Hannah Devlin looks at a genome study that may explain the spread of bell-shaped pottery beakers across Europe 4,500 years ago in the latest episode of the Guardian’s Science Weekly podcast. Around 4,500 years ago, a craze for bell-shaped pottery beakers appears to have swept across what is now modern-day Europe. Archaeologists have unearthed the distinctive pots at sites from the Iberian peninsula to Ireland in the west and Poland in the east. They appear in Britain at around the same time as Stonehenge was built.
Bell-Beaker pottery spread from Poland to Ireland
The pots have been dug up in Ireland, Poland, and Britain (where the bell-beakers arrived around the same time as Stonehenge was going up.) The “fad” has caused much disagreement among archaeologists: Did this style spread from one settlement to another, “like prehistoric fidget spinners”? Or did the bell-beaker people arrive all at once via mass migration or invasion? A new study of ancient genomes is beginning to answer that question.
Bronze Age fashion or mass migration?
The artefacts are linked to what is known as the Bell-Beaker culture. Archaeologists have been in disagreement about whether the spread of the beakers signified a Bronze Age fashion that was passed from one settlement to another, like prehistoric fidget spinners, or whether there was a mass migration – or even invasion – of beaker folk?
This question has been impossible to answer by studying artefacts alone, but now a major ancient-genome study has begun to shed some light on the mystery.
To discuss ancient Europe, genetics and the beaker folk, Hannah Devlin is joined by Ben Roberts, an archaeologist at the University of Durham.
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