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Approximate extent of Beaker usage
The Bell-Beaker culture (sometimes shortened to Beaker culture, Beaker people, or Beaker folk; ), ca. 2400 – 1800 BC, is the term for a widely scattered cultural phenomenon of prehistoric western Europe starting in the late Neolithic or Chalcolithic running into the early Bronze Age. The term was coined by John Abercromby, based on their distinctive pottery drinking vessels.


Beaker culture is defined by the common use of a pottery style — a beaker with a distinctive inverted bell-shaped profile found across the western part of Europe during the late 3rd millennium BC. The pottery is well-made, usually red or red-brown in colour, and ornamented with horizontal bands of incised, excised or impressed patterns. The early Bell Beakers have been described as "International" in style, as they are found in all areas of the Bell Beaker culture. These include cord-impressed types, such as the "All Over Corded" (or "All Over Ornamented"), 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. Beakers may have been a special form of pottery with a ritual character.

Possible pottery precursors

Until recently early Bell Beakers of the All Over Ornamented (AOO) type were thought to have developed from Corded Ware ceramics of the northern parts of Central and Eastern Europe, such as the Protruding Foot Beaker (PFB), a type of late Neolithic (2850-2450 BC) vessel found in the Netherlands and lower Rhine Valleymarker, that were typically ornamented with cord impressed decoration mixed with comb impressions and herringbone-style incisions. T. Darvill The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Archaeology (Oxford University Press 2002), p.342. ISBN 019-211649-5; Het Archeologisch Basisregister (ABR), versie 1.0 november 1992 However Bell Beakers have now been radiocarbon dated to 2900/2400 to 1800/1700 BC, which would make them contemporary with Corded Ware.

A type of Chalcolithic cord-impressed ware was produced by the Usatovo culture, bordering the Black Sea. This is generally classed as a Tripolye C2 culture, but appeared in the steppe zone and has steppe elements, and so should be considered a composite culture of steppe herders and arable farmers.


Many theories of the origins of the Bell Beakers have been put forward and subsequently challenged. The Iberian peninsulamarker has been argued as the most likely place of Beaker origin. The oldest AOO sherds have so far been found in northern Portugalmarker. Lanting and Van der Waals put forward a chronology for the development of Bell Beakers from the Corded Ware forms and Funnelbeaker culture (TRB) antecedents. However a more recent overview of all available sources from southern Germany concluded that the Bell Beaker Culture was a new and independent culture in that area, contemporary with the Corded Ware Culture.

Bell Beaker is often suggested as a candidate for an early Indo-European culture or, more specifically, an ancestral proto-Celtic or proto-Italic (Italo-Celtic) culture. The Kurgan hypothesis initially proposed by Marija Gimbutas derived the Beakers from east central European cultures that became "kurganized" by incursions of steppe tribes. Her general proposition is supported, though with modifications, by archaeologists J. P. Mallory, and David Anthony.

Neither Mallory nor Anthony proposed mass migrations. British and American archaeology since the 1960s has been sceptical about prehistoric migration in general.
Beaker culture objects


Given the unusual form and fabric of Beaker pottery, and its abrupt appearance in the archaeological record, along with a characteristic group of other artefacts, known as the Bell Beaker "package", the traditional explanation for the Beaker culture has been to interpret it as a diffusion of one group of people across Europe.

Migration vs. acculturation

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 Bohemian ores.

Many archaeologists believe that the Beaker 'people' did not exist as a group, and that the beakers and other new artefacts and practices found across Europe at the time that are attributed to the Beaker people are indicative of the development of particular manufacturing skills. 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 of pollen analysis conducted, associated with the spread of beakers certainly suggests increased growing of barley, which may be associated with beer brewing.

A theory of cultural contact de-emphasizing population movement or "invasions" was presented by Colin Burgess and Steve Shennan in the mid 1970s, and it is now common to see the Beaker culture as a 'package' of knowledge (including religious beliefs and copper, bronze and gold working) and artefacts (including copper daggers, v-perforated buttons and stone wrist-guards) adopted and adapted by the indigenous peoples of Europe to varying degrees.

