Seascapes: Tracing the Emergence and Spread of Maritime Networks in the Central and Western Mediterranean in the 3rd Millennium BC

  • Cramp, Lucy J E (Principal Investigator)
  • Ivanova, Maria (Principal Investigator)

Project Details


he Bell Beaker phenomenon has long been recognised as a material expression of a major spread of people and practices across Europe and the Mediterranean during the 3rd millennium BCE. During this period, the 'mental mapping' of the Mediterranean as a maritime space reached a critical stage; the influx of new people and cultural traits, combined with a boom in seaborne exchange, meant for the first time the western and central Mediterranean became integrated into a large maritime cultural area, foreshadowing the emergence of major Mediterranean civilizations in the next millennium.

Archaeologists have viewed the so-called 'Bell Beaker' ceramics as a material expression of this maritime dispersal, reaching out from the coasts of Portugal to Tyrrhenian Italy. However, the poor chronological resolution and consequent lack of cross-regional timescales means scholarly discussions on the dynamics of this early maritime world tend to take a (micro)regional perspective and hence, the emergence of these far-flung networks are obscure. The aim of this project is to investigate the origins and large-scale dynamics of early maritimeconnectivity in the Mediterranean using a two-fold approach (i) to conduct the first large-scale radiocarbon dating programme of Mediterranean Bell Beakers, more than doubling the number of high quality radiocarbon dates from Mediterranean sites and providing the first adequate dating for a number of its regional variants and (ii) to conduct chrono-spatial modelling of the dynamics of the origins and spread of these emerging maritime networks during the 3rd millennium BCE, using newly generated and compiled chronological, cultural, dietary and environmental evidence. The timely development of compound-specific radiocarbon dating of absorbed pottery lipids offers a solution to previous dating limitations, and for the first time provides certainty of association with characteristic beakers themselves. This now enables the direct testing of proposed typochronological sequences of pottery in Iberia, with wider implications for understanding the chronological framework of Bell Beaker expansion in Europe. Our novel approach, which integrates a new major programme of 14C dating with spatio-temporal modelling using material culture requires connecting leading expertise in prehistoric maritime connectivity and material culture, biomolecular archaeology, radiocarbon dating and statistical modelling, resulting in the establishment of a lasting virtual centre of excellence ('ArchaeoLinks') across the two partner countries and their international networks.

Layman's description

This project involves a major programme of radiocarbon dating and spatio-temporal modelling to investigate the origins and large-scale dynamics of early maritime​ connectivity in the Mediterranean associated with the spread of the so-called ‘Bell Beaker’ phenomenon.

This project connects expertise in​ prehistoric maritime connectivity and material culture, biomolecular​ archaeology, radiocarbon dating and statistical modelling.
Effective start/end date1/05/201/05/23


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