Some of the ideas discussed in this blog are published in my book called "The Bluestone Enigma" -- available by post and through good bookshops everywhere. Bad bookshops might not have it....
To order, click

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Arrival of the Beaker hordes

This is a relatively short paper involving cooperation between a host of authors from all over the western world........

There is also a comprehensive write-up on the BBC web site.  In it, Prof MPP gives his own spin -- this will not necessarily be the interpretation placed on things by the other authors of the Nature article.  Quite a lot to discuss here......  I may well do another post when I have digested the contents better.

The Beaker phenomenon and the genomic transformation of northwest Europe

by Olalde, I et al (there appear to be 107 authors!) (201


Nature 2018

From around 2750 to 2500 BC , Bell Beaker pottery became widespread across western and central Europe, before it disappeared between 2200 and 1800 BC. The forces that propelled its expansion are a matter of long-standing debate, and there is support for both cultural diffusion and migration having a role in this process. Here we present genome-wide data from 400 Neolithic, Copper Age and Bronze Age Europeans, including 226 individuals associated with Beaker-complex artefacts. We detected limited genetic affinity between Beaker-complex-associated individuals from Iberia and central Europe, and thus exclude migration as an important mechanism of spread between these two regions.
However, migration had a key role in the further dissemination of the Beaker complex. We document this phenomenon most clearly in Britain, where the spread of the Beaker complex introduced high levels of steppe-related ancestry and was associated with the replacement of approximately 90% of Britain’s gene pool within a few hundred years, continuing the east-to-west expansion that had brought steppe-related ancestry into central and northern Europe over the  previous centuries.

See also:

BBC text reproduced here:

Ancient Britons 'replaced' by newcomers

By Paul RinconScience editor, BBC News website
The ancient population of Britain was almost completely replaced by newcomers about 4,500 years ago, a study shows.
The findings mean modern Britons trace just a small fraction of their ancestry to the people who built Stonehenge.
The astonishing result comes from analysis of DNA extracted from 400 ancient remains across Europe.
The mammoth study, published in Nature, suggests the newcomers, known as Beaker people, replaced 90% of the British gene pool in a few hundred years.

Lead author Prof David Reich, from Harvard Medical School in Cambridge, US, said: "The magnitude and suddenness of the population replacement is highly unexpected."
The reasons remain unclear, but climate change, disease and ecological disaster could all have played a role.
People in Britain lived by hunting and gathering until agriculture was introduced from continental Europe about 6,000 years ago. These Neolithic farmers, who traced their origins to Anatolia (modern Turkey) built giant stone (or "megalithic") structures such as Stonehenge in Wiltshire, huge Earth mounds and sophisticated settlements such as Skara Brae in the Orkneys.

But towards the end of the Neolithic, about 4,450 years ago, a new way of life spread to Britain from Europe. People began burying their dead with stylised bell-shaped pots, copper daggers, arrowheads, stone wrist guards and distinctive perforated buttons.

Co-author Dr Carles Lalueza-Fox, from the Institute of Evolutionary Biology (IBE) in Barcelona, Spain, said the Beaker traditions probably started "as a kind of fashion" in Iberia after 5,000 years ago.

From here, the culture spread very fast by word of mouth to Central Europe. After it was adopted by people in Central Europe, it exploded in every direction - but through the movement of people.
Monument builders

Prof Reich told BBC News: "Archaeologists ever since the Second World War have been very sceptical about proposals of large-scale movements of people in prehistory. But what the genetics are showing - with the clearest example now in Britain at Beaker times - is that these large-scale migrations occurred, even after the spread of agriculture."

The genetic data, from hundreds of ancient British genomes, reveals that the Beakers were a distinct population from the Neolithic British. After their arrival on the island, Beaker genes appear to swamp those of the native farmers.

Prof Reich added: "The previous inhabitants had just put up the big stones at Stonehenge, which became a national place of pilgrimage as reflected by goods brought from the far corners of Britain." 

He added: "The sophisticated ancient peoples who built that monument and ones like it could not have known that within a short period of time their descendants would be gone and their lands overrun."

The newcomers brought ancestry from nomadic groups originating on the Pontic Steppe, a grassland region extending from Ukraine to Kazakhstan. These nomads moved west during the Neolithic, mixing heavily with established populations in Europe. The Beaker migration marks the first time this eastern genetic signature appears in Britain.

Archaeologist and study co-author Mike Parker Pearson, from University College London (UCL), said Neolithic Britons and Beaker groups organised their societies in very different ways. The construction of massive stone monuments, co-opting hundreds of people, was an alien concept to Beakers, but the Neolithic British community "has that absolutely as its core rationale".

"[The Beaker people] are not prepared to collaborate on enormous labour-mobilising projects; their society is more de-centralised," said Prof Parker Pearson. "We don't have a good expression for it, but the Americans do, and that is: nobody is willing to work for 'The Man'."
'Neolithic Brexit'

The Beaker folk seemed to favour more modest round "barrows", or earth burial mounds, to cover the distinguished dead. The group is also intimately associated with the arrival of metalworking to Britain.

