Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Victorious Varna Culture

The Varna Culture existed in Bulgaria around 4400 BC - 4100 BC. It was roughly contemporaneous with other Bulgarian cultures like the Karanovo and the Lengyel which we briefly discussed on the Neolithic podcasts. The Varna however, is going to get some special treatment because they show signs of being a trendsetter in burial methodologies. Just think, 6,000 years from now you, if you are remembered at all, will be remembered for what they bury your member in. I'll explain in a second.

The two most important sites of the Varna culture are located in modern day Varna and Durankulak, Bulgaria. Both of these cities are located in the northeast of Bulgaria and are located on the coast of the Black Sea. The culture seems to have subsisted on farming, but they were also traders. Artifacts in both sites contain stuff from south in the Mediterranean like spondylus shells and flint and crafts made up north in the Volga region. The Varna made some pretty cool stuff to trade for their partners as well.

The Varna seem to have been the first to craft golden treasures. This shiny stuff made its way from Bulgaria all over eastern Europe. Their crafting of idols and elaborate burials lead us to believe that they had a pretty rich religious life and belief in the hereafter. Ok, so now on to the trendsetting of the Varna and their unique burial practices.

The Varna buried their people, or at least some of them with a whole bunch of gold. One grave at the Varna Necropolis had more gold in it than all of the other graves in the world at the time. This alone would make them a big time first in prehistory. But, they also seem to have been the first in Europe to bury an "elite" man. Prior to the Varna mostly women and children got more special treatment in burials. Some of these special tombs were placed beneath homes, indicating a special connection to their households. But, in the Varna culture, the men started to get the better posthumous treatment.

We now know that the Varna liked gold. What were about to learn is that the Varna could have served as an Austin Powers villain. The Varna have their own Goldmember. In one of the tombs found, this being of the oldest elite male burial in Europe, the deceased was buried with a whole bunch of gold, a war axe in his hand and sheath made of gold placed directly on his penis. Austin Powers would have had a handful with this precursor to the freaky-deaky Dutch Goldmember.

Marija Gimbutas, who we'll cover extensively in the next podcast of the Stone Age round up, furthers her theory on the pre Indo-Europeans and their matriarchal society with stuff like this. Basically what the Varna represent to her is the transition from a female oriented society and a male dominated one. Whether this is truly accurate or not is debatable and we'll put forth more evidence in the podcast, but it definitely marks a transition to a much more stratified society. And for this reason the Varna get our preferential treatment, which is worth a whole bunch of points you know. These points have now made them the Victorious Varna Culture (I would give them a trophy if I could).

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Vinča culture

The Lady
The Vinča culture is also called the Turdaș-Vinča culture or simply the Turdaș culture. Whatever name you give it its hard to write it on an American English keyboard because of the silly č and ș. Part of me wants to name my first son Çḩṙîṧẗöῥḫἐṟ so that he works on his handwriting and it is better than mine. The other part of me thinks that this would be unduly cruel.

Anyway, the Vinča culture existed in Southeastern Europe from around 5500 BC - 4500 BC, specifically in modern Kosovo, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Bosnia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Greece. The origins of the Vinča culture are debated. Some think that they migrated to the Balkans from Anatolia while others think they developed naturally out of the rich Starčevo–Kőrös–Criş culture and were local to the area. Either way they were a Neolithic culture that farmed, made pottery, raised livestock and supplemented it all with hunting and gathering. The Vinča are best known because of the Vinča symbols we discussed earlier.  But when they weren't making pre or proto-language they were carving fantastic figurines.

The Vinča produced a number of fascinating sculptures, including the Lady of the Vinča. This idol, that dates to around 5000 BC was found near Belgrade in 1929. It shows a sophisticated craftsmanship. If you remember the Starčevo–Kőrös–Criş culture was a rich religious culture that was fascinated with fish gods. It produced troves of fish-men statues associated with a river religion. The Vinča seems to have continued in this religious vein, but switched from river deities to a fertility cult.

When they weren't practicing religion the Vinča were busy developing the first copper tools of Europe. The Vinča site at Pločnik in Serbia unearthed the earliest copper tools in Europe when people were setting up the railroad in the 1920's. Pločnik was inhabited from around 5500 - 4700 BC until the settlement was burned to the ground. But, before the fire took the settlement the people used fire to forge some great prehistoric weaponry.

The Jersey Dolmens

Fist Pump. It's time for The Situation. We're heading for Jersey. Thank God it's not New Jersey. I don't think I have the longsuffering to deal with Snooki and the gang.

We're going to Jersey (metaphorically speaking of course, unless you are reading this in Jersey and in that case, you're not going to Jersey, you're already there). Jersey, or as it is properly known, the Bailiwick of Jersey, is an autonomous part of Great Britain and an island off the coast of Normandy.

There are a number of important sites on Jersey that have megalithic structures on them including La Hougue Bie, Le Pinacle and the Dolmens of La Ville ès Nouaux Saint Hélyi Jèrri.

La Hougue Bie is a communal passage grave that dates to at least 3500 BC. The term passage grave though is a bit deceiving as it wasn't really a burial place. In stead it probably functioned like a church for the early inhabitants of Jersey. Ceremonies and rituals would have taken place here. Interestingly, two Mediaeval chapels were built atop the mound.

Le Pinacle
Le Pinacle is actually a natural structure. However, because it resembles a menhir it was used as a ritual site by the earliest fist pumping, beer drinking coastal delinquents who would eventually devolve into an MTV show. Le Pinacle was used a lot in history. The earliest artifacts come from a Neolithic and Chalcolithic settlement. But there are also artifacts from Iron Age inhabitants as well. The Romans built a temple on the site.

While I could ramble on about the Megalithic structures of Jersey for days I'll conclude it with one final site, the Dolmens of La Ville ès Nouaux Saint Hélyi Jèrri. This site is interesting because it shows that the Beaker people were probably the Neolithic builders on the Jersey Shore. This site shows a small stone circle with a table in the middle. It resembles a portal grave so someone is probably buried under there. However, after reviewing it throughly for six minutes I have decided that it is an early Neolithic picnic table. The stones surrounding the table obviously wouldn't make for good benches so there purpose was defensive in nature. This arrangement of stones would make it more difficult for Neolithic ants to get to the food on the table. It's a pretty ingenious construction.

