
France (excluding the central massif), Ireland and
Great Britain, the
Low Countries and
Germany between the
Rhine, with an extension along the upper
Danube into the Vienna Basin
(Austria), Hungary and the Czech Republic, with Mediterranean outposts
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 (Barbed Wire
Beakers in the Netherlands, Giant Beakers (Riesenbecher). The new
international trade routes opened by the Beaker people became firmly
established and the culture was succeeded by a number of
cultures, among them the
Únětice culture in Central Europe, the Elp
Hilversum culture in the Netherlands, the Atlantic Bronze
Age in the British Isles and the Atlantic coast of Europe, and by the
Bronze Age, a culture of Scandinavia and northernmost
Vessel from Ciempozuelos, beginning of the second millennium BC
(National Archaeological Museum of Spain, Madrid)
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
(Spain) ran between 2900 BC and 2500 BC, in contrast to the rather
later range for Andalusia (between 2500 BC to 2200 BC).
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 (Galicia and northern Portugal). A
corded-zoned Maritime variety (C/ZM), 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
Reconstruction of a Beaker burial (National Archaeological Museum of
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 Numão 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 (northern Portuguese), 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, Castellón (Spain), has
parallels with the decoration. In Porto Torrão, at inner Alentejo
(southern Portugal), 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.
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 (Waldren and Van Strydonck 1996). 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.
Suárez Otero (1997) 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
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 (c. 1750–1300
cal BC) the local Beaker context became associated with the
distinctive ornamented Boquique pottery demonstrating clear
maritime links with the (megalithic) 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.
2400–2000 BC, as shown by the local presence of elephant ivory
objects together with significant Beaker pottery and other finds
(Waldren 1979 and Waldren 1998), 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 (Waldren 1998: 95)
and at Coval Simó (Coll 2000), confirms the introduction of
production and conservation of dairy. Also, the presence of spindles
at sites like Son Ferrandell-Oleza (Waldren 1998: 94) or Es Velar
d’Aprop (Carreras y Covas 1984) 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.
Copper dagger from Brandenburg, c. 2500–2200 BC (Museum für Vor-
und Frühgeschichte, Berlin)
The "Giant Beaker of Pavenstädt", 40 centimetres (16 in) high,
c. 1500 BC (Gütersloh town museum, Germany)
In their large-scale study on radiocarbon dating of the Bell Beakers,
J. Müller and S. Willingen established that the Bell Beaker Culture
in Central Europe started after 2500 BC. Two great coexisting and
separate Central European cultures – the
Corded Ware with its
regional groups and the Eastern Group of the Bell Beaker
Culture – form the background to the Late
Copper Age and Early
Bronze Age. Their development, diffusion and long range changes are
determined by the great river systems. As a third component counts the
indigenous Carpathian Makó/Kosihy-Caka culture.
The Bell Beaker settlements are still little known, and have proved
remarkably difficult for archaeologists to identify. This allows a
modern view of Bell Beakers to contradict results of anthropologic
research. The modern view is that the Bell Beaker people, far from
being the "warlike invaders" as once described by Gordon Childe
(1940), added rather than replaced local late
into a cultural package and as such did not always and evenly abandon
all local traditions. More recent extensive DNA evidence, however,
suggests a significant replacement of earlier populations.
Bell Beaker domestic ware has no predecessors in
Bohemia and Southern
Germany, shows no genetic relation to the local Late
Copper Age Corded
Ware, nor to other cultures in the area, and is considered something
completely new. The Bell Beaker domestic ware of Southern
not as closely related to the
Corded Ware as would be indicated by
their burial rites. Settlements link the Southern German Bell Beaker
culture to the seven regional provinces of the Eastern Group,
represented by many settlement traces, especially from
Moravia and the
Hungarian Bell Beaker-Csepel group being the most important. In 2002
one of the largest Bell Beaker cemeteries in Central Europe was
discovered at Hoštice za Hanou (Moravia, Czech Republic).
