Building and Battling in Ancient Europe

There have been surprising recent archaeological finds. These discoveries represent the earliest evidence of societal change in Europe.

In Britain, the remains of an ancient structure was found. At 11,500 years old, it’s the first known to be built in Europe. That was shortly after the Ice Age, when Britain was still connected to mainland Europe.

For Europe, it is not only the earliest building but also the earliest example of a particular type of carpentry. It was made out of split and hewn logs, and it may have been rebuilt multiple times. Europeans weren’t even a settled people at this time. Yet this was a major building, possibly part of a complex of buildings.

The area, known as the Star Carr site, appears to have been important. Humans had been there since at least 9,000 BC. The foundations of civilization were developing at that time. Over the following millennia, agriculture was spreading and becoming more common. It was an era of innovation.

In the previous millennium, the most famous and earliest structure was built, the temple complex at Göbekli Tepe in Turkey around 9500 BC. It is considered the first temple ever built. Like those initial Turkish builders, the ancient British were still nomadic when they first made permanent structures. This desire for centers of ritual activity seems to go deep in the primate psyche. It can be interpreted that these ancient people built permanent houses for their gods before they did so for themselves, and only later did continuously inhabited settlements form around these sites.

Placed in this larger archaeological context, this early British building might have had religious significance. There were antler artefacts, including headdresses, and it’s likely they were used for ritual purposes. Those otherwise primitive people went to great effort and sacrifice to build and maintain it over generations.

It was well situated as well. There was a lake at the time. Along with the structure(s), the people there had burned the surrounding land to attract animals for hunting. Maybe this was a seasonal stopping point, such as a winter refuge.

The cold season is also a time of the winter solstice that has been ritually central for many societies. To take an example related to the region, the Celtics worshipped the horned Cernunnos who was considered born on the winter solstice. Not far away in France, cave paintings of horned human figures were made during the paleolithic, around the time these British antler headdresses were being used.

The main takeaway is that these Europeans following the Ice Age were more advanced than previously thought. Societies were becoming more complex and . It would be another three millennia before the first megaliths were built and another six millennia before the first pyramids were built.

That brings us to the era of the great civilizations. Vast trade networks had developed. Beads made in Egypt were transported to the far reaches of Northern Europe. It’s true that Northern Europe didn’t have any comparable large civilization, but they did have materials to trade.

Then something happened to bring it all crashing down. War ravaged societies, refugees fled in every direction, and sea marauders appeared as if out of nowhere. Most of the civilizations collapsed and trade ended. That is the infamous 1177 BC.

As another archaeological site shows, this violent chaos also made its way to Northern Europe. There was a battle as never seen before in the region, probably involving thousands of warriors and leaving behind hundreds of dead. The evidence offers a “picture of Bronze Age sophistication, pointing to the existence of a trained warrior class and suggesting that people from across Europe joined the bloody fray.” Something had changed, but the cause remains uncertain.

“But why did so much military force converge on a narrow river valley in northern Germany? Kristiansen says this period seems to have been an era of significant upheaval from the Mediterranean to the Baltic. In Greece, the sophisticated Mycenaean civilization collapsed around the time of the Tollense battle; in Egypt, pharaohs boasted of besting the “Sea People,” marauders from far-off lands who toppled the neighboring Hittites. And not long after Tollense, the scattered farmsteads of northern Europe gave way to concentrated, heavily fortified settlements, once seen only to the south. “Around 1200 B.C.E. there’s a radical change in the direction societies and cultures are heading,” Vandkilde says. “Tollense fits into a period when we have increased warfare everywhere.”

“Tollense looks like a first step toward a way of life that is with us still. From the scale and brutality of the battle to the presence of a warrior class wielding sophisticated weapons, the events of that long-ago day are linked to more familiar and recent conflicts. “It could be the first evidence of a turning point in social organization and warfare in Europe,” Vandkilde says.”

In the centuries following, such things as the violent Greek epics would be produced. This would lead the way into the Axial Age. New kinds of civilizations arose. Besides the Greeks, one of the new societies were the Celts whose culture spread across much of Europe and Britain. Then came the empires that are most familiar to modern people. Much change happened from the Ice Age forward into the ancient world.

It’s hard to comprehend what motivated this transformation. Certainly, the ending of the ice age offered new opportunities. Even so, there were humans in Europe during and before the Ice Age. Those prior people didn’t build anything that we know of nor did they feel inspired to have large battles. Part of it, of course, was simply the increase size and concentration of the human population. When large numbers of people are brought together in close proximity, it does seem to lead to more innovation and conflict.

