Sunday, December 4, 2016

200 Ancient Bell Beaker Genomes To Be Released March 2017

One of the biggest mysteries in the study of the historical linguistics and population genetics of Europe is the role played by the Bell Beaker culture. 

One view sees it as a small number of culturally influential traders, craftsmen and priests. Another sees it as a major folk migration. Its putative origins range from North Africa to Iberia to Germany to the Balkans to the Baltics to Crete to the European Steppe. Some see it as a linguistically Indo-European source for the Celtic languages. Others see it as linguistically Vasconic, a language family now represented by only one living language, Basque.

This spring, according to Jean Marco via Eurogenes we are going to have a lot more clues to work from:
Reporting back on the lecture on Bell Beaker by Volker Heyd this evening in Dorchester. The expected two aDNA papers on Bell Beaker have been delayed for the best possible reason. The two teams, one from Harvard and the other from Copenhagen, have agreed to amalgamate their results into one huge paper, which will give the results of over 200 samples. It is due to be published in a couple of months. Until then all the results are embargoed. Volker Heyd would only say that they are exciting. 
He would also prefer me not to divulge everything he said at the lecture on the archaeological side, since he has a paper coming out in the March issue of Antiquity on Bell Beaker; while in the same issue will be one by Kristiansen on Corded Ware. So I'll be brief. He went through the various theories of the origins of Bell Beaker: the Dutch model prevalent until the 1990s, the change wrought by the Muller and Van Willigen radiocarbon date compilation of 2001 and subsequent publications of early dates in Iberia, the various attempts to make sense of an Iberian origin. The problem of the latter and of the idea of a North African origin are the same in his view. There is no prior usage of cord in pottery decoration of either. So he sticks by the Yamnaya link to a pre-BB culture proposed in Harrison and Heyd 2007. The icing on the cake lies in two significant new discoveries, which are not entirely published as yet.
The referenced paper and its abstract are as follows:
The megalithic cemetery of Sion-'Le Petit Chasseur I+III' offers a unique chance to analyse patterns of social change throughout most of the third millennium BC, and to demonstrate how a local population adjusts to the pan-European ideological changes of that period. Our analysis of the funeral monuments, the anthropomorphic stelae, and the material remains (which form three independent Quellengruppen) shows the tensions between tradition and innovation, and the successive adaptions of a local Late Neolithic population to the different branches of the Bell Beaker ideology and the Early Bronze Age. We compare Sion with the similar structured site of Aosta-'St.Martin-de-Corléans', and locate both complexes in the wider framework of Europe in the third millennium BC. The comparison extends to include the immigration of the Yamnaya populations from the northern Pontic steppes into east and southeast Europe, and ends with the emergence of the Bell Beaker phenomenon on the west of the Iberian Peninsula. This is all set into the wider transformation horizon between 2900 and 2700 BC. Specific innovations are described and analysed.
Richard Harrison and Volker Heyd, "The Transformation of Europe in the Third Millenium BC: the example of 'Le Petit-Chasseur I +III' (Sion, Valais, Switzerland)", 82(2) Praehistorische Zeilschrift 129-214 (January 2007).

Bell Beaker Blogger has more good analysis of this news. Some of his key insights:
This March paper in Cambridge's Antiquity will be a revisit of an important paper that appeared in Antiquity in 1974, "Origins of the Bell Beaker cultures" by Richard J. Harrison. Harrison proposed a model for the formation of the Bell Beaker culture . . . . 
To sum it up rather succinctly, Afro-Iberian Maritime Beakers electrocuted themselves in the domain of the Single Grave Culture of the Dutch Rhine. When the door of the tele-transport opens, a sort of hybrid steps out and then clobbers Europe and North Africa from this location. . . .

Another paper will be penned by Kristain Kristainsen, probably concerning the origins of the Dutch Single Grave Culture. I'll assume that we will see a fluctuation in Steppe Ancestry from the beginning of the SGC where it spikes, and then its diminishing as the Bell Beaker culture begins to take hold. 
So now I'll speculate on what surprises may be in store that would truly be surprising. Surprising would be if they were able to isolate the two components at the earliest phase, like a PFB that was R1b-M269 and a MN-styled Maritime Iberian in the Lower Rhine at about the same time (or some weird combination). 
Overall, I think that despite the far-flung regions where they may have genomes, they might be looking hard at a fusion area in the vicinity of the Lower Rhine.

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