Chronicle 3. A CHRONICLE OF THE HUMANS
/ΕΛΛΗΝΙΚΑ/ Χρονικό 3. ΧΡΟΝΙΚΟ ΤΟΥ ΑΝΘΡΩΠΟΥ
● Academic Scholasticism ● Ares Poulianós: Archanthropus and Homo Erectus ● Homo’s Cradle: North Aegean and Macedonia ● DNA Analyses: Minoans, Mycenaeans, Cretans and Hellenes ● Paleolithic Odyssey ● Aegean Stonehenge ● Balkan Writing
THE NEOLITHIC AGRICULTURAL revolution is the work of women, I said in our previous Chronicle, because, according to the division of labour of that period, they were the ones who gathered fruit, while men hunted. Women, therefore, should have foreseen the prospects of expanding available food by agriculture. It was a logical hypothesis I made in passing, noting that I do not know if any researcher has expressed the same opinion. Nevertheless, I stressed the need not to further engage in such speculations for the time being, and stick to generally accepted ideas – as long as they are not directly related to the issues under our consideration. Such are the assumptions connected to the theories of man’s African origin, and the origins of the inhabitants of Hellas, the Indo-European languages and their speakers, or even the Phoenician origin of the Greek alphabet, among various issues that are relevant, or sufficiently vague. As I’ve said, they are nothing but theories…
The situation prevailing in academic circles is, unfortunately, very sad, while – normally – universities should be temples of free movement of ideas, dialogue, knowledge and learning. So many theories, taken for “granted”, have already been overturned; and so much blood has already spilled, “in the name of” utter idiocies, touted as “divine laws”, whether “the earth moves”, or concerning the nature of the “Holy Trinity”, as if the “holy fathers” had X-rayed its components! A scientist who, instead of pursuing a “true understanding through reason”, as Plato said, yields to doctrine, to dogma (in order to forward his ego, as well), is nothing but a scholastic charlatan.
SΟ SCHOCKED I FELT when I came across the work of the anthropologist Ares Poulianós, who introduced us to the Archánthropus of Petrálona in Chalcidice, having already studied in depth the origin of the Hellenes: he was violently evicted from the cave and the museum which, nota bene, he had founded and funded himself (a period when several of his important findings “vanished”…), and had to spend endless hours in the courtrooms, rather than in excavation sites, in order to be vindicated – having against him even the Greek state, which ought to support him instead. That’s because he dared to overturn “well-established notions”, “divine laws”: that Homo’s cradle is not Africa, but the region of Macedonia and the northern Aegean. And after spreading all over the Mediterranean, the humans moved North and South, East and West. Therefore, the inhabitants of Hellas have been mostly indigenous, and the theories about the descent of the Indo-Europeans, or of any other people, from the North to the South, should be similarly discarded. According to this “Out of the Aegean” theory (it is also a theory), the Chronicle of the Humans is as follows:
● 12-11 million years ago, the oldest Homo erectus (Standing man) appeared on earth. His bones and tools were found by Poulianós at Triglia, also in Chalcidice, not far from Petrálona; thus he called him Homo erectus trigliensis. In the same area, he discovered some nine-million-year-old ancestors of the horse. Hipparia appeared in Spain and Africa 500,000 years later. Homo erectus, in his Asian and African variants, emerged ten million years later(!), two million years ago, while the earliest African tools were made 2.5 (three at most) million years ago.
“Between twenty and seven million years ago, Earth really was the planet of the apes”, the anthropologist David Begun wrote in the New Scientist. “At least 100 species roamed the world before the first humans appeared. They… are more fascinating still for what they tell us about our own origins. Key human traits including big brains, dexterous hands, erect posture and long childhood can be traced back to this period. And the really surprising thing is that these features all evolved in European apes.”
“Earth: a planet of the apes. Key human traits evolved in European apes.” “Homo’s genesis due to great geologic-climatic changes in the Aegean.” (David Begun, Ares Poulianós)
“Apes and humans shared common ancestors in the very distant past”, said Poulianós. “The line of this evolution, however, was broken abruptly around twenty million years ago, with the great geologic and climatic changes taking place in the northern Aegean area. Throughout northern Greece… we encounter the well-known Petrified Forests… (with fossilized trunks over 17 million years old) as a result of volcanic eruptions that testify to the great and abrupt geological disturbances in the area. That epoch… is the beginning of a geological change, which prepared the evolution of the Primates. One of them was this twelve-million-year-old man.”
