Beaker culture

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(Redirected from Beaker people)

The Beaker culture (formally called the 'Beaker people' or 'Beaker folk') is the term for an archaeological culture representing a wide range of scattered peoples present in prehistoric Europe during the late Neolithic and early Bronze Age.

They are defined by the common use of a pottery style -- a beaker with a distinctive bell-shaped profile -- that many archaeologists believe spread across the western part of the Continent during the 3rd millennium BC. Evidence of the Beaker culture has been found along the coast of North Africa and in southern Scotland, in Portugal and along the banks of the Dneiper as far east as Ukraine. Beaker remains are most concentrated in the valley of the Rhine and fringing the coasts around the North Sea where fertile agricultural land may have led to the development of Beaker culture out of the earlier cultures such as the corded ware culture. Other scholars believe it to be of Iberian origin (modern day Spain and Portugal).

Given the unusual form and fabric of Beaker pottery, and its abrupt appearance in the archaeological record, the traditional explanation for the Beaker culture has been to interpret it as a diffusion of one group of people across Europe. During the early twentieth century, Beaker pottery was seen as one element of a people who, through repeated waves of invasion, brought with them metal-working, crouched burials and round barrows, replacing an earlier Neolithic race of Europeans. Vere Gordon Childe wrote of the Beaker culture 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

There is no necessary correlation between an archaeological culture and an ethnic group however, as there is no one-to-one correlation between the material culture excavated by archaeologists and an ethnicity or society. Additionally, material culture and technological innovations can spread independently of population movement that is, through cultural diffusion rather than demic diffusion. Childe's view is now seen as being incorrect, its connections erroneous and based on limited knowledge, whilst its assumption of a Beaker invasion is considered an attempt to attribute numerous different cultural changes to one cause.

Many archaeologists now 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 through the influence of neighbouring peoples, rather than as a result of mass migrations, knowledge that could spread independently of any population movement. 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 sea-ways of Atlantic Europe.

This non-invasionist theory was first propounded 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 adopted and adapted by the indigenous peoples of Europe to varying degrees.


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