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Beaker people in Britain: Migration, mobility and diet


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The appearance of the distinctive ‘Beaker package’ marks an important horizon in British prehistory, but was it associated with immigrants to Britain or with indigenous converts? Analysis of the skeletal remains of 264 individuals from the British Chalcolithic–Early Bronze Age is revealing new information about the diet, migration and mobility of those buried with Beaker pottery and related material. Results indicate a considerable degree of mobility between childhood and death, but mostly within Britain rather than from Europe. Both migration and emulation appear to have had an important role in the adoption and spread of the Beaker package.
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Beaker people in Britain: migration, mobility and diet
Mike Parker Pearson, Andrew Chamberlain, Mandy Jay, Mike Richards, Alison Sheridan, Neil
Curtis, Jane Evans, Alex Gibson, Margaret Hutchison, Patrick Mahoney, Peter Marshall, Janet
Montgomery, Stuart Needham, Sandra O'Mahoney, Maura Pellegrini and Neil Wilkin
Antiquity / Volume 90 / Issue 351 / June 2016, pp 620 - 637
DOI: 10.15184/aqy.2016.72, Published online: 17 May 2016
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Mike Parker Pearson, Andrew Chamberlain, Mandy Jay, Mike Richards, Alison Sheridan, Neil
Curtis, Jane Evans, Alex Gibson, Margaret Hutchison, Patrick Mahoney, Peter Marshall, Janet
Montgomery, Stuart Needham, Sandra O'Mahoney, Maura Pellegrini and Neil Wilkin (2016).
Beaker people in Britain: migration, mobility and diet. Antiquity, 90, pp 620-637 doi:10.15184/
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Beaker people in Britain: migration,
mobility and diet
Mike Parker Pearson1, Andrew Chamberlain2,MandyJay
Mike Richards5, Alison Sheridan6,NeilCurtis
Alex Gibson9, Margaret Hutchison7, Patrick Mahoney10,
Peter Marshall11, Janet Montgomery4, Stuart Needham12,
Sandra O’Mahoney13, Maura Pellegrini14 & Neil Wilkin15
The appearance of the distinctive ‘Beaker
package’ marks an important horizon in
British prehistory, but was it associated
with immigrants to Britain or with
indigenous converts? Analysis of the skeletal
remains of 264 individuals from the British
Chalcolithic–Early Bronze Age is revealing
new information about the diet, migration
and mobility of those buried with Beaker
pottery and related material. Results indicate
a considerable degree of mobility between
childhood and death, but mostly within
Britain rather than from Europe. Both
migration and emulation appear to have had
an important role in the adoption and spread
of the Beaker package.
Keywords: Britain, Bronze Age, Beaker, migration, mobility, diet, Bayesian analysis, isotope
analysis, osteology
1UCL Institute of Archaeology, 31–34 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0PY, UK
2Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Manchester, Dover Street, Manchester M13 9PL, UK
3Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Deutscher Platz 6, 04103 Leipzig, Germany
4Department of Archaeology, University of Durham, South Road, Durham DH1 3LE, UK
5Department of Anthropology, University of British Columbia, 6303 NW Marine Drive, Vancouver, BC, V6T
1Z1, Canada
6National Museums Scotland, Chambers Street, Edinburgh EH1 1JF, UK
7University of Aberdeen Museums, High Street, Aberdeen AB24 3EN, UK
8British Geological Survey, Keyworth, Nottingham NG12 5GG, UK
9Department of Archaeological Sciences, University of Bradford, Bradford BD7 1DP, UK
10 School of Anthropology & Conservation, University of Kent, Canterbury CT2 7NR, UK
11 Chronologies, 25 Onslow Road, Sheffield S11 7AF, UK
12 Langton Fold, North Lane, South Harting, West Sussex, GU31 5NW, UK
13 c/o UCL Institute of Archaeology, 31–34 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0PY, UK
14 RLAHA, University of Oxford, Dyson Perrins Building, South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3QY, UK
15 British Museum, Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3DG, UK
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ANTIQUITY 90 351 (2016): 620–637 doi:10.15184/aqy.2016.72
Beaker people in Britain
The ‘Bell Beaker folk’ have long been considered a prime example of migration in prehistory.
During the third millennium BC, new pottery forms, new inhumation rites and unusual
skeletal morphology (brachycephalic or broad-headed skulls) appeared across much of
Western Europe. In the late 1970s, at the height of processualist reaction against migration-
based explanations, this archaeological ‘culture’ was newly interpreted as the diffusion of a
cult package (Burgess & Shennan 1976). Yet the case for migration of Beaker-using people
to the British Isles remained firmly supported (e.g. Waddell 1978).
Within continental Europe, recent research into non-metric dental morphological traits
(Desideri & Besse 2010) and strontium isotope analysis of tooth enamel (Price et al.2004)
has shifted the focus back to Beaker users as migrant groups, demonstrating the arrival of
incoming populations at the end of the Neolithic into parts of Switzerland, Bavaria, Austria,
the Czech Republic and Hungary. Recent analyses of ancient DNA are providing further
support for Bell Beaker migrations within continental Europe (Allentoft et al.2015; Haak
et al. 2015; Hervella et al.2015).
The debate about the arrival of the Beaker package in Britain was revived in 2002 by
the discovery of the Amesbury Archer, buried near Stonehenge in 2380–2290 cal BC (95%
probability; OxA-13541; Barclay et al. 2011: fig. 58). From the oxygen isotope ratios for his
tooth enamel, he was probably a long-distance migrant from continental Europe (Chenery
&Evans2011). But how typical was his pattern of lifetime mobility for the wider population
of Britain during the Chalcolithic–Early Bronze Age?
