Cova de Moura, Galeria da Cisterna, and Verdelha dos Ruivos

Overarching period: Bronze Age, 5,200 - 2,500 BP
Specific period: Atlantic Bronze Age, 3,300 - 2,700 BP
Carbon dating: 4,063 - 4,700 years old
Cova de Moura - 39.10° North, 8.71° West
Galeria da Cisterna - 39.52° North, 8.62° West
Verdelha dos Ruivos - 38.88° North, 9.08° West
Site location country: Portugal
mtDNA haplogroups: U, K, X
Y haplogroups: I

Oase Skull Example of a Bell Beaker Vessel [12]

The Bell Beaker Culture of Iberia:

The Bell Beaker Culture was a Bronze Age culture that existed in areas scattered across Central and Western Europe, including present-day Britain, France, Spain, Portugal and Germany. It was strongly associated with the Corded Ware Cultures that appeared around the same time and in the same regions [6].

The Bell Beaker culture is typically identified by the presence of characteristic bell-shaped decorated pottery, but certain other materials are also often associated with people from this culture, including arrowheads, copper daggers, and v-perforated buttons [7]. The appearance of the Bell Beaker and Corded Ware Cultures of Europe have proven to be enigmatic in the history of the continent. Both were remarkably uniform cultures that spread quickly across broad swathes of the continent, with evidence that the Corded Ware peoples migrated from the east. There has been much debate of where these cultures came from. Although they are now considered to have originated in the Pontic Steppe region of what is now Ukraine and Russia, between the Caspian and Black Seas [2-3], some authors argue that the Bell Beaker culture originated near an estuary of the river Tagus, of the Iberian Peninsula [10]. The people that are believed to be source of the Corded Ware Culture were the Yamnaya, a named derived from the Russian for the pit burials that were found in present-day Ukraine and Russia [11].

Bell beakers were probably primarily intended for rituals, perhaps in ceremonies involving a transformation [13]. Archaeologists once proposed that they represented a male-drinking tradition [14], but current research suggests this may not be accurate. Whilst some beakers were used to hold beer and mead, others were used to smelt copper ores, and some used to store food [13]. The beakers were made of local material, so their distribution could demonstrate small changes population changes, such as the movement of marriage partners [15]. Whatever the use of these vessels, they were clearly significant to the culture and are often found at burial sites.

The Individuals from Cova de Moura, Galeria da Cisterna and Verdelha dos Ruivos:

The individuals in this sample were found in present-day Portugal. One individual was found at the site of Cova da Moura, a kilometer (two thirds of a mile) east of the town Torres Vedras. Two individuals were found at the site of Galeria da Cisterna, on the north side of the village Almonda in the municipality of Torres Novas. Three individuals were from the site of Verdelha dos Ruivos, twenty kilometers (twelve miles) north of Lisbon. The individuals were carbon dated to between 4,063 and 4,700 years old [16].

The site of Cova da Moura is a natural cave, used as a collective burial between 5,700 and 4,200 years ago. Ninety individuals have been found in the cave, including fifteen children [16]. The richest known burial in the region, Cova da Moura had many grave goods including limestone and bone idols and bone, ivory and variscite rabbit figurines, green stone pendants, gold artefacts, engraved slate plaques, beads, and Bell Beaker pottery [17].

The site of Galeria da Cisterna is another collective burial, the entrance to which was exposed in the 1920s by a landslide. Grave goods including Bell Beaker V-perforated ivory buttons and a small fragment of a gold spiral were found at the site [16]. The final site is the site of Verdelha dos Ruivos, which was a small natural cave used for the burial of forty-four Bell Beaker individuals [16]. Ceramics found surrounding the site included Bell Beaker pottery and Palmela bowls [18].

Bell Beaker pottery had spread across Europe by 4,750 years ago. Whether it spread by diffusion of technology or migration of people is debated. Genetic analysis of the individuals in this sample revealed that they are relatively unrelated to other Bell Beaker individuals found in central Europe. This suggests that the similar Bell Beaker culture in Iberia and central Europe spread by diffusion of technology, not through movement of people [16].

Two of the individuals in this sample belonged to the mitochondrial haplogroup U, which was the most common haplogroup among European hunter-gatherers of the Paleolithic and still exists in Europe today although at lower frequencies due to the genetic contribution of incoming European farmers [19]. Two of the individuals belonged to the mitochondrial haplogroup K, which is common in Europe today and was recently derived from U [20]. One individual belonged to the mitochondrial haplogroup X, which is found today in lower proportions in Europe but higher in West Asia. It has also been found in Native Americans. This large geographic distribution suggests it appeared in the Paleolithic [21,22].

Of the three individuals in this sample, Y-chromosomal haplogroup data could not be obtained for one. The other two males were in the Y-chromosomal haplogroup I, which is found today in Europe and West Asia, particularly towards caucuses. It likely originated in the European Paleolithic [23].