The relationship to the western Bell Beakers groups, and the
contemporary cultures of the Carpathian basin to the south east, is
much less. Research in Northern Poland shifted the north-eastern
frontier of this complex to the western parts of the Baltic with the
adjacent Northern European plain. Typical Bell Beaker fragments from
the site of Ostrikovac-Djura at the Serbian river Morava were
presented at the Riva del Garda conference in 1998, some hundred
kilometers south-east of the Hungarian Csepel-group. Bell Beaker
related material has now been uncovered in a line from the Baltic Sea
down to the Adriatic and the Ionian Sea, including countries such as
Bielo-Russia, Poland, Romania, Serbia and Montenegro, Croatia,
Albania, Macedonia and even Greece.
Beaker culture settlements in Southern
Germany and in the
East-Group show evidence of mixed farming and animal husbandry, and
indicators such as millstones and spindle whorls prove the sedentary
character of the Bell Beaker people, and the durability of their
settlements. Especially some well-equipped child-burials seem to
indicate sense of predestined social position, indicating a socially
complex society. However, analysis of grave furnishing, size and
deepness of grave pits, position within the cemetery, did not lead to
any strong conclusions on the social divisions.
Copper Age is regarded as a continuous culture system
connecting the Upper
Rhine valley to the western edge of the
Carpathian Basin. Late
Copper Age 1 was defined in Southern
the connection of the late Cham Culture,
Globular Amphora culture
Globular Amphora culture and
Corded Ware Culture of "beaker group 1" that is also
referred to as Horizon A or Step A. Early Bell Beaker Culture
intruded into the region at the end of the Late
Copper Age 1, at
about 2600–2550 BC. Middle Bell Beaker corresponds to Late Copper
Age 2 and here an east–west Bell Beaker cultural gradient became
visible through the difference in the distribution of the groups of
beakers with and without handles, cups and bowls, in the three regions
Austria–Western Hungary, the
Danube catchment area of Southern
Germany, and the Upper Rhine/lake Constance/Eastern Switzerland area
for all subsequent Bell Beaker periods. This middle Bell Beaker
Culture is the main period when almost all the cemeteries in Southern
Germany begin. Younger Bell Beaker Culture of Early
Bronze Age shows
analogies to the Proto-Únětice Culture in
Moravia and the Early
Nagyrév Culture of the Carpathian Basin.
An example of Beaker pottery from Straubing, Germany
During the Bell Beaker period, a border ran through southern Germany,
which culturally-divided a northern from a southern area. The northern
area was oriented around the
Rhine and the Bell Beaker West Group,
while the southern area occupied much of the
Danube river system and
was mainly settled by the homogeneous Bell Beaker East Group. This
latter group overlapped with the
Corded Ware Culture and other groups
of the Late
Neolithic and early
Bronze Age. Nevertheless, southern
Germany shows some independent developments of itself. Although a
broadly parallel evolution with early, middle, and younger Bell Beaker
Culture was detected, the Southern
Germany middle Bell Beaker
development of metope decorations and stamp and furrow engraving
techniques do not appear on beakers in Austria-Western Hungary, and
handled beakers are completely absent. It is contemporary to Corded
Ware in the vicinity, that has been attested by associated finds of
Corded Ware (chronologically referred to as "beaker group 2" or
Step B) and younger Geiselgasteig
Corded Ware beakers ("beaker group
3" or Step C). Bell Beaker Culture in
Bavaria used a specific type of
copper, which is characterised by combinations of trace elements. This
same type of copper was spread over the area of the Bell Beaker East
Previously some archeologist considered the Bell-beaker people to have
lived only within a limited territory of the Carpathian Basin and for
a short time, without mixing with the local population. Although there
are very few evaluable anthropological finds, the appearance of the
characteristic planoccipital (flattened back) Taurid type in the
populations of some later cultures (e.g. Kisapostag and
Gáta–Wieselburg cultures) suggested a mixture with the local
population contradicting such archaeological theories. According to
archaeology, the populational groups of the Bell-beakers also took
part in the formation of the Gáta-Wieselburg culture on the western
fringes of the Carpathian Basin, which could be confirmed with the
anthropological Bell Beaker series in
Moravia and Germany. In
accordance with anthropological evidence, it has been concluded the
Bell Beakers intruded in an already established form the southern part
Germany as much as the East Group area.