The skeletal remains of 264 individuals buried in Britain (Figure 1) in that period (c. 2500
BC–1500 cal BC) have been analysed, as part of the Beaker People Project (BPP), for isotope
ratios (strontium, oxygen, sulphur, nitrogen and carbon), radiocarbon dating, osteology and
dental microwear (Parker Pearson et al. forthcoming). The sample ranged from the north of
mainland Scotland to the Wessex heartland of southern England, and included the Beakers
& Bodies Project in north-eastern Scotland (Curtis & Wilkin 2012). The BPP is the first
large-scale strontium and oxygen isotope investigation of human skeletons excavated from
across Britain, aiming to establish whether the Bell Beaker people were immigrant groups
(Childe 1929: 194–96) or indigenous converts to a ‘Beaker package’ of cult practices and
prestige goods (Burgess & Shennan 1976).
The earliest dates for Bell Beakers, in the second quarter of the third millennium BC, occur
in Iberia and southern France (M¨
uller & van Willigen 2001). Yet across much of Europe,
the Bell Beaker phenomenon was not present until the middle of that millennium, reaching
Britain relatively late, with no cases dateable to before 2500 BC.
For the BPP, a Bayesian approach, using 193 new radiocarbon dates with existing dates
from a further 82 burials, was adopted for the interpretation of the period of use of Beakers
in graves. This assumes that dates are uniformly distributed across the time period (Buck
et al. 1992,1996;Baylisset al. 2007). Although this use of a uniform distribution is far from
ideal—especially if Bell Beakers originated at a given time in a given place, were gradually
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Figure 1. Beaker-period burials in Britain for which isotopic analysis has been undertaken.
produced in greater numbers and then decreased as their popularity waned—it makes the
fewest assumptions about the distribution of dates.
The model estimates the first use in Britain of Bell Beakers in burials to have occurred in
24752360 cal BC (95% probability) and probably 24502385 cal BC (68% probability).
Their first use in funerary contexts started in Wessex (84% probability), followed by the Peak
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Beaker people in Britain
Figure 2. Probability distributions for use of Beakers in burials in geographic regions of Britain: a) beginning of use; b) end
of use.
District (61% probability), Scotland (47% probability), other regions (44% probability) and
finally Yorkshire (36% probability; Figure 2).
The end of use of Beakers in burials in Britain is estimated to have occurred in 1905
1810 cal BC (95% probability) and probably 18801840 cal BC (68% probability). Their
last use in graves in Scotland occurred earlier, in 21302045 cal BC (95% probability)or
21202080 cal BC (68% probability).
Beakers first stopped being placed in burials in Scotland (100% probability), then
Yorkshire (58%), the Peak District (58%), other areas (49%) and finally Wessex (49%
probability; Figure 2). The overall period of use of Beakers as grave goods is estimated to
have been 480640 years (95% probability) and probably 515–600 years (68% probability).
In northern Britain, Food Vessels (a wholly British and Irish style of post- and late-Beaker
pottery; Wilkin 2014) replaced Beakers, whereas Beakers continued to be used in Wessex
long after the introduction of Food Vessels in that region.
British Beaker burials have been divided into three chronological stages (Figure 3;
Needham 2005,2007,2012), a scheme supported by the new radiocarbon dates (with
two exceptions that could be explained by curated bodies with anachronistic grave goods;
see Booth et al. 2015). The earliest period (c. 2450/2400–2300 cal BC) is characterised by
Low-Carinated Bell Beakers, while non-perishable grave goods include copper knives, stone
wristguards, barbed-and-tanged flint arrowheads, flint tools and flakes, boars’ tusks, bone
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Figure 3. The ceramic chronology for British Beakers.
pins, antler or bone spatulae, belt rings, iron pyrites strike-a-lights, gold hair-tress rings and
other ornaments, such as those accompanying the Amesbury Archer (Fitzpatrick 2011).
The second period begins around 2300/2250 cal BC with a ‘fission horizon’ (Needham
2005), when a wide range of pot styles was adopted for funerary use. From this point
onwards, these British pots are known simply as ‘Beakers’ to distinguish them from the
earlier, pan-European style of Bell Beaker. Copper was succeeded around 2200/2150 BC by
bronze. Needham’s third period (c. 1950–1810 cal BC) equates with Wessex I, the horizon
of gold-provisioned burials (both inhumations and cremations) of Britain’s Early Bronze
Age (Piggott 1938; Needham et al.2010).
Human osteology
The selection of skeletal remains was dictated by the presence of suitable dental enamel, so
the sample is not entirely representative of the archaeologically retrieved population. There
is a deliberate bias in avoiding the very young (whose permanent teeth were insufficiently
developed) and the elderly (whose molars were missing or severely worn). Slightly more male
skeletons are present than female or those of unknown sex, and there are more middle-aged
adults than those of other ages. Examples of trauma were few; none were as dramatic as the
chronic infection in the Amesbury Archer’s left knee (McKinley 2011: 80–81).
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Beaker people in Britain
Statistical analyses of the Peak District sample reveal significant differences in cranial
length between Early Neolithic (c. 3800–3400 cal BC) and Beaker/Bronze Age (c. 2500–
1500 cal BC) individuals, confirming the transition from dolichocephalic (long-headed) to
brachycephalic cranial forms. Certain individual skulls exhibit occipital flattening, probably
caused by infants lying flat on their backs or being secured to a cradle-board. Two Neolithic
skulls exhibit artificial cranial deformation resulting from infant head-binding to produce
long skulls. This evidence was recognised at the time of excavation (Bateman 1861; Wilson
1863: 273–74) but has been largely forgotten; it goes some way to resolving the debate
about ‘racial types’ of brachycephalic Beaker people and dolichocephalic Neolithic people
across Europe (Childe 1925: 90; Gerhardt 1976; Brodie 1994) by introducing a cultural
explanation for some of these differences in cranial shape.
