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Archaeological fieldwork throughout Leicestershire

Beakers and Bodies

September 30, 2017

Mike Parker Pearson will speak about his last project on the prehistoric Beaker People, migration, mobility and diet in Britain, on Thursday November 16th at 7.30 at the University of Leicester.  (Exact location details are still being finalised but the lecture will probably be in the lecture theatre at the Centre for Medicine, University of Leicester Lancaster Road/University Road.  This is the new home for the Fieldworkers lecture series for the next two years whilst Jewry Wall Museum is redeveloped).

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.