The Bell Beaker Transition in Europe

Full Title: The Bell Beaker Transition in Europe – Mobility and Local Evolution During the 3rd Millennium BC.

Editors: Maria Pilar Prieto Martínez and Laure Salanova

Publisher: Oxbow Books

Published: 2015

ISBN: 978-1-78297-927-2

Pages: 214, with each essay having its notes and bibliography at the end of the essay.

Synopsis:

Review: This text brings together 17 articles that were initially presented in the 15th International Bell Beaker Conference “From Atlantic to Ural”. It was organized in May 2011 in Spain. The theme for the conference was “Could the circulation of objects or ideas and the mobility of artisans explain the unprecedented uniformity of the material culture observed throughout the whole of Europe?”

This is the second volume to come out of this conference; the first was in 2013 and was concerned with new excavations or item analyses. The papers in this volume were selected for their interest in the Bell Beaker phenomenon in Europe and for the differing perspectives they offer. The chapters are organized mainly geographically and they start with Eastern Europe then move to the Mediterranean and end in the Iberian Peninsula.

While I enjoyed reading all the essays, the ones that interested me the most besides the final essay that summed up the book, were essays 5 and 12. Essay 5 talks about the migrations to Britain and Ireland. The part about Ireland was short but interesting. The Bell Beakers introduced copper mining to Ireland in the 24th century BC directly from continental Europe. In essay 12 the authors investigated the traces of exchange and circulation processes in the archaeological record on gold working craftsmanship. All in all, it was a really informative read.

Ancient Journeys

Full Title: Ancient Journeys – The Peopling of Europe from the First Venturers to the Vikings
Author: Jean Franco
Publisher:Thames & Hudson
Published: 2013
Pages: 311 including a long bibliography and footnotes. The book also has many maps and illustrations.
ISBN: 978-0-500-05178-8

Synopsis:
Who are the Europeans and where did they come from? In recent years scientific advances have released a mass of data, turning cherished ideas upside down. The idea of migration in prehistory, so long out of favour, is back on the agenda. New advances allow us to track human movement and the spread of crops, animals, and disease, and we can see the evidence of population crashes and rises, both continent-wide and locally. Visions of continuity have been replaced with a more dynamic view of Europe’s past, with one wave of migration followed by another, from the first human arrivals in Europe to the Vikings.

Ancient DNA links Europe to its nearest neighbours. It is not a new idea that farming was brought from the Near East, but genetics now reveal an unexpectedly complex process in which farmers arrived not in one wave, but several. Even more unexpected is the evidence that the European gene pool was stirred vigorously many times after farming had reached most of Europe. Climate change played a part in this upheaval, but so did new inventions such as the c and wheeled vehicles. Genetic and linguistic clues also enhance our understanding of the upheavals of the Migration Period, the wanderings of steppe nomads, and the adventures of the Vikings.

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Review:

I was very excited to get this book, because I was interested in seeing a review of the genetic material evidence that is out there; and I wanted to see how the author would employ it to prove their main thesis of who the Europeans were and where they came from.

I’m thankful that the author took the time to explain the DNA evidence and how it works in chapter 2. I’m also grateful for the information on the problems it runs into. I just wish that I understood it all. That is not the author’s fault but my own since this is not something that interested me too much in the past so I never really read up on it. So I’m playing catchup. The author goes on to talk about the hunters and fisherman of the Mesolithic, the first farmers and dairy farming, the Copper Age, the IE family and its genetics, the Beaker folk and their relationship to the Celts and to the Italics, the Iron Age warriors, the Etruscans and Romans, the Slavs, the Bulgars and Magyars and finally the vikings.

The author also talks about not just genetics but history via archaeology and linguistics and some classical writers, a word of caution here because the author is not an archaeologist, or a linguist and it shows…for example, on page 205 the author says that Constantinople was re-named Byzantium…So I wasn’t very impressed in some places.

The author also starts out by saying that the genetic evidence should really be read carefully because ancient DNA is not the same as modern DNA, and the places were we are able to get ancient DNA, often times are comprised on one family buried together. And that it is pretty hard to link one genetic “haplogroup” with a language but you seem it done all over the book.

Honestly, but the end I think I got one thing from this book. The migration hypothesis is back in fashion. I don’t think this is a bad book. I think the author should have concentrated on one era or culture and researched the heck out of it to see if the linguistic and archaeological evidence lined up with the DNA evidence presented. Keep in mind that this book is from 2013…so the technology and DNA evidence presented here might already be obsolete.