Carbon, nitrogen and sulphur isotopes: diet and mobility
Isotope ratios from skeletal collagen provide useful insights into diet but, as part of a multi-
isotope study of both bone and dentine to provide evidence for lifetime changes, they
can also contribute to investigating mobility. Collagen chemistry reflects dietary protein,
ultimately leading back to plants at the base of the food chain, which themselves reflect the
isotope ratios found in their natural environment (e.g. atmospheric carbon, soil nitrogen,
geological sulphur). This is similar to the way in which strontium and oxygen isotope ratios
are used as evidence for mobility, although regional environmental distinctions are less clear.
The carbon isotope ratios reveal a restricted range of values that suggests both a consistent
background environmental signal across Britain, and a consistent diet across the entire
group, with no noticeable variation from northern Scotland to southern England (Jay &
Richards 2007;Jayet al.2012). By contrast, dental microwear analysis (Mahoney 2007)
reveals consistent regional differences in the physical properties of the foods consumed.
Samples from central and southern England had a harder diet—foods requiring greater
compressive forces, such as seeds or nuts—compared with more northern regions in England
and Scotland, where a softer but still abrasive diet—consistent with greater dietary emphasis
on plants and their contaminants—was consumed.
No individuals from the period c. 2500–1500 cal BC had a significant marine component
in their diet, despite the fact that many of the burial sites are very close to the coast. In
general, Beaker people were omnivores, with a relatively high level of animal protein in their
This is an unprecedented dataset of carbon and nitrogen isotopes at the British scale with
a consistent analytical foundation, and no regional distinctions in human diet have been
found, suggesting that climate differences within Britain had little effect on regional dietary
resource values at this time. Since temperature and rainfall have an effect at the continental
scale (e.g. van Klinken et al. 1994), the consistency of the δ13C data for both bone and
dentine may indicate that mobility revealed by other isotope ratios (see below) relates largely
to movement within Britain, and not at a continental scale.
The BPP analyses were of collagen from both bone and tooth root dentine for each
individual. Bone remodels during life and thus reflects an averaged lifetime dietary input,
albeit weighted towards adolescence. The tooth root results reflect only childhood diet
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Mike Parker Pearson et al.
because primary dentine forms early and is not remodelled. Although secondary and tertiary
dentine can form during life in the pulp chamber, the amounts involved are slight. Given that
the BPP processed entire roots (in order to produce enough collagen for sulphur analysis)
the homogenised bulk product from each tooth is unlikely to have produced an isotope
ratio significantly affected by dentine that formed after childhood. All collagen data retained
for interpretation, from both bone and dentine, fell within the quality parameters that are
usually considered indicative of samples free from contamination or diagenetic alteration
(van Klinken 1999).
The average carbon isotope values are 21.2±0.3for bone, and 21.0±0.4for
dentine. The δ15N ratios show more variation than the carbon isotope ratios (10.2±0.6
for bone; 10.3±0.7for dentine), most probably reflecting local environments rather than
differences in diet; there is a broad distinction between those individuals buried on chalk
bedrock and those buried west of the chalk (δ15N ratios of 10.0±0.7for Cretaceous
and young terrains to the east versus 10.4±0.5for older terrains to the west). This
distinction is also present for domesticated herbivores (5.6±0.6,n=58, as opposed to
6.2±0.5,n=32). Among those individuals with unusual δ13Candδ15 N values are two
from Kent (Figure 4); these values may indicate migration from outside Britain or merely
non-normative dietary histories.
Across the dataset, δ13Candδ15N values are slightly higher for dentine than for bone
(by 0.2±0.3forcarbonand0.2±0.5for nitrogen). The majority of teeth analysed
were second molars or premolars, chosen specifically to avoid the probable period for
breastfeeding, so the difference is unlikely to have been caused by breastmilk. It is possible
that there is a physiological cause for this systematic difference, but childhood diet in this
overall population may have differed from that of adults in a consistent way across Britain
at this time.
Extreme (>3 standard deviations (SD) from the mean) carbon and nitrogen isotope ratio
differences between bone and dentine in nine individuals, from sites across Britain, may
reflect migration between childhood and later-life environments, as supported in several
cases by the other isotope data. For example, one of the Boscombe Bowmen from a multiple
burial in Wessex (Fitzpatrick 2011)hasa13 C(bone-dentine) value of 0.9(Figure 5). His
strontium and oxygen isotope ratios have been interpreted as being indicative of migration,
possibly from Wales (Evans et al. 2006). The bone–dentine difference may therefore indicate
Detailed results of the sulphur isotope analysis are presented elsewhere (see Jay et al.2012:
233–34; Parker Pearson et al. forthcoming). Regional variation in collagen δ34S does occur,
probably caused mainly by geology and distance from the coast, but also possibly by dietary
differences. While carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios reveal no dietary difference between
northern and southern Britain of the kind revealed by dental microwear, there are regional
δ34S distinctions. References to δ34S ratios are made below for cases of interest.
Strontium and oxygen isotopes
Enamel strontium isotope ratios are a weighted average produced from diet over many
months (Montgomery et al. 2010). It is often impossible, therefore, to identify the different
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Beaker people in Britain
Figure 4. Two burials from the QEQM Hospital site, Margate. The earlier, male burial (SK167 with a Beaker and three
arrowheads) has the highest δ15N ratio (at 11.9) within the dataset, and the female burial (SK168 with an arrowhead)
has the most negative δ13C(22.3). SK167 dates to 2330–2195 cal BC (94% probability; Wk-18733) and SK168 to
2140–1955 cal BC (95% probability; OxA-V-2271-37). Drawing by Irene De Luis after Moody (2008).
contributions and, if food is procured locally from two or more rock types, the resulting
human isotope ratio may not be characteristic of either (Montgomery 2010). Such difficulties
were largely overcome by the BPP because the majority of individuals were excavated from
geographically restricted, well-characterised regions of chalk and limestone (Figure 6). For
Scotland, however, individuals were sampled from a wide range of geological terrains, many
having no comparative data from either the local biosphere or other archaeological skeletons.