The Wonderful World of Megaliths

The Megalithic cultures of Europe (and elsewhere) decided that they, in their spare time would move massive rocks into a wonderful array of shapes and orders. Here is a quick overview of the various structures that these prehistoric peoples put up.

One of the most popular was a dolmen. A dolmen is a tomb that consists of a number of large rocks supporting a top table rock. They are found all over Europe. There are a number of great examples of Dolmens on the West Coast of Ireland, like the one pictured to the left.

A Taula is another table top structure similar to the dolmen. In fact the word Taula is table in Catalan. The Taulas are peculiar to the Talaiotic Culture that existed on the Balearic Islands off the coast of Spain.

Newgrange in Ireland
Another popular megalithic structure was a passage grave. These burial chambers were often positioned so that the entrance would receive direct sunlight on important dates, like the sunrise of the winter solstice or the sunset of the equinox.

Cairns are stacks of rocks that are found all over Europe. Sometimes they were used as decorations around other megalithic structures. Other times though they had a functional purpose as well. In England and Ireland they were strategically placed near forts to make conquering it that much more difficult. In Scandinavia they were put along the coast so that people could see them from the sea as guide posts. In Iceland, like the one pictured, they were basically prehistoric road markers.

Grand Menhir Brisé
A menhir is a single standing stone. In the Northwest of France alone there are over 1200 menhirs, with  Brittany having some of the most fascinating menhirs on earth. At the village of Locmariaquer in Brittany once stood the Grand Menhir Brisé or Great Broken Menhir. It was put up sometime around 4700 BC to decorate the Table des Marchand (Merchant's Table) passage grave. When it was erected it stood over 67 feet high and weighed over 280 tonnes. If that wasn't impressive enough, the stone was quarried and carried to the spot from a few kilometers away. Somehow though the menhir came crashing to earth around 4000 BC and broke into four pieces. Some archeologists think that it was deliberately pulled down, while others think that its tumble was caused by an earthquake.

Swedish Stone Ship
There was also the construction of a stone ship. Basically a stone ship was a group of menhirs arranged in a way that it looks like the outline of a ship. These types of structures were mainly found in Scandinavian countries, Germany and the Baltic States. The ships varied from only a few meters to massive like the Jelling Stone ship in Denmark which is over 1100 feet long. The Jelling Stone Ship is interesting because it combines a number of eras of construction. The mound and ship were originally a bronze age burial, but King Harald Bluetooth extended it and built two giant burial mounds in it for his mom and dad. The pictures of this from an ariel shot are fairly interesting and you can check them out here. Pictured to the right is a stone ship that gives a much clearer representation of what we're talking about. This stone ship is the largest in Sweden and dates to around 200 AD.

There a whole host of other megalithic structures like the tumuli or kurgans (large burial mounds), cromlechs (a burial site that looks a lot like dolmens combined with a stone circle that is Welsh in origin), stone rows (rows of single stones in straight order) and of course, the stone circle. The most famous of stone circles is Stonehenge and we'll save that for its own post.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

On this day in history the death of Jan Frans de Boever

Jan Frans de Boever was a Flemish painter, born in Belgium. He passed away today 63 years ago in 1949 for the mathematically challenged. He was an incredibly self-absorbed man, considering himself the best Belgian painter ever. Considering that Belgium has produced incredible artists like Pieter Bruegel the Elder and Peter Paul Rubens de Boever might have been full of other things other than himself. While, Jan Frans de Boever was incredibly talented and I do enjoy his work, his egotistical behavior alienated himself from most of his peers and he became reclusive.

In his reclusiveness and self-absorption he created his own style that was pretty, how to say it nicely... dirty. He painted morbid paintings of prostitutes and scantily clad women as objects of evil. Considering he was probably spurned by numerous women in his loneliness, his depiction of them as lustful temptresses using men as toys might be a bit of sour grapes. However, his best work were his depictions of Charles Baudelaire's erotic poems Les Fleurs du Mal. He created them for an exclusive client who paid him handily. The last few decades of his life were lived out in America. Considering he died nearly 70 years ago he probably looks a bit like this painting here below nowadays.

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The Astuvansalmi Rock Paintings

 The Astuvansalmi Rock Paintings are a collection of 65 paintings around Ristiina, Finland that date back to around 3000 - 2500 BC. They were "discovered" in 1968, though the locals of Ristiina knew of their existence long before that. The collection is the largest one of its kind in all of Scandinavia. Today it is widely believed that they were the work of a people who practiced shamanism, a set of religious beliefs based on magical and otherworldly principles. The Shaman believers of this age in Scandinavia believed that the sun was reindeer that danced across the sky. As such the hunter-gatherers would follow it throughout the day. The paintings reflect this practice I guess. They are paintings of Elk, people, hunters following the Elk and boats as well as various abstract objects. Here are few samples of their work.

 (That hand print below is likely what inspired today's preschool turkey art movement)

Sesklo - The First Neolithic Culture of Europe

The Sesklo Culture is famous for being one of the first Neolithic cultures in Europe. If you remember, a culture becomes a Neolithic one when it discovers how to do one of two things or both. It leaves the Mesolithic to join the the Neolithic when it masters farming or starts building pottery. The Sesklo seem to have done this as early as 6850 BC give or take a margin of error. They did this in what is modern day Greece in the regions of Thessaly and Macedonia. Confusingly, the culture seems to arisen out of two cultures, the Pre-Sesklo and Proto-Sesklo cultures. The distinction is so ridiculously nuanced that I can't seem to wrap my head around it, let alone explain it. But, that's where they come from.

