Central European Early Bronze Age chronology revisited: A Bayesian examination of large-scale radiocarbon dating

Brunner, Mirco; von Felten, Jonas; Hinz, Martin; Hafner, Albert (2020). Central European Early Bronze Age chronology revisited: A Bayesian examination of large-scale radiocarbon dating. PLoS ONE, 15(12), pp. 1-24. Public Library of Science 10.1371/journal.pone.0243719

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In archaeological research, changes in material culture and the evolution of styles are taken as major indicators for socio-cultural transformation. They form the basis for typo-chronological classification and the establishment of phases and periods. Central European Bronze Age material culture from burials reveals changes during the Bronze Age and represents a perfect case study for analyzing phenomena of cultural change and the adoption of innovation in the societies of prehistoric Europe. Our study focuses on the large-scale change in material culture which took place in the second millennium BC and the emergence at the same period of new burial rites: the shift from inhumation burials in flat graves to complex mounds and simple cremation burials. Paul Reinecke was the first to divide the European Bronze Age (EBA) into two phases, Bz A1 and A2. The shift from the first to the second phase has so far been ascribed to technical advances. Our study adopted an innovative approach to quantifying this phenomenon. Through regressive reciprocal averaging and Bayesian analysis of radiocarbon-dated grave contexts located in Switzerland and southern Germany, we modelled chronological changes in the material culture and changes in burial rites in these regions in a probabilistic way. We used kernel density models to summarize radiocarbon dates, with the aim of visualizing cultural changes in the third and second millennium BC. In 2015, Stockhammer et al. cast doubt on the chronological sequence of the Reinecke phases of the EBA on the basis of newly collected radiocarbon dates from southern Germany. Our intervention is a direct response to the results of that study. We fully agree with Stockhammer’s et al. dating of the start of EBA, but propose a markedly different dating of the EBA/MBA transition. Our modelling of radiocarbon data demonstrates a statistically significant typological sequence of phases Bz A1, Bz A2 and Bz B and disproves their postulated chronological overlap. The linking of the archaeological relative-chronological system with absolute dates is of major importance to understanding the temporal dimension of the EBA phases.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


10 Strategic Research Centers > Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research (OCCR)
06 Faculty of Humanities > Department of History and Archaeology > Institute of Archaeological Sciences > Pre- and Early History

UniBE Contributor:

Brunner, Mirco, von Felten, Jonas Moritz, Hinz, Martin, Hafner, Albert


900 History > 930 History of ancient world (to ca. 499)




Public Library of Science


[42] Schweizerischer Nationalfonds


[UNSPECIFIED] Chronology, mobility and cultural transfer based on the example of an inner-Alpine settlement landscape. A landscape archaeological study of the central Alpine region




Mirco Brunner

Date Deposited:

11 Feb 2021 15:16

Last Modified:

02 Mar 2023 23:34

Publisher DOI:






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