It has therefore not been possible to constrain local ranges for the Scottish burials as tightly
as regions within England.
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Figure 5. δ13 C values from bone and dentine (x and y axes respectively) for individuals from southern England, with a
‘Boscombe Bowman’ (SK300) highlighted as having a difference between the values for the two skeletal fractions that is more
than 3 SD from the mean of such differences.
Individual mobility has, however, been indicated for many of the individuals from
Scotland by analysing dentine mineral (not to be confused with the collagen discussed above),
which is not resistant to diagenetic strontium changes caused by the burial environment, as is
the enamel. The strontium isotope ratio of the dentine can provide an indication of the trend
towards the values of the burial soil and, hence, the local geology (Montgomery et al.2007).
The comparison between the unaltered enamel value and that from the dentine, which is
equalising with the burial environment, can suggest whether the enamel shows a probable
non-local signal even if the geological ranges for Scotland are not tightly constrained.
Few age-related or gender differences in mobility have been revealed by strontium isotope
analysis. The proportion of females to males among ‘movers’ is slightly higher than that in
the entire sampled population.
The proportion of detected probable lifetime migrants in the sample is 28% on strontium
isotope analysis alone (Tab l e 1). The real figure is probably higher as those who moved
between similar geological regions will generally have remained undetected, and this table
only includes migrants with a Sr isotope difference of >0.001 between the enamel value
and the environmental value, the latter being based either on measured dentine analysis
(this study) or taken from Evans et al.(2012). The isotope data may even relate to long-
distance corpse transport as well as lifetime mobility. On the strontium isotope evidence,
the proportion of movers is 28%; this increases to 41% when results from other isotopic
analyses are included (Table 1).
There are also considerable differences between regions, with the highest mobility in
northern Scotland, Yorkshire and the Peak District. It should be noted, however, that the
complex geology of Scotland produces significant changes in biosphere strontium isotopes
at a relatively small geographic scale, so, while identified as non-local, movements in those
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Table 1. Numbers of individuals (c. 2500–1500 cal BC) analysed by region and by broad period, showing those detected as probable ‘non-locals’ by
87Sr/86 Sr isotope analysis and other isotopic evidence.
Sr Standard Other Total Standard
Total movers % error Oxygen Sulphur C & N isotopes movers Total % error
Northern Scotland 27 17 63 9 0 0 0 0 17 63 9
Southern Scotland 13 3 23 12 1 1 0 2 5 38 13
Western Scotland 4 2 50 25 0 0 0 0 2 50 25
Yorkshire 68 13 19 5 2 8 1 1 1 24 35 6
Peak District 29 15 52 9 1 1 0 2 17 59 9
Wales 5 1 20 18 0 0 0 0 1 20 18
Kent 1763512 0 10174112
Somerset 3 1 33 27 0 0 0 0 1 33 27
Southern England 68 16 23 5 2 4 1 7 23 34 6
Central England 30 1 3 3 0 9 0 9 10 33 9
Total 264 75 28 3 6 24 2 32 107 41 3
Earlier Chalcolithic 32 10 31 8 0 6 0 6 16 50 9
c. 2450–2300 cal BC
Later Chalcolithic 59 19 32 6 1 3 0 4 23 39 6
c. 2300–2150 cal BC
Early Bronze Age 111 37 33 5 4 10 2 16 53 48 5
c. 2150–1500 cal BC
Undated burials with a Beaker 20 5 25 10 0 2 0 2 7 35 11
Undated burials without a Beaker 42 4 10 5 1 3 0 4 8 19 6
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Figure 6. a) All the enamel strontium data for Britain from non-BPP archaeological investigations of all periods (n >600;
Evans et al. 2012); b) all the enamel strontium data for Britain from the BPP (n =264), grouped by region.
instances may not necessarily have covered large distances. The English Midlands displayed
the least mobility, with strontium isotope results consistent with the Cretaceous and Jurassic
geology of places of burial in all but one instance. As many as nine individuals out of
thirty in this region may, however, have been mobile on the basis of δ34Sandother
isotopic evidence. One of these, a secondary burial from Irthlingborough, Northamptonshire
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Beaker people in Britain
(Figure 7), has sufficiently extreme differences between bone and dentine δ34S, δ15N
and δ15C values to suggest that he grew up some distance from where he was buried.
Figure 7. A secondary burial (1945–1730 cal BC [95%
probability; UB-3147]) into the top of a round barrow
at Irthlingborough, Northamptonshire, is that of a young
man with a bone pin. Extreme divergences between bone
and dentine δ34S, δ15 Nandδ15C ratios indicate probable
migration after childhood. (From Harding & Healy 2007.)
Regional differences: the Peak District and
The Peak District produced unusually high
strontium isotope ratios (>0.7145) for
eight individuals, of both sexes. Extremely
rare in any European population outside
Scandinavia, these high ratios are produced
by the consumption of crops grown on
ancient or granitic rocks. Another Peak
District individual is a middle-aged man
with childhood cranial modification from
Bee Low (Figure 8), buried in a round
barrow with a bronze pin and two possible
awls but no pot, in 2200–2030 cal BC (95%
probability; SUERC-31855). Although his
strontium isotope ratio is not unusual
for the Peak District, his extremely low
oxygen isotope (δ18O) value of 16.2
is equivalent to that of the Amesbury
Archer (Chenery & Evans 2011), indicating
that the Bee Low man grew up in a cold and ‘continental’ climate, either in eastern Scotland
or outside Britain. His unusually high 34S(bone-dentine) value (8.5) suggests migration
from a region farther from the coast than the Peak District, i.e. continental Europe.