Investigations in the Mediterranean France recently questioned the nature of the phenomenon. 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, diffusions and acculturation/assimilation. Some elements show the influence from the north and east, and other elements reveal the south-east of France to be an important cross road on an important route of communication and exchange spreading north. A distinctive barbed wire element is thought to have migrated through central Italy first. 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 to a new interpretation that denies an ideological dimension.

A recent Strontium isotope analysis of 86 people from Bell Beaker graves in Bavariamarker suggests that between 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.

Physical 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 discoveries linking 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 pre-Beaker inhabitants.

Extent and impact

Bell Beaker people took advantage of transport by sea and rivers to create a cultural spread from Ireland to the Carpathian Basin and south along the Atlantic coast and following the Rhone valley until Portugal, North Africa and Sicily, even penetrating northern and central Italy. Its remains have been found in what is now Portugalmarker, Spainmarker, Francemarker (excluding the central massif), Great Britainmarker and Irelandmarker, the Low Countries, and Germanymarker between the Elbe and Rhinemarker, with an extension along the upper Danube into the Vienna basin (Austriamarker), Hungarymarker and Czech Republicmarker, with Mediterraneanmarker outposts on 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 were there to remain and the culture was succeeded by a number of Bronze Age cultures, among them the Únětice culture (Central Europe), ca. 2300 BC, and by the Nordic Bronze Age, a culture of Scandinavia and northernmost Germany-Poland, ca. 1800 BC.


From the earliest period, Sardinia has been in contact with extra-insular communities in Corsicamarker, Liguria, Lombardy, and Provence. Towards the end of the fifth millennium BC an increased exportation of obsidian extended the cultural interaction to the Balkans and the Eastern Mediterranean. From the third millennium BC on, comb-impressed Beaker ware, as well as other Beaker material in Ozierimarker or sub-Ozieri contexts, has been found, demonstrating continuing relationships with the western Mediterranean; it appears likely that Sardinia was the intermediary that brought Beaker materials to Tuscany and Sicily.The On-line Encyclopedia of the Roman Provinces - ERP, 2007, PREHISTORY: NEOLITHIC [35311]

The Ozieri culture (3500-2700 BC) developed mighty megalithic walls that are limited to the northern area, suggesting unknown defensive demands that are the sign of the warlike state that can be noticed at the same time in the Mediterranean. The successing chalcolithic (aneolithic) Filigosa-Abealzu culture (2700-2500 BC) followed the collapse of the great megalithic civilizations. A significant impulse given to metallurgy accompanied vascular production characterized by a disappearance of earlier St.Micheal (Ozieri) fanciful decoration in favor of blank soberly scribbled surfaces. The Monte Claro culture (2500-2000 BC) reveals scratched ceramics and fortified enclosures that seem to anticipate a strategic conception of territory control which reached a highlight in the Nuragic Age (1600-900 BC). This tradition came to an end only around 900 BC by destruction and fire.

In some sites, material of the megalithic Monte Claro culture has been found in association with true Bell Beaker materials; elsewhere, Beaker material has been found stratigraphically above Monte Claro and at the end of the Chalcolithic period in association with the related Bronze Age Bonnanaro culture (1800-1600 BC), for which C-14 dates calibrate to ca. 2250 BC. Like elsewhere in Europe and in the Mediterranean area, the Bell Beaker culture in Sardinia (2000-1800) is characterized by the typical ceramics decorated with overlaid horizontal bands and associated finds (brassards, V-pierced buttons etc.) There is virtually no evidence in Sardinia of external contacts in the late third and early second millennia, apart from late Beakers and close parallels between Bonnannaro pottery and that of the North Italian Polada culture. By the fifteenth century, international trade returned, making Sardinia an integral part of a commercial network that extended from the Near East to Northwestern Europe, the principal eastern component of this network being Cyprus. Also contacts with the Mycenaean world were established. The cyclopean nuraghes has more or less related cousins like the Mycenaean tholoi, the Corsican Torre, the Talaiots of the Balearic Islesmarker, the Sesi of Sicily, and more (the probably much later Brochs of Scotland are mentioned as well): All these architectural forms have their origins from a common cultural matrix widespread in the Mediterranean, but in Sardinia there was an original and grandiose development that has not be found elsewhere. Indigenous Sardinians appear in the Eastern Mediterranean as Sherden, one of the main tribes of the Sea Peoples, and are supposed to be the carriers of some of the eastern material found on the island.

