Via Guidorossi and Pergole 2

Overarching period: Copper Age, 6,500 to 3,700 BP
Specific period: Bell Beaker Culture, 4800 – 3800 BP
Carbon dating: 3,900 - 4,500 years old
Via Guidorossi - 44.80° North, °10.33 East
Pergole 2 - 37.73° North, 12.96° East
Site location country: Italy
mtDNA haplogroups: T, K, H, R
Y haplogroups: R

Bell Beaker Pot Example of Bell Beaker Vessel [20]

The Bell Beaker Culture of Italy and Sicily:

The Bell Beaker Culture was a Bronze and Copper 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 [11].

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 [12].

The Bell Beaker culture also spread to parts of present-day Italy and Sicily. It is believed that the Bell Beaker phenomenon had only a marginal dispersal into Sicily, and therefore did not heavily influence the following cultures. Nonetheless, some unique Bell Beaker pottery has been found in the area. The ceramics were similar to those from Iberia in shape, but with extensive paint (red, black and white), similar to the pottery of the local Sicilian Malpasso culture [13]. The parts of Sicily (the western regions) which have Bell Beaker ceramics also have a style of funerary practice distinct from the rest of Sicily [14]. This has led scientists to believe that the Bell Beaker pottery represents a migration of people into Sicily, rather than a diffusion of technology.

Despite the rich archaeological record of Italy, Bell Beaker ceramics have only been found in the northern and western parts of the region, suggesting again that diffusion was minimal. The ceramics found in these areas are similar to those found in Sicily [15].

The appearance of the Bell Beaker and Corded Ware Cultures of Europe have proven to be an enigmatic period 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 started in the east, although there has been much debate of where these cultures came from. 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 [16,17], although some authors argue that the Bell Beaker culture originated near an estuary of the river Tagus, of the Iberian Peninsula [18]. 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 [19].

Bell beakers were probably primarily intended for rituals, perhaps in ceremonies involving a transformation [21]. Archaeologists once proposed that they represented a male-drinking tradition [22], 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 [21]. The beakers were made of local material, so their distribution could demonstrate small changes population changes, such as the movement of marriage partners [23]. Whatever the use of these vessels, they were clearly significant to the culture and are often found at burial sites.

The Individuals from Via Guidorossi and Pergole 2:

The six individuals in this sample were found at two sites in present-day Italy and Sicily. Three individuals were found at the site of Via Guidorossi, which is on the east side of the city of Parma, in the region of Emilia Romagna, present-day Italy. The other three individuals were found at the site of Pergole 2, which is between the towns of Salaparuta and Partanna, in the province of Trapani, present-day Sicily. The individuals in this sample were carbon dated to between 3,900 and 4,500 years old [24].

The site of Via Guidorossi corresponds to an advanced Bell Beaker period. The first tomb contained two skeletons, a female and a male. The female was about thirty years old when she died, the male thirty to forty. Two Bell Beaker vessels were buried alongside his feet, and another two were found further down the tomb. One of the vessels was painted in a similar to others found at nearby sites. The woman had a knife buried between her legs. The third individual in this sample from this site was found in a second tomb, along with two other skeletons. This individual was a fifteen to eighteen-year-old female, buried with a sixty and a fifty-year-old male. Several Bell Beaker vessels were associated with this grave. All female individuals found were facing south-north, all males north-south. This practice is common in central European Bell Beaker sites [24].

The site of Pergole 2 is a small artificial cave, used as a collective grave. The individuals were buried with a Beaker cup, a large decorated footed bowl, a miniaturistic vase and a long bone dagger. Two of the individuals in this sample found at this site were female, the sex of the third could not be determined [24].

Although due to archaeological evidence it is clear that the Bell Beaker culture spread across Europe, it is unclear whether this spread was driven by diffusion of culture or migration of people. Genetic analysis from the individuals in this sample demonstrated that there are significant genetic differences in Bell Beaker peoples from Iberia and elsewhere in Europe, suggesting that the widespread culture was due to diffusion of technology rather than movement of people [24]. However, as stated earlier, the funerary practice at one of the sites mirrored those in central Europe, as is often seen at Bell Beaker sites [14]. This implies that rituals may also have diffused across peoples in Europe at this time.

Interestingly, genetic analysis demonstrated that the individuals found in Sicily (along with those found in Iberia) had less steppe ancestry than the rest of the European populations [24], suggesting that the migration from the steppe which covered much of Europe did not reach as far south into present-day Italy into Sicily.

Two of the individuals in this sample belonged to mitochondrial haplogroup T, which is probably Middle-Eastern in origin. Today it is found in low frequencies in Europe, and is also found throughout Central Asia [25,26]. Another two individuals belonged to the mitochondrial haplogroup K, which is common in Europe today and was recently derived from U [27]. Mitochondrial haplogroup U 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 [28]. One individual belonged to the mitochondrial haplogroup H, which is also commonly found in Europe today and is known to have Middle Eastern origins. It has been found in Mesolithic hunter-gatherers, and existed in Europe prior to the arrival of agriculture [29]. The final individual belonged to the mitochondrial haplogroup R, which is a common haplogroup worldwide today. It is believed to be a split from the N haplogroup, which appeared in Africa in the Paleolithic [31]. The only known male in this sample belonged to the Y-chromosomal haplogroup R, which is thought to have arisen in southeast Asia during the Paleolithic. Today it is widespread around the world [31].