Archaeological fieldwork throughout Leicestershire

Beaker People: Migration, mobility, diet

September 30, 2017

The next meeting will be on Thursday November 16th at 7.30 when Professor Mike Parker Pearson will speak on The Beaker People: migrations, mobility and diet in prehistory.  Mike is Professor of Later British Prehistory at UCL’s Institute of Archaeology and is, perhaps, best known for his work on Stonehenge (which is what he spoke about when we saw him last). He was Project Leader of a multi-disciplinary and multi-institution project to understand the Beaker phenomenon. The Beaker folk have been one of prehistory’s best known ancient peoples, buried with their distinctive pots and other grave goods throughout Britain and continental Europe. But who were they? Were they really a separate ethnic group? And where did they come from? The Beaker People Project set out to answer some of these questions, using a battery of scientific methods – strontium, oxygen, carbon, nitrogen and sulphur isotopic analysis, dental microwear analysis, and osteological studies – to reveal much about the lives of these people who lived and died around 4,000 years ago. Coupled with new results of ancient DNA analysis, these discoveries have transformed our understanding of these people and their era, at the transition from the Stone Age to the Bronze Age.

The meeting will be held in Lecture Theatre 2 in the Centre for Medicine, University of Leicester. This is the striking new building on the corner of University Road and Lancaster Road.  Lecture Theatre 2 is on the first floor but there is a lift.  Reception is also manned until 10pm.  Parking will be available across the road in the Medical Sciences Building car park on the left side Lancaster Road from University Road. It is intended that this will be our regular lecture venue.  Picture of the venue and car park are on the front page of our website.

The Beaker phenomenon has been documented across Europe in the late third and early second millennia BC, defined by a particular style of pottery and, in northwestern and central Europe, its inclusion in burials. This project examines Beaker mobility, migration and diet in Britain in the period 2500-1700 BC.

Since the 19th century antiquarians and archaeologists have argued whether the appearance in Britain of burials with pots known as Beakers marked the arrival of continental migrants around 2400-2200 BC. These people have been variously credited with introducing metalworking to Britain, spreading the Indo-European language group and building Stonehenge.

In recent decades many prehistorians have argued that the changes in material culture were due to the introduction of a ‘Beaker package’ rather than a wave of immigration but isotope results from the skeleton of the Amesbury Archer, found near Stonehenge, indicate that he grew up in Europe.

This project was a major scientific research programme, carried out jointly by Sheffield, the Max Planck Institute, and the Universities of Durham, Bradford and British Columbia with the British Geological Survey, the British Museum and the National Museums of Scotland, together with many local and regional museums across Britain.

It has analysed 285 Beaker-period burials from England, Scotland and Wales for strontium, oxygen, sulphur, carbon and nitrogen isotopes in order to investigate their dietary and mobility histories. Accompanying studies of tooth wear and osteology are also yielding important insights into prehistoric health and lifestyle.

The research phase of the project is now complete and a monograph is in preparation. The results are being published in combination with those of Aberdeen University Museums’ ‘Beakers and Bodies’ project.