Similarly low δ18O values (16.2) were obtained from only two other burials, both
from eastern Scotland; overall isotopic results suggest that they are probably indigenous to
that region. The long-distance mobility of the Amesbury Archer (and Bee Low man) is the
exception rather than the norm.
Ten individuals in Wessex (both male and female, buried with and without Beakers) have
strontium isotope ratios between around 0.7120 and 0.7140 (Figure 9). These include
three of the ‘Boscombe Bowmen’ (Evans & Chenery 2011). Such values derive from
Palaeozoic rocks (e.g. Devonian sandstone or Silurian mudstones) or from a combination
of atmospheric deposition (e.g. rainfall) and granitic or gneissic bedrock; they cannot be
obtained from the chalk or from adjacent Mesozoic and Cenozoic sediments. This suggests
a migration stream into Wessex from the west or north, or from beyond the shores of Britain
(Ireland or the Continent). The wide range of δ18O values (16.9–19.3) amongst this
group makes it unlikely that they derive from a single place.
Brodie (1994,2001) proposed that the Beaker way of life spread through exchange of
marriage partners. Vander Linden (2006,2007) emphasises that Bell Beaker migration was
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Mike Parker Pearson et al.
Figure 8. The skull from Bee Low, Derbyshire (SK200; J.93.944), demonstrating occipital flattening in two views: taken in
norma lateralis (left) and norma verticalis (right). Image courtesy of Sheffield City Museum.
not an all-pervasive wave of advance. He suggests a generalised marriage exchange model (as
opposed to restricted, L´
evi-Strauss 1969), in which partners marry out of the group without
expectation of counter-marriage; in this way, Beaker know-how and ideas could have moved
long distances, producing the characteristic fragmented geographic distributions. Needham
(2005,2007) uses aspects of this approach to explain the pioneering phase of Beaker
dispersal but disputes Brodie’s proposed mode of inter-marriage. Instead, expansion led to
inter-cultural contact in a reinforcing circle: if the indigenous response was favourable, then
Beaker groups consolidated and further expanded, with a continuous process of budding-
off. Our results show little difference between male and female migration histories across
Britain: notions of exogamous exchange of female marriage partners do not explain the
observed patterns of movement.
Our research demonstrates a considerable degree of mobility between childhood and
death, most of it probably within Britain and persisting over many centuries. The strontium
isotope results show that almost a third of the sampled population were buried in a geological
region different to that in which they grew up. Some regions, notably the Peak District,
show considerable evidence for inward migration, while others, e.g. central England, show
virtually none.
For Bell Beaker people in Central Europe, the proportion of migrants into local
populations is estimated variously as 62% or 24%, depending on the method of
determination (Price et al.2004: 30). These movements are considered to have taken
place throughout the Bell Beaker period, and involved either small groups or individuals
(Grupe et al. 1997, 1999,2001;Priceet al. 1994,1998,2004). The more conservative
estimate of 24% is based on cases where tooth enamel strontium isotope values differ from
bone or burial environment by >0.001.
We consider that most lifetime movement during the Chalcolithic–Early Bronze Age
was within Britain rather than from Europe into Britain. For a few examples, including
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Beaker people in Britain
Figure 9. Top two rows: Beakers associated with nine of the ten individuals from Wessex whose strontium isotope ratios
indicate that they grew up some distance away from Wessex on Devonian/Silurian geology. Third row: Beakers in burials of
non-migrants on South Wales Silurian geology. Fourth row: Beakers in burials of non-migrants on Wessex chalk. Fifth row:
Beakers in burials of non-migrants on Devonian geology of south-west England. The second, third and fourth rows include
Long-Necked Beakers sharing Clarke’s Southern British motif group 4 (1970: 427). (From Clarke 1970; Woodward 1980;
Fitzpatrick 2011.)
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the Amesbury Archer, migration from the European Continent is the most probable
explanation, and such migrations occurred at different times during the period, not simply
at its beginning. Acknowledging that isotopic analyses may identify only first-generation
migrants, the consistent proportion of non-locals through time indicates a high, sustained
degree of mobility, much of it multi-directional and much of it probably linked to mobile
subsistence practices. Rather than positing mass migration as the only process of Beaker
expansion, we suspect that cultural transmission (diffusion of a ‘Beaker package’, as proposed
by Burgess & Shennan (1976)) was also significant, especially in regions such as the English
Midlands. This process of cultural transmission has been characterised as “emulation of
what may increasingly have seemed to be a preferable way of life because of the advantages
it brought” (Needham 2007: 44), accompanying the acceleration in growth of Beaker
communities in the Later Chalcolithic (Needham 2012: 20–23, fig. 1.3).
The isotopic results provide a further dimension to previous studies of osteology and
material culture, indicating that mobility was pervasive, regionally variable and long term
during the British Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age. It is probable that these isotope data
will soon be enhanced by those of ancient DNA for Britain, allowing us to assess the strength
of our conclusion that both migration and emulation—rather than migration alone—were
significant processes behind the Bell Beaker phenomenon in Britain and elsewhere.
This project was made possible by many curators and institutions throughout the UK and Ireland, too numerous
to mention here, who allowed sampling of bones and teeth. The Beaker People Project was funded by the AHRC
(grant 19382), and the Beakers & Bodies Project by the Leverhulme Trust (grant F/00152/S).