Religion expressed itself around sacred wells, often in association to the megalithic nuraghe, most of them of Beaker signature. The earliest attested water cult site is that at Abini-Teti, where votive offerings dateable to the early Bonnanaro period have been found; votive offerings at the spring of Sos Malavidos-Orani date to later Bonnanaro. This tradition showed local continuity to historic times, as it was at such centers that the Romans found attacking the natives most efficient (Strabo 5.2.7).

Central Europe

In their large-scale study on radiocarbon dating of the Bell Beakers, J. Müller and S. Willingen (2001) established that the Bell Beaker Culture in Central Europe started after the year of 2500 B.C.

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 transition from the Copper Age to the Early Bronze Age at the north-western edge of the Carpathian basin - Volker Heyd & Francois Bertemes, 2002 [35312]

The Bell Beaker settlements are still little known, and have proved remarkably difficult for archaeologists to identify. This corresponds to contradictory results of anthropologic research and to the modern view of Bell Beakers who, far from being the "warlike invaders" as once erroneously described by Gordon Childe (1940), added rather than replaced local late Neolithic traditions into a cultural package and as such did not always and evenly abandon all local traditions.[35313] The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Archaeology - Timothy Darvill, 2002, Beaker culture, p.42, Oxford University Press, ISBN 019-211649-5

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 Germany are 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.Bell Beaker settlements in South Germany and Central Europe, Volker Heyd, Ludwig Husty & Ludwig Kreiner, 2004 [35314] 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 km 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 and even Greece.The Eastern Border of the Bell Beaker-Phenomenon - Volker Heyd, 2004 []

The Bell 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.

The Late 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 Germany by the connection of the late Cham Culture, Globular Amphora Culture and the older Corded Ware Culture of "beaker group 1" that is also referred to as Horizon A or Step A. Early Bell Beaker Culture intrudedBell Beaker Culture in Southern Germany, State of research for a regional province along the Danube - Volker Heyd, 1998 [35315] 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.The Late Copper Age in Southern Germany - Volker Heyd, 2000 [35316] 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.

During the Bell Beaker period a border runs through southern Germany, which dividesculturally a northern from a southern area. The northern area focuses on the Rhine area that belongs to the Bell Beaker West Group, while the southern area occupies the Danube river system and belongs to the homogeous East Group which overlaps with the Corded Ware Culture and other groups of the Late Neolithic and of the earliest 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 middle 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 characterized by combinations of trace elements. This same type of copper was spread over the area of the Bell Beaker East-Group.

Previously archeology 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 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 theCarpathian Basin, which could be confirmed with the anthropological Bell Beakerseries 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 of Germany as much as the East Group area.

Iberian peninsula

The Bell Beaker phenomenon in the Iberian peninsulamarker defines the late phase of the local Chalcolithic and even intrudes in the earliest centuries of the Bronze Age.

At present no internal chronology for the various Bell Beaker-related styles has been achieved yet for Iberia. The all-over corded (AOC) type, however, follows the pan-European tendency to generally demonstrate the earliest dates. 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. 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 Meseta. Maritime Bell Beakers related to Herringbone, Lined and Cord-Zoned are tentatively dated in the first half of the 3rd millennium.

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.