They became Neolithic by learning how to farm wheat and barley. Because Nabisco's Wheat Thins and barley laden Rye Whiskey cannot sustain a man (trust me on this one), the Sesklo culture also kept herds of sheep, goats and a few cows and pigs. They completed the double Neolithic by fashioning bowls and cups to eat and drink out of. The Rye Whiskey though they liked to drink straight from the bottle like a boss.

The Sesklo would have been a minor footnote in history had they not influenced other cultures though. In this they seem to have been prolific. They influenced the Karanovo and the Starčevo–Kőrös–Criş in the Balkans. The Starčevo–Kőrös–Criş would then go on to influence the Danubian cultures that stretched all over Southeastern and Central Europe. The Sesklo also seem to have been the origin for the Cardium pottery Culture that dotted the southern coastal region of much of Europe stretching from Croatia to Italy to France and to Spain. For this reason, the minor city of Sesklo, played a major role in spreading the Neolithic Revolution to much of Europe.

The Controversial Lapedo Child

Lapedo Child was discovered in Abrigo do Lagar Velho, near Leiria, Portugal. The skeleton was found in a limestone canyon and dates to about 24,500 years ago. It was found buried in red ochre and with pierced shells, indicating some type of religious burial. All around the canyon were artifacts from the Gravettian Culture, an Early Modern Human or Cro-Magnon culture. So far, none of this would cause a stir in the archeological world, let alone real world. But, it has courted some controversy because of some of the hypothesis that have come out of the discovery.

What makes this nearly complete child's skeleton controversial is that in 1998, when it was found some scientists and archeologists took a double take at it. They noticed that the skeleton seemed to have both the look of Cro-Magnon and Neanderthal. This would bolster the idea that Neanderthals didn't die out because they were killed by early modern humans, rather they breeded with their close relative and were slowly born out of existence. Now, it wouldn't be controversial if someone didn't disagree. Many do in fact. They think that the skeleton shows only Cro-Magnon features and that seeing a Neanderthal-Human hybrid is reading way too much into some of the anomalies on the skull. We'll let the hubbub sort itself out and end this way. If the Neanderthals were bred out of existence, that might not be the worst way to go. Basically Neanderthals, if they went extinct this way, went out by doing the dirty. And if you gotta go, that's not a bad way to do it.

The Cave of Gollum... No, Sorry, Gorham's Cave

I'm tired. I misread. I got excited and thought maybe I had found Tolkien's inspiration. I haven't though. But, I have stumbled upon an interesting piece of Neanderthal history. Gorham's Cave is a natural sea cave located on the Rock of Gibraltar, a few meters from the Sea. It is believed to have been the last home of the Neanderthals. These of course, if you're following along would have been the unsuccessful Châtelperronian Neanderthals that lasted a measly 6,000 years and not the widely successful Mousterian variety that dominated Europe for hundreds of thousands. That'll teach you to mind your elders.

Anyway, the cave was discovered by some British chap named Gorham in 1907, hence the name. He didn't do much with it though. He scribbled his name into the rock and the date he found it and the cave sat idle for another forty odd years until it was officially excavated in the late 40's, early 50's. Ongoing excavations have been carried out throughout the decades and right up until today.

The cave itself has produced four layers of history. The top layer shows it was used variously from 800 - 300 BC by the Phoenicians. The second layer shows limited use during the Neolithic period of history, but the few artifacts suggest that it wasn't all that much of a hotspot. Layer three has a little bit more. This layer shows use of the site by Paleolithic/Mesolithic cultures like the Magdalenian and Solutrean. But the fourth layer shows artifacts and remains that are consistent with Neanderthals that date roughly to around 28,000 years ago, making them the last of their kind. 

Interestingly, the cave is now right at the water's edge basically. It was probably there fore the Phoenicians too. But when we go back further in time to the Magdalenian, Soulutrean and Neanderthal usage, the cave was as far as five km away from the sea. That's a lot of extra water. It might've worked for Gollum and made it easy, Rock and pool is nice and cool, so juicy sweet, Our only wish to catch a fish, so juicy sweet. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

On this day in history, Alexander pulls a Mortal Kombat move on Mithridates of Persia

Today we mark the Battle of the Granicus on this day in the history of Europe. For me the battle shapes up like Mortal Kombat in the arcade version, the one where you fight the guy until you finish him off and then another one flashes into the screen with a high kick behind you. Then you have to fight him, doing the same up right low block high kick moves you did to defeat the first opponent, but this time in reverse order.

The Battle of the Granicus was fought on May 22 (give or take, but that's the day most ancient historians give), 334 BC at what was near the even more ancient site of Troy in Northwest Asia Minor (modern Turkey). Back then the river where the battle was fought was called the Granicus, and hence the named battle. Today the place is called Biga Çayı or without the fancy Turkish symbols, the Biga River. One one side was the eventual victors, Alexander and his Ancient Macedonian army and his allies the League of Corinth against the Achaemenid Empire and its many satraps and mercenaries. The reason it feels like a mid-90's installment of Mortal Kombat is because in spite of Alexander's superior numbers, he had to deal with a much larger contingency of Persian leaders. So when his army would smite one branch of the Persians, another would pop in to take on the fight and continue. Had Alexander lost even one of these minor battles he would have had to put in another two tokens to continue. But luckily, he took them all out, and when it was time to finish him, he didn't do a friendship move to turn them all into snowmen.

The Macedonians and Corinthian League had superior numbers, but the Persians had the stronger cavalry at the battle. The Persians lined up on the east bank of the Granicus but Alexander made a swift crossing and engaged the smaller force immediately. The plan worked initially, but a plethora of Persian satraps pushed back. Spithridates, the satrap of Ionia and Lydia knocked Alexander off his horse and as he was winding up for the death blow and the quick end to Alexander's wars in the east his arm was hacked off by the Macedonian Cletius the Black. After losing his arm he was no match for Cletius and was quickly killed. Alexander hopped back on a horse and led a reinvigorated charge that decimated the middle of the Persian defense. Had Spithridates not been blocked, so much of history would have been different. The Hellenization of the Mediterranean would have halted and it is possible that the nascent Roman Empire would have been crushed by Persian advancement in the west. But, history wasn't altered and Alexander's second charge smashed and killed many of the best Persian generals and allies leaving their army in total disarray.

