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Europe's oldest known civilization discovered.
June 11, 2005 8:41 PM   Subscribe

Europe's oldest known civilization discovered. Archaeologists have discovered an ancient civilization of temple builders that existed in central Europe between 4800BC and 4600BC -- over 2000 years before Egypt. They constructed over 150 geometrically, astronomically, and spiritually aligned temples (translated) out of earth and wood, that had diameters of up to a half a mile. They were built by a people who lived in villages centered around communal longhouses of up to 150 feet in length. Their civilization raised large herds of animals, gathered grain with primitive sickles, made tools out of of stone, bone, and wood, manufactured pottery decorated with geometric designs (.pdf), and created small clay figurines of humans and animals. Only one male figurine has been found so far (.pdf) -- the rest have been of women with large breasts -- fertility symbols -- which suggests a fertility-based spirituality, and possibly a matriarchal society.
posted by insomnia_lj (77 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Or, porn.
posted by nicwolff at 8:51 PM on June 11, 2005


the rest have been of women with large breasts -- fertility symbols -- which suggests a fertility-based spirituality, and possibly a matriarchal society.

They still make those female figurines with large breasts in europe. However, most of them are now full-size, made of cardboard and have blinking red LEDs on their nipples.
posted by fatbobsmith at 8:55 PM on June 11, 2005


insomnia_lj posted "-- the rest have been of women with large breasts -- fertility symbols -- which suggests a fertility-based spirituality, and possibly a matriarchal society."

As nicwollf and fatbobsmoth point out, the smart money is now on those figurines being porn, not religious statuary.

As to matriarchy, it just doesn't seem to happen among humans.
posted by orthogonality at 9:17 PM on June 11, 2005


Why this monumental culture collapsed is a mystery.

Well, duh. Because they spent all their time looking at porn.

Thanks, insomnia_lj. This is a fascinating development and a cool story, in spite of any heckling.
posted by soyjoy at 9:31 PM on June 11, 2005


Just to prevent the thread from becoming completely hijacked ...

It's interesting that the aliens came here much earlier than previously thought. I wonder why they started with more simplistic, although still huge, wooden temples, graduating to stone only in later visits.

Hmmm...

(Tongue firmly in cheek)
posted by robhuddles at 9:32 PM on June 11, 2005


This is really good, thank you! If it was a matriarchal society, then it was quite likely that it wasn't too long after that civilisation became argricultural based, i'd be interested to see if they'd be able to find out why they died out.
Satyagraha
posted by thebestsophist at 9:45 PM on June 11, 2005


So, why was it that Europe was so late with everything? This is ages and ages after the Middle East, and Africa, and Asia.
posted by amberglow at 10:01 PM on June 11, 2005


Why are there no archaeologists names in the Independant story? Why is it "revealed today by The Independant?" Where are actual sources?

"50 gigantic monuments" and yet no one noticed -- thank god the Independant is on the story for us!
posted by cccorlew at 10:14 PM on June 11, 2005


I love the translated text, its like an episode of StarGate: "Only 25 km of the discovery site of the sky disk of Nebra (GM 34) and 50 km of the star control room in Kyhna (AP - web page), discovered archaeologists in the Saxonia anhaltinischen Goseck the oldest sonnen-Observatorium of Europe. "
posted by Meridian at 10:15 PM on June 11, 2005


Most likely because food domestication came to Europe late, fouder crops such as wheat, peas, olives, sheep, goats, etc were domesticated in southwest asia and then brought to Europe before Western Europe figured out the farming thing and picked up poppies and oats two thousand years later. So seemingly other areas had more easily domesticatable crops than Europe. Also Europe might have had a harsher climate which wasn't as inducive to settling and experimentations in farming.
Satyagraha
posted by thebestsophist at 10:22 PM on June 11, 2005


Yeah, cccorlew pointed out the sloppiness of the article - it's wierd, though, despite the sloppiness, there's a certain logic to the piece, especially towards the end. Maybe they just hacked that from another piece?

This is cool - if true - it's an interesting portal into how humans function. Why are humans 'spiritual' - is it because the capacity for spirituality led to cooperation and enabled collaborative works on a large scale? Or did the speculated archeologists just assign "spirituality" to some form of custom?
posted by PurplePorpoise at 10:22 PM on June 11, 2005


amberglow writes "So, why was it that Europe was so late with everything? This is ages and ages after the Middle East, and Africa, and Asia."

To support large-scale public works projects like temples, you need an agricultural society.