In Portugal, supposedly archaic styles predominate in the north of the country, which in other parts of the Peninsula, such as Estremadura and the Alentejo, can be seen as evidence of early dates, from the early or mid-3rd 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 Pyreneesmarker, the lower Ebro and the Spanish east coast: especially a vessel at Filomena at Villarrealmarker, Castellón (Spain), has parallels with the decoration. In Porto Torrão, at the coast of 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 finding of early AOC pottery now also at mediate distances from the sea has urged for a "complete rethink of the ways that this pottery circulated in the Peninsula." Archaic styles may have coexisted with more "evolved" styles. However, another possibility is the general circulation of Bell Beaker pottery, in its diverse styles and regional adaptations, in a short space of time during the 3rd millennium BC. The cultural interpretation of the high degree of technical and stylistic standardisation in corded vessels in the Peninsula, although they were spatially so widely scattered, remains the core problem of the Bell Beaker debate.

Jorda Cerdá (1986) distinguishes the following types using uncalibrated radiocarbon dates:

  • Corded type. Beginning as early as c. 2150 BCE, and apparently arriving from Central Europe via the Rhône river, this type of rustic bell beaker is decorated with string impressions. It is found especially in the Mediterranean areas but also reaches to the Basque Country and Badajozmarker.
  • Maritime or International type. This type, decorated with narrow dotted bands, filled with slanted parallel lines, and usually made of a reddish-orange clay, is found all around the Iberian peninsula and southern France, often associated with Megalithism. Its center of diffusion is probably in the Portuguese culture of Vila Nova de São Pedromarker. It is also quite old, being most frequently found in the 2100-1900 BCE period.
  • Continental type. Characterized by decoration of wide bands with geometrical motifs, this moderately diverse type is found mainly in the interior of the peninsula since c. 1900 BCE. A specific variant is the Ciempozuelosmarker type, made of gray or black clay.
  • Palmela type replaces the International style in the area of the Tagusmarker estuary (Portugal) c. 1900 BCE. The beakers of this type are decorated in dotted geometrical style. It is also found in the plateau, the Guadalquivir basin, and northern Moroccomarker. Two related types, Carmona (Andalusiamarker) and Salamó (Cataloniamarker) are of a later period.
  • Almerian type is typical of the Los Millares civilization and neighbouring areas. Its incised decoration consists of parallel bands delimited by crooked lines. It also begins c. 1900 BCE.

While for most of the Bell Beaker findings in the Iberian peninsula the chronology is not older than the 22nd century BCE, there are a couple of controversial findings that are claimed to have much older radiocarbon dates, specifically at Lapa do Bugio and Somaén, dated 2900 and 2780 BCE respectively.

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.

Balearic Islands

Radiocarbon dating currently indicates a 1200 year duration for the use of the Beaker pottery on the Balearic Islandsmarker, between circa 2475 BC and 1300 BC (Waldren and Van Strydonck 1996). There has been some evidence of all-corded pottery in Majorcamarker, 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 Majorca and Formenteramarker but has not been observed in Minorcamarker or Ibiza. Collective burials in dolmen structures in Ibiza could be contrasted against the individual burials in Majorca. In its latest phase (circa 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 Cataloniamarker, 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, circa 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 to the introduction of metallurgy, the first traces of copper working on the Baleares was here indeed also clearly associated to the Bell Beakers.


A modern reconstruction of the halberd from Carn, Co.
Mayo, which was found with its oak handle surviving.
The haft is just over 1m long.
Beakers arrived in Ireland around 2500BC and fell out of use around 1700BC (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 the Irish Neolithic were no longer being constructed during the Early Bronze Age (although some, such as Newgrangemarker 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 Bronze Age Beaker culture in Ireland is accompanied by the destruction of smaller satellite tombs at Knowthmarker and collapses of the great cairn at Newgrangemarker, 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 British/Middle Rhine beakers and the Wessex/Middle Rhine beakers. 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 previous traditions of the megalithic autochthons. 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 to racquet headed pins found in Eastern Europe , enjoy a general distribution throughout the country, however, never in direct association with beakers. Flint arrow-heads and tanged copper daggers, 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 Kerrymarker, 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 this 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 occur 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 characterized by the ancientness of Beaker intrusions, by isolation and by influences and surviving traditions of autochthons.