This is probably similar to what Mithridates' death looked
like. However, considering it happened in 334 BC, the
graphics were probably not Sega's 16 bit, but a 2 bit analog
that would've made Atari's pong look cutting edge.
The befuddled Persians then faced the wrath of a massive infantry force from the Macedonians. The Persian ranks broke and in the retreat most of the Persian forces were killed or captured. A branch of the Persian army, Greek mercenaries led by Memnon of Rhodes were encircled. Memnon tried to broker a peace deal, but Alexander would have none of it. All of the mercenaries were slaughtered. Memnon would escape and retain control of the battle against Alexander until Darius III finally decided that his presence was necessary in the war. In the ensuing slaughters Alexander took out Mithridates, the son-in-law of the aforementioned Darius. It appears that Alexander pinned down the unfortunate Mithridates and then put a spear through his face, a precursor to Scorpion's "get over here" move in the MK games. Mithridates got over there, but there was no counter punch to be had. He, like many of the Persians died en route to Alexander claiming dominance over the Greek cities along the coast of Asia Minor. From this position, Alexander was able to advance troops into Asia without confrontation. Having this ease of access to Asia allowed for a major conquest that stretched all the way into modern day India. In short, the battle was vitally important, because it allowed for so many Macedonian and Greek troops to enter Asia with ease and an eagerness to swallow up all of Persia and her control.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Today in History, the death of Olaf the Black

On today, May 21, we profile Olaf the Black, or Óláfr Guðrøðarson for three reasons. First, Olaf the Black died today 775 years ago. Second, we couldn't pass up profiling someone named ... "the Black". Third, we couldn't pass up profiling someone with so many odd characters in his name, Óláfr Guðrøðarson, out of 16 "letters" in his name, five are a pain in the but to type in English. Thus, we simply had to let everyone know about old Olaf.

Olaf was King of the Island of Mann (Isle of Man today), as well as territories on the Hebrides and the island of Lewis (present day Scotland) and other areas of modern Scotland and the U.K. Olaf had ties to Icelandic sources and Norway and are chronicled in both these countries vast histories, called sagas. Basically, Olaf was a viking, who spanned both the pagan and Christianization of the Vikings. His legacy at the time was as a lord of the Kingdom of the Isles, a kingdom made up of small islands in between Ireland and the modern day United Kingdom. His historical legacy though is as the father of a number of Scottish tribes, which is likely poppycock. Just like his famous sword, the Manx Sword of State, this tie to Olaf is probably mythological rather than factual.

The sword, though claiming to have belonged to Olaf, picked up sometime on a Christian pilgrimage to Spain, is likely to have been made in the 15th century, a few hundred years after the black had gone dark (died, for our readers not familiar with our heritage). Olaf though represents much of what the late viking age was. He was a raider that terrorized people all over the Atlantic. His journey to Spain, if it happened at all was probably an event that the contemporary Spanish didn't appreciate. It was probably accompanied by copious amounts of death, rape and plunder. But, in subsequent years it was turned into a pilgrimage where he visited the miracles of St. James (Santiago in Spanish). For me the Christian whitewashing of vikings is fascinating. It represents both a modern and historical ideal, that of a Christian warrior, a pious man that could still kick some booty. In many ways these Viking missionaries probably garnered the kind of fascination that early 20th century mob bosses get today in American pop culture. We idolize them for their lifestyles while simultaneously thanking God that we didn't have to survive their exploits. But, let's face it, the only reason I'm profiling him, aside from his terror inducing name, is because his exploits are worth noting nearly 800 years into the future and thus, 800 years into safety. Had I been writing this blog 800 years ago I likely would have profiled Hrolf, the farmer that lived on one of Olaf's isles because Hrolf posed to me no danger. Since though I'm nearly 810 years younger than Olaf, I can think he's cool. Had he been my contemporary I'd like to have thought him a bully, or worse a dictator to be feared. But this is the beauty of history. We can relive terrifying events in Hollywood cinemas and enjoy the historicity and dramatic elements of the story. And since we don't actually have to face the sword that inspired the impostor that is the Sword of Manx, we can enjoy the debate of what is historical and what is dramatic. Methinks that if I had told Olaf that I doth beleiveth his sword to be of dubious origin, my head might have been wrest from me shoulders.

Le Moustier, Levallois, If only we had a Lafleur!

Guy Lafleur knew a bit about Neanderthals. Why?
Le Moustier, Levallois et Lafleur! It sounds like the scoring line for Les Habs or for my personal favorites of the defunct and/or relocated, the Quebec Nordiques. But, we're not really here to talk about Le Démon Blond or the old stomping grounds of Dale Hunter long before he moved to Washington and destroyed my hopes of Lord Stanley resting in Washington during '93. Those double overtime games were my favorite sporting events that I've ever attended on a completely unrelated note. And since we're not here to talk about such things, we're going to solely focus on Le Moustier and Levallois, specifically the Levallois technique. Let's be honest and speak frankly the sole thing that Guy Lafleur and these other two topics have in common are their French names. In my head I'm butchering the pronunciations and imagining discussing them over a baguette and wheel of camembert. And now I'm remembering Dale Hunter's cheap shot on Pierre Turgeon and how it ripped the Stanley Cup from my beloved Caps.

Le Moustier is the site from whence the name Mousterian comes from. For those of you who have listened to the podcasts you can find more information about the Mousterian culture in Episode 2, the Paleolithic. (Click on the episode tab and check out episode 2, or subscribe on iTunes.) The Mousterian Culture though was basically the tool making culture that nearly every European Neanderthal who ever lived came out of. A few of the last Neanderthals tried to make adjustments, but they were sadly too late. The Neanderthals would go extinct shortly after the supplanting of the Mousterian Culture. Maybe advancement hit the cliche of promoting someone to the point of incompetency when it came to Neanderthal existence.