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... Isotopic studies of mobility have been employed to understand the movement of BBP individuals in various parts of Europe, although no overarching model has yet been proposed. Direct evidence for mobility during the Bell Beaker period comes from studies of Bell Beaker sites in the United Kingdom, Germany, Hungary, Austria, Iberia and the Czech Republic (Grupe et al., 1997;Price et al., 2002Price et al., , 2004Parker Pearson et al., 2016;Fitzpatrick, 2011: Waterman et al., 2014. This research also supports the idea that, while some individuals were highly mobile-travelling great distances one or more times in their life-others were largely mobile within a confined local or regional range. ...
... It appears that over the 2.4 ka period of use at Le Tumulus des Sables the diet of the individuals buried here included little sea food, despite the close proximity of the Gironde Estuary and the Atlantic Ocean. This predominantly terrestrial diet has also been observed at Bell Beaker sites in the United Kingdom (Parker Pearson, 2016), and suggests that mobility of the individuals buried at the site may have been on a regional scale, or from inland regions. Le Tumulus des Sables is situated within the Aquitaine Basin on the Médoc peninsula, a flat, low lying region between the Atlantic coast and the Gironde Estuary, dominated by unconsolidated Quaternary and Neogene sediments. ...
... Individuals in the large group (n = 13) have isotopic compositions ( (Bowen and Revenaugh, 2003;Bowen, 2015 5) and is~3‰ lower than the site faunal value, implying a childhood spent in a region with a colder climate or further inland, potentially the high-altitude areas such as the Pyrenees, the Alps, or the Massif Central, further inland to Germany or north to Britain (Fig. 5) (Bentley and Knipper, 2005;Pellegrini et al., 2016). 87 Sr/ 86 Sr values of the Massif Central do not match this individual (A18) (Fig. 5), 87 Sr/ 86 Sr values along the south western coast of Britain match the enamel measurement of this individual , but limited 87 Sr/ 86 Sr data for Germany, the Pyrenees, and the Alps hinders a more thorough investigation of the childhood residence area. ...
The burial mound of Le Tumulus des Sables, southwest France, contains archaeological artefacts spanning from the Neolithic to the Iron Age. Human remains have been found throughout the burial mound, however their highly fragmented state complicates the association between the burial mound structure and the archaeological material. Radiocarbon dating and isotopic analyses of human teeth have been used to investigate the chronology, diet and mobility of the occupants. Radiocarbon dating shows that the site was used for burials from the Neolithic to Iron Age, consistent with the range of archaeological artefacts recovered. δ13C and δ15N values (from dentine collagen) suggest a predominately terrestrial diet for the population, unchanging through time. 87Sr/86Sr (on enamel and dentine) and δ18O (on enamel) values are consistent with occupation of the surrounding region, with one individual having a δ18O value consistent with a childhood spent elsewhere, in a colder climate region. These results showcase the complex reuse of this burial mound by a mostly local population over a period of about 2000 years.
... Toutefois, malgré une mobilité importante liée au Campaniforme, les individus venus de loin, au-delà de 200 km, restent exceptionnels (Chenery et Evans 2011 ;Evans, Chenery, et Fitzpatrick 2006 ;Grupe et al. 1997 ;Knipper et al. 2016 ;Pellegrini et al. 2016 ;Parker Pearson et al. 2016 (Evans, Chenery, et Fitzpatrick 2006). L'Europe Sud-centrale est une autre région où il est difficile de distinguer les individus s'étant déplacé d'un site à l'autre (Price et al. 2004). ...
... Il n'est pas inhabituel que les études ne portent que sur une dizaine d'individus par site. Les études qui dépassent la centaine d'individus regroupent plusieurs sites qui s'étalent sur plusieurs siècles, voire millénaires (par exemple, Allentoft et al. 2015 ;Gerling 2015 ;Parker Pearson et al. 2016). Ce problème n'est pas propre aux analyses isotopiques ou génétiques mais se retrouve dans tous les aspects de la recherche archéologique. ...
Over the past decade, available human genetic and isotopic data have increased as a result of technical advances in genetics, and an increased understanding of the isotopic environment, of the effects of diagenesis and of how different elements are absorbed. As a consequence, a synthesis of research on population mobility from these two types of data is necessary. This work focused on mobility and migration between the 6th and 3rd millennium BC. Paleogenetic studies show that the genetic structure of present day Europeans is primarily due to three source populations. The first population was on the continent before the 7th millennium: foragers. The second population came from Anatolia during the 7th millennium and spread agropastoralism through most of Europe. Genetics confirm that these migrants (men and women) followed two routes across Europe in the 6th millennium BC. They also spread agriculture to northern Europe during the second wave of neolithisation. Although archaeological remains provide evidence for contacts and exchanges between indigenous peoples and migrants, genetically, the admixture of these two populations only becomes evident from the 4th millennium BC. The third source population of Europeans came from the Eurasian steppes during the 3rd millennium. The data point to a predominantly male migration over several generations. Isotopes indicate greater mobility for early farmers than for foragers, yet mobility is difficult to detect through the isotopic data during the Neolithic. During the 3rd millennium BC, mobility increased but long-distance travel remained exceptional. In the Neolithic, isotopes and genetics indicate female exogamy. Subsequent migrations and events have had little impact on the genetic structure of the European population. Although Neolithic migrations are now better understood, it is still necessary to research: (1) the reasons that pushed Neolithic farmers to colonise new lands, (2) and men from the far east of Europe to move westward during the 3rd millennium, and (3) what is the relation between this last migration and the development and spread of Corded Ware and Bell Beakers. Keywords : Europe, Neolithic, 3rd millennium BC, mobility, migration, paleogenetics, stable isotopes
... Several (n = 13) Bronze Age and Iron Age humans with 87 Sr/ 86 Sr between 0.713 and 0.717 have been excavated from sites overlying the Carboniferous Dolomitised Limestones of central England. They include seven Bronze Age humans from the White Peak region of the Peak District (Parker Pearson et al., 2016;Montgomery et al., 2019) and six Iron Age humans from Ferry Fryston, West Yorkshire (Jay et al., 2007). The tooth enamel of two cows from the Iron Age chariot burial at Ferry Fryston have also produced high 87 Sr/ 86 Sr of approximately 0.715 (cattle 5) and 0.720 (cattle 3) (Jay et al., 2007). ...