What do beads tell us about the past?

One common find are ancient beads. A friend of mine found a Native American stone bead nearby. It wasn’t necessarily ancient, considering Black Hawk didn’t surrender in Iowa until 1832. That was an end of an era, the defeat of the last major Native American uprising.

The bead she found was, according to her, in an area that “was the safe place camp for Poweshiek’s women, children, and elderly when the men left to fight in the Indian Wars.” Poweshiek was of a separate tribe from Black Hawk, but Black Hawk’s medicine man also had a village on the Iowa River close to Poweshiek’s village, the location not being far from where I live. The two tribes were allied at times.

(As a side note, Poweshiek was born after the American Revolution and died decades after the Black Hawk War, not too long before the Civil War began. His son, James Poweshiek, gave an interview about his father about the time my own father was born. Not exactly ancient history.)

I mention that bead because there is something compelling about a concrete piece of the past. Jewelry, in particular, is special. It is a personal item and yet serves no practical purpose other than as a trade good, maybe some symbolic significance as well in terms of culture and religion. It is strange what immense value such simple things had for people in the past. These kinds of trade goods made their way across continents, even from one continent to another, heck sometimes even across oceans. Ancient trade routes were vast.

I came across an amazing example of this. It is described in a Haaretz newspaper article by Philippe Bohstrom, Beads Found in 3,400-year-old Nordic Graves Were Made by King Tut’s Glassmaker.

The bead my friend found is probably not that old, but this bead found in Northern Europe is truly ancient. Talk about trade routes. I knew so-called Vikings had trade routes that went around much of Eurasia, included the North Atlantic, and down into the Levant and North Africa. I just had no idea that these trade routes would have existed as far back as some of the earliest civilizations. This Nordic grave bead is seriously old—from the article:

The analysis showed that the blue beads buried with the women turned out to have originated from the same glass workshop in Amarna that adorned King Tutankhamun at his funeral in 1323 BCE. King Tut´s golden deathmask contains stripes of blue glass in the headdress, as well as in the inlay of his false beard.

The date caught my attention. That was during the height of early civilization. A little over a century later, there was a mass collapse. Only Egypt survived and even it wasn’t the same afterward. Those early civilizations were fairly advanced and connected by trade. Different material goods were found in different places and trade was the solution. It’s amazing that this included the Nordic world, an area at that time not known for having any great empires.

Just paragraphs later, the author noted the same thing:

However the glass exchange almost stops around 1177 BCE – probably due to attacks by the Sea Peoples.

I would point out, though, that there isn’t agreement about the cause. The Sea Peoples were involved, but they might have been a result of other changes. In the region of these early civilizations, there was also decades of earthquakes, volcanoes, flooding, and changing weather patterns. More likely than not, the Sea Peoples had societies that also were disrupted which sent them out marauding. They took advantage of already weakened empires.

By the way, these civilizations are what Julian Jaynes considered to be bicameral. It was during this era that nearly all of the Egyptian pyramids were built. Of eighteen pyramids, only two were built after the collapse of the other civilizations. And those two pyramids came five centuries after the collapse when entirely new societies were forming—during the early Axial Age. The kind of society that built those earliest pyramids was entirely different than the world we know—from Harvard Magazine (Who Built the Pyramids? by Jonathan Shaw):

If not slaves, then who were these workers? Lehner’s friend Zahi Hawass, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, who has been excavating a “workers’ cemetery” just above Lehner’s city on the plateau, sees forensic evidence in the remains of those buried there that pyramid building was hazardous business. Why would anyone choose to perform such hard labor? The answer, says Lehner, lies in understanding obligatory labor in the premodern world. “People were not atomized, separate, individuals with the political and economic freedom that we take for granted. Obligatory labor ranges from slavery all the way to, say, the Amish, where you have elders and a strong sense of community obligations, and a barn raising is a religious event and a feasting event. If you are a young man in a traditional setting like that, you may not have a choice.” Plug that into the pyramid context, says Lehner, “and you have to say, ‘This is a hell of a barn!'”

Lehner currently thinks Egyptian society was organized somewhat like a feudal system, in which almost everyone owed service to a lord. The Egyptians called this “bak.” Everybody owed bak of some kind to people above them in the social hierarchy. “But it doesn’t really work as a word for slavery,” he says. “Even the highest officials owed bak.”

It’s hard for us to imagine that world. It seems bizarre to us that there would be such massive, difficult trade going on involving the large-scale movement of gems and beads that served absolutely freaking no practical purpose. A single trade item could travel for thousands of miles and the world was an extremely dangerous place back then. The motivations of ancient people are obscure to us. Why were so many people willing to risk their lives for what to us seems like a mere personal decoration?

