Beaker culture

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A general term for widely scattered groups of late Neolithic and early Bronze Age communities of the late 3rd and early 2nd millennia bc, whose material culture includes substantial amounts of Beaker pottery. The distribution of these communities is wide: from the North African coast in the south to Scotland in the north; and from Spain and Portugal in the west to the Dnieper in the Ukraine in the east. The greatest concentrations of Beaker‐using communities is in fertile agricultural regions, especially in the lower Rhine Valley and around the North Sea coastlands where they seem to have developed from the local Protruding Foot Beaker (PFB) Corded Ware Culture ceramics.

Because of the ubiquity of Beaker ceramics, their distinctive forms and fabrics, and the fact that in most parts of Europe they appear to contrast markedly with existing later Neolithic styles, diffusionist explanations seemed highly appropriate. During early decades of the 20th century these ideas expanded to embrace not only the pottery, but also the spread of metalworking in northern Europe, links to preferred burial rites (well‐furnished crouched single inhumations), the extensive use of round barrows over their burial places, and biometrical data suggestive of intrusive racial groups in some areas. Together these were seen as the Beaker Folk, described in 1940 by Gordon Childe as ‘warlike invaders imbued with domineering habits and an appreciation of metal weapons and ornaments which inspired them to impose sufficient political unity on their new domain for some economic unification to follow’.

Most of these connections can now be seen as erroneous, with Beaker ceramics and certain aspects of the early metalworking traditions being added to rather than replacing local late Neolithic traditions. Following suggestions made in 1976 by Colin Burgess and Steven Shennan, what was once seen as a Beaker Culture is increasingly viewed as a ‘package’ in which exotic elements such as pottery (and maybe whatever was drunk from it) and new styles of metalwork were acquired and adapted by indigenous communities.

Subjects: Archaeology.

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