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This study documents a transect of ⁸⁷Sr/⁸⁶Sr values from a variety of plant, soil and rock samples across the ancient woodland of the Sherwood Forest National Nature Reserve (SFNNR) and into adjoining farmland in Britain. All samples were collected from the Triassic Sherwood Sandstone Group. A shift of +0.0037 in ⁸⁷Sr/⁸⁶Sr values is observed between the average plant from the biosphere of the ancient forest and that of the farmland. This shift is caused by the leaf litter accumulation in the forest, through time, leading to soil acidity that leaches out the carbonate component of the soil. This results in the forest floor soil reflecting only the silicate minerals from the original Sandstone rock formation. We have named this process “the forest effect”. Rock samples from boreholes of the Sherwood Sandstone Group, as well as water samples from aquifers and mineral waters from previous studies, further indicate that the change in biosphere ⁸⁷Sr/⁸⁶Sr is a result of the wooded environment rather than the anthropological addition of lime to farmland. The extent of the forest effect will vary with differing lithologies with the most susceptible terrains being those with mixed carbonate-silicate composition, and it may be sufficient to impact the interpretation of animal and human ⁸⁷Sr/⁸⁶Sr in studies of mobility and migration. The model provides an opportunity to understand and assess food procurement strategies and animal management practices in the past, as well as the interaction of humans with their natural environment.
... Note that only case studies presented in peer-reviewed articles and graduate theses and dissertations were included, and that review articles, modern feeding studies, and studies that analyzed tissues other than bone collagen were omitted. Colleter et al. 2019;Craig et al. 2010;Curto et al. 2019;Drucker et al. 2018aDrucker et al. , 2020Dury et al. 2018;Eriksson et al. 2013Eriksson et al. , 2018Fornander 2013;Fornander et al. 2008;Goude et al. 2019Goude et al. , 2020aGoude et al. , 2020bHemer et al. 2017;Howcroft et al. 2012;Jay 2013;Jovanović et al. 2019;Lamb et al. 2012;Le Huray 2006;Lelli et al. 2012;Linderholm and Kjellström 2011;Linderholm et al. 2008aLinderholm et al. , 2008bLinderholm et al. , 2014Lopez Aceves 2019;MacRoberts et al. 2020;Madgwick et al. 2019aMadgwick et al. , 2019bMoghaddam et al. 2016Moghaddam et al. , 2018Nehlich et al. 2010Nehlich et al. , 2011Nehlich et al. , 2014Oelze et al. 2012aOelze et al. , 2012bPalomäki 2009;Parker Pearson et al. 2016;Rey et al. 2019;Richards et al. 2001Richards et al. , 2008Smits et al. 2010;Sundman 2018;van der Sluis et al. 2016;Vika 2009). Other case studies focus on sites in China (Cheung et al. 2017a(Cheung et al. , 2017bGuo et al. 2018;Hu et al. 2009;Ma et al. 2016), Japan (Tsutaya et al. 2016(Tsutaya et al. , 2019, Korea (Choy et al. 2015), Turkey (Caldeira 2017; Irvine and Erdal 2020; Irvine et al. 2019;Lösch et al. 2014), and Siberia (Svyatko et al. 2017), as well as in the south Pacific (Kinaston et al. 2013a(Kinaston et al. , 2013b(Kinaston et al. , 2014Leach et al. 1996Leach et al. , 2000Leach et al. , 2003Stantis et al. 2015), Iceland Sayle et al. 2014Sayle et al. , 2016Walser et al. 2020), California (Eerkens et al. 2016), Canada (Bocherens et al. 2016;Diaz 2019), Peru (Gerdau-Radonićet al. 2015), and the Caribbean (Sparks and Crowley 2018). ...
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The Maya who inhabited southeastern Mesoamerica from the Preclassic to Colonial periods (1000 BCE to 1821 CE) have been the focus of intensive archaeological study for over a century. Recent theoretical and methodological developments have contributed to nuanced understandings of Maya migration and subsistence practices. Stable sulfur isotope (δ34S) analysis of bone collagen is a novel technique that has been applied to Maya skeletal collections, although the variation in environmental δ34S values throughout the Maya region has yet to be systematically characterized. This research presents the first Maya faunal sulfur isotope baseline based on the δ34S values of 148 archaeological faunal remains from 13 sites in the Northern and Southern Lowlands. As expected, terrestrial animals in coastal areas had elevated δ34S due to sea spray. However, those from inland sites had unexpectedly high δ34S values that varied depending on the age of the underlying limestone. Although the δ34S values of marine animals were lower than expected, similarly low values in freshwater animals permits the differentiation of freshwater and terrestrial animals at inland sites. These data demonstrate that sufficient variation in δ34S values exists in the Maya region to identify sources of protein and nonlocal animals, which speaks to prehispanic Maya animal exchange and interregional interaction. The δ34S values of 49 humans from seven Maya sites ranging from the Preclassic to Colonial periods were also interpreted using the faunal baseline. The spatial distribution of human δ34S values differed from that of the terrestrial fauna, demonstrating sociocultural variation in Maya resource procurement in addition to underlying environmental influences. A comparison of carbon and nitrogen data from the same individuals also revealed the consumption of protein from different catchments. Nonlocal δ34S values show three individuals migrated near the end of their lives, and when integrated with childhood strontium and oxygen isotope data from tooth enamel, demonstrate a more robust means of investigating the length of residence and potentially the extent of integration into the receiving community. Finally, a case study of the prehispanic Maya from Nakum, Guatemala, demonstrates the contributions of stable sulfur isotope analysis to the interpretation of Maya subsistence strategies and migration when integrated into a multi-isotopic approach.