Source of Bible Covenant with God discovered?

Source of Bible Covenant with God discovered?
By D.M. Murdock

god calling abraham to his covenant image

Archaeologists working in Turkey have unearthed an Assyrian tablet dating to around 670 BCE that “could have served as a model for the biblical description of God’s covenant with the Israelites.” […] 

Ancient treaty resembles part of the Bible

Canadian archeologists in Turkey have unearthed an ancient treaty that could have served as a model for the biblical description of God’s covenant with the Israelites.

The tablet, dating to about 670 BC, is a treaty between the powerful Assyrian king and his weaker vassal states, written in a highly formulaic language very similar in form and style to the story of Abraham’s covenant with God in the Hebrew Bible, says University of Toronto archeologist Timothy Harrison.

Although biblical scholarship differs, it is widely accepted that the Hebrew Bible was being assembled around the same time as this treaty, the seventh century BC.

“Those documents…seem to reflect very closely the formulaic structure of these treaty documents,” he told about 50 guests at the Ottawa residence of the Turkish ambassador, Rafet Akgunay.

He was not necessarily saying the Hebrews copied the Assyrian text, substituting their own story about how God liberated them from slavery in Egypt on the condition that they worship only Him and follow His commandments.

But it will be interesting for scholars to have this parallel document.

“The language in the [Assyrian] texts is [very similar] and now we have a treaty document just a few miles up the road from Jerusalem.”…

[…] Although the article states that the archaeologist Timothy Harrison “was not necessarily saying the Hebrews copied the Assyrian text, substituting their own story about how God liberated them from slavery in Egypt,” it is nonetheless raising that very issue in a manner which breaks with the centuries-old tradition of bending all finds in the “Holy Land” and other places of biblical interest to fit the Bible, in attempts to prove the “Good Book” as “history.” It is obvious that this sort of bibliolatry appeasement from the more scientific segment of society is losing ground precisely because of such discoveries – and the implication of this one is a doozy.

The Non-Unique Messiah: It Doesn’t Matter.

I came across an intelligent blog about the Jewish tablet that describes another supposed messiah prior to Christianity.  What is interesting is that this messiah was resurrected after 3 days.  But this isn’t anything new.  This 3 day motif related to a savior is found withn pre-Christian Paganism.  It’s an astrotheological motif about the solar cycle.  Similar 3 day motifs can be found within Jewish scripture as well, but what is significant is that it is directly related to the messiah in this tablet.  If orthodox Christianity was actually based on the evidence of historical documents, there would be a mass loss of faith at hearing such news.

Below is an excerpt from the blog and below that are some excerpts from the comments.

The Non-Unique Messiah: Does It Matter?

Frankly, if you’ve been paying attention or looked into history at all, this shouldn’t be that surprising.  That a story about rebirth and resurrection should crop up while the Roman Republic was reinventing itself, and while its newly appointed Princeps Augustus was touting his reign as rebirth on a national scale, is no coincidence.  During the first half of what we now call the first century C.E., rebirth was a common religious theme: mystery cults built around rebirth, like the cult of Isis and Osiris, were cropping up everywhere.  New religions always mirror and appropriate temporal events to the divine (look at Mormonism).  Christianity is no different, and it’s not immune from history.  That the non-uniqueness of the Christian story should be so strikingly and starkly presented by this tablet may be shocking, but that human events beget religious beliefs is an anthropological Law.

What I wonder is whether that should be troubling.  No doubt many believing Christians will feel threatened by the discovery that their religion has roots older than the name “Jesus,” and no doubt it proves that religion is always affected (and at least partially inspired) by humans.  It may even suggest that it therefore might be fabricated.  But if you really believe in the truth of the underlying story – i.e., if you’re truly spiritual and not just religious – that shouldn’t matter.

9 Gotchaye // Jul 8, 2008 at 10:03 pm

…it seems to me that a witness who maintains that someone performed a miracle is a whole lot more persuasive by himself than he would be if we’d already heard (and discounted the testimony of) other witnesses making similar claims about other people.

12 Gotchaye // Jul 10, 2008 at 6:08 pm

…as the number or likelihood of possible explanations for something increase, the likelihood of any other explanation being correct decreases. This tablet is at least suggestive of other explanations for our observation that modern Christianity (or something indistinguishable from it beforehand) exists, and so other explanations (including that Jesus actually rose) must be seen as less likely.