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 the time.

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 2500BC (O’Brien 2004). A comparison of chemical traces and lead isotope analysis from these mines with copper artefacts strongly suggests that Ross Island was the sole source of copper in Ireland between the dates 2500-2200BC. In addition, two thirds of copper artefacts 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 artefacts, and Brittany 6% of analysed copper artefacts (Northover 1999, 214). After 2200BC there is greater chemical variation in British and Irish copper artefacts, which tallies well with the appearance of other mines in southern Ireland and north Wales. After 2000BC, other copper sources supersede Ross Island. The latest workings from the Ross Island mines is dated to around 1700BC.

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 2200BC 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 2400-2000BC (Needham 1996, 124). 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 warfare.

The 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 many scholars deny Celtic speech originated solely from La Tene culturemarker, 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 2500BC, declined in use around 2200-2100BC with the emergence of food vessels and cinerary urns and finally fell out of use around 1700BC (Needham 1996). The earliest British beakers were similar to those from the Rhine (Needham 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. In the majority of Britain, beakers are contemporary with a visible shift from large communal tombs to individual burials or cremation, sometimes under barrows or cairns.

Britain’s only unique export in this period is thought to be tin. It was probably gathered in streams in Cornwallmarker and Devonmarker as cassiterite pebbles and traded in this raw, unrefined state (Charles 1975). It was used to turn copper into bronze from around 2200BC 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 (Bradley 2007, 146).

The most famous site in Britain from this period is Stonehengemarker, which had its 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 estuarymarker, where western Europe’s oldest plank built boat was recovered.


In Denmark, large areas of forested land were cleared to be used for pasture and the growing of cereals during the Single Grave Culture and in the Late Neolithic Period. Faint traces of Bell Beaker influence can be recognized 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 Limfjordmarker and on the Djurslandmarker peninsula, 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 northwestern Europe.

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 characterized 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 Europe. Presumably Beaker culture spread from here to the remainder of Denmark, and to other regions in Scandinavia and northern Germany as 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 Veluwemarker group at the Lower Rhine. Concurrent introduction of metallurgy shows that some people must have crossed cultural boundaries. Danish Beakers are contemporary with the earliest Early 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 northern Holland, where Maritime ornamentation continued after it ceased in the central region of Veluwe (cf. Lanting/van der Waals 1976 a) and were succeeded c. 2300 BC by beakers of the 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-Holsteinmarker, 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, oftern 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 (2001, 42; 323ff) argued that an institutionalised apprenticeship system must have existed craftsman-ship 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 (Nielsen 2000,161 f.). Towards the transition to LN II some farm houses became extraordinarily large.

The cultural concepts originally adopted from Beaker groups at the lower Rhine blended or integrated with local Late Neolithic Culture. 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 was 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 Bronze Age.