A modern reconstruction of the halberd from Carn, County Mayo, which
was found with its oak handle intact. The shaft is just over one metre
Beakers arrived in Ireland around 2500 BC and fell out of use around
1700 BC (Needham 1996). The beaker pottery of Ireland was rarely used
as a grave good, but is often found in domestic assemblages from the
period. This stands in contrast to the rest of Europe where it
frequently found in both roles. The inhabitants of Ireland used food
vessels as a grave good instead. The large, communal passage tombs of
Neolithic were no longer being constructed during the Early
Bronze Age (although some, such as
Newgrange were re-used (O’Kelly
1982)). The preferred method of burial seems to have been singular
graves and cists in the east, or in small wedge tombs in the west.
Cremation was also common.
The advent of the
Beaker culture in Ireland is accompanied
by the destruction of smaller satellite tombs at Knowth and
collapses of the great cairn at Newgrange, marking an end to the
Neolithic culture of megalithic passage tombs.
Beakers are found in large numbers in Ireland, and the technical
innovation of ring-built pottery indicates that the makers were also
present. Classification of pottery in Ireland and Britain has
distinguished a total of seven intrusive beaker groups originating
from the continent and three groups of purely insular character having
evolved from them. Five out of seven of the intrusive Beaker groups
also appear in Ireland: the European bell group, the All-over cord
beakers, the Northern British/North
Rhine beakers, the Northern
Rhine beakers and the Wessex/Middle
However, many of the features or innovations of Beaker society in
Britain never reached Ireland. Instead, quite different customs
predominated in the Irish record that were apparently influenced by
the traditions of the earlier inhabitants. Some features that are
found elsewhere in association to later types of Earlier Bronze
Age Beaker pottery, indeed spread to Ireland, however, without being
incorporated into the same close and specific association of Irish
Beaker context. The Wessex/Middle
Rhine gold discs bearing "wheel
and cross" motifs that were probably sewn to garments, presumably to
indicate status and reminiscent of racquet headed pins found in
Eastern Europe, enjoy a general distribution throughout the
country, however, never in direct association with beakers.
In 1984, a Beaker period copper dagger blade was recovered from the
Sillees River near Ross Lough, County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland.
The flat, triangular-shaped copper blade was 171 mm
(6.73 in) long, with bevelled edges and a pointed tip, and
featured an integral tang that accepted a riveted handle. Flint
arrow-heads and copper-blade daggers with handle tangs, found in
association with Beaker pottery in many other parts of Europe, have a
date later than the initial phase of Beaker People activity in
Ireland. Also the typical Beaker wristguards seem to have entered
Ireland by cultural diffusion only, after the first intrusions, and
unlike English and Continental Beaker burials never made it to the
graves. The same lack of typical Beaker association applies to the
about thirty found stone battle axes. A gold ornament found in County
Down that closely resembles a pair of ear-rings from Ermegeira,
Portugal, has a composition that suggests it was imported.
Incidental finds suggest links to non-British Beaker territories, like
a fragment of a bronze blade in
County Londonderry that has been
likened to the "palmella" points of Iberia, even though the
relative scarcity of beakers, and Beaker-compatible material of any
kind, in the south-west are regarded as an obstacle to any
colonisation directly from Iberia, or even from France. Their
greater concentration in the northern part of the country, which
traditionally is regarded as the part of Ireland least blessed with
sources of copper, has led many authorities to
question the role of Beaker People in the introduction of metallurgy
to Ireland. However, indications of their use of stream sediment
copper, low in traces of lead and arsenic, and Beaker finds connected
to mining and metalworking at Ross Island, County Kerry, provide an
escape to such doubts.
