Thursday, October 22, 2015

Re-writing Early Bronze Age [Radio Dates]

This paper reorders some of the chronology of the Bronze Age and pokes another hole in a long-held paradigm of European prehistory.  I'll give you some of the big take-away's:

There appears to be little or no overlap between the end of the Beaker period and the beginning of the Early Bronze Age (Central Europe), although some stylistic and sentimental materials seem to continue in conservative circles.  This transition occurred in the 21st century.

The Early Bronze Age of Central Europe has traditionally been divided into two phases A1 and A2 after German prehistorian Paul Reinecke, representing linear progress in technology and fashion.  The A1 EBA is the era of bone pins and hammered metal trinkets.  A2 EBA is true bronze with cast pins and tin bronzing.  The two now overlap significantly, meaning some areas were more conservative than others.

The Middle Bronze Age may have started almost two hundred years earlier than previously believed.  That would put its beginning in the ballpark of 1700 B.C., settling the Nebra hoard of Northern Germany in place that makes better sense.  By moving most of the metal age to the left, especially the Early Bronze Age, the entire scheme fits better for technological developments in Britain.

Nebra Sky Disk (1700 B.C.) - Commons

One quote of interest from the paper:

"It seems that Bz A2a objects, most of which are related to the Únětice culture, should be interpreted as the appropriation of foreign influences and objects in southern Germany, which basically “stayed Bz A1” during the complete EBA. The Bz A2a Únětice bronzes could rather be seen as supplement to the local inventory of the material culture."
"Moreover, it is most likely that Bz A2 in the area of the Únětice culture started considerably earlier than in the Augsburg region. An early start for Bz A2a already in the late 3rd millennium or at least around 2000 BC is indicated by Quenstedt, grave 34, a grave from Feuersbrunn and possibly also hoard II of Melz"
"Bz A2 finds in southern Germany and Bz A1 finds in the area of the Únětice culture should be explained as the local appropriation of foreign objects rather than autonomous chronological phases."
This partly confirms that Unetice should not be considered as a strictly chronological development radiating outwards, but more reflects social groups, possibly peculiar social groups.

I don't know if these dates were used in the Allentoft et al, 2015 paper or if these will be used in Allentoft 2.0.  Since isotopes were collected on many of these remains, there will probably be another large paper on mobility in the near future.

Rewriting the Central European Early Bronze Age Chronology: Evidence from Large-Scale Radiocarbon Dating

Philipp W. Stockhammer, Ken Massy, Corina Knipper, Ronny Friedrich, Bernd Kromer, Susanne Lindauer, Jelena Radosavljević, Fabian Wittenborn, Johannes Krause.  Published: October 21, 2015
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.013970  [Link]


The transition from the Neolithic to the Early Bronze Age in Central Europe has often been considered as a supra-regional uniform process, which led to the growing mastery of the new bronze technology. Since the 1920s, archaeologists have divided the Early Bronze Age into two chronological phases (Bronze A1 and A2), which were also seen as stages of technical progress. On the basis of the early radiocarbon dates from the cemetery of Singen, southern Germany, the beginning of the Early Bronze Age in Central Europe was originally dated around 2300/2200 BC and the transition to more complex casting techniques (i.e., Bronze A2) around 2000 BC. On the basis of 140 newly radiocarbon dated human remains from Final Neolithic, Early and Middle Bronze Age cemeteries south of Augsburg (Bavaria) and a re-dating of ten graves from the cemetery of Singen, we propose a significantly different dating range, which forces us to re-think the traditional relative and absolute chronologies as well as the narrative of technical development. We are now able to date the beginning of the Early Bronze Age to around 2150 BC and its end to around 1700 BC. Moreover, there is no transition between Bronze (Bz) A1 and Bronze (Bz) A2, but a complete overlap between the type objects of the two phases from 1900–1700 BC. We thus present a revised chronology of the assumed diagnostic type objects of the Early Bronze Age and recommend a radiocarbon-based view on the development of the material culture. Finally, we propose that the traditional phases Bz A1 and Bz A2 do not represent a chronological sequence, but regionally different social phenomena connected to the willingness of local actors to appropriate the new bronze technology.