The recent and ever-increasing amount of studies investigating human mobility for single individuals in the European Bronze Age (Bergerbrant et al. 2017; Blank et al. 2018; Cavazzutti et al. 2019a, 2019b; Felding et al. 2020; De Angelis et al. 2021; Frei 2012; Frei et al. 2015a, 2015b, 2017, 2019, 2020; Frei & Frei 2011, 2013; Frei & Price 2012; Hoogewerff et al. 2019; Knipper 2004; Ladegaard-Pedersen et al. 2020, 2021; Nielsen et al. 2020a, 2020b; Price et al. 2011; Reiter 2015; Reiter et al. 2019; Reiter & Frei 2015; Scheeres et al. 2014; Snoeck et al. 2015; Taylor et al. 2020; Turck et al. 2012) presents us with an unprecedented opportunity to study mobility theories. By examining these new body of data as a whole, patterns may emerge. There is a scholarly movement which is beginning to go beyond producing evidence for movement/non-movement to starting to assess social strategies which may have caused mobility/non-mobility (Reiter & Frei 2019)
Recent aDNA analyses demonstrate that the centuries surrounding the arrival of the Beaker Complex in Britain witnessed a massive turnover in the genetic make-up of the island's population. The genetic data provide information both on the individuals sampled and the ancestral populations from which they derive. Here, the authors consider the archaeological implications of this genetic turnover and propose two hypotheses—Beaker Colonisation and Steppe Drift—reflecting critical differences in conceptualisations of the relationship between objects and genes. These hypotheses establish key directions for future research designed to investigate the underlying social processes involved and raise questions for wider interpretations of population change detected through aDNA analysis.
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The Bronze Age of Eurasia (around 3000-1000 BC) was a period of major cultural changes. However, there is debate about whether these changes resulted from the circulation of ideas or from human migrations, potentially also facilitating the spread of languages and certain phenotypic traits. We investigated this by using new, improved methods to sequence low-coverage genomes from 101 ancient humans from across Eurasia. We show that the Bronze Age was a highly dynamic period involving large-scale population migrations and replacements, responsible for shaping major parts of present-day demographic structure in both Europe and Asia. Our findings are consistent with the hypothesized spread of Indo-European languages during the Early Bronze Age. We also demonstrate that light skin pigmentation in Europeans was already present at high frequency in the Bronze Age, but not lactose tolerance, indicating a more recent onset of positive selection on lactose tolerance than previously thought.
Born in Edinburgh, Daniel Wilson (1816-92) planned on becoming a painter and spent time working in Turner's studio. But in 1842 he became secretary of the Society of Antiquaries in Scotland and devoted the rest of his life to archaeology, anthropology and university administration. This two-volume work, first published in 1851, brought him to immediate academic attention. Carrying out pioneering work of scientific archaeology, Wilson brought the very word 'prehistoric' into use in English for the first time. And although a devout Christian, he accepted the theory of evolution, unlike many of his contemporaries. Split into four periods, the work is richly illustrated, with many of the illustrations created by the author himself. For this second edition, published in 1863, Wilson updated his work to reflect recent discoveries. Volume 1 looks at the earliest human settlers up to the Bronze Age.
A glance at the archaeological literature of the last dozen years demonstrates all too clearly that the popularity of the 'invasion hypothesis' in Irish archaeology is quite undiminished. An almost incessant stream of immigrants appears to have tramped ashore from the Mesolithic period to the Iron Age. Even reckoning those pre-eminent invaders, the Beaker Folk, as merely a single influx, over a dozen significant prehistoric population movements are claimed by a variety of writers. The general picture presented suggests that Ireland throughout much of her prehistory was, if not an archaeological Ellis Island, at least a desirable landfall for the land-hungry, the dispossessed and the adventurous of most of the rest of Western Europe. Major changes and innovations in the archaeological record-in monument or artifact typemay conceivably be the result of either independent invention, or diffusion or of a combination of the two. The occurrence of megalithic tombs in very different cultural and chronological contexts in Western Europe, India and Japan, for example, is an instance of independent invention.
The furnished barrow burials of Wessex represent a maturation of the Beaker rite during the Early Bronze Age in Britain. Many of these burials were unearthed centuries ago, when archaeology was at its most eager and insouciant, but – happily for us – there were often a few careful recorders on hand. Thanks to their records, the modern scientists engaged in the Beaker People Project can still follow the trail back to a museum specimen and obtain high precision dates – as in the case of the ‘Wessex 1’ grave from West Overton in Wessex reported here.
Intentional mummification is a practice usually associated with early Egyptian or Peruvian societies, but new evidence suggests that it may also have been widespread in prehistoric Britain, and possibly in Europe more generally. Following the discovery of mummified Bronze Age skeletons at the site of Cladh Hallan in the Western Isles of Scotland, a method of analysis has been developed that can consistently identify previously mummified skeletons. The results demonstrate that Bronze Age populations throughout Britain practised mummification on a proportion of their dead, although the criteria for selection are not yet certain.