Brassington Moor Galley Low

Vestiges of an Antiquarian

Brassington Moor: Galley Low

The Bateman collection forms the basis for other ongoing scientific research such as the Beaker People Project (below).

The Beaker People Project and the Bateman collection
by Mandy Jay

The Beaker People Project is investigating patterns in mobility, diet, environment and subsistence practices during the Early Bronze Age across Britain, using isotopic data from the analysis of skeletal material and interpreting those within the archaeological and osteological context. It also includes an extensive programme of radiocarbon dating. It is currently a work-in-progress, being part of the way through a five year AHRC (Arts and Humanities Research Council) funded period. The project includes material from the north of Scotland down to the south of England and has focused on a number of specific museum collections which contain skeletal material from Beaker period burials. One of these is the Bateman collection, from which 24 individuals have been selected for isotopic analysis (see Jay et al. in press for a full list of the sites).

Of particular interest for this period in Britain is the question of whether there was significant mobility amongst the people associated with Beaker pottery. This is a question which can be directly addressed for individuals using isotope analysis. Nineteenth century antiquarian barrow-diggers noted a differentiation between the cranial metrics of skulls from Beaker burials (wide-headed, or brachycephalic) and those from Neolithic long barrows (narrow-headed, or dolichocephalic) (e.g., Thurnam 1865). Interest continues today in the possibility of this relating to a migrant population of people bringing Beaker pottery into Britain, although more recent discussions tend to focus less around mass migrations and more towards more limited personal mobility, with the transfer of ideas and material culture across distances mixing with local cultural developments (e.g. Vander Linden 2007). The debate has been revitalised since the discovery that the 'Amesbury Archer’ has an oxygen isotope signature which might support the interpretation of long-distance movement, perhaps even from the Alps region of central Europe (Fitzpatrick 2003).

For this project, a bone sample and one tooth has been taken from each individual selected for the study. Carbon, nitrogen and sulphur data are obtained from the organic collagen content of the bone and tooth root dentine, whilst strontium and oxygen data are obtained from the tooth enamel. Data from the latter two elements are generally used to obtain information about mobility in a population, whilst nitrogen, carbon and sulphur can help with the interpretation of diet as well as mobility. The research exploits the connections between the chemistry of the food and water consumed during life, the ways in which these are reflected in body tissues and the relationship between the dietary resources and local environments affecting the plants at the base of the food chain (geology, climate, etc.) (see Lee-Thorpe 2008 for a general review of isotopic techniques as applied to archaeological skeletal material).

Since the project involves the removal of a tooth from each individual, each one of these has been CT scanned prior to destructive analysis and the scans used to produce both physical and virtual models. Figure 1 shows a virtual model compiled from the CT scan data for one of the Bateman collection samples, alongside a stereomicroscope photograph of the tooth, whilst Figure 2 shows the CT scan data for one slice of the tooth. These allow a 3D rotation of the model and a view of the scan slices through the tooth.

Beaker People Project CT scan archives

The tooth archiving using CT scan data for the Bateman Collection can be accessed here. Two types of file are available: pdf files which include a 3D rotatable model of the tooth surface, and CT scan files which allow a cross-sectional view. Each file is named after the identification of the burial within the Beaker People Project. For the Bateman collection, these are SK 190 to SK 215. The details of the site, tooth, accession numbers, etc. are included at the top of the pdf files. At this point in time, only the files for SK 205 (Galley Low, J93.920 (P12)) are available here.

Pdf files

The pdf files should be opened using a recent version of the Adobe reader. If you do not have this on your computer, it can be freely downloaded from:

Each file is for one individual and contains two stereomicroscope photographs of the tooth, followed by a three-dimensional surface model which can be rotated on the screen. In order to rotate it, click on the surface model and wait a few seconds for the three-dimensional facility in Adobe to activate. Then left click your mouse with the cursor on the model and move the mouse to rotate it.

CT scan slices

These files can be read using the SkyScan software reader available at:
(Dataviewer in the 'Measurements and Visualization’ section)

Each tooth has a folder of 'slice' files. In order to open them as a group, click on 'Actions' on the top menu, then 'Open'. Then browse to the appropriate folder for the tooth you're interested in using the 'Look in' facility at the top of the 'Load image/dataset' window. Then click on one file from the folder, which will appear in the 'Open' facility, change 'Open as' to '3D view' and click on 'Open'. This will give you three sections, with a slider tool to the left of the screen which you can use to manually move through scan slices of the tooth. Alternatively, if the 'Open as' is left as '2D view', then an automatic moving view through one axis of the tooth will be displayed.


Some basic and early conclusions from the project suggest that people at this time were probably generally quite mobile regionally and locally, with limited numbers perhaps moving during their lifetimes across quite large distances. Their diets were quite similar for groups right across Britain, with quite high quantities of animal protein being consumed, but without significant levels of marine fish being eaten, even where sites are close to the coast. When the project is complete, details for individuals will be available, alongside the overall conclusions for Britain as a whole and for the Bateman collection specifically. This is expected to be by the end of 2010.


The Beaker People Project is a multi-disciplinary and multi-institutional undertaking, with too many people involved to list in detail. Core team members are Mike Parker Pearson, Mike Richards, Mandy Jay, Andrew Chamberlain, Janet Montgomery, Jane Evans, Olaf Nehlich, Alison Sheridan, Stuart Needham, Maura Pellegrini and Patrick Mahoney. Core institutions are University of Sheffield, Durham University, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (Leipzig), University of Bradford and NERC Isotope Geosciences Laboratory (NIGL, Nottingham). The scanning and tooth modelling presented here was undertaken at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, with particular thanks going to Matt Skinner, Robin Feeney, Tanya Smith, Heiko Temming, Kornelius Kupczik and Adeline Le Cabec. Many museums and their staff, alongside academics not listed here, have contributed material, expertise, enthusiasm and advice.

Selected References

Fitzpatrick, A. P. 2003. The Amesbury Archer. Current Archaeology, 16 (184): 146-152.

Jay, M., Parker Pearson, M., RIchards, M. P., Nehlich, O., Montgomery, J., Chamberlain, A. & Sheridan, A. In press. The Beaker People Project: an interim report on the progress of the isotopic analysis of the organic skeletal material. In M. J. Allen, A. Sheridan & D. McOmish (Eds.), The British Chalcolithic: People, place and polity in the later 3rd millennium, Prehistoric Society Research Paper No. 4. Oxford, The Prehistoric Society and Oxbow Books.

Jay, M. & Richards, M. P. 2007. The Beaker People Project: progress and prospects for the carbon, nitrogen and sulphur isotopic analysis of collagen. In M. Larsson & M. Parker Pearson (Eds.), From Stonehenge to the Baltic: Living with cultural diversity in the third millennium BC. Oxford, BAR International 1692. Pp: 77-82.

Lee-Thorp, J. A. 2008. On isotopes and old bones. Archaeometry, 50 (6): 925-950.

Thurnam, J. 1865. On the Two Principal Forms of Ancient British and Gaulish Skulls. London, Printed by T. Richards, from the Memoirs of the Anthropological Society of London, vol. 1.

Vander Linden, M. 2007. What linked the Bell Beakers in third millennium BC Europe? Antiquity, 81: 343-352.

How to cite this page: Vestiges of an Antiquarian, July 2009, The Pilot Web-site,, Accessed: 17 April 2014