The featured "food vessels" and cinerary urns (encrusted, collared and
cordoned) of the Irish Earlier
Bronze Age have strong roots in the
western European Beaker tradition. Recently, the concept of these food
vessels was discarded and replaced by a concept of two different
traditions that rely on typology: the bowl tradition and the vase
tradition, the bowl tradition being the oldest as it has been
found inserted in existing
Neolithic (pre-beaker) tombs, both court
tombs and passage tombs. The bowl tradition occurs over the whole
country except the south-west and feature a majority of pit graves,
both in flat cemeteries and mounds, and a high incidence of uncremated
skeletons, often in crouched position. The vase tradition has a
general distribution and feature almost exclusively cremation. The
flexed skeleton of a man 1.88 tall in a cist in a slightly oval round
cairn with "food vessel" at Cornaclery, County Londonderry, was
described in the 1942 excavation report as "typifying the race of
Beaker Folk", although the differences between Irish finds and
e.g. the British combination of "round barrows with crouched, unburnt
burials" make it difficult to establishes the exact nature of the
Beaker People's colonization of Ireland.
In general, the early Irish Beaker intrusions don't attest the
overall "Beaker package" of innovations that, once fully developed,
swept Europe elsewhere, leaving Ireland behind. The Irish Beaker
period is characterised by the earliness of Beaker intrusions, by
isolation and by influences and surviving traditions of
Beaker culture introduces the practice of burial in single graves,
suggesting an Earlier
Bronze Age social organisation of family
groups. Towards the Later
Bronze Age the sites move to potentially
fortifiable hilltops, suggesting a more "clan"-type structure.
Although the typical Bell Beaker practice of crouched burial has been
observed, cremation was readily adopted in accordance with the
previous tradition of the autochthons. In a tumulus the find of
the extended skeleton of a woman accompanied by the remains of a red
deer and a small seven-year-old stallion is noteworthy, including the
hint to a Diana-like religion. A few burials seem to indicate
social status, though in other contexts an emphasis to special skills
is more likely.
Ireland has the greatest concentration of gold lunulae and stone
wrist-guards in Europe. However, neither of these items were deposited
in graves and they tend to be found isolated and at random, making it
difficult to draw conclusions about their use or role in society at
One of the most important sites in Ireland during this period is Ross
Island. A series of copper mines from here are the earliest known in
Ireland, starting from around 2500 BC (O'Brien 2004). A comparison of
chemical traces and lead isotope analysis from these mines with copper
artifacts strongly suggests that Ross Island was the sole source of
copper in Ireland between the dates 2500–2200 BC. In addition, two
thirds of copper artifacts from Britain also display the same chemical
and isotopic signature, strongly suggesting that Irish copper was a
major export to Britain (Northover et al. 2001). Traces of Ross Island
copper can be found even further afield; in the Netherlands it makes
up 12% of analysed copper artifacts, and
Brittany 6% of analysed
copper artifacts After 2200 BC there is greater chemical variation
in British and Irish copper artifacts, which tallies well with the
appearance of other mines in southern Ireland and north Wales. After
2000 BC, other copper sources supersede Ross Island. The latest
workings from the Ross Island mines is dated to around 1700 BC.
As well as exporting raw copper/bronze, there were some technical and
cultural developments in Ireland that had an important impact on other
areas of Europe. Irish food vessels were adopted in northern Britain
around 2200 BC and this roughly coincides with a decline in the use of
beakers in Britain (Needham 1996). The ‘bronze halberd’ (not to be
confused with the medieval halberd) was a weapon in use in Ireland
from around 2400–2000 BC They are essentially broad blades that
were mounted horizontally on a meter long handle, giving greater reach
and impact than any known contemporary weapon (O’Flaherty 2007).
They were subsequently widely adopted in other parts of Europe
(Schuhmacher 2002), possibly showing a change in the technology of
Bronze Age Beaker period is noteworthy, since archeological finds
seem to indicate a strong continuity with native
Bronze Age traditions
in Ireland as much as Britain. No evidence of other large-scale
immigrations took place, and some scholars deny Celtic speech
originated solely from La Tène culture, whose migrations started at
about 400 BC. Instead, those scholars propose Celtic languages
evolved gradually and simultaneously over a large area by way of a
common heritage and close social, political and religious links.
Although controversial, the theory fits (according to its proponents)
the archeological evidence that provides little support for westward
migrations of Celtic people matching the historically known movements
south and west.