But most domesticable plants and animals, although suited for the European clime, originated in the Middle East. Agriculture started where there were enough domesticates and enough food variety from those domesticates, to make agriculture feasible. After being established in the Middle East, agriculture spread to Europe because most Middle Eastern domesticates can also thrive in a European environment. Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel goes into this in minute detail.

What's still debated is whether agriculturists displaced non-farming European natives or if the Europeans took up agriculture -- that is, whether farmers or farming spread. The genetic record does show several migrations into Europe, but it's not clear whether the immigrants mixed with or eradicated the natives.

This find will likely provide more (but debatable) evidence one way or the other.
posted by orthogonality at 10:23 PM on June 11, 2005


orthogonality writes "but it's not clear whether the immigrants mixed with or eradicated the natives."

My personal guess is a mix: eradication plus rape/forced marriage of native women to immigrant men.

I guess this based on the few extant tales of early civilizations: The Iliad a war that began with the abduction of a woman and centers on disputes amongst the conquerors over captive women, the tale pf the founding of Rome, which includes the "Rape of the Sabine Women" (that is, their abduction and forced marriage), and of course the Bible, with its numerous instances of the Hebrews being "told by God" to sack cities and either kill all the inhabitants, or to kill all, including children, except for fertile women.
posted by orthogonality at 10:35 PM on June 11, 2005


So male-aggressiveness brought this shit down?
posted by futureproof at 10:51 PM on June 11, 2005


Goodness! I wonder how this kind of religious behavior survived natural selection.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:59 PM on June 11, 2005


Great post. Thanks.
posted by homunculus at 11:21 PM on June 11, 2005


While this doesn't dispute the findings in general, that second link leads to the website of a very dubious association (presided over by a philosopher who actually believes we live in a Matrix like in the movies, his brother and a "pagan metal" artist) promoting a nauseating blend of racism, esotericism and conspiracy theories: the illuminati, the superior Germanic race, new age babble, that site has it all.
posted by c3o at 11:25 PM on June 11, 2005


Is there any reason to believe that much, much older civilizations could not have existed, say 10 or 20 thousand years ago? As this story seems to indicate, even really large works, on the order of the Great Wall or the Pyramids, would have become unrecognizable as human artifacts in time, particularly if an Ice Age ground them down.
posted by SPrintF at 11:54 PM on June 11, 2005


As nicwollf and fatbobsmoth point out, the smart money is now on those figurines being porn, not religious statuary.

orthogonality, I have about seventy-three different issues with that, but it's late and I'm tired and unfortunately a bit humour-challenged at the moment; when you say 'the smart money', are you referring to currrent archeological theory, or just, you know, messing around on Mefi? Ta.

As to matriarchy, it just doesn't seem to happen among humans.

Depends how you define matriarchy....
posted by jokeefe at 12:05 AM on June 12, 2005


It's interesting that the temples were "decommissioned", which to me seems to indicate that these communities may have emigrated, tidying up behind them before they took off. If they had died of disease or been conquered by other tribes it seems like the temples would have either been left as-is in the first case, or completely destroyed in the second.

It's a bit frustrating that they haven't given a name to these people, because it makes googling for more info difficult, and, as cccorlew has noted, there isn't anything in the article to identify the archeologists or the name of the project, if it has one.
posted by taz at 12:08 AM on June 12, 2005


The source for the second link is pretty odd, but the article itself checks out fine. There's a real scarcity of good links that relate to this find, and a lot of those who are most interested tend to be rather new agy, as they probably make up the majority of those most interested in finding some sort of ancient European civilization.

That said, there's been a lot of talk for years about a European civilization that predates the druids, and worshipped fertility symbols. Joseph Campbell used to research this quite extensively.

It will be interesting to see if they find any surprises in the future. I suspect they won't find as much left as they'd like to find, though. After 7000 years, the logs of the old shrines don't even exist. They're simply a more nutrient rich, loamy soil that, when scanned, forms distinctive circles in comparison to the rest of the soil that surrounds them. I hope there's more left, but if there is, it will require a lot of digging and a whole lot of dumb luck.

"My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings: Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
posted by insomnia_lj at 12:08 AM on June 12, 2005


Doesn't pass the sniff test, but interesting to think about. Is it too late the stir up the fight about whether the big-boob statues were religion or porn? I say both!
posted by squirrel at 1:51 AM on June 12, 2005


Um, these guys are nuts. This isn't a scientific page and may be skinhead related. Note that the second article on the page is about Bush's lies. Certainly not a translation of the temple builders.

