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.

An Upper Working Class British History of the Industrial Revolution

I was at the local public library for no particular reason. It just so happened that I was passing through downtown and stopped in for a brief perusal. When I have the opportunity, I like to check out the new arrivals shelf.

There are always books of interest I can find. On this visit, I grabbed several books, mostly to do with history. The one that I was most interested in was a book by Emma Griffin, Liberty’s Dawn: A People’s History of the Industrial Revolution. I’m not familiar with the author and I’ve never heard of the title before, but it sounded promising.

Griffin’s focus is on the “working class” and her sources were mostly personal writings. I started reading it last night. I speed read it and finished it today. On top of that, I thoroughly searched the index and I used the search function on Amazon to look for other terms. One could spend more time with it and maybe get more out of it. The book is more than two hundred pages and it is interesting, but not as interesting as I hoped it would be.

The main limitation of the work is that it is surprisingly narrow in focus. The topics considered are mostly mainstream and the interpretation is mostly conventional. I read a lot of alternative histories, what some call revisionist, and this Griffin’s historical account didn’t bring up anything I wasn’t already aware of.

The narrow focus is caused by the source material. As far as I can tell, she entirely relies on British writings. The title was misleading. Her viewpoint was rather parochial, in both senses of the word. She limited herself to a local area of interest, leaving out larger contexts. And, besides personal writings, she relied to a great extent on parish records.

She acknowledged to some degree the limitations of her sources. They were mostly male adults, although I didn’t notice her discuss that the writings she was relying upon probably came from those of the upper working class, those who were successful enough to have the time, money, and opportunity to write. She did turn to other records to try to get at the experiences of women and children, but she never dug down into the experience of the poorest of the poor, the most oppressed of the downtrodden. I know that during early industrialization there were massive numbers of people dying of starvation, malnutrition, and disease in the big cities such as London.

This book wasn’t broadly “A People’s History”. Rather, it was a particular people’s history, the British people. And it was constrained mostly to a particular demographic of that people.

The larger context she ignores includes a wide variety of factors — for example: imperialism, colonialism, slavery, genocide, resource exploitation, native populations, ethnic/racial minorities, the commons and the rights of commoners, enclosure movement, privatization, incarceration, etc.

She doesn’t discuss the English Civil War origins of the religious dissenting tradition. She doesn’t discuss the Levellers and only briefly mentions Quakers a few times. Of course, the influential foreign religious movements such as the German Pietists and the French Huguenots aren’t even referenced, nor do the American Shakers and Harmonists come up. All of these influenced the British experience, in particular for the religious dissenters. It would have been interesting if she had mentioned such things as Abraham Lincoln’s letter to the Manchester mill workers, when the Civil War interrupted trade. What was so interesting about industrialization is that it arose alongside an increasingly globalized and multicultural world.

Also, she only mentions once in passing the terms ‘Luddites’ and ‘Owenite’, but never offers any info about them. Anarchism gets no mention at all while feminism, socialism, communitarianism, and Marxism each get a single mention; plus, one person gets referred to as ‘indentured’; but none of these are given any space for discussion. Democracy and republicanism, the great ideals of the early modern revolutions, don’t even get acknowledged. None of the revolutions are brought up, including the Irish bid for independence. The Irish Potato famine and the London food riots never make an appearance. The Populist movement of the late 1800s doesn’t come up either.

Marx’s compatriot, Engels, does get some attention, although just in the beginning of the text. Some other things that do come up a bit is the co-operative movement and the reform movement. She does go a bit into radicalism, but mostly just to dismiss it from her analysis. It is made clear that her focus is elsewhere.

Her preferred focus is more on the personal realm of experience, of how people lived their lives and the work they did.

As one reviewer explained (S. J. Snyder):

It’s true that the working class’s lot may have risen compared to its past. But, Griffin dodges a couple of issues.

First, directly related to that, she doesn’t address whether or not income inequality rose during the IR, if so, how much, and whether we shouldn’t weigh that in the balance against the reported benefits.

Second, per stereotypes of dirty London and its coal-driven smog, she ignores environmental issues related to the IR, and how much more those affected the working class than the upper class. As part of that failure, she doesn’t address life expectancy issues. (My bits of Googling tell me that child mortality in Britain declined throughout the 1700s, but adult mortality remained unchanged. I can’t find any breakouts by economic class, at least with a brief search.)

The lack of data issue cuts other ways, too. Griffin indicates that the IR seemed to give the working class more money. But, again, we’re not given any data. I don’t know how much is available, but there has to be some.

In other words, it’s a good anecdotal people’s history. But, it’s not more than that.

This isn’t to say she didn’t cover other important topics. She goes into a fair amount of detail about all kinds of things that did interest me: child labour of various sorts, sexual violence and prostitution, single mothers and illegitimate children, courtship and marriage, underemployment and unemployment, rural and urban differences, education opportunities for children and adults, etc.

If you’re fine with the limited scope, it is a useful history for what includes.  The meat of the text probably could be condensed into a short essay. The majority of the book is filled with lots of concrete examples, which is good for those who want more detail. So, for anyone who shares the author’s focus, there might not be any other book that cover the same territory using this particular set of material. It would be a great book for doing research.

As a good source of information, I might go as high as four stars. As an engaging and accessible read, I’d give it an average rating of three stars. But I must detract a bit for all that was left out. It could have been so much more interesting of a book, if it had lived up to its title. Over all, from the perspective of someone with a casual interest in the topic, I’ll give it a solid three stars. It is good for what it is, not great but still a worthy read.

GRITtv: Patrick Hennessey: Refighting Old Wars

I thought this was perfectly symbolic of America’s role in the world. The US government putting bases all over the world, attacking countries sometimes with little or no good reason given, the military and CIA toppling governments, allying with theocracies and supporting dictatorships when it’s convenient, funding and training foreign military and para-military groups…. and I could go on for pages.

The only difference between the American empire today and the colonial empires of past centuries is that the US government is more powerful and far-reaching than any empire in history. Britain is still a colonial empire. It’s not surprising at all that the British government is the closest ally of the US government.

Britain who has a long history of invading countries predicably supports the US invasion of Afghanistan. Business as usual. The British soldiers just return to occupy the fort in Afghanistan that they built more than a century ago.

It’s not about terrorists or even ultimately about oil. It’s simply about of power.