Beakers arrived in Britain around 2500 BC, declined in use around
2200–2100 BC with the emergence of food vessels and cinerary urns
and finally fell out of use around 1700 BC (Needham 1996). The
earliest British beakers were similar to those from the
2005), but later styles are most similar to those from Ireland (Case
1993). In Britain, domestic assemblages from this period are very
rare, making it hard to draw conclusions about many aspects of
society. Most British beakers come from funerary contexts.
Britain’s only unique export in this period is thought to be tin. It
was probably gathered in streams in
Devon as cassiterite
pebbles and traded in this raw, unrefined state. It was used to
turn copper into bronze from around 2200 BC and widely traded
throughout Britain and into Ireland. Other possible European sources
of tin are located in
Brittany and Iberia, but it is not thought they
were exploited so early as these areas did not have
Bronze until after
it was well established in Britain and Ireland.
The most famous site in Britain from this period is Stonehenge, which
Neolithic form elaborated extensively. Many barrows surround
it and an unusual number of 'rich' burials can be found nearby, such
as the Amesbury Archer. Another site of particular interest is Ferriby
on the Humber Estuary, where western Europe’s oldest plank built
boat was recovered.
Bell Beaker sites in Italy
The Italian Peninsula's most affected areas are the Po Valley, in
particular the area of Lake Garda, and Tuscany. The bell-shaped vases
appear in these areas of central and northern
Italy as "foreign
elements" integrated in the pre-existing Remedello and Rinaldone
Graves with Beaker artifacts have been discovered in the
like that of Ca' di Marco (Fiesse), while in central Italy,
bell-shaped glasses were found in the tomb of Fosso Conicchio
Beaker culture in Sardinia
Sardinia has been in contact with extra-insular communities in
Provence since the Stone Age. From the
late third millennium BC on, comb-impressed Beaker ware, as well as
other Beaker material in Monte Claro contexts, has been found (mostly
in burials, suchs as Domus de Janas), demonstrating continuing
relationships with the western Mediterranean. Elsewhere, Beaker
material has been found stratigraphically above Monte Claro and at the
end of the
Chalcolithic period in association with the related Bronze
Bonnanaro culture (1800–1600 BC), for which C-14 dates calibrate
to c. 2250 BC. There is virtually no evidence in
Sardinia of external
contacts in the early second millennia, apart from late Beakers and
close parallels between Bonnannaro pottery and that of the North
Italian Polada culture.
Like elsewhere in Europe and in the Mediterranean area, the Bell
Beaker culture in
Sardinia (2100–1800 BC) is characterised by the
typical ceramics decorated with overlaid horizontal bands and
associated finds: brassards, V-pierced buttons etc.; for the first
time gold items appeared on the island (collier of the Tomb of Bingia
'e Monti, Gonnostramatza). The different styles and decorations of the
ceramics which succeed through the time allow to split the Beaker
Sardinia into three chronological phases: A1 (2100–2000
BC), A2 (2000–1900 BC), B (1900–1800 BC). In these various
phases is observable the succession of two components of different
geographical origin: the first "Franco-Iberian" and the second
It appears likely that
Sardinia was the intermediary that brought
Beaker materials to Sicily.
The Beaker was introduced in
Sardinia and spread mainly in
the north-west and south-west of the island. In the northwest and in
Palermo kept almost intact its cultural and social
characteristics, while in the south-west there was a strong
integration with local cultures. The only known single bell-shaped
glass in eastern
Sicily was found in Syracuse.
In Denmark, large areas of forested land were cleared to be used for
pasture and the growing of cereals during the
Single Grave culture
Single Grave culture and
in the Late
Neolithic Period. Faint traces of Bell Beaker influence
can be recognised already in the pottery of the Upper Grave phase of
the Single Grave period, and even of the late Ground Grave phase, such
as occasional use of AOO-like or zoned decoration and other typical
ornamentation, while Bell Beaker associated objects such as
wristguards and small copper trinkets, also found their way into this
northern territories of the
Corded Ware Culture. Domestic sites with
Beakers only appear 200–300 years after the first appearance of Bell
Beakers in Europe, at the early part of the Danish Late Neolithic
Period (LN I) starting at 2350 BC. These sites are concentrated in
northern Jutland around the
Limfjord and on the
largely contemporary to the local Upper Grave Period. In east central
Sweden and western Sweden, barbed wire decoration characterised the
period 2460–1990 BC, linked to another Beaker derivation of
Northern Jutland has abundant sources of high quality flint, which had
previously attracted industrious mining, large-scale production, and
the comprehensive exchange of flint objects: notably axes and chisels.