● “Humans and anthropoids should have co-existed at that time,” remarks Marios Demópoulos, referring to the 10-million-year-old Ouranopithecus macedoniensis who was found in the areas of Chalcidice, Thessaloniki, and the Axiós (or Vardar) river. Anthropoids of the same period were excavated in other regions of Hellas, some quadrupeds, and other bipods, in a “semi-standing” posture.
● Graecopithecus (El Graeco), whose teeth were dug up in Hellas and Bulgaria, lived some 7.2 million years ago. These fossils are solid evidence that evolution of man’s genesis started in the Mediterranean 200,000 years earlier than Africa. “Graecopithecus is not an ape”, said Professor Nikolai Spassov. “He is a member of the tribe of hominins and the direct ancestor of homo”, who stood up and became bipedal to help himself find food with ease in the Balkan open savanna. The magazine New Scientist published a related article entitled Man’s cradle is Greece, not Africa.
● An important find is an elephant at Perdiccas near Ptolemaida, who lived three million years ago. It is the oldest hunting game in Europe, killed and chopped with dozens of sharp tools by a large group of Archanthropi in the Kozani area.
● 1.5 million years ago, man found refuge in caves to protect himself from the glaciers. In the Petrálona cave, the Archanthropus left the world’s oldest traces of fire, which he lit 1.1 million years ago. Similar traces of fire appear somehow later, one million years ago, in South Africa.
● The Archanthropus europaeus petraloniensis, circa 800-700 thousand years old, has been identified either as a Homo erectus, or Neanderthal, or an early form of Homo sapiens. Of course, those who worship orthodoxy speak instead of some archaic hominid unrelated to the above “classical” homos. Two 800,000-year-old skeletons were also found in the cave.
As we can deduce from the Archanthropus’ tools he was right-handed. Indirectly we can arrive to the conclusion that he may have had speech: right-handedness is linked to the left cerebral hemisphere, where the areas of speech are found. If he had speech, he might have had some elementary form of language… Besides, a hyena’s skull was found above its jaw, placed in a cave niche, as if it was some kind of “icon”. Thus man might have had some sense of symbolism since then.
● Moreover, special mention deserve the finds in the Apidima Cave, located on the western shore of Mani Peninsula in the southern Peloponnese. A systematic investigation of the cave has yielded Neanderthal and Homo sapiens fossils from the Palaeolithic era. The oldest skull fossil shows a mixture of modern human and primitive features, and has been dated to be more than 210,000 years old, making it the oldest proof of Homo sapiens living outside Africa. The skull is more than 150,000 years older than previous Homo sapiens finds in Europe… “Our results”, the researchers summarized, “suggest that at least two groups of people lived in the Middle Pleistocene in what is now southern Greece: an early Homo sapiens population, followed [sic] by a Neanderthal population.”
Mycenaeans and Minoans were close relatives, and ancestors
of today’s Greeks, according to an analysis of ancient DNA.
REGARDING THE INHABITANTS OF HELLAS and their origin, I firmly believe that, as a rule, the newcomers to a place are far less numerous than the indigenous and are easily assimilated. Exceptions are rare. This belief is confirmed by a recent analysis of ancient DNA, suggesting that today’s Greeks are indeed the descendants of Mycenaeans, with only a small proportion of DNA from later migrations to Hellas. We know, of course, that the Mycenaeans were Greeks. That’s why I consider even more impressive the finding that, at the same time, they were closely related to the Minoans, an earlier civilization flourishing mainly in Crete from 3000 to 1400 BCE.
The ancient genome came from the teeth of 19 people: ten Minoan Cretans (who lived between 2900 and 1700 BCE), four Mycenaeans from mainland Hellas (between 1700 and 1200 BCE), and also five Neolithic era or Bronze Age farmers from Greece and southwestern Asia Minor (between 5400 and 1340 BCE). By comparing this material to that of 334 other ancient people from several parts of the world and 30 modern Hellenes, the researchers drew their conclusions.
For more than a century, the origin of the Bronze Age Minoans and Mycenaeans was an archaeological puzzle. The latter received from the former the symbols of their script, Linear A, and adapted them to the needs of their own language. This new script, Linear B, was deciphered by Michael Ventris in 1952; then we realized that the Mycenaean was an archaic Greek dialect. However, we have not yet been able to read the Linear A texts, obviously because the Minoan tongue was completely different. We have also come to the conclusion that the same should have been true as regards the two peoples.
