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Bell Beaker phenomenon (c. 2900-1800 BCE)

Quick Facts

  • The Bell Beaker phenomenon was not an ethnic culture like most other archeological cultures of the period, but rather represents a huge multicultural trade network inside which a variety of new artefacts, customs and ideas were exchanged and diffused, notably metalwork in copper, bronze and gold and archery.
  • The Bell Beaker network was contemporary with the late Megalithic cultures of western Europe and the Corded Ware culture in central Europe and Scandinavia.
  • It is associated with the diffusion of Proto-Italo-Celto-Germanic speakers and haplogroup R1b-L11 (and subclades) across central and western Europe.
  • Coincides with the progressive disappearance of the Megalithic culture in the British Isles, Belgium, France and northern Italy.
  • The Bell Beaker period marks the transition from the Late Neolithic or Chalcolithic (depending on the region) to the Early Bronze Age.
  • The Unetice culture replaced the Bell Beaker culture in Germany, Bohemia and western Poland from 2300 BCE. The Bell Beaker culture ended elsewhere by 2200 BCE, except in Great Britain where it lasted until 1800 BCE.
Distribution of the Bell Beaker pottery

The vast Bell Beaker trade network can be divided in five main archeological cultures, each with its own distinctive type of Beaker pottery:

  • Central European Beakers : Czechia, southern Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Austria, southern Germany and Switzerland. Cord-impressed type of Beaker pottery, such as the "All Over Corded". Influenced by the Corded Ware culture.
  • Western European Beakers : Netherlands, Belgium, the Rhineland, France, Great Britain and Ireland.
  • Maritime Beakers : Brittany and the Tagus Estuary in central Portugal. Maritime Beaker pottery was decorated with bands filled with impressions made with a comb or cord. Influenced by the Megalithic culture.
  • Southern European Beakers : most of the Iberian Peninsula, the Balearic Islands and western Sicily. Influenced by the Megalithic culture.
  • Southeastern European Beakers : northern Italy, Tuscany, Corsica and Sardinia. Morocco

Historical context of the Bell Beaker phenomenon

Map of early Bronze Age cultures in Europe - Eupedia

Genetic Analysis

The diffusion of Beaker pottery across central and western Europe. People who made Maritime beakers were simply not the same ethnic group as those who made or used beakers in Central Europe.

In German, French, Dutch and British sites containing beakers we see clearly Indo-European lineages like Y-haplogroup R1b-L11 and mt-haplogroups H4a1, I1a1, T1a, U2e, U4c1 and W5a, mixed with earlier Neolithic of Mesolithic lineages (H1, H3, T2e, U5).

However, in Spain and Portugal, all female lineages are in clear continuity with earlier Neolithic samples. Iberian beakers samples tested to date include mtDNA haplogroups H1, H3, H14, H20 (or L3), J, K, L1b, L2, L3a, T2, U, V and X. On the male side, some R1b men do show up among the Neolithic I2a and G2a, showing that a limited migration from central Europe did occur. But the migration was much more limited than in central and northwest Europe, and the migrants to Iberia appear to have been exclusively male.

Y-DNA & mtDNA

Y-DNA frequencies based on ancient samples from PIE cultures
Region / Haplogroup I1 I2(xI2a2) I2a2 R1a R1b G J2 J1 E1b1b T Q N Others
British Bell-Beaker (n=21) 0 0 5 0 95 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Czech & German Bell-Beaker / Proto-Unetice (n=68) 0 0 0 0 93.5 1.5 0 0 0 0 0 0 6
Dutch, French & Swiss Bell-Beaker (n=14) 0 0 0 0 100 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Hungarian Bell-Beaker (n=8) 0 12.5 12.5 0 50 12.5 0 0 0 0 0 0 12.5
Iberian Bell-Beaker (n=17) 0 6 23.5 0 35 6 0 0 0 0 0 0 23.5
MtDNA frequency in the Bell Beaker phenomenon
Hg N1a R0/HV H HV0/V J T1 T2 U2 U4 U5 U8 K I W X
British Bell Beaker & EBA (n=47) 0 1.4 22.9 4.3 7.1 0 11.4 1.4 2.9 21.4 0 15.7 4.3 1.4 2.9
German Bell Beaker / Proto-Unetice (n=127) 0 3.9 29.1 2.3 7.1 0.8 7.1 2.3 5.5 16.5 0.8 14.2 5.5 2.3 1.6

Comparison with modern populations

An analysis using MyTrueAncestry.com to compare the genomes of the Bell Beaker people from Germany, France and Britain with those of modern Europeans showed that the closest match in term of genetic distance were British, Ducth, German, Danish and Swedish people.

Bell Beaker Germany

  • Swedes : 4.0
  • English : 5.4
  • Welsh : 6.0
  • Irish : 6.8
  • Germans : 7.1
  • North Dutch : 7.3
  • South Dutch : 8.5
  • Basques : 9.1
  • Scottish : 9.3
  • Belgians : 9.5
  • Danes : 9.5
  • Spanish : 9.8

Bell Beaker France

  • Dutch : 3.9
  • English : 4.1
  • Welsh : 5.2
  • North French : 8.0
  • Scottish : 8.4
  • Irish : 8.7
  • Danes : 9.5

Bell Beaker Britain

  • Dutch : 2.8
  • Danes : 3.5
  • Irish : 3.5
  • English : 3.7
  • Scottish : 4.5
  • Germans : 5.1
  • Welsh : 5.3
  • Belgians : 5.8
  • North French : 5.8
  • Norwegians : 6.2
  • Swedes : 7.2
  • Czechs : 9.6

Follow-up

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