Tuesday, May 15, 2012

History's Mysteries: The Vinča symbols

The known Vinča symbols 
The Vinča culture thrived in much of Southeastern Europe and the Balkans in modern day Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Macedonia and Greece from around 5500-4500 BC. We touched on the Vinča in the Neolithic Part 1 podcast and mentioned the intriguing Vinča symbols found on pottery and artifacts all over the Vinča world. There is a lot of craziness associated with these symbols out there on the web. One of the craziest linked the Vinča symbols to pre-chauvinistic society, fibonacci numbers and the importance 25/55/25/55, the end of the world, how Jesus Christ was a serpent and how we all must become one with the swastika, a symbol of how everything is a black hole - a remarkable theory of everything. Reading it made my eyes bleed and yet, I couldn't look away. I'm serious a vein burst and caused my eyes to become bloodshot. Maybe that is somehow connected to the eternality of bird Goddesses and my newfound ability to rise above the lies being fed to us by historians and politicians. I'm not kidding. I'm suddenly enlightened.

Personal revelations (or devolving into temporary madness) aside, the Vinča symbols are fascinating bits of history. There has been some debate over what exactly there are. Some think they are actual symbols for a written language. Some think they are proto-writing (symbols used to convey a message that are not codified in any way). Others state they are neither of these things, but merely artistic renditions on ancient pottery. Most of these people however don't disagree that the symbols are often found on things that have some connection to religious life. We'll discuss three of the more spectacular discoveries of things with the Vinča symbols on them, 1) the Tărtăria tablets, 2) the Gradeshnitsa tablets and 3) the Dispilio tablet.

The Tărtăria tablets were found in Tărtăria, Romania in 1961. The tablets date to around 5300 BC and were found with a host of stone and clay figurines, a bracelet and the burnt remains of an adult male. The tablets were originally made of unbaked clay. When they were discovered they had to be baked in order to preserve them for future generations of bloggers to comment on for the twelve or so readers he thinks he has. As you can see from the picture, two of the tablets are rectangular, while one is a circle.  The bottom rectangle has some horned animal and some other pictograph symbols on it. The other two have mostly abstract symbols on them. It's the abstract symbols that make some believe this has to be written language, or proto-writing. There isn't much debate though over the importance of the burnt man whose grave had the tablets. He was important. Other Vinča graves don't have such nice grave goods, ergo, the man was important. Some have speculated he was a shaman and these tablets, along with the idols and bracelet had some sort of religious significance. However, as I look at them now and study them, the explanation is simple. The top rectangular tablet is a recipe for dog soup. On the far left is an indecipherable symbol, but the second from the left is a chalice. Next to it is saffron. Next to it, is a symbol of a dog. Next to it is the instructions to put it all in the pot to boil over medium heat. I say medium heat because if you compare it to the cooking symbol on the circular tablet you see the circular cooking has three heat lines coming out of, indicating that it's recipe should be cooked on high heat. Mystery solved.

The Gradeshnitsa tablet was found in the Vratsa Province of Bulgaria in 1969 and date to around the time of the Tărtăria tablets, but are probably a few hundred years newer. Unlike the Tărtăria tablets, which have markings on only one side, the Gradeshnitsta tablet has the symbols on both sides of the clay tablets. Unlike the Tărtăria tablets which clearly indicate cooking recipes and butchery techniques the Gradeshnitsa tablet is much more difficult to decipher. But, in 2006, a Bulgarian-American decided he had deciphered the code. This led to more crazy and in 2012 when I read about it, my eyes bled again. I might need to see an apothecary about this phenomena. It's possible that I could take the bloody tears to the alchemist and we could cook up some gold... What is going on? Is the Vinča script making me crazy or pushing me to a whole new plane of existence? Focus. In short, the Bulgarian-American who decided he had decoded the tablet was debunked. I will say this about them though, one side certainly looks a lot like writing. While it may not be formalized and thus should be categorized as proto-writing, the combination of the Tărtăria tablets and this one give a whole lot of anecdotal evidence to this being proto-writing.

Lastly, the Dispilio tablet was discovered in Greece in 1993. It is roughly contemporaneous to the  Tărtăria tablets and the Gradeshnitsa tablet having been carbon dated to 5260 BC. We're not sure of the exact day it was made, but if we actually are right on the year that's pretty damn impressive. What makes the Dispilio tablet different than the  Tărtăria tablets or the Gradeshnitsa tablet is that the Dispilio tablet is wooden and not clay. The wooden tablet had long been preserved in the mud around the Greek village of Dispilio so when it was unearthed it suffered serious damage. It's currently undergoing surgery to preserve it. The markings on this tablet are hard to make out, but many of the known Vinča symbols are on it, so we know that it came from that culture. The site has produced a number of interesting finds, including the oldest known flute in Europe. But all of this pales to the intrigue that another Vinča tablet provides. Coupled with the aforementioned tablets the arguement for proto-writing among this Neolithic people just keeps getting stronger. The idea that this is somehow related to a foolish theory of everything hypothesis that makes people's eyes bleed gets weaker with every discovery. Thankfully, pupils everywhere can relax in peace, for now...

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