The Danish Beaker period, however, was characterised by the
manufacture of lanceolate flint daggers, described as a completely new
material form without local antecedents in flint and clearly related
to the style of daggers circulating elsewhere in Beaker dominated
Beaker culture spread from here to the remainder of
Denmark, and to other regions in Scandinavia and northern
well. Central and eastern Denmark adopted this dagger fashion and, to
a limited degree, also archer’s equipment characteristic to Beaker
culture, although here Beaker pottery remained less common.
Also, the spread of metallurgy in Denmark is intimately related to the
Beaker representation in northern Jutland. The LN I metalwork is
distributed throughout most of Denmark, but a concentration of early
copper and gold coincides with this core region, hence suggesting a
connection between Beakers and the introduction of metallurgy. Most LN
I metal objects are distinctly influenced by the western European
Beaker metal industry, gold sheet ornaments and copper flat axes being
the predominant metal objects. The LN I copper flat axes divide into
As-Sb-Ni copper, recalling so-called Dutch Bell Beaker copper and the
As-Ni copper found occasionally in British and Irish Beaker contexts,
the mining region of Dutch Bell Beaker copper being perhaps Brittany;
and the Early
Bronze Age Singen (As-Sb-Ag-Ni) and Ösenring (As-Sb-Ag)
coppers having a central European – probably Alpine – origin.
The Beaker group in northern Jutland forms an integrated part of the
western European Beaker Culture, while western Jutland provided a link
between the Lower
Rhine area and northern Jutland. The local fine-ware
pottery of Beaker derivation reveal links with other Beaker regions in
western Europe, most specifically the
Veluwe group at the Lower Rhine.
Concurrent introduction of metallurgy shows that some people must have
crossed cultural boundaries. Danish Beakers are contemporary with the
Bronze Age (EBA) of the East Group of Bell Beakers in
central Europe, and with the floruit of Beaker cultures of the West
Group in western Europe. The latter comprise
Veluwe and Epi-Maritime
in Continental northwestern Europe and the Middle Style Beakers (Style
2) in insular western Europe. The interaction between the Beaker
groups on the
Veluwe Plain and in Jutland must, at least initially,
have been quite intensive. All-over ornamented (AOO) and
All-over-corded (AOC), and particularly Maritime style beakers are
featured, although from a fairly late context and possibly rather of
Epi-maritime style, equivalent to the situation in the north of the
Netherlands, where Maritime ornamentation continued after it ceased in
the central region of
Veluwe and were succeeded c. 2300 BC by beakers
Veluwe and Epi-Maritime style.
Clusters of Late
Neolithic Beaker presence similar to northern Jutland
appear as pockets or "islands" of Beaker Culture in northern Europe,
such as Mecklenburg, Schleswig-Holstein, and southern Norway. In
northern central Poland Beaker-like representations even occur in a
contemporary EBA setting. The frequent occurrence of Beaker pottery in
settlements points at a large-scaled form of social identity or
cultural identity, or perhaps an ethnic identity.
In eastern Denmark and Scania one-person graves occur primarily in
flat grave cemeteries. This is a continuation of the burial custom
characterising the Scanian Battle-axe Culture, often to continue into
the early Late Neolithic. Also in northern Jutland, the body of the
deceased was normally arranged lying on its back in an extended
position, but a typical Bell Beaker contracted position occurs
occasionally. Typical to northern Jutland, however, cremations have
been reported, also outside the Beaker core area, once within the
context of an almost full Bell Beaker equipment.