Guy Lafleur knew about the
Neanderthals because he had
to deal with Clark Gillies. The
goon is from a town called
Moose Jaw. Moose Jaw! It
even sounds Neanderthalish
But the Mousterian Culture wouldn't have been what it was without the use of the Levallois technique. The Levallois technique was a major advancement to stone tool technology. Rather than simply chip away at a piece of flint until the desired shape was achieved, a sloppy and rather imprecise technique known simply as reduction, the Levallois technique would create a tortoise shell appearance on the whole of the flint. Then it would focus on some of the middle and make deeper indentions so that a small and exact amount of flint could be removed to create a precision tool. This allowed the Neanderthals to be much better skilled hunters than their predecessors.

So on that note we'll leave Le Moustier and Levallois and list a number of Montreal Canadiens Legends that have French sounding names in a shameless attempt to garner Google traffic. Maurice Richard (exaggerate it to sound like Ree-char), Jean Beliveau, Jacques Plante, Guy Lapointe et Patrick Roy (wah). Pour toujours, les Canadiens! Adieu!

Oh, and before anyone points out that the Caps would have a long way to go in the playoffs and that the Islanders (who beat the Caps in 7 after Hunter's stupid move in game 6) didn't win it all, let me say this. You can't disrupt my fantasy world.

A Supplement to the Paleolithic Podcast, the Creswellians

The Paleolithic Podcast, episode 2, was a 30 minute or so endeavor that covered nearly 2.6 million years of history. As such, it shouldn't be surprising that we missed a number of things to keep pace. As such, we're going back and plugging in the holes from time to time. This is one such plug.

The Creswellian Culture was a late Paleolithic, early Neolithic Culture in Central England. The main sites of this culture were found in the Creswell Crags, in Derbyshire. The Creswellian Culture seems to have been a local variant of the much larger Maglemosian Culture we talked about in the third episode of the podcast that covered the Mesolithic. We noted that the Maglemosians were one of the earliest Scandinavian cultures and were a big proponent of microlith technology. They were the first to invent the trident fishing spear. So, the Creswellian Culture wasn't all that unique at the time. So what gave the Creswellians their uniqueness has a much more modern flair to it.

The Creswellians were discovered by Dorothy Garrod and she first published about them in 1926. Since egalitarian societies tend to still be a struggle for the 21st century, an early 20th century academic publishing would have been intriguing enough for us here at the history of europe podcast blog. But, the Creswellian Culture publishing happened to be the very first of the young Garrod. She would later become the first woman to be elected as a professor at Oxbridge (a combination school of two of the most famous universities in the world, Oxford and Cambridge). This prestigious anecdote is fascinating enough, but Garrod's life reads much like a female version of Indiana Jones, save for the Nazi or Alien involvement. She worked in far flung regions of the world such as her native England, extensive work in Israel and east into Kurdistan.

So there you have a dose of necessary supplements to both the Paleolithic and Mesolithic periods. In short summary, the Creswellian Culture was a Derbyshire branch of the larger Late Paleolithic/Early Mesolithic Maglemosian Culture that lived in the caves of the Creswell Crags some time between 13,000 and 11,500 years ago. They hunted, gathered and made microliths to achieve their goals. They died and were eventually found by a woman trendsetter in the early 20th century, only to sit idle until we (and a few other like minded history nerds post little blurbs about them to be read by tens of people).

Sunday, May 20, 2012

On this day in history: allusions to sex, religion and the trappings of power.

We're again a little behind on the podcast. The conclusion of the Neolithic is written, but I was sick last week during the only time I could have recorded it. My head cold made it sound like I was speaking in a vacuum. Couple that with my already shoddy recording equipment and we're looking at some of the worst sounding podcasts in the history of bad sounding podcast. Thankfully I know my seven listeners love the content and not the technology behind the podcast. But, there could be the sinful Amish guy out there getting his tech-ication on with my podcast. For a technologically deprived human being, my magic speaking box about long long ago might seem downright magical. Hopefully that magic can come out fairly early in the week on iTunes. I will do my best.

Yesterday, had we been faithful to this day in history we would have focused on the execution of Anne Boleyn and all of the scintillating sexual details that went a long way into making her HBO worthy. We would have asked then today, what could have possibly topped such sensationalism? What could ever burn the loins more than love triangles and beheadings? Is there anything that can arouse in man such a fervor as illicit copulation and political intrigue? There is but one thing, religious and political intrigue!

So today on this day in History we'll celebrate the consummation of Church and State in its most modern, Western form, before their estrangement and untimely divorce in the unfortunate aftermath of the Enlightenment. Having over exhausted this innuendo though, we'll move on to the beginning of the 1st Council of Nicea, that began on May 20, 325 AD.  The Council was called Constantine the Great in order to bring a single voice to Christianity in attempt to unify a splintering Empire. Constantine had just won a succession of civil wars and looked to the Cross as a political tool to reunify his disparate peoples. But the problem was as Constantine soon found out, his unifying tool was not very uniform. Basically there were two major veins of Christianity at the time. One that would become a template for future Christological thought within the Church and one that would be labeled a heresy.

The controversy came up when Arius, a Christian thinker and teacher from Alexandria decided that Jesus the Son was essentially different from God the Father. Arius basically taught that Jesus was God the Father's first creation and perfect, but still a creation. Arius and the Arians (his followers) were vehemently opposed by Athanasius, a younger contemporary of Arius and a fellow Alexandria native. Athanasius taught that God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit were all of the same essence. This line was followed and proclaimed by the Council of Nicea. It's this decision that led to the Church following a strict Trinitarian view of the nature of God, three persons, but one essence. Arian teachers fled the council in quite a huff and even though their belief was declare a heresy and thus, not part of the orthodoxy, the belief didn't immediately die out. In fact Arianism would linger on long enough for some of the barbarians who would eventually rip the Empire apart to become practitioners of this heretical branch of Christianity. The fact that the Orthodox, Catholic view was held by the Roman establishment and the Arian view held by many Germanic invaders gave the debate renewed political trappings. But, when Clovis became the first barbarian king to become a Catholic and thus, a Trinitarian, ruler, his power would wipe much of Arian theology from the West, leaving the remaining Arians in North Africa. They would linger there until the Muslims swept across the continent and effectively destroyed Arius' teachings.