The Historical Atlas of the Celtic World by John Haywood

Synopsis: Through fifty-four color maps, covering almost 3,000 years and spanning the whole of Europe, this atlas of the Celts charts their dramatic history from Bronze Age origins to present-day diaspora. Each map is accompanied by an authoritative text and supporting illustrations.

“Continental Celts” maps the Hallstatt and La Tène cultures in Central Europe; the migrations into Italy, Iberia, Greece, and Anatolia; the fate of Celtic culture under Roman rule; and the fortunes of the Bretons from the Dark Ages to their absorption by France.

Beginning with Iron Age Britain and Ireland, “Atlantic Celts” covers the failure of the Romans to complete the conquest of the islands, the resurgence of Celtic civilization in the Dark Ages, the history of Gaelic Ireland, and the making of Scotland.

“Modern Celts” examines the revival of Celtic identity, from the Celtomania of the eighteenth century through the growth of nationalism and the current state of Celtic culture.

Review: This is one of the books that I feel most newbies to the history of the Celts should have. The book is full of illustrations and maps that help newbies and advanced readers alike to chart the history of the Celts.

I’ve read a lot of history books but what makes this one special to me is that it helps me keep things straight in my mind.  The way it is divided definitely makes it easier to find specific time periods and the maps help one keep the territories straight.  The fact that it is up to date also makes it great to have.

Ancient Europe: Encyclopedia of the Barbarian World

Synopsis:

This detailed encyclopedia is the first to explore the many peoples of early European civilization. Viewed as “barbarian” through the lens of ancient Greece and Rome, these civilizations were responsible for such accomplishments as the rise of farming in the Neolithic era and the building of Stonehenge. Coverage extends from prehistoric origins through the early Middle Ages (8000 B.C. to A.D. 1000) when tribal movements helped define the end of ancient culture and the rise of the modern European world. Arrange topically and chronologically Ancient Europe, 8000 B.C. to A.D. 1000 features include 200 illustrations (including the black & white images, color images, and line drawings); 70 maps; a chronology; index; two eight-page color inserts; cartographic end papers; glossary of key archaeological terms and more.

Review:

Ancient Europe: Encyclopedia of the Barbarian World talks about European societies between 8000 BCE and 1000 CE. These dates are not arbitrary; 8000 BCE is the time when Europe was freed from glacial ice and modern climate conditions were established and 1000 CE is the time when Christianity spread across northern and eastern Europe and many of the current European states were established. The encyclopedia is written by a knowledgeable team of archaeologists and historians, each writing about their field of expertise.

Ancient Europe is a two volume encyclopedia edited by Peter Bogucki and Pam J. Crabtree. In the introduction they tell us why it is important to study the barbarian societies of Europe. They give us five reasons that are connected to each other. The first is that the barbarian societies provided the technological, economic, social, and cultural foundations for the late medieval and modern European societies that we know from the historical records. By studying this record we can see the precursors to many modern customs and practices, and we get to know how the ancients lived. It also gives us a counterbalance to the view that if it was not written down then it didn’t happen. The introduction also gives us a view of what the authors feel about HOW the archaeological records are used by people. I quote “In studying archeology, it is important to separate the factual evidence and sensible interpretations from the fantasies of those who see archeology as a mirror for their spiritual and political beliefs. Stonehenge is of interest not only to serious archaeologists for what it can tell them about Bronze Age society but also to impressionable and gullible people who believe that it has mystical power.” I found that a bit insulting since Stonehenge is shown to have been a burial place and a place where people may have come for healing in and after the Bronze Age (as the latest excavation into Stonehenge seem to imply). So isn’t the obvious interpretation that the ancients THOUGHT of it as a place of power? How does that make people who believe that today into gullible and impressionable? I guess now we know what the editors’ bias is. I do understand what the editors are talking about though, since most people mistakenly attribute the building of Stonehenge to the Druids or even assume that they may have used it as a place of worship but I believe that they could have made their point with a little more finesse.

Volume one of Ancient Europe covers the period between 8000 – 2000 BCE, the Mesolithic to Copper Age. This volume is further divided into smaller time periods and each one is given its own section.

