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1 Generally, a ceramic or metal drinking vessel of suitable size and shape to hold in the hands. The precise type is normally specified by reference to form or fabric, thus butt beaker, rough‐cast beaker, etc.

2 Specifically, a kind of late Neolithic and early Bronze Age ceramic vessel characteristic of the Beaker Culture. First defined by Lord Abercromby in the early 20th century ad, Beaker pottery, also known as drinking cups by earlier scholars, is distinctive in its range of shapes and style of decoration. Three main forms are recognized—the Bell Beaker, the Short‐Necked Beaker, and the Long‐Necked Beaker—each with numerous variations.

Bell Beakers are often decorated with twisted cord impressions across the whole outer surface and these are known as All‐Over‐Corded Beakers (AOC Beakers). Where the outer surface of a Beaker is covered in decoration, whether corded or using comb‐impressed motifs, they are referred to as All‐Over‐Ornamented (AOO) Beakers. Some Beaker vessels have a single looped handle, making a mug. In some cases the impressed decoration was inlaid with a white paste which, against the traditional red fabric of Beaker ware, makes the decoration look all the more impressive. Beaker pottery is found from northern Scotland to North Africa and from western Spain across to western Russia. It is particularly common in the Low Countries and northern France, and a good case has been made for its development out of local Protruding Foot Beaker (PFB) wares in the lower Rhine valley during the later 3rd millennium bc.

There has been much debate about the topological development of Beaker styles and the role of regional traditions in the evolution of the forms. In general, Bell Beakers appear to be the earliest and the most widely distributed common form, especially AOC types. They are sometimes known as maritime beakers, reflecting something of the distribution itself and the means of transportation by which the ideas behind their manufacture spread. In the traditional chrono‐topological sequence, short‐necked forms follow the Bell Beakers, with the long‐necked forms following still later. However, through studies of the British material, Humphrey Case suggested in 1993 that these rather crude stereotypes masked a series of three rather more broadly definable ‘styles’ which were in fact used contemporaneously in different regions. In this model each area has its own trajectory of topological development but within the overall limits of its chosen style. Working on a wider European canvas, Stuart Needham suggested in 2005 that early Beakers from the period 2500–2350 bc, including the Bell Beakers, were mainly carinated forms, with origins among the Corded Ware Culture of northwest Europe and a set of meanings relating to a novel circumscribed exclusive culture. Around 2350 bc the range of Beaker forms expanded considerably, with long‐necked and short‐necked forms predominating in what he describes as the ‘Fission Horizon’, when Beaker pottery becomes part of a widespread institutionalized culture. Finally, for perhaps two or three centuries after about 2000 bc, various S‐profile forms of Beaker were used, as the distinctive pottery becomes a reference to times past amongst its user communities.


Subjects: Archaeology.

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