The 1st Council of Nicea had some other outcomes as well. In addition to declaring Trinitarian views as the only acceptable understanding of the Christian God, it also put together the Nicene Creed. The Nicene Creed would serve as statement of faith to be repeated by the faithful to express the most fundamental tenants of Christianity. The council also established Constantine's role in the history of the Church. It also helped establish Canon Law. It gave Rome and her bishop an exalted place in the Church. And it led to Christianity becoming fundamentally declared separate from its parent religion, Judaism. Basically the 1st Council of Nicea was a huge step in the long process of formalizing the Christian church. It is for this reason that the Council get's this day in history status.

Friday, May 18, 2012

On this day in history, the death of Jacques Marquette

Jacques Marquette was born in Laon, France. He would grow up to become a Jesuit that traveled to Quebec in Canada. He went on to travel the Northern Mississippi, founding cities like Sioux Ste. Marie (modern day Michigan & Canada), the city that would become Ashland, Wisconsin, Portage, Wisconsin and tromped around important Great Lake cities that would eventually become Chicago and Green Bay. He traveled down the Mississippi River until he started to encounter a bunch of Natives that carried Spanish trinkets. Fearing an encounter with Spanish conquistadors he traveled back up the river after having reached the Arkansas River. He passed away at the site would eventually become Ludington, Michigan. Marquette has been remembered in much of the Midwest, with cities or parks in Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa bearing his name. The University of Marquette in Wisconsin is named after him. He died when he was only 38. Had he not died so young, there may have been many other states that had cities named after him. Can't you imagine a Marquette, Missouri, Marquette Falls, Minnesota or Marquette Bluffs, Louisiana? Sadly though, his early death cut down an aspirational exploratory career.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

On this day in History, The Battle of Rovine

The highly unstable region of Wallachia (modern day Romania) grew out of a rebellion against the first king of Hungary sometime in the late 13th, early 14th century. This independence was all fine and dandy but they found themselves in the middle of constant competition for land. The Hungarians, the Serbian Empire, the Bulgarians, the encroaching Ottomans and even the decrepit Byzantines were all players in the area. But at the time of the Battle of Rovine, May 17, 1395, Wallachia was about as stable as she was ever going to get, under the good care of the Warlord Mircea the Elder. But, the good warlord had managed to enrage the Ottoman Empire by aiding the Christian Hungarians against the Muslim Turks.

Well, Sultan Bayezid I wasn't too thrilled with this and took up 40,000 men and impressed 8,000 or so Serbian vassals to go up into Wallachia to teach Mircea a lesson. Mircea was able only to muster 10,000 troops so he avoided open conflict for awhile until the jig was up on May 17. The battle was fought along the banks of the Argeș River in Southern Romania in a spot where the numbers game wouldn't absolutely hobble the overmatched Wallachians. As the Ottomans and Serbs advanced, the Wallachians unleashed a hail of arrows that decimated Ottoman lines. After another hail of arrows the Wallachian cavalry came in and caused mass panic. Some of the Ottomans fled over the Danube to the south. The most powerful lord of the Serbs at the time, Marko Mrnjavčević was killed in battle. But, many Wallachian troops were lost in the fighting. While the Ottomans and Serbs were thoroughly routed, the undermanned Mircea was forced to flea Wallachia after the battle. The Ottomans were able to install an usurper to throne named Vlad Uzurpatorul (I'll let you guess what Uzurpatorul means...). Within three years time Mircea was able, with the backing of the Hungarians to crush Vlad and retake Wallachia. During his reign over Wallachia, Mircea consistently stopped the onslaught of Ottomans crossing the Danube. And, at a time of political turmoil in the Ottoman Empire, teamed up with some fellow Christians and actually marched into Ottoman territory. At the height of his power, Mircea was actually able to install his candidate as a co-Sultan of the Ottomans. For all of his success against the Empire though, Mircea was wise and made peace, ensuring the independence of Wallachia for a short spell.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Thank you for the bacon, Prehistoric Turkey, Part III, the Neolithic

Stone Age Turkey really starts to heat up in the Neolithic. Cultures and sites like the Nevalı Çori, Göbekli Tepe, Mersin, Çatalhöyük and the Çayönü shape up Turkey's Stone Age history.

The Nevalı Çori was an early Neolithic settlement in Eastern Turkey along the Euphrates river. It's known for a number of things, including its early association with temple building. The village at Nevalı Çori consisted of some long houses and a central site for worship. The temple was built into the hillside at the site and contained a number of figurines, indicating an early religious cult. The votive offerings that these figurines probably represent show an advanced technology. Basically the people of Nevalı Çori had figured out how to fire pottery without actually making pottery.

Göbekli Tepe is oldest known religious structure in the world. It is a megalithic structure that was built around 12,000 years ago by some hunter-gatherers. The construction is incredible. It contains giant limestone structures that have carved images of lions, bulls, boars, foxes, gazelles, donkeys, snakes and various reptiles. The site actually predates Neolithic economies, no domestication of plants or animals or pottery is associated with the site. It could be termed a Mesolithic site, but since the megalithic culture of Europe is associated with the Neolithic period, we'll include it here. Only a small portion of the site has been excavated, so more will come out of it as the site is fully discovered. However the immense size of the structure has really shaken up anthropological and archeological theories, pushing dates much further into antiquity than previously imagined.

Mersin is a South-central port city in modern day Turkey that show signs of inhabitation dating back to 6300 BC. The Yumuktepe hill is a a tumulus that has produced both stone and ceramic tools that date back to the earliest period. This Neolithic site would go on to be an important settlement for the Assyrians, Persians, Greeks and Selucid Empire that covered most of the Classical History of the region.

