Beaker People

Some say it’s the fringe characters that prevent stagnation and propel a society forward.  Others might counter that the fringe hasn’t done the United States any favors since the year 2000.  Lunacy aside, one thing is sure.  Rogue potters have left an indelible impact on the greater story of European and American ceramics.

One could almost say it all began with such scoundrels.  As the Late Neolithic moved into the Early Bronze Age, a raucous band scourged across Europe.  They began near the mouth of the Tagus River in Portugal and split into two paths, one roughly following the Atlantic coast northwards and the other arching through Italy, central Europe and Germany.  They eventually met up again in the British Isles.  There they made some major additions to Stonehenge, turning it more into what we know it as today.  Then they faded into obscurity.

Not much else is known about these people.  Except that they seemed to be good potters.  That is, their principle calling card (for modern archeologists anyway) was a distinct type of pottery with horizontal bands of geometric patterns.  Their most recognized form was a pitcher, or “beaker,” with a somewhat oversized but functional spout shaped like the lower mandible of a parrot’s beak.  The parrot beak spout survived long after its makers faded away.  It was not uncommon even on early Italian maiolica ewers.  The spout decanted wines from Bordeaux and followed the wine trade from that region into 14th century Plantagenet England.

The prevalence of those pre-historic beakers, and the continued association of their distant offspring with wine and alcohol, led some archeologists to speculate that they may have been used in rituals “dedicated to some fermented drink.”   If that was so, the theory continues, then perhaps their makers peddled intoxicating brews – served in those beakers – as one method of subjugating invaded populations.

Who knows?  In any event, to this day we that’s how we identify them: as the “Beaker People.”

The Concise Encyclopedia of Continental Pottery and Porcelain.  Reginald Haggar.  Hawthorn Books/New York.  1960.

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