See also


  1. p144, Richard Bradley The prehistory of Britain and Ireland, Cambridge University Press, 2007, ISBN 0521848113
  2. P.N. Peregrine and M. Ember, The Encyclopedia of Prehistory (2001), p. 24.
  3. Sherratt A. G., 1987: "Cups That Cheered: The Introduction of Alcohol to Prehistoric Europe," in Waldren W., Kennard R. C., (eds.), Bell Beakers of the Western Mediterranean (BAR Int. Series 287), Oxford., 81-114.
  4. E. G. Doce, Function and significance of Bell Beaker pottery according to data from residue analyses, Trabajos de Prehistoria, vol. 63, no 1, Enero-Junio 2006, pp. 69-84, ISSN: 0082-5638 [1]
  5. M.O. Baldia, The Bell Beaker Interaction Sphere (2009), accessed 28.3.09
  6. D.W. Anthony, The Horse, The Wheel and Language (2007), pp. 351-3.
  7. Nicolis, F. (2001) Bell Beakers Today: pottery, people, culture, symbols in prehistoric Europe (2 volumes). Torento: Servizio Beni Culturali Ufficio Beni Archeologici.
  8. Lanting, J.N. and J.D. van der Waals, (1976), "Beaker culture relations in the Lower Rhine Basin" in Lanting et al. (eds.) Glockenbechersimposion Oberried (Bussum-Haarlem: Uniehoek n.v. 1974).
  9. V. Heyd, Bell Beaker Culture in Southern Germany (1998)
  10. Almagro-Gorbea - La lengua de los Celtas y otros pueblos indoeuropeos de la península ibérica, 2001 p.95. In Almagro-Gorbea, M., Mariné, M. and Álvarez-Sanchís, J.R. (eds) Celtas y Vettones, pp. 115-121. Ávila: Diputación Provincial de Ávila.
  11. In search of the Indo-Europeans (1989)
  12. The Horse, The Wheel and Language: How Bronze Age riders from the Steppes shaped the modern world (2007).
  13. [2] Historical model of settling and spread of Bell Beakers Culture in the mediterranean France - Olivier Lemercier, 2004, UB- Préhistoire Le site de Préhistoire de l'Université de Bourgogne
  14. Price, T. Douglas; Grupe, Gisela and Schröter, Peter "Migration in the Bell Beaker period of Central Europe
  15. Margaret Cox and Simon Mays, Human Osteology in Archaeology and Forensic Science (2000), pp. 281-83.
  16. A Test of Non-metrical Analysis as Applied to the 'Beaker Problem' - Natasha Grace Bartels,University of Albeda, Department of Anthropology, 1998 [3]
  17. Anthropological sketch of the prehistoric population of the Carpathian Basin - Zsuzsanna K. Zoffmann, Acta Biol Szeged 44(1-4):75-79, (2000)
  18. A. Gallagher, M.M. Gunther and H. Bruchhaus, Population continuity, demic diffusion and Neolithic origins in central-southern Germany: The evidence from body proportions, Homo: internationale Zeitschrift für die vergleichende Forschung am Menschen (3 March 2009).
  19. The Oxford Illustrated Prehistory of Europe - Barry Cunliffe, Oxford University Press, p250-254, 1994
  20. The nuraghic complex of Palmavera - Alberto Moravetti, 1992, p.19-20, 121, Carlo Delfino editore, Italy, ISBN 88-7138-179-3
  21. The Nuragic civilization - Paolo Melis, 2003, p.25, Carlo Delfino editore, Italy, ISBN 88-7138-278-1
  22. Anthropology of skeletal remains of Bell - Beaker people from Moravia (Czech Republic)
  24. F. Jordá Cerdá et al., Historia de España 1: Prehistoria, 1986. ISBN 84-249-1015-X.
  25. LOS ORÍGENES DEL POBLAMIENTO BALEAR, UNA DISCUSIÓN NO ACABADA - Manuel Calvo Trias, Víctor M. Guerrero Ayuso, Bartomeu Salvà Simonet, Complutum, 13, 2002: 159-191 I.S.S.N.: 1131-6993 [5]
  26. PAGE1
  27. Ancient Ireland, Life before the Celts - Laurence Flanagan, 1998, Gil & MacMillan, ISBN 0-7171-2433-9
  28. Flanagan 1998, p.71
  29. Flanagan 1998, p.99
  30. Flanagan 1998, p.82
  31. Flanagan 1998, p.94-95
  32. Flanagan 1998, p.84
  33. Flanagan 1998, p.85
  34. Flanagan 1998, p.86-88
  35. Flanagan 1998, p.88
  36. Flanagan 1998, p.78
  37. Flanagan 1998, p.89
  38. Flanagan 1998, p.104
  39. Flanagan 1998, p.104-105 and 111-114
  40. Male sizes range between 157 cm and 191 cm, to average 174 cm, comparable to the current male population: Flanagan 1998, p.116
  41. Flanagan 1998, p.81
  42. Flanagan 1998, p.84-85,116
  43. Flanagan 1998, p.133
  44. Flanagan 1998, p.88, isolated development of three Beaker groups of pure insular character
  45. Flanagan 1998, p.91
  46. Flanagan 1998, p.150
  47. Flanagan 1998, p.158
  48. Flanagan 1998, p.96,151
  49. Flanagan 1998, p.105-106, only fully at the vase tradition
  50. Flanagan 1998, p.156
  51. Flanagan 1998, p.155
  52. Exploring the World of the Celts - Simon James, Thames & Hudson ltd London, 1993, p.21, ISBN 978-0-500-27998-4
  53. Struve 1955, pl. 22; Kühn 1979, pl. 11; 18; Myhre 1978/79;Jacobs 1991; Prescott/Walderhaug 1995
  54. Bender Jørgensen 1992, 114; Ebbesen 1995;2004
  55. cf. Shennan 1976; 1977; Harrison 1980; cf. also Thorpe/Richards 1984; Lohof 1994; Strahm 1998
  56. A Review of the Early Late Neolithic Period in Denmark: Practice, Identity and Connectivity - Helle Vandkilde, 2005, Aarhus [6]


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  • Case, H. (1993) Beakers: Deconstruction and After, Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 59, 241-268
  • Case, H. (2001) The Beaker Culture in Britain and Ireland: Groups, European Contacts and Chronology. In Nicolis, F. (ed.): Bell Beakers Today: pottery people, culture, symbols in prehistoric Europe (two volumes). Torento: Servizio Beni Culturali Ufficio Beni Archeologici, pp361–377
  • Charles, J.A. (1975) Where is all the Tin? Antiquity 49, 19-25
  • Darvill, T., Oxford Concise Dictionary of Archaeology, 2002, Oxford University Press, ISBN 019-211649-5.
  • Laurence Flanagan, Ancient Ireland, Life before the Celts, 1998, Gil & MacMillan, ISBN 0-7171-2433-9.
  • R. J. Harrison, The Beaker Folk, Thames and Hudson (1980).
  • Needham, S. (1996) Chronology and Periodisation in the British Bronze Age, Acta Archaeologica 67, 121-140.
  • Needham, S. (2005) Transforming Beaker Culture in North-West Europe: processes of fusion and fission, Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 71, 171-217
  • Northover, J.P. (1999) The Earliest Metalworking in South Britain. In Hauptmann, A., Pernicka, E., Rehren, T. and Yalçin, Ü. (eds.): The Beginnings of Metallurgy. Bochum: Dt. Bergbau-Museum, pp211–225
  • Northover, J.P.N., O’Brien, W. and Stos, S. (2001) Lead Isotopes and Metal Circulation in Beaker/Early Bronze Age Ireland, Journal of Irish Archaeology 10, 25-47
  • O’Brien, W. (2004) Ross Island: mining, metal and society in early Ireland. Galway: National University of Ireland.
  • O’Flaherty, R. (2007) A Weapon of Choice: experiments with a replica Irish early Bronze Age Halberd, Antiquity 81, 425-434
  • O'Kelly, M.J. (1982) Newgrange: Archaeology, Art and Legend. London: Thames & Hudson
  • J. P. Mallory, "Beaker Culture", Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture, Fitzroy Dearborn 1997.
  • Schuhmacher, T.X. (2002) Some Remarks on the Origin and Chronology of Halberds in Europe, Oxford Journal of Archaeology 21(3), 263-288
  • Marc Vander Linden, Le phénomène campaniforme dans l'Europe du 3ème millénaire avant notre ère : synthèse et nouvelles perspectives. Oxford: Archaeopress 2006, BAR international series 1470.

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