Prof Parker Pearson commented: "They're the people who bring Britain out of the Stone Age. Up until then, the people of Britain had cut themselves off from the continent - 'Neolithic Brexit'. This is the moment when Britain re-joins the continent after 1,000 years of isolation - most of the rest of Europe was well out of the Stone Age by this point."

What triggered the massive genetic shift remains unclear. But a paper published in PNAS journal last year suggested a downturn in the climate around 5,500 years ago (3,500 BC) pushed Neolithic populations into a thousand-year-long decline.

Dr Steven Shennan, from UCL, who co-authored that study, told BBC News: "In Britain, after a population peak at around 3,500 or 3,600 BC, the population goes down steadily and it stays at a pretty low level until about 2,500 BC and then starts going up again. Around 2,500 BC the population is very low and that's precisely when the Beaker population seems to come in."

The reasons behind this slow population decline were probably complex, but the temporary downturn in the climate caused a permanent change in the way people farmed. One possibility is that the over-exploitation of land by Neolithic farmers applied pressure to food production.
Plague question

But disease may also have played a role in the population shift: "We have some intriguing evidence that some of the Steppe nomads carried plague with them," said Lalueza-Fox.

"It could just be that the plague went with these migrants into Britain and the Neolithic population had not been in contact with this pathogen before."

Whatever did happen, Prof Parker Pearson is doubtful about the possibility of a violent invasion. The Beakers, he said, were "moving in very small groups or individually".

He explained: "This is no great horde, jumping in boats en masse... it's a very long, slow process of migration." Furthermore, the incidence of interpersonal violence appears to be higher in Neolithic Britain (7%) than it was in the Beaker period (1%)

The Nature study examines the Beaker phenomenon across Europe using DNA from hundreds more samples, including remains from Holland, Spain, the Czech Republic, Italy and France.

Another intriguing possibility links the Beaker people with the spread of Celtic languages. Although many linguistics experts believe Celtic spread thousands of years later, Dr Lalueza-Fox said: "In my view, the massive population turnover must be accompanied by a language replacement."

Preseli through rose-tinted spectacles

Since we all love the Preseli uplands (even those of us who have never been there!) I could not resist posting this pic, taken the other day just after dawn by Tez Marsden.  The colours are extraordinary, and Tez assures us that they are not tampered with!

Tez, by the way, lives with his wife Julie in the cottage next to that infamous crag called Craig Rhosyfelin..........

Britain's lost glaciers.....

Many thanks to Davey for drawing this to my attention.  Very interesting indeed -- I was fascinated by the reconstructions, and I hope others will be too.  This is a standard teaching technique in geomorphology -- I have always used it, since it's much easier for inexperienced people to "see" past landscapes by using analogies from elsewhere.

The nice thing about these examples is that Peter Roberts has used Photoshop to great effect, by adding glaciers where there are none today.  It seems to me that he has been pretty careful too.  Good work, that man!'s_lost_glaciers-10207

Friday, 16 February 2018

World of Ice photo gallery

For those friends who are interested in ice in all its forms, and its effects on landscape, you might like to take a look at my Pinterest Gallery.  Enjoy!!

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Abermawr Holocene sediments

Over all the years I have been studying the sediment sequence at Abermawr (on the North Pembrokeshire coast) I have never before seen so much of the storm beach stripped away.  And it has been a big surprise.

I had assumed that the storm beach - which is quite spectacular -- was very thick indeed -- maybe 3m or 4m thick, and that it was resting on a deep notch cut into the underlying Devensian and Holocene sediments.

However, we can see in the above photo (showing the northern drift cliff)  that there is no deep erosional notch, and that the pebbles rest on a steeply sloping surface of till and underlying periglacial slope deposits (the lower head).  The volume of the pebble beach is maybe just 50% of what I had assumed.........

If we assume a similar situation for the middle part of the bay, this is realistic:

In other words, the storm beach in the middle of the bay does not rest on a deeply cut notch but on a slope of organic silts and clays dating from the Holocene.  I am not sure whether there is actually a stratigraphic break between the submerged forest layer and the Holocene organic layers -- maybe they are both part of a continuum.

I now think that the front face of the stormbeach is not very thick at all -- I shall keep it under observation.

The sandy beach rises and falls according to the severity of winter storms -- so sometimes the submerged forest is visible, and sometimes not.


Abermawr is one of the "top 50" Pleistocene sites in the UK -- details here:

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Submerged forest at Abermawr

After the winter storms (or some of them -- they probably haven't finished yet) there are some nice exposures of the submerged forest at the bottom edge of the storm beach.  It was a bit too stormy today, and the tide wasn't low enough to examine the exposures properly -- but as usual we can see fallen trees and branches, old tree roots and patches of peat.

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Perched block near Lake Superior

This is rather splendid a perched erratic block left at the end of the Wisconsin glaciation not far from the shore of Lake Superior.  it was published on Pinterest -- not sure who the photographer was.....