The enigmatic origins of the Bell Beaker phenomenon
Dopson, Jana S.
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Bell Beaker pottery is an important, enigmatic, and well-documented phenomenon which appears suddenly and briefly in the archaeological record through most of Europe. These bellshaped goblets are extremely uniform considering their geographic distribution and are surprisingly widespread considering their short persistence. Previous research has suggested a variety of diverse origins for the Bell Beakers including as status symbols associated with knowledge of copper metallurgy, and recent carbon dating indicates possible Iberian genesis. Thorough review of current literature in French and English provided the basis for investigation and was supplemented by interviews of leading Swiss Beaker archaeologists and on-site investigation of Swiss museum holdings. Two major points of contention in Beaker research include where the Beakers originated geographically and whether the Beakers indicate the spread of a people or simply the expansion of ideas. Stylistic analysis of goblet decoration led to many competing theories about Beaker origins, but modern radiocarbon data show that the Beakers are oldest in Iberia and get progressively younger to the north and east. Careful study of Beaker accompaniments has shown that regional ceramics are important to understanding the cultural and social settings of the Beaker period, and three distinct Beaker sub-cultures have been identified. The contemporary existence of these groups and the lack of evidence revealing largescale migration imply that the archaeological Beaker culture is more representative of ideological, technological, and stylistic spread than en masse population movement. Beaker data is most consistent with a hypothesis supporting Iberian origins, metallurgy, and social status as important facets of Beaker success in Europe.