Yet, it turned out that they were most closely related to each other, as they both got 3/4 of their DNA from the early Neolithic farmers of western Anatolia and the Aegean, and most of the remainder from some ancient populations related to those of Caucasia and Iran, according to the findings of the research team, reported in the scientific journal, Nature. It seems there was an early migration of people from the Orient to western Anatolia and the Aegean, after those early farmers had settled there, but before the Minoans split from the Mycenaeans.
Nevertheless, if the two peoples were not “brothers”, but “cousins”, it is because the Mycenaeans did have an important difference: some of their DNA (4-16%) came from Northern hunter-gatherers, who originated from Eastern Europe or Siberia. This suggests that a second wave of people from the Eurasian steppe came to mainland Hellas by way of Eastern Europe or Armenia, but didn’t reach Crete, according to Joseph Lazarides, a geneticist at Harvard University, who co-led the study.
It is no wonder that the Minoans and Mycenaeans looked alike, with brown hair and eyes. This is exactly how artists in both cultures presented them on frescoes and pottery, although they spoke and wrote different languages. There were even more differences: the Mycenaeans, Lazarides observed, were militaristic, and their art was replete with war scenes, in contrast to Minoan art. Note that, because the Minoans used hieroglyphics in earlier times, some archaeologists, such as Arthur Evans, thought they were partly of Egyptian origin – which turns out to be wrong.
When the researchers compared the DNA of modern Greeks to that of ancient Mycenaeans, they found a lot of genetic overlap. Living Hellenes share similar proportions of DNA from the same ancestral sources as Mycenaeans, although they have inherited a little less DNA from ancient Anatolian farmers and a bit more from later migrations to Greece.
The continuity between the ancient and living Hellenes is “particularly striking given that the Aegean has been a crossroads of civilizations for thousands of years”, said George Stamatoyannopoulos of the University of Washington in Seattle, a co-author of the study. It seems that the major components of the Greeks’ ancestry were already in place in the Bronze Age, after the migration of the earliest farmers from Anatolia set the template for the genetic makeup of the Hellenes and, in fact, of most Europeans. “Our results support the idea of continuity but not isolation in the history of populations of the Aegean, before and after the time of its earliest civilizations,” the researchers added.
The results also show it is possible to get ancient DNA from the hot, dry lands of the eastern Mediterranean, says archaeologist Colin Renfrew of the University of Cambridge in Britain, who was not involved in this research. Scientists now hope they can get DNA from other ancient cultures, such as the mysterious Hittites, who came to ancient Anatolia sometime before 2000 BCE, and who may have been the source of Caucasian ancestry in Mycenaeans and speakers of early Indo-European languages in the region. His colleague, Kristian Kristiansen of the University of Göteborg, Sweden, who was also not involved in the work, agrees: “The results have now opened up the next chapter in the genetic history of western Eurasia – that of the Bronze Age Mediterranean.”
Minoan civilization: autochthonous and self-luminous…
ANOTHER RELATED RESEARCH, led by Stamatoyannopoulos, and focused on the Minoans, analyzed samples of DNA from some skeletons found in a cave on the Lasithi plateau and compared them with samples from 135 ancient and modern human populations. What the researchers told Nature is that Minoan civilization was created by the descendants of early colonists who sailed to the island from Anatolia 9000 years ago (?) and were genetically similar with the Neolithic inhabitants of the wider region. Thus there is no basis for any theories that the Minoans originated from Africa, as descendants of the ancient Egyptians or the Berbers. On the contrary, genetic similarities have been found with ancient and more recent European populations. The analysis also suggests that the Minoans are most closely related to the modern population of Crete, and also of Greece in general.
This genetic analysis confirmed the findings of Poulianós, after he had studied 1200 Cretans (including 200 women), that the majority of the population of the island is made up of indigenous people, at least since the Neolithic era. There have been, of course, migratory influences, but without significant alterations as a result. The human type still prevailing is the same, the so-called Caucasian-Mediterranean type (from Caucasia down to Crete), where the inhabitants of the Aegean islands south of Lesbos also belong. On the basis of the above data, the theory of the Semitic origin of the Minoans was also discarded. Not only the inhabitants of Crete, Poulianós points out, but also of Hellas in general, come mostly from a period before the arrival of the Achaeans. The findings of his research were made public in his book, The Origin of the Cretans, published in 1970 and reissued in 1996.
