A beaker is a small ceramic or metal drinking vessel shaped to be held in the hands. Archaeologists identify several different types including the butt beaker, the claw beaker and the rough-cast beaker, however when used alone the term usually refers to the pottery cups associated with the European Beaker culture of the late Neolithic and early Bronze Age.
This type of beaker was first defined by Lord Abercromby in the early twentieth century and comes in three distinct forms, the bell beaker and the rarer short-necked and long-necked beakers although there are many variations on these basic types.
Bell beakers appear to be the earliest type and are often covered with decoration made from impressing twisted cord into the unfired clay. When the decoration covers the whole vessel they are known as all-over corded (AOC) beakers. Where comb designs are used, perhaps along with cord impressions they are called all-over ornamented (AOO) beakers. Some have a looped handle on one side or a white coloured material pressed into the decoration, contrasting with the orange or brown ceramic.
Traditionally they were superseded by the short-necked beakers which in turn were replaced by long-necked forms. Work by Humphrey Case in the 1990s has suggested that the three styles were used contemporaneously for different purposes.
- Oxford Concise Dictionary of Archaeology, Darvill, T, OUP, 2003
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