Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

The Leiden Beaker Project

The Leiden Beaker Project aims to use approaches that give credit to the complexity and the many dimensions of the meaning and use of material culture. Signifying status may be one aspect of scarce objects, but several other things can be expressed through material culture. Exchange theory, for instance, emphasizes that artefacts represent the relation between people but also the relation between people and supernatural entities (including ancestors; Bazelmans 1999; Fontijn 2002). Hence their meaning is not only related to power and status, but they also have a place in the cosmology.

Harry Fokkens

It is certainly possible that particular items or classes of items were perceived as gifts from a supernatural entity and therefore derived their status and power from quite a different source than from personal achievements of the owner. From such a perspective the human owner may only have been perceived as the temporary keeper of an object. Hoskins (1998) shows how objects have their own biographies due to the role they play in exchanges. Without an understanding of these exchanges, we cannot understand the meaning of an object. Similarly Barraud et al. (1994, 5) stress that objects in non-western societies are not seen as objects but as subjects, closely intertwined with person and with roles that person plays within society. Through exchange between people and the supernatural, objects play an important role in the construction of personhood.

We take these perspectives as a point of departure for the analysis of the Beaker cultures and their meaning. Since in most countries burials are the dominant source of information on the Beaker Phenomenon, that will be a prominent part of our study. But Beaker domestic sites will be part of the study as well. We will try to collect as much data as possible in a relational database coupled to an image library and use this to analyse regional patterning and the relation to the phenomenon as a regional concept.

Major publications


  • Fokkens, H. & Nicolis, F. (2012). Background to Beakers. Leiden: Sidestone Press.
  • Fokkens, H. (2012). The Amesbury Archer and the Boscombe Bowmen. Bell Beaker burials at Boscombe Down, Amesbury, Wiltshire [Bespreking van het boek The Amesbury Archer and the Boscombe Bowmen. Bell Beaker burials at Boscombe Down, Amesbury, Wiltshire]. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society.
  • Fokkens, H., Achterkamp, I. & Kuijpers, M.H.G. (2008). Bracers or bracelets? About the functionaity and meaning of Bell Beaker wrist-guards. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, 74, 109-140. https://openaccess.leidenuniv.nl/handle/1887/14241
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