“What has been solved for us in the past years,” he writes in his preface, “is that Crete was inhabited not since the Mesolithic era, as we previously said, but since the Lower Paleolithic, that is, some million years ago. This is testified mainly by the stone tools of the first people who lived all over the Aegean even since the Upper Miocene. There are also bones of the inhabitants of Crete that date back to the Middle Paleolithic era. Crete has never been completely deserted by inhabitants. Not even during the great disaster caused by the eruption of the volcano of Santorini. Excavations unearthed human skeletons of all eras and ages… The key to understand these developments has been the Minoan Microcephalus, which was accidentally found in the basement of the Archaeological Museum of Heraclion. Except Minoan endogamy, the Microcephalus testifies to the biological evolution of the human species that began hundreds of thousands of years ago.(1) But it primarily proves that the Aegean Type, which is of the same age with the Continental one, is autochthonous. The same applies to the language of the Cretans that has always been Greek. Of course, there may have been variations of Hellenic created by long-term isolation in a place, even differences of pronunciation. But Greek was the dominant language throughout the Balkans and Eastern Mediterranean, at least since the Middle Paleolithic.”(2)
- (1) According to the Anthropological Society of Greece (ASG), founded by Poulianós, “the skull of a microcephalus was discovered in the Minoan excavations at Zakros. It belonged to a 20-year-old man, most probably of the Minoan dynasty, whose brain’s volume did not exceed the 530 cubic centimetres. This genetic aberration was due to the long isolation and endogamy of the Minoans. Thus neither the Cretans, nor the Minoan dynasty, emigrated from somewhere else, but it was a product of local evolution. The skull was sent away to Vienna in 1971, under the pretext of a study, a fact that was considered as unscientific and illegal by the ASG. Confronted by the indifference of the Ministry of Culture for many years to repatriate it, there was no other way but the recourse to Hellenic Justice. This was finally done in the spring of 1997, and since then it is housed at the National Archaeological Museum.”
- (2) As the French archaeologist Paul Faure writes in his book, Life in Minoan Crete: “Ancient writers never considered Minoan monarchies completely different from those of the Homeric world. Even more, they always considered Minos, Rhadamanthys and Sarpedon [Zeus and Europa’s children] as Greek rulers and their successors as consanguineous heirs, who ascended to the throne without conflict or interruption.”
Paleolithic Odyssey: most ancient navigators in the Mediterranean
I DO NOT KNOW IF THE CRETANS’ LANGUAGE has always been Hellenic, as Poulianós claims, but his bold expansion of their history into the distant past is already verified by archaeological finds: hundreds of stone tools dug out in the area of Plakiás, on the southern shores of Crete, which date back to 130-190 thousand years or even more! Quite impressive is that Crete has been an island for more than 5 million years; which means that the artisans who made all those tools arrived there by sea! The Minoan Thalassocracy during the Bronze Age is no wonder with such historical precedents.
In the summer of 2008, a Greek-U.S. team was searching in Crete for samples of life of its Neolithic inhabitants – nothing older than 11,000 years. The research team was headed by Eleni Panagopoulou, an archaeologist at the Directorate of Paleoanthropology and Speleology of Southern Hellas, and Thomas Strasser, an associate professor of art history at Providence College in Rhode Island. They were assisted by geologists and archaeologists, such as Curtis Runnels of Boston University. None of them could ever imagine how rewarding Fortune would be. “The idea of finding tools from this very early time period on Crete was about as believable as finding an iPod in King Tut[ankhamun]’s tomb”, remarked Runnels in jest…(3)
- (c) The first human presence in Crete was discovered accidentally, too, when fossilized footprints aged to 5,700,000 years old, predating other discovered tracks by 2,000,000 years, were found close to Tráchilos, Chaniá, in 2002, implying the possibility of hominin evolution outside Africa!
The plethora of findings excludes the possibility of some accidental stranding in this area. Everything points to the direction of an organized colonization. As Strasser stressed: “These early people were intentional seafarers; not individuals lost at sea.” Experts on early nautical history and archaeologists think that these ancient sea dogs had craft sturdier and more reliable than rafts. They must also have had the cognitive ability and knowledge to conceive and carry out water crossings over such great distances repeatedly in order to establish sustainable populations in Crete. “The fact that we have several hundred stone tools in nine different locations suggests that a large enough number of people came in order to sustain the populations and leave a visible archaeological trace”, Runnels said. “That means they didn’t just raft over once.”
