Prehistoric Society Research Paper 7

The Beaker People: Isotopes, Mobility and Diet in Prehistoric Britain

June 2019
Edited by Mike Parker Pearson, Alison Sheridan, Mandy Jay, Andrew Chamberlain, Mike Richards and Jane Evans
Cover of The Beaker People research paper.


The Beaker People: Isotopes, Mobility and Diet in Prehistoric Britain presents the results of a major project that sought to address a century-old question about the people who were buried with Beakers – the distinctive pottery of Continental origin that was current, predominantly in equally distinctive burials, in Britain from around 2450 BC. Who were these people? Were they immigrants and how far did they move around? What did they eat? What was their lifestyle? How do they compare with Britain’s earlier inhabitants and with contemporaries who did not use Beaker pottery?

An international team of leading archaeologists and scientists, led by Professor Mike Parker Pearson, was assembled to address these questions. Around 300 skeletons were subjected to isotope analysis to explore patterns of mobility and diet, and 150 new radiocarbon dates were obtained. Dental microwear was examined for 64 individuals to provide further information about the food they had eaten, and new information on the sex and age of 201 people obtained. A comparative study was undertaken of the shape and size of Beaker users’ skulls and those of Neolithic people in the Peak District of England, to examine the long-held claim that there was a switch from long-headed to round-headed people with the appearance of Beakers. Tantalising evidence for head-binding among Neolithic people was found.

The range of objects found in Beaker graves was reviewed. In addition, the Beaker People Project was able to incorporate the results of another project, focusing on Beaker users in north-east Scotland (The Beakers and Bodies Project) along with other recently obtained data, including ancient DNA results. Overall, new light has been shed on 369 people: 333 Beaker and non-Beaker users from the core 2500–1500 BC period, along with 17 from the Neolithic and 19 from after 1500 BC. While the genetic data provide convincing evidence for immigration by Continental Beaker users, the isotopic data indicate a more detailed picture of movements, mostly of fairly short distances within Britain, by the descendants of the first Beaker users. This lavishly illustrated book presents a body of data that will be vital to studies of Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age Britain for decades to come.


  1. Introduction
    Mike Parker Pearson, Mandy Jay and Alison Sheridan
  2. Radiocarbon dates and their Bayesian modelling
    Mandy Jay, Michael P. Richards and Peter Marshall
  3. Economy and society in Beaker-period Britain
    Mike Parker Pearson
  4. The Beaker People Project individuals, their funerary practices and their grave goods
    Mike Parker Pearson, Stuart Needham and Alison Sheridan with Alex Gibson
  5. Beakers and bodies in north-east Scotland: a regional and contextual study
    Neil Curtis and Neil Wilkin, with Margaret Hutchison
  6. Aspects of human osteology and skeletal biology
    Chris A. Deter, Patrick Mahoney, Sarah E. Johns and Sandra Thomas
  7. Dental microwear: 2D and 3D approaches
    Patrick Mahoney, Laura Chiu, Pia Nystrom, Chris A. Deter and Christopher W. Schmidt
  8. Carbon and nitrogen isotopic analysis
    Mandy Jay and Michael P. Richards
  9. Sulphur isotopic analysis
    Mandy Jay, Olaf Nehlich and Michael P. Richards
  10. Strontium isotopic analysis
    Janet Montgomery, Jane Evans and Jacqueline Towers
  11. Oxygen isotopic analysis
    Maura Pellegrini, Mandy Jay and Michael P. Richards
  12. Synthesis, discussion and conclusions
    Mike Parker Pearson, Mandy Jay, Janet Montgomery, Alison Sheridan and Stuart Needham
  13. Bibliography
  14. Appendix 1. The pre-2500 BC individuals
    Mandy Jay, Janet Montg omery, Mike Parker Pearson and Alison Sheridan
  15. Appendix 2. The post-1500 BC individuals
    Mandy Jay, Janet Montg omery, Mike Parker Pearson and Alison Sheridan
  16. Appendix 3. Details of findspot location, current location of the human remains and bibliographic references for the skeletal material studied by the Beaker People Project
    Mandy Jay and Alison Sheridan
  17. Appendix 4. Location group, period, incidence of association with Beaker or Food Vessel and sex and age identifications
    Mandy Jay and Alison Sheridan
  18. Appendix 5. Analytical and dating work undertaken for the Beaker People Project and the Beakers and Bodies Project (plus other data used by these projects)
    Mandy Jay and Alison Sheridan
  19. Appendix 6. Part 1. Details of the individuals studied in the Beakers and Bodies Project: findspot, identifier, NGR, find date, associations and radiocarbon dates
    Margaret Hutchison
  20. Appendix 6. Part 2. Osteological information and data on orientation and disposition in the grave of individuals studied in the Beakers and Bodies Project
    Margaret Hutchison
  21. Index