The Çatalhöyük site flourished from around 7500 BC - 5700 BC in southern Turkey. One of the distinctive features of this site is its mother goddess figurines. The area has produced an immense number of artifacts, cementing its place as an important spot for the evolution of religion. It is among the best preserved and largest Neolithic settlements in all of Europe.

Çayönü is located in Southeastern Turkey. It flourished from around 7200 BC - 6600 BC and was related to the Çatalhöyük site as a possible influence. Unlike the Mersin site that flourished along the Euphrates, the Çayönü was located at the base of mountains near the mouth of the Tigris. It is notable because it might have been the place where pigs were first domesticated. Bacon enthusiasts everywhere  are indebted to the Çayönü. Beyond that the Çayönü domesticated a number of cereals that have continued down to the present day.

If you like Pistachios, you'll like the Prehistoric History of Turkey, Part II, the Mesolithic

We covered Paleolithic Turkey already so we'll focus on their Mesolithic period. The Mesolithic period of Turkey is centered on the practice of cultivating pistachios. Gaziantep, Turkey is the center of this pistachio flavored world and frankly, I am thankful. I love pistachios. Outside of Turkey, the pistachio was introduced to Europe through the observations of Pliny the Elder, a Roman writer. He stated the pistachio was, "well known amongst us" and for that I am thankful. Pistachios were grown in ancient Iraq and Iran and were probably an integral part of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. But their cultivation and spread to Europe are Mesolithic contributions from Turkey.

Pistachios are an iron rich food. They have become an integral part of deliciousness in modern cooking. Pistachios have been paired with garlic and basil to create a pistachio-basil butter that is incredible on seafood. It has been mixed with pineapple and cream to create a fantastic pudding. It has been deep-fried with goat cheese and olives to make bite-size fair food that is to die for. This Turkish delight has even been meshed up with coconut and marshmallow to create a variance of the southern staple of ambrosia. If you enjoy the taste of Pistachios then you can thank the Mesolithic inhabitants of Turkey for perfecting their cultivation.

The Prehistoric History of Turkey, Part I, the Paleolithic

Turkey is one of those countries that straddles Europe and Asia. For me, trying to do a European History podcast, Turkey marks a dilemma. I can't leave it out, because the Thracians, Greeks and Byzantines are certainly a part of Europe's heritage. So too are the Seljuk Turks and the Ottomans. But at the same time, it's east of the Bosporus and technically an Asian country. I'm at a loss!!! But, because the peoples of modern day Turkey have had such an impact on Southeastern Europe and the Balkans I have to include them somewhere. Turkey didn't make the cut in the Paleolithic, Mesolithic or Neolithic podcast except through tangential relationships so I'm going to blog about them. While modern day Turkey continues to debate admittance to the European Union, I won't dally any longer. Turkey has a rich European history and we'll include them in our studies. So here is a sweeping overview of her history up to the Chalcolithic period.

The Turkish region of Anatolia is one of the longest, continuously inhabited places in the world. Paleolithic evidence dates to sites like the Karain Cave, the Belbaşi Culture and a whole host of sites we'll not really cover here because of space reasons. The earliest sites of Anatolia, or Asia Minor in Latinized terminology date to around 500,000 BC. While this rich cultural heritage deserves about a hundred thousand pages of a well documented book, we'll do our best with a couple of blog posts. So let's just focus on the two aforementioned Paleolithic sites.

Karain Cave shows evidence of human inhabitation dating from around 200,000 years ago. It's located in the Antalya region of modern day Turkey, near the Southwest coast along the Mediterranean Sea. The artifacts found at this cave are hosted in the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations located in Ankara, established in 1921. It is an UNESCO World Heritage Site, that contains everything from prehistoric hippopotami bones to early Greek inscriptions carved into the walls. Basically the cave complex has a rich million year history that shows some of the earliest human endeavors in Turkey.

The Belbaşi Culture is an ancient Paleolithic/Mesolithic Culture of tool making that spawns from a number of cave sites in the Southwest of modern day Turkey. It has findings of tanged arrowheads and other artifacts. Its artifacts are similar to those of the Kebaran Culture, a site named after the artifacts found near Haifa in modern day Israel and the Natufian Culture, a Levantine Culture that existed from 13,000 - 9,800 years ago in modern Israel, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey. But, while the Belbaşi Culture had eastwards roots, it expanded and changed westward. The Belbaşi Culture seems to have taught the cultures of the Balkans and Southeastern Europe how to farm and domesticate animals, making it an important predecessor culture for our studies.

The culture learned to craft tools from obsidian, flint, bone and antler. It coupled this technology with new farming techniques that made it a Neolithic culture. In addition to to adapting to farming techniques it created pottery that would revolutionize Southeastern European pottery in the coming times. These cavemen would eventually build houses in the Balkan countries of Greece, Macedonia, Serbia and Bulgaria before branching north to Romania to follow the Danube and become subsumed by the Danubian Cultures. It's truly fascinating that prehistoric peoples in Turkey would have an impact on those in Germany.

Burning down the house, A Talking Heads approach to society

Burning down the House is one of my favorite Talking Heads songs, behind Psycho Killer, Give me back my name and Stay up Late. Stay up Late has sentimental value to me as my uncle used to sing it to me as a child. It might be this incident that has caused me to be a bit off kilter. Exposure to David Byrne at age 3 or 4 is bound to have repercussions. But, this is neither here nor there. We're talking about the most fascinating Neolithic European culture in the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture of Romania, Moldova and the Ukraine.

The Cucuteni-Trypillian Culture was glossed over on episode 4 of the podcast, Neolithic Part I. Basically, I could have created an entire podcast dedicated to this fascinating culture, but lumped it in with a bunch of other Neolithic cultures. There are 3000+ sites dedicated to this culture that spanned the three modern countries of Romania, Moldova and Ukraine. The culture was one that flourished on trade, but had a whole lot of other things going for it. First, it was immensely huge. Some of their settlements had more than 10,000 people living in them, making them much larger than their way more famous contemporaries in Mesopotamia. Second, they had an incredibly rich religious life. One aspect of this religious life can be seen in their desire to burn down the house.