“The results of the survey”, the Greek Culture Ministry said in a statement, “not only provide evidence of sea voyages in the Mediterranean tens of thousands of years earlier than we were aware of so far, but also change our understanding of early hominids’ cognitive abilities.” The research offers new perspectives on how our early ancestors migrated and expanded throughout the world, upturns the timetable of technological development, and pushes the history of navigation in the Mediterranean back more than 100,000 years. If early humans were crossing mare nostrum, Runnels said, then they certainly could have also crossed other water barriers, such as the Red Sea or the Gulf of Aden. “And that means that the assumptions that we have had – that the peopling of Eurasia was done by early hominins moving overland through the Near East, into India and down – will have to be revisited.”
The research, which continued in 2009, reached the top ten discoveries of 2010. No wonder, because until then we believed that ancient humans reached Crete, Cyprus, a few other Greek islands, and possibly Sardinia, no earlier than 12,000 years ago. Orthodoxy claimed that the capability to construct and victual crafts, and navigate them to distant coasts, arrived only with the advent of agriculture and animal domestication. We thought that the earliest rafts were logs with sails made of animal skins lashed to a tree limb to catch the wind. We imagined that on such rafts the obsidian found in the Franchthi cave in Argolis was somehow transferred from Melos. The increased use of this most precious volcanic rock 13,000 years ago shows that the people of Argolis or Melos were accomplished seafarers. The earliest known boat, found in the Netherlands, dates back only 10,000 years; convincing evidence of sails only show up in Egypt around 2500 BCE. Although wooden boats don’t normally survive the ages, we know that one of the earliest members of the human family, Homo erectus, was able to cross several kilometers of deep water more than a million years ago to reach Flores and Sulawesi islands of Indonesia. Much later Homo sapiens braved treacherous waters to colonize Australia by 65,000 years ago.
Who were the artisans of the Cretan tools? We can only speculate on that based on their technology. The artifacts are very similar to tools used by Homo erectus more than a million years ago, and by Neanderthals, as well, until about 130,000 years ago. Even more intriguing, the archaeologists who found them noted that the style of the hand axes suggested that they could be up to 700,000 years old! These tools may testify to sea-borne migrations of Neanderthals from the Near East to Europe, argued Strasser; which means that they were navigating in the Mediterranean. Others prefer Homo heidelbergensis,(4) in the role of a Paleolithic Odysseus. Whatever the case, it seems that early humans were capable of long-distance navigation, sailing at will in the open sea and using sea routes. Most probably, the urge to go to sea, and the cognitive and technological means to do so, predates Homo sapiens, remarked Alan Simmons, an archaeologist at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas. “The orthodoxy until pretty recently was that you don’t have seafarers until the early Bronze Age,” adds archaeologist John Cherry of Brown University, an initial skeptic regarding these finds. “Now we are talking about seafaring Neanderthals. It’s a pretty stunning change.”
- (4) The first Neanderthal was found in the Neander valley of Rhineland. Heidelberg gave its name to Homo heidelbergensis. Early Homos theorized to be Africans turned out to be… Germans?(!)
How long took the voyage to Crete? It depends on the starting point and the time of voyage. Even when the Mediterranean reached its lowest known point, plummeting some 150 metres below current sea level, those leaving from Asia Minor or Hellas would have had to make three separate water crossings ranging from 20 to 40 kilometres each to reach Crete. If, on the other hand, the seafarers departed from Africa, they should have been prepared to cross 200 kilometres of open sea water. “We can’t say the toolmakers came from Libya,” commented Strasser. “If you’re on a raft, that’s a long voyage, but they might have come from the European mainland by way of shorter crossings through Greek islands.” And why did they go there? Crete, according to the researchers, was an attractive place to hunt for food, with a variety of wildlife – such as deer, but also dwarf elephants and hippopotami, equal in size to cows and pigs respectively (due to the insular conditions that gave birth to the microcephalus) – as well as many edible plants. At the heart of it all, though, there was something fundamental to all human beings, Panagopoulou suspects: “I think they were mainly motivated by curiosity and the desire for exploration.”