The introductory phase of the manufacture and use of flint daggers,
around 2350 BC, must all in all be characterised as a period of social
change. Apel argued that an institutionalised apprenticeship system
must have existed. Craftsmanship was transmitted by inheritance in
certain families living in the vicinity of abundant resources of
high-quality flint. Debbie Olausson’s (1997) examinations indicate
that flint knapping activities, particularly the manufacture of
daggers, reflect a relatively low degree of craft specialisation,
probably in the form of a division of labour between households.
Noteworthy was the adoption of European-style woven wool clothes kept
together by pins and buttons in contrast to the earlier usage of
clothing made of leather and plant fibres. Two-aisled timber
houses in Late
Neolithic Denmark correspond to similar houses in
southern Scandinavia and at least parts of central Scandinavia and
lowland northern Germany. In Denmark, this mode of building houses is
clearly rooted in a Middle
Neolithic tradition. In general, Late
Neolithic house building styles were shared over large areas of
northern and central Europe. Towards the transition to LN II some
farm houses became extraordinarily large.
The cultural concepts originally adopted from Beaker groups at the
Rhine blended or integrated with local Late
For a while the region was set apart from central and eastern Denmark,
that evidently related more closely to the early Únětice culture
across the Baltic Sea. Before the turn of the millennium the typical
Beaker features had gone, their total duration being 200–300 years
at the most. A similar picture of cultural integration is featured
among Bell Beakers in central Europe, thus challenging previous
theories of Bell Beakers as an elitist or purely super-structural
phenomenon. The connection with the East Group Beakers of
Únětice had intensified considerably in LN II, thus triggering a new
social transformation and innovations in metallurgy that would
announce the actual beginning of the Northern
Postulated linguistic connections
Bell Beaker has been suggested as a candidate for an early
Indo-European culture; more specifically, an ancestral
proto-Celtic. Mallory has more recently suggested that the Beaker
culture was associated with a European branch of Indo-European
dialects, termed "North-west Indo-European", ancestral to not only
Celtic but equally Italic, Germanic and Balto-Slavic.
Physical and genetic anthropology
Historical craniometric studies found that the Beaker people appeared
to be of a different physical type than those earlier populations in
the same geographic areas. They were described as tall, heavy boned
and brachycephalic. The early studies on the Beakers which were based
on the analysis of their skeletal remains, were craniometric. This
apparent evidence of migration was in line with archaeological
Beaker culture to new farming techniques, mortuary
practices, copper-working skills, and other cultural innovations.
However, such evidence from skeletal remains was brushed aside as a
new movement developed in archaeology from the 1960s, which stressed
cultural continuity. Anti-migrationist authors either paid little
attention to skeletal evidence or argued that differences could be
explained by environmental and cultural influences. Margaret Cox and
Simon Mays sum up the position: "Although it can hardly be said that
craniometric data provide an unequivocal answer to the problem of the
Beaker folk, the balance of the evidence would at present seem to
favour a migration hypothesis."
Non-metrical research concerning the Beaker people in Britain also
cautiously pointed in the direction of immigration. Subsequent
studies, such as one concerning the Carpathian Basin, and a
non-metrical analysis of skeletons in central-southern Germany,
have also identified marked typological differences with the
Jocelyne Desideri examined the teeth in skeletons from Bell Beaker
sites in Northern Spain, Southern France, Switzerland, the Czech
Republic and Hungary. Examining dental characteristics that have been
independently shown to correlate with genetic relatedness, she found
that only in Northern
Spain and the Czech Republic were there
demonstrable links between immediately previous populations and Bell
Beaker populations. Elsewhere there was a discontinuity.
Early papers publishing results on European-wide Y-DNA marker
frequencies, such as those of Semino (2000) and Rosser (2000),
correlated haplogroup R1b-M269 with the earliest episodes of European
colonization by anatomically modern humans (AMH). The peak frequencies
of M269 in Iberia (especially the Basque region) and the Atlantic
façade were postulated to represent signatures of re-colonization of
the European West following the Last Glacial Maximum. However,
even prior to recent criticisms and refinements, the idea that Iberian
R1b carrying males repopulated most of western Europe was not
consistent with findings which revealed that Italian M269 lineages are
not derivative of Iberian ones.