Part One: Part one is all about how archeology, its development, how it works and what things help the archaeologist give us a complete picture of the pre-historic era. I loved this part because of the explanations given on how archeology developed and what methods archaeologists employ to give us their interpretations of the things they find. The authors of the essays talk about the kinds of things found on digs and how important they are and what can be inferred from them. How things can be dated by looking at how deep they were buried in the ground and how from the climate changes affected how people behaved. In some cases the authors provide case studies that illustrate their point.

Part Two: Post-glacial Foragers from 8000 – 4000 BCE, is the topic of part two. This is where the actual history begins and the authors go all over Europe. I loved the cases that the editors had after some of the articles, especially the one on Mount Sandel. I learned a few things about archeology that I didn’t know before but mostly I learned a lot about the Mesolithic period.

Part Three: Part three is about the transition from a hunter-gatherer society to an agricultural society. It took place between 7000 – 4000 BCE. This part lays down the foundation for the Neolithic package, again the case studies and essays presented give so much information that will be of interest to anyone studying the history of Europe during that time period.

Part Four: This part talks about the time period between 5000 – 2000 BCE. This is the period where farming is solidified and the societies fully adopt the Neolithic Package. I learned a lot in part four when it comes to the kinds of animals and crops grown in the Neolithic period and the cultures prevalent during that time. I also learned all about the consequences of the Neolithic package.

At the end of Volume one there are pictures of some of the places mentioned in the volume.

Volume two of Ancient Europe covers the period between 3000 BCE – 1000 CE, the Bronze Age to Early Middle Ages. This volume is further divided into smaller time periods and each one is given its own section.

Part Five: Masters of Metal 3000 – 1000 BCE. This part is about the emergence of the Bronze Age and the societies that worked with Bronze. The major changes in the Bronze Age come in the form of metallurgy, burials, and power and status among society. This part is amazing in that it explains EVERYTHING. I like the way that they assume the reading is coming to them as a clean slate. I especially loved the essays on Bronze Age Britain and Ireland.

Part Six: The European Iron Age 800 BCE – 400 CE. As with every other phase the beginning and end of the Iron Age really depend on where you are in Europe. The case studies provided really give great examples of what the articles talk about. The part also talks about the different people separately, like the Celts and the Germans.

Part Seven: Early Middle Ages and the Migration period. This part covers the period between 500 CE to 1000 CE. There are three essays in this part that I really enjoyed reading (all the essays are great but these were extra special), the first is on history and archeology and the second is on state formation and the third is on gender. There are also impressive essays on the migrations which includes featured essays on Jutes, Saxons, Angles and so on; as well as Christianity in Ireland at that time period.

At the end of Volume Two, just like Volume One there are pictures of the places mentioned in the volume. At the very end also there is a glossary of terms and an index that is pretty comprehensive.

A MUST HAVE TWO VOLUMES!  These two books are a treasure trove of articles that are simple to read and informative.  Each article is written by someone famous in that field and the editors have tried successfully to give background to pre-history, and archeology in order for the reader to understand what the articles are presenting.

Europe Between the Oceans by Barry Cunliffe

Europe dominated the world during the course of the second millennium CE, this domination came in the form of arts and sciences. The influence of Europe came from the mobility of its people. It only took a few centuries for the world to come under the influence of European culture.

This book doesn’t look at this time in European history but rather at the time it took to get there. The book looks at the period of history (and pre-history) from 9000 BCE to the end of the first millennium CE, at the time when the states of Europe familiar to us today began to emerge.

The author is emphasizing the fact that geography of the European peninsula had a huge effect on the way human population there developed. He also emphasizes the human factor; how competitive and curious they are and yet they are also conservative. He also discusses the interactions of the different human groups with their environment and each other.

In chapter one the author lays the foundation for his book by explaining the concepts of space, time and human interaction from the point of view of archeologists and historians as well as geographers through time. The author uses archeology, classical texts, dendrochronology, and weather as his resources for this book.

I think the beauty of this book is in the fact that it is written in a way that anyone picking it up will benefit from it. Whether you were a historian, archeologist, scientist or just someone interested in Europe there is something in there for every one. You don’t just know the history you also know the WHY of it. Its a must read for anyone researching European history. What I value the most about this book is the abundant maps that help you visualize what the author is talking about and the further reading section at the end of the book. I absolutely enjoyed reading this book slowly and savoring all the information presented in it.