The surprise discovery prompted researchers to go to other islands in search of their… Fortune. A Hellenic-Canadian team uncovered hundreds of tools that were embedded in the soil of a quarry on Naxos. The island was likely accessible only by watercraft even in glacial times, when sea levels were lower. The hand axes and blades resemble those the Neanderthals and modern humans made from about 200,000 until 50,000 years ago. They require a more sophisticated technology than those found in Crete. Similar tools, attributed to Neanderthals, have turned up on a number of other Aegean islands. Paleolithic artifacts have also been recovered on the Ionian Sea isles of Cephallenia and Zacynthus. The plethora not only of tools, but also of sites where they were found, adds weight to the idea of purposeful settlement. “People are going back and forth to islands much earlier than we thought”, Simmons said. Earlier even than these findings in Crete suggest. The discovery of human remains and stone tools in Spain, dating to over a million years ago, may indicate that, long ago, some ancient hominins were finally able to cross the 15 kilometers of the hazardous Strait of Gibraltar from Morocco. On condition they were Africans. What if their starting point was the Aegean? And the sea they crossed was the Mediterranean, not the Strait?
Neolithic farmers from the Aegean built Stonehenge!
STONEHENGE GIVES CLUES that confirm Poulianós’ theories, after a DNA analysis of 67 Neolithic and six Mesolithic Britons, who lived in the period between 8500 and 2500 BCE, according to the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution. It is striking that the Neolithic Britons were descended from Aegean and West Anatolian farmers, who followed the Mediterranean route of dispersal: they journeyed westward to Iberia and travelled north through France to Britain, which was then sparsely populated by Mesolithic hunters. This happened about 4,000 BCE, while the massive expansion of people out of the Aegean and Asia Minor had started in 6,000 BCE – thus spreading the Neolithic revolution into Europe.(e)
- (5) Another ancient DNA related study showed how Mediterranean grain (specifically wheat) came to Britain through trade around 6,500 BCE, before the Neolithic farmers’ arrival there.
There are dozens of archaeological studies detailing the spread of farming and new cultural practices across Europe. But scientists weren’t sure whether those new traditions arrived with new people, or reflected the spread of ideas. These migrant newcomers, who introduced agriculture to Britain, brought new farming techniques, pottery, and new religious cultures and beliefs, such as the tradition of building monuments using megaliths. Stonehenge, in Wiltshire, was part of this culture, as a temple aligned with the movement of the Sun (see Chronicle 18, Introduction). The main part of the monument was built around 3000 BCE.
DNA suggests that most European hunter-gatherers of the time had dark skin combined with blue eyes. Genetic analysis shows that the Neolithic farmers, by contrast, were paler-skinned with brown eyes and black or dark-brown hair.
Towards the end of the Neolithic, around 2450 BCE, the descendants of the first farmers, who had almost completely replaced the older hunter-gatherers, were themselves almost entirely replaced by a new population, called the Bell Beaker culture, that migrated from continental Europe. Thus Britain saw two extreme genetic shifts in the space of a few thousand years.
Early Balkan writing
WHATEVER HAPPENS regarding the cradle of Homo, which, by “axiom”, is in Africa, is repeated in the case of writing, whose cradle is found in 4th-millennium-BCE Sumer, according to conventional archeology. In spite of that, far too many finds in the Balkans, already in the 19th century, are inconsistent with this “axiom” – and probably for this very reason, comments on purpose archaeologist Colleen Anne Coyle, few are aware of these discoveries.
● Turdaș, Romania; Vinča, Serbia: a cache of artifacts with previously unknown inscriptions was excavated in Romania in 1875. Then, a similar cache was found in Vinča, a suburb of Belgrade, Serbia, some 245 km from Turdaș, in 1908. Later, more such fragments were recovered in Banjica, in another part of the Serbian capital. Since, over 150 sites have been identified in Serbia alone, but many have not been fully excavated. Thus, the culture of the whole area is called the Vinča culture with the homonymous symbols of the Danube, Old European, Balkan, or Vinča-Turdaș script, used in the Neolithic during 6th to 5th millennia BCE.
● Sitovo, Bulgaria: an inscription was found in 1928 on the wall of a rock shelter close to Plovdiv. The Sitovo inscription may be the only one containing so many symbols (around 50), where we possibly have a complete text. The archaeologist Alexander Peev, who discovered it, sent a copy of the text to Soviet colleagues in the hope that they could help in deciphering it. But, as he was an active anti-fascist, he was executed 1943, on suspicion of sending a coded message to the USSR… The inscription was published in 1950.
