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Between myth and reality: Little know civilizations: The Bell-Beaker culture

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While doing my research I found another little known culture. At least it was unknown to me as I had never heard that name before: the Bell-Beaker culture or in French « la culture campaniforme » or another French word for it is « caliciforme ».  I will attempt to enlighten you on this particular culture/civilization which is a an early archeological culture.

The Bell Beaker culture is a phenomenon of european prehistory era especially since the discovery, in the late 19th century in several areas of Europe, of burial sites which contained several urns or jars in the form of an inverted bell just like the picture above which were simply named Bell-Beakers. These Bell-Beakers are simple ceramics but showing a very rich and particular ornementation permitting the archeologists to distinguish them easily from other cultures’ potteries. Also these jars are often found alongside other distinguished artifacts wherever they are found: for example a pendant or necklace in the shape of a crescent moon (in bone material), perforated buttons in V shape (made out of bone but also in stone or amber), pearls and twisted gold pendants along with a whole archery arsenal with beautiful fin-headed arrows and flint stalks along with stone or bone armbands.



Until recently, the most ancient Bell-Beakers jars, carbon dated at around 2,800 to 2,500 BC were found in Portugal especially around Zambujal and Vila Novo of San Pedro. But there are been found several just as old sites in France, Hungary, Germany, Spain, England and even Northern Africa (especially Morocco) etc. Below is included a map of the distribution of the Bell-Beakers known sites so far.

As such, the Bell Beaker culture, around the 13th century BC, disperses itself during the next approximate three centuries along the Iberian Peninsula to as far as the Vistula (the Vistula is a river in Poland near Krakow) and even the British Isles where it stays encroached slighly longer. The area covered by the Bell Beaker culture is then very vast but also very dispersed probably also covering some of Western Europe with also, again probably, traces in Sardinia and Sicily. Rivers are the common factor of the vast territory of the Beaker Culture especially the Rhine, the Rhône, the Danube possibly even to the Venice basin. France is especially fertile in this agglomeration of culture with over 100 sites found but mostly concentrated in Provence, Languedoc, algonside the Rhône river while little of the Bell Beaker Culture was found near the Center of France and definitely not around Paris.

In light of the unusual and practicaly unchanged shape and form of the ceramic potteries found throughout the whole geography of the Bell Beaker culture, it was attributed to one and the same settlement group that would have dispersed throughout Europe by migration or acculturation. But which group of people permeated Europe at this time still remains a mystery. The squeletons found in the Bell-Beakers’ graves present several similarities wherever they are found either in Portugal through to Poland and the British Isles. The cranium is round and the occipital bone is flattened which is different from the late Neolithic man. So the Bell Beaker people were more from the eneolithic and even a part of the Bronze age of Europe. Most of those squeletons also help in stating that they were from the Bell-Beaker culture because there was a strict code observed in their burial ractices. All the bodies were aligned on their side, with legs bent and the head oriented towards the North.

One impressive aspect of the Bell-Beaker culture was precisely their Bell-Beaker jar. It is estimated that it took approximately four to six hours to do some of the 2,000 to 5,000 impressions on those jars. As such these jar (whose use is still under debate today) was one of the most personal and highly valued possession of a Bell-Beaker resident and accompanied him or her to its grave at all times. The richness of the ornementation lets us distinguish several types of style. On the belly of the jars, the most common style consists of a rectilinear design and organizes itself in horizontal or parallel straights bands of oblique lines, herrinbone looking designs, triangles, ladder lines all realised with a comb like apparatus. Other styles of jars have decoration realised with the impression made with a string or twine in the fresh clay circling the whole jar by stamping or incisions. The colors of the jars vary from orange to brown or chestnut.

It is believed that the arrival and the diffusion of the Bell-Beaker culture was the result of complex migrations of population alongside social and commercial phenonemons. Vere Gordon Child opts and described the Bell-Beakers representants as a warrior type more than a trader because of the various metal arms and ornaments which helped them impose a strong political entity on its new territory that was eventually followed by a economic unification. A. Galley is more pragmatic by stating that the Bell-Beaker culture was diffused through movements of population and commercial endeavours. But most of the archeologists think that the Bell-Beaker culture was not made up of an homogenous population, but rather that it is more a culture and its knowledge (like working with copper, bronze and gold) along with several new artifacts (copper dagger, perforated buttons, armbands, archery arsenal) that was transmitted slowly between different groups through exchanges, acculturation, mixing of population (much more than an outright massive migration) most of which was eventually adopted by the indigenous population as explained by Colin Burgess and Steve Shennan during the mid 1970s’.



What do you think?

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Written by HistoryGal

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    • Yes there is a very wide dispersal of these artefacts and culture (as evidenced by the tombs). If I remember all my reading, the Bell-Beaker culture were also predominant in England and lasted there for the longest period of time of their existence. Again, a big thank you for dropping in, reading, posting such an engaging comment and definitely for up voting.

  1. I remember being taught about the “Beaker People” (without reference to “Bell”) in history lessons at school. I grew up in Dorset, where there is plenty of evidence of prehistoric habitation in the form of hillforts, stone circles and round and long barrows, in some of which beakers have been found.

    • Yes if I remember well, the last remnants of the Bell-Beaker culture remained active in England for a longer period than in other European or North African areas. Thank you so much for taking the time to read and your insightful comment.

    • They have done some DNA studies on the bell beaker people but I could not make heads or tails of their result even though I was a registered nurse. We never studied DNA in nursing school circa 1972 to 1974. But thank you for reading, commenting and up voting. I appreciate it very much.

    • Yes there are indeed several basically unknown ancient cultures out there which are slowly emerging. Thank you very much for stopping by, reading. commenting and up voting this little article of mine. I appreciate it very much.

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