Bell Beaker Archers: Warriors or an Ideology?

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Jessica Ryan
Jocelyn Desideri
Marie Besse


In terms of funerary archaeology, the Bell Beaker period in Europe exhibits two main burial complexes: collective burials in the West and single graves in the East. This study focuses on the implication of stone wristguards, as well as other objects associated with archery, included in select single inhumation burials of the Eastern complex. Such stone wristguards are currently interpreted as a piece of protective equipment used by archers; however their fabrications in stone and the overall lack of evidence for usage raises the question of practicality. Were these wristguards used in the everyday lives of warriors or were they symbolic? And were the individuals interred with these wristguards archers themselves? Answering these questions could address a bigger question concerning the presence of a social class of archers and its implications towards the importance of warfare at a time of transition from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age.

In order to respond to these questions, this paper first examines the evidence and the archaeological perspective on archery and warfare throughout the Neolithic, culminating in the Bell Beaker period. This is followed by an anthropological approach attempting to identify specialized archery from the osteological remains of 27 Bell Beaker individuals from Bohemia (Czech Republic), 10 of whom were buried in the presence of stone wristguards thus classifying them as "suspected archers".

Anthropological analyses involved integrating the human biomechanics of archery with classifications of entheseal changes in order to postulate on an individual’s likelihood of having been a specialized archer. While these analyses revealed minimal differences between specific points on the skeletons of the suspected and non-suspected archers, the suspected archers do share some common characteristics. This study validates the use of anthropological analyses in identifying specialized archers. These results also indicate that the individuals interred with stone wristguards were likely archers themselves. Identifying a specialized archer in the presence of artisanal archery goods provides additional evidence for a class of archers during the Bell Beaker period.

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How to Cite
Ryan et al. 2018: J. Ryan/J. Desideri/M. Besse, Bell Beaker Archers: Warriors or an Ideology?. JNA 20, 2, 2018, 97–122. DOI: