Further to the post about the Beaker hordes, I am quite intrigued by Prof MPP's argument that in the centuries around 5,000 yrs BP, Britain saw a sort of "Neolithic cultural high point" which coincided with the building of Stonehenge and all those BBQs at Durrington Walls, with sturdy wanderers arriving from all over the UK.
This is what we see on the BBC web site:
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'."
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."
So the Neolithic British community had the construction of massive stone monuments "absolutely as its core rationale" ?? I just do not believe that, since this is not supported by the evidence. Sure, there are lots of Neolithic stone monuments around, including cromlechs, stone alignments, stone circles etc. But were whole communities devoting their lives to building with big stones? No -- the great majority of their time was spent, then as now, on finding food, keeping warm and keeping the weather at bay. Family life, sex, hunting, gathering, making fire, tending animals, and (maybe) growing things were the priorities, and rituals including burial ceremonies and putting up stones happened now and then, involving some local traditions and some learned from other groups scattered about in nearby territories. I don't believe all this political unification stuff and the wacky theories about the long-distance transportation of ancestor stones, totems or symbolic "megalithic gifts." As I have said many times before, if the transport and presentation of big stones from distant places was a feature of "high Neolithic culture", why are there not megaliths at Stonehenge that have come from all points of the compass?
Indeed, the new work suggests that the Beaker people moving in from the east around 4,500 yrs BP took over a landscape that was not exactly derelict -- but neither was the community in residence particularly vibrant. So -- a culture in decline.... with Stonehenge as a last hurrah? Maybe this explains why the monument was never finished? The builders ran out of energy and they ran out od people.
In Britain the puzzle remains of what happened to the pre-Beaker population: people who had no metal tools but were capable of stupendous communal projects such as the construction of Stonehenge and the giant artificial hill of Silbury.
“It’s not necessarily a story of violent conquest,” Armit said. “There is some evidence of a declining population and increased growth of forests, suggesting that agriculture was in decline. We could be looking at climate change, or even an epidemic of imported disease to which they had no resistance. But we certainly now have the evidence that they were replaced – and they never came back.”
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.
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."
So it appears that around the time that Stonehenge was constructed (around 5,000 yrs BP) there was a population decline, a reduction in farming activity, and an expansion of woodlands and forests. This is not the sort of context in which MPP's story of bluestone quarrying, stone transport and political unification would have made any sense at all. The manpower resources were just not there.
and much more detail is now added in the 2018 article.