More recently, data and calculations from Myres et al. (2011),
Cruciani et al. (2011) Arredi et al. (2007), and Balaresque
et al. (2010) suggest a Late
Neolithic entry of M269 into Europe.
These hypotheses appear to be corroborated by more direct evidence
from ancient DNA. R1b was detected in two male skeletons from a German
Bell Beaker site dated to 2600-2500 BC at Kromsdorf, one of which
tested positive for M269 but negative for its U106 subclade (note that
the P312 subclade was not tested for), while for the other skeleton
the M269 test was unclear. A later Bell Beaker male skeleton from
Germany dated to 2296–2206 BC tested positive for R1b
M269 P312 subclade. Ancient Y-DNA results for the remains of
Beaker people from Iberia have yet to be obtained.
Haak et al. (2015) concluded that R1b was very likely spread into
Europe from the
Pontic-Caspian steppe after 3,000 BC by the Yamna
Proto-Indo-Europeans under the
Kurgan hypothesis. The
authors noticed a paucity of haplogroup R1b in European population
samples predating the
Bronze Age, with only one of the 70 individuals
Neolithic Europe belonging to haplogroup R1 or any
of its branches.
The study also found, via autosomal analysis, that the majority of
Neolithic populations in Europe, including their ancient samples
Beaker culture sites in central Europe, are the result of a
three-way admixture between the Yamnaya;
Neolithic farmers; and
western European hunter gatherers who were present in Europe since at
least the Mesolithic.
From a mitochondrial DNA perspective, haplogroup H, which has high
incidence (≈40%) throughout Europe, has received similar attention.
Early studies by Richards et al (2000) suggested that it arose 28–23
kya (thousand years ago), spreading into Europe ≈20 kya, before
then re-expanding from an Iberian glacial refuge ≈15 kya,
calculations subsequently corroborated by Pereira et al. (2005).
However, a larger study by Roostalu et al. (2007), incorporating more
data from the Near East, suggested that whilst Hg H did begin to
expand c. 20 kya, this was limited to the Near East, Caucasus
and Southeastern Europe. Rather its subsequent spread further west
occurred later, in the post-glacial period from a postulated South
Caucasian refugium. This hypothesis has been supported by a
recent ancient DNA analysis study, which links the expansion of mtDNA
Hg H in Western Europe with the Bell Beaker phenomenon.
Whilst such studies are insightful, even if the dates postulated by
authors are correct, they do not necessarily imply that the spread of
a particular genetic marker represents a distinct population, 'tribe'
or language group. Genetic studies have often been treated with
suspicion not only by archaeologists and cultural anthropologists, but
even by fellow population geneticists.
Bronze Age Britain
The Time Traders
The Time Traders by Andre Norton— a classic science fiction novel
wherein the time traveling protagonists assume Beaker Culture
identities when visiting the time period
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^ a b Flanagan 1998, p. 71.
^ Flanagan 1998, p. 99.
^ a b Flanagan 1998, p. 78.
^ a b c Flanagan 1998, p. 82.
^ a b Flanagan 1998, p. 81.
^ Flanagan 1998, pp. 94–95.
^ Flanagan 1998, p. 84.
^ Flanagan 1998, p. 85.
^ Flanagan 1998, pp. 86-88.
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^ a b c d Flanagan 1998, p. 88.
^ Flanagan 1998, p. 89.
^ Flanagan 1998, p. 104.
^ Flanagan 1998, pp. 104-105, 111-114.
^ Male sizes range between 157 and 191 cm (62 and 75 in), to
average 174 cm (69 in), comparable to the current male
population: Flanagan 1998, p.116
^ Flanagan 1998, pp. 84–85, 116.
^ Flanagan 1998, p. 133.
^ Flanagan 1998, p. 91.
^ Flanagan 1998, p. 150.
^ Flanagan 1998, p. 158.
^ Flanagan 1998, pp. 96, 151.
^ Flanagan 1998, pp. 105–106.
^ Flanagan 1998, p. 156.
^ Flanagan 1998, p. 155.
^ Northover 1999, p.214
^ Needham 1996, p.124
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