● Tărtăria, Romania; Gradeshnitsa, Bulgaria: more tablets with inscriptions with the Vinča symbols were discovered in 1961, inside a grave, in the area of Alba Iulia, Romania. Several scientists suppose that the tablets may date to around 5500-5300 BCE. If indeed the symbols are a form of writing, then the Danubian culture would far predate the earliest Sumerian script. They would thus be the world’s earliest known form of writing. Such a controversial claim would surely provoke reactions. There were scholars who considered certain symbols to be Sumerian – therefore the result of forgery – or, at least, quasi-Sumerian proto-cuneiform. Analyses of the symbols, nevertheless, showed that they have little similarity with Near Eastern writing, resulting in the opinion that these symbols and the Sumerian script probably arose independently. Others had objections related to the stratigraphy of the site… On the other side of the Danube, in the Vratsa Province, north-western Bulgaria, more clay artefacts with incised marks, dated to the 4th millennium BCE, were excavated in 1969. The lack of symmetry, complexity and variability in the patterns proves most historians’ theories of a decorative function to be unreliable; and the same is true about the claims they were property marks, or potters’ “signatures”.
● Youra, Alonnesos; Dispelió, Castoriá, Greece: this Balkan culture was related not only to the Black Sea, but also to the Aegean, with statuettes similar to the Cycladic civilization. On the now uninhabited islet of Youra in the Northern Sporades and inside the “Cyclops Cave”, in 1992, archaeologist Adamantios Sampson located ostraca (potsherds, ceramic fragments) dated to 6th – 5th millennia BCE bearing incisions. “The ostraca bear incised unidentifiable symbols”, he said. “It is possible that they echo evidence on an Aegean Neolithic ‘script’, or ‘proto-script’, – a very fashionable subject of discussion in Greece after similar finds in the Castoriá lake,” the Dispelió tablet. Equivalent symbols were also discovered at other Neolithic sites in Hellas (e.g. Euboea, Mykonos, and Nisyros), having several similarities with incised symbols on ceramics of the early Bronze Age in the Cyclades, and directly connected with the Balkan script that was discovered in Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria.
The Dispelió tablet (or script, or disc) is the most important archaeological find at the Castoriá lake settlement discovered accidentally in 1932. But excavations started 60 years later, in 1992, by George Hourmouziades. The tablet was found the next year; it is wooden and carbon 14-dated to ca 5260 BCE; the settlement was inhabited from 5600 to 3000 BCE. The tablet bears charagmata, i.e. inscribed markings, said the archaeologist, “a Neolithic man’s attempt at communication that we hope we’ll be able to interpret one day.” It appears to be a form of proto-writing, 2,000 years older than the proto-Sumerian pictographic script, or 4,000 years older than the Cretan or Mycenaean linear types of writing. Except the tablet, many other ostraca were also found bearing the same type of writing. It is important that the symbols did not resemble the human figures, the sun and moon, or other figures ideograms usually depict. They actually showed signs of advanced aphaeresis (abstraction) that indicates they are the result of cognitive processes.
In February 2004, Hourmouziades commented that the text with the markings could not be easily publicized, because it would ultimately change the current historical background concerning the origins of writing and articulate speech, depicted with letters, instead of ideograms, within the borders of the ancient Greek world – and by extension, the whole of Europe… A number of items in the settlement attest to its economic and agricultural activities, animal breeding and diet preferences, as well as ceramics, wooden structural elements, seeds, bones, figurines, personal ornaments, or bone flutes: one of them, dating back to the 6th millennium BCE, is the oldest found in Europe – if we assume that the Divje Babe flute in Slovenia (43,100 years old) is not man-made.
● Vinča, the largest Neolithic settlement on European soil, was a metropolis with a thriving culture in the period 4500–3500 BCE. The settlements in the area were much larger than all the other European cultures of the same period. Some of them were more extended than the prehistoric settlements of the Aegean and the Near East that were built a millennium later. Vinča, in particular, became the largest market in southeastern Europe, not only for the exceptional value of its products, but also for the rare materials or other goods imported from either Transylvania or the Aegean and the Adriatic coasts. Impressive is the thematic variety of the figurines (naked or dressed, standing, kneeling or sitting, female, male and hermaphrodite, or masked, and especially the figures with the mother and child in her arms), but also the stylistic evolution from the naturalistic, to the realistic, and eventually the abstract.