Every 70-80 years or so, the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture would leave their village, burn it to the ground and then reconstruct it in the exact same fashion as it stood before the burning. Most modern people would say that this is crazy and counterproductive. But a study of their religious convictions would indicate that they did this because of their belief in the cyclical nature of life. Many of the tombs of the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture were egg shaped. Marija Gimbutas, an expert on this, states that these tombs and the burning indicate a belief in some sort of religion that advocated for rebirth. The burning of the settlements was a celebration of death. This wasn't, according to her theory, a morbid religion, but that death was necessary element for a rebirth, and thus something to be celebrated. If this theory is to be believed, then the burning of the villages was a religious celebration intended to bring lost loved ones back to life. Most of the sites show this ritual burning, but none more so than Poduri site in Romania which is believed to have been burned thirteen times. This shows a remarkable dedication to this ritual that most modern cultures could never accomplish.

The Bronocice Pot

There's a whole lot of different types of pot in this world. But none can compare to the Bronocice Pot. If you want a high on history, just have a gander at the Bronocice Pot. The Bronocice Pot comes down to us  from the Funnelbeaker Culture, which we'll discuss in the next Podcast, Neolithic Part II. The pot was found in Bronocice, Poland and was a major find for the Funnelbeakers that stretched from the Netherlands to the west, Scandinavia to the north (specifically Sweden, Denmark and Norway) and Poland to the east. But the heart of the Funnelbeaker Culture was in Germany and Bohemia (modern day Czech Republic). The Funnelbeaker Culture was defined by their distinctive pottery. The Bronocice Pot is a type of this pottery, but has importance because of its decorations.

The pot is decorated with what appears to be a wagon being pulled by some type of draught animal. It dates to some time between 3635 BC - 3370 BC, making it among the earliest drawings of a wheeled vehicle. This gives it a great status as a Neolithic invention. In the middle of the wagon drawing is a circular pot, that probably represents the harvest that the wagon is carrying. Basically, because of its early date, the Bronocice Pot deserves great granddaddy status in the evolution of vehicles, and all that that entails. The picture on top is the actual pot, in reconstructed form. The picture to the right is a rendition of the drawing of the earliest wagon. You can't tell by the drawing but it was likely a precursor to the ultimately cool 1967 Ford Country Squire. It probably had seats in the back so kids could sit and watch the cars come up behind it. Stationwagons should be brought back to save the American Auto industry. Who needs an efficient smart car when you can have the coolness of wood paneling?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A Profile of the Erotic Ovid

Ovid, who we briefly mentioned on Episode 3 the Mesolithic Podcast, was born as Publius Ovidius Naso in what is modern day Abruzzo, Italy on the 20th of March in the year 43 BC. He was of the equestrian class, the second tier of the nobility, and of rather high standing family ties. Originally he studied rhetoric to become something of a lawyer, but upon the death of his older brother, decided to use rhetoric to become a poet and began to travel abroad. During his life he would have three wives, literary success, disapproval by the powers that be and exile, all of which fueled his poetic genius. His most noted works are The Heroides, The Amores, Ars Amatoria and Metamorphoses. A non-history buff can skip The Heroides, Ars Amatoria and all the other works, but The Amores and Metamorphoses should be on every body's bucket list for different reasons. Other readers should take on all of Ovid's works. They are truly delightful and anticipate any satire to come after him.

The Amores is a five volume set of poetry, of which we only have three volumes today. It should be read for the pure enjoyment of Ovid and his hilarious advice in love. His quotes like, "All love is vanquished by succeeding love", "Blemishes are hid by night and every fault forgiven; darkness makes any woman fair", "love is a kind of warfare" and "neglect of appearance becomes men" make for truly fantastic reading even today. His sarcasm makes me seem downright kind and cheerful.

Metamorphoses, while full of this delightful sarcasm, should be read for another reason. First, it is masterfully written. Second, it gives an early glimpse of proper propaganda and its uses. Third, it gives an excellent account of Roman and Greek mythology from the mind that is perceiving Greek and Roman thought from an internal perspective. We push our agenda on ancient cultures. It's hard not to. But, we've done well this summer so far.

Barter tokens of the Cucuteni-Trypillian Culture

The Cucuteni-Trypillian Culture is probably the most fascinating Neolithic culture of Europe. It existed from around 5500 BC - 2750 BC. They built massive settlements that served as prototypes for cities, some of which grew to an immense size of 15,000 people. They are fascinating because of a number of reasons, including their religious curiosities, their giant cities, their pottery and sculptures, their use of the earlier Vinča symbols and their barter tokens. We'll cover a couple of these items on the blog shortly, but for now we'll focus on the barter tokens.

There are about 3000 sites of Cucuteni-Trypillian inhabitation across Ukraine, Moldova and Romania. This has provided an immense amount of artifacts. Some of the most prevalent artifacts are these barter tokens. The exact usage of the barter tokens is unknown, but it is presumed that they started out as tools to keep count of things in storage. Basically, if the typical Cucuteni-Trypillian farmer had 200 lbs of wheat to trade he could carry around these barter tokens to represent he had 200 lbs of wheat to trade with people. Carrying a number of tokens would have been easier than carrying the wheat and so he would trade 10 lbs of wheat for say a vase or decorative textile for his wife and instead of giving the aforementioned 10 lbs of wheat up front he'd give his trading partner a token. That token would later be exchanged for the actual wheat. This made trading a whole lot easier for the Cucutenit-Trypillian.

All of those 3000 sites indicate a shared cultural heritage, but not a a formalized country or empire. Each site was probably something like a city-state, in that they were independent from all of the others. But, each "city" was about 3-4 km apart from one another and this allowed for extensive trade routs. By making trading easier for people, the various "cities" were able to prosper. This innovation and lack of government insight explains the longevity of the society. Current politicians would do well to see the effectiveness in letting businesses do what they're best at. Current politics aside though, these barter tokens show an evolution in business. Eventually things like barter tokens would transform into currency and we'd end up with the system we have today, which is working super. Just ask the Greeks...

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...