  1. The absolute dates are particularly important to align historical events with paleoclimate events like the 4.2kya.

    1. ...and with impeccably timed comment, Andrew, there's this (possibly related to the 4.2kya)

      saw this on my phone about an hour ago, could also coincide with the introduction of the common house mouse, courtesy of the Southern Caucasus and Iran.

  2. The main link directs to an unrelated paper on starch-rich diet. You probably want to correct that.

  3. dates are dactile, or datiles(Sp), to be eaten, processed and spread on the field(of number Archolog.)to see what grows.
    for copper/chalcolith=kalkhos(Gk)=Chalchiuitlicueye(N/goddess waters)=Cuexteca(2.200 BCE)=cueitl(N)=skirt(of jade)=
    Chalc/ch=ch/halcón/falcon, bird of the goddess, 2d consort of Tlaloc, rain god of deer and Nomads. 3309BCE=
    Quetzalcoatl copper expedition, and not for the first time as the crew were looking for Chaunis Tamoan(Haklyut's voyages)=Chauhnecocoya teoayan(N)=(cursed by the)Devil's cliffs, where pale copper lay in sheets underground.
    either Georgia(USA)or Michigan, but Great Lakes seems too far as they entered the Gulf.

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  5. I feel like I have some familiarity with Corded Ware, Urnfield and Beaker, but I have only a dim sense of how the Únětice culture fits into the picture. Which cultures does it seem to be in continuity with and which does it seem to be clearly distinct from? What is one to make of the "foreign influences" and what are you getting at when talking about "peculiar social groups"? Are you saying that they were the moral equivalent of Bronze Age Mormons or something?

    1. Ha, ha. Maybe not Bronze Age Mormons. Religion-wise, they're more similar to Beakers than anything.
      As I understand it, the Unetice was a slow accumulation of wealth and modernity in a busy cross-road of transaction (Bohemia, but possibly having some influences from earlier Slovenia) and it began to implant itself in other regions as a separate ethnic or caste, surrounded by trailer parks. It implants itself up and down the Amber road and along East and West routes. Distant trade and control seems to be the main vector of Unetice.

      So going back in time, this is how I think a lot of this came together. Beaker, in its lifetime, vacuumed up odd things from cultures all over Europe, Africa and the Mediterranean and returned those influences, kind of like American Culture. It was a global economy and it was a cocky, materialistic culture. It heavily influenced almost every niche culture in Europe. Some cultures actually influenced it in a meaningful way, such as the Corded Ware, whose impact was greater because of secondary migrations from that zone, but it always dominated the character of any region where it appears. While the Beakers were at its core a very unique ethnic, it intermarried into the palate of Europe and created different colors of itself.

      Unetice grows out of a wealthy and sophisticated arm in (a position that would suggest it grew out of a Beaker network) kind of like New York in Florida and LA. Generally, it seems to PCA slightly more West towards Beakers than to Eastern Europe, but so far has some irregular haplogroup assignments that could be interpreted as possibly Baltic. Because it is so heavily represented in Poland, I thought it could have grown out of the Amber Road and accumulated materials and technology through trade wealth. It's ties to Britain and Ireland would seem to support this. This paper may make its metal technology disparity a little more stark, although I didn't read exactly how many of those 1B were actually Unetice.

      That's the long answer. I hope I'm not yelling.

    2. Volker Heyd in the same book (I believe) suggests the true Bronze Age (or post corded, post Beaker) marks an ideological shift from the copper age BB and CW cultures, aligning with Aegean - Balkan models

    3. I suppose it's possible to interpret the three male haplogroups of Unetice as being Balkan as well.
      All three men from two sites were I2a, c or *. The modern distribution peaks over Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia.

      Interesting to note that so far, 100% of the Beaker lineages are R1b and 100% of the Unetice lineages are I2.
      Of course, selection bias for elite burials is the cause, but I think we can see clear patterns of migration.

    4. It's actually more complicated than that. The haplogroup I groups from Unetice were an I2c, I2a2, and a poorly defined I*. At least today, these aren't the "Balkan-type" I groups (which are M423 - I2a1b). Certainy I2a2 was widespread but perhaps not too common in central Europe - from Hungary to Yamnaya to Iberia by the Bronze Age period.

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