● Around 7,000 known languages are spoken nowadays; there were even more in the past. However, written languages have been rather few: in the course of human history fewer than 100 major scripts have appeared. Scripts, presumably, have developed only wherever there is a need, a reason, for them. The cuneiform script in Mesopotamia emerged from counting and accounting – until the third millennium BCE, when the Sumerian metaphysical concern for the afterlife paved the way for something more than a “shorthand” and used initially for funerary inscriptions. Such a need for record-keeping did not exist in the Balkans at the time, say the dissenters. But this is another “axiom”, as others argue, if we take into account that e.g. Chinese characters were first used for ritual purposes, in association with the royal “sacred power”. Thus needs vary from place to place.
Throughout the Balkans, the same symbols have been repeatedly found in times and places separated by great distances. Hence they were understood by many individuals who lived in different areas and eras, a fact that lends support to the notion that they were indeed examples of proto-writing,(6) if not a rudimentary writing system. A theory is that the symbols were used for religious purposes in a traditional agricultural society. Nevertheless, some scholars have pointed out that more than a quarter of the inscriptions are located on the bottom of a pot – an ostensibly unlikely place for a religious inscription. Such symbols on various artefacts are widespread and highly standardized denoting the existence of an inventory used by scribes. Consequently, outstanding scientists support the view that the Balkan script is the oldest writing in the world. Have in mind that there are approximately 700 different characters, around the same number of symbols used in Egyptian hieroglyphs.
- (6) A question is certainly brought up: what is writing? The difference between proto-writing and writing is that while the former encodes information, the latter encodes language.
The repetition of certain symbols of the Balkan script in the Linear A tablets points to the Minoan civilization as being among the inheritors of this writing system that migrated south, towards the Aegean and Crete – unless this course was the reverse. The same applies to the Hellenic language and writing. Scholars tend to “forget” about the Mycenaean Linear B and think that ancient Hellenes learned to write around 800 BCE from the Phoenicians. Still, a crucial question emerges: How is it possible for the Greek language to have 800,000 word entries, ranking first among all known languages in the world, with the second next having only 250,000 word entries? And how is it possible for the Homeric epics to have been created at about 800 BCE – that is, just when the Hellenes learned to write?(!) It would be impossible for the ancient Greeks to write these poetic works without having had a history of writing of at least 10,000 years back, according to a US linguistic research. Note, in conclusion, that while ancient Eastern civilizations used ideograms to express themselves, the ancient Greeks were using syllables and letters, in a similar manner to today’s scripts.
● If indeed the Balkan script is the oldest, it does not mean that it fell from the sky! As it is rightly pointed out, the study of symbols carved and painted in caves by our “primitive” ancestors may eventually persuade archaeologists to look back beyond the Balkans and Sumer. This universal system of symbols in cave art may have been carried around the world during human migration from homo’s cradle – wherever that was. The symbols are also found outside caves, e.g. on rocks, or in ornaments. The use of abstract symbols in communication is a critical turning point in the mental skills of our ancestors. Deciphering their underlying meaning is extremely complicated. Some prehistorians argue that in the caves, “we are nearly always associated with animal figures and thus cannot be said to be the first steps toward symbolism.” Conversely, scientists from other disciplines, e.g. linguistics, suggest that both signs and animals were meant to convey ideas in the same manner as a written language. Cognitive mechanisms necessary for the development of cave and rock art are likely to be analogous to those employed in the expression of symbolic thinking required for language.
Of course, the path from primitive symbols to the Balkan and Sumerian scripts is far too long. There must have been many intermediate stages of development. One is probably located at Göbekli Tepe, in SE Anatolia, in North (Turkish) Kurdistan, very close to Şanlıurfa. It was founded before the 10th millennium BCE, and was abandoned in the 8th. There are circles of massive ‘T’-shaped stone pillars – the world’s oldest known megaliths. Prior to this great discovery, Sumer was assumed to be the beginning of everything: the first organized society, having invented the wheel. Most probably, such breakthroughs should be transferred to Göbekli Tepe, where we are also confronted with what appears to be the earliest yet discovery of writing. About 20 symbols – at least – seem to have been in use. This in itself does not portend to a complete language but it is possible that other findings may occur as, so far, only a third of the site has been excavated. Obviously, the history of writing will be enriched with the Anatolian symbols, which take us back to at least 10,000 BCE.
Next Chronicle 4. ON DEMOCRACY ● Authentic Democracy: Direct and in No Way “Representative” ● Castoriadis and Chaos ● The Trial of Socrates ● Ecclesia and Heliaea ● French and Haitian Revolutions ● Plato’s Republic