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European Kingdoms

Early Cultures


Bell Beaker Horizon (Chalcolithic / Bronze Age) (Iberia)
c.2800 - 2300 BC

The Bell Beaker started out as an horizon in Early Iberia rather than an archaeological culture. A horizon is different from a culture because it is less robust - it is defined on the basis of just a few traits - and is often superimposed on local archaeological cultures as a kind of trend.

The Bell Beaker in late Neolithic Europe, and especially Southern Europe, is defined primarily by a widespread style of decorated drinking cup (beakers), this being the source of the culture's name. Its practitioners have also be labelled 'Bell Beaker Folk', especially in some earlier twentieth century works.

Burials with these pots alongside the dead have been used by archaeologists to chart the growth and expansion of the Beaker folk. In many places the culture also introduced a few new weapon types (such as copper daggers and also including polished stone wrist-guards) which diffused through Europe alongside a new fashion in social drinking.

In most places these styles were superimposed upon pre-existing archaeological cultures: this being the definition of an horizon, something which does not involve large-scale migration.

Bell Beaker society expanded to cover all of Iberia and the Early Balearic Islands before subsequently reaching most of modern Germany when it met the newly-arriving West Indo-European groups to create the far more expansive Bell Beaker culture. There is still a good deal of debate about just what propelled the expansion of the Bell Beaker culture, but DNA research published early in 2018 in Nature did a lot to seal the argument.

Limited genetic affinity was detected between Beaker-complex-associated individuals from Iberia and those in Central Europe. Migration was excluded as an important mechanism of spread between these two regions. Instead this first, Iberian, stage was classified as an horizon, which does not require physical migration.

Once out of Iberia and in collision with newly-arrived groups, it certainly did encounter physical migration, and a vigorous one by Indo-Europeans who had dominative freedom and fast-moving wheeled transportation.

Chalcolithic pot found in Hebron, Israel

(Information by Peter Kessler and Edward Dawson, with additional information from The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World, David W Anthony, from The La Tene Celtic Belgae Tribes in England: Y-Chromosome Haplogroup R-U152 - Hypothesis C, David K Faux, from A Genetic Signal of Central European Celtic Ancestry, David K Faux, from The Celts, TGE Powell, and from External Links: The Beaker phenomenon and the genomic transformation of northwest Europe (Nature), and Gran Enciclopedia Aragonesa (in Spanish), and Celtiberia.net (in Spanish), and Lista de pueblos prerromanos de Iberia (in Spanish, Hispanoteca.eu), and Euskomedia (in Spanish).)

c.2800 - 2300 BC

A shift to drier conditions has been taking place since about 3300 BC. Pollen core samples from across Eastern Europe - notably across the Pontic-Caspian steppe between the Don and the Irtysh (in Kazakhstan) - show that forests sharply decline and Artemisia (an arid herb indicator) increases.

Bell Beaker pots
Shown here is a selection of highly distinctive bell-shaped pots which were created by the Bell Beaker folk between around 2900-1800 BC in Europe and the British Isles

As a result the steppe has been growing and the steppe people have kept on increasing their herds, feeding them by moving them more often, and their new wagons help them to do this almost constantly.

This has resulted in a flood of migration into Central Europe and northern Italy, part of the Yamnaya horizon. It is these West Indo-Europeans who now pick up the influence of the originally-Iberian and Balearic Islands Bell Beaker horizon. They do this enthusiastically, turning it into a true Bell Beaker culture.

c.900 - 800 BC

In Iberia, towards the end of the Bell Beaker, the Atlantic Bronze Age arrives from the north, having developed in Early France. This late Bronze Age metalworking industry quickly expands from its core also to reach southern Britain.

When that eventually collapses, the peninsula enters the Iberian Iron Age with the advent of the Castro culture which dominates in the north, and the Tartessian culture which dominates in the south.

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