Even worse than being skinheads, the webpage design is terrible, with everything underlined.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:20 AM on June 12, 2005


Whoo! They've discovered ancient Cimmeria!
posted by Eideteker at 5:35 AM on June 12, 2005


Why this monumental culture collapsed is a mystery.

Because they wasted their energy building monuments?

As to matriarchy, it just doesn't seem to happen among humans.

I submit that Judaism is, to an extent, matriarchal: You're automatically a jew if your mother is a jew - otherwise you'll have to convert to or be raised in accordance with judaism.

Furthermore, I remind you of Heinlein's famous statement: "All societies are based on rules to protect pregnant women and young children. All else is surplusage, excrescence, adornment, luxury, or folly, which can—and must—be dumped in emergency to preserve this prime function. As racial survival is the only universal morality, no other basic is possible. Attempts to formulate a "perfect society" on any foundation other than "Women and children first!" is not only witless, it is automatically genocidal. Nevertheless, starry-eyed idealists (all of them male) have tried endlessly—and no doubt will keep on trying."

Wether matriarchy is humanly possible or not depends, it seems, on the definition. According to some definitions we are all living in matriarchies.
posted by spazzm at 5:38 AM on June 12, 2005


Perhaps so, but the one thing I've never, ever been able to wrap my head around is the idea of male-based lines of lineage, which seems to be the most common way cross-culturally. How does this make sense at all, when the only parent one can be reasonably sure of (with minor slip-ups and scams) is the mother? As far as I'm concerned it makes all of genealogy pretty much a joke, and I find it an absolutely stunning example of male hubris winning out over simple common sense. I'm not an angry, raging feminist (though I am a feminist, I suppose, by default), but this one is just so totally senseless that it not only baffles me, but makes me want to hiss and spit.

derail! sorry!
posted by taz at 6:00 AM on June 12, 2005


Furthermore, I remind you of Heinlein's famous statement...

Comedy gold !
posted by y2karl at 6:47 AM on June 12, 2005


taz: I guess it's the absolute certainty of the female lineage that makes it less interesting - it's never subject to dispute, inquiry or uncertainty, so why make a study of it?

Paternal interest in male offspring makes a lot of sense from the point-of-view of Dawkins' selfish gene theory, too.
posted by spazzm at 7:03 AM on June 12, 2005


What do they (these invisible and nameless archaeologists) see, when digging up the remains of a place, that makes them say with apparent certainty (if you can believe this article) that the interior spaces were temples? Is it all extrapolation from known religious societies? Is there any reason to believe that these weren't just (or also, or mainly) the places where the leader lived? If I said the central room was a throne room or war room or master bedroom or meeting room or leader's rec room rather than a temple, would they be able to say I'm wrong? I hate when articles make assertions without describing the evidence.

Ah. I see that The Scotsman names Harald Staeuble (Harald Stäuble) as the director of the investigations. I think he works here and that he's the guy who found the Adonis von Zschernitz.

I submit that Judaism is, to an extent, matriarchal

Women don't run Judaism or Israel. Men tend to at least nominally protect and honor women, but they do so for their own reasons -- mainly to ensure the continuance of their own bloodlines and property rights -- and they (almost?) always end up running things. The more advanced a civilization is, the more women and men are treated as equals under law and in fact, but modern societies never swing all the way over to matriarchies (which would be as silly as patriarchies are), and primitive ones... in which ones did women hold all the positions of power?

How does this make sense at all, when the only parent one can be reasonably sure of (with minor slip-ups and scams) is the mother?

That may be precisely why men worry about such things. If property and power are inherited, and if you can't point to the baby popping out of you to prove that it's yours, you will be nervous about your mate running around loose (hence many restrictions men place on women's behavior) and you will be big on having people witness and record births and christenings (names and dates and places and birth order), with trusted people swearing that you were the father.
posted by pracowity at 7:04 AM on June 12, 2005


one could argue men give their names because they can't be absolutely sure - as a way to make it officially true even when on a purely empirical level it's less sure than the woman.

I submit that Judaism is, to an extent, matriarchal: You're automatically a jew if your mother is a jew

I think that's extending the definition of 'matriarchal' a bit. If you read their old book, judaism doesn't come off very woman-friendly. I'd say the passing of judaism down is basically just a way to say, anyone born to a member of our tribe is a member of our tribe, even if the member was raped by foreign soldiers or something; whereas we are not responsible for the children of women outside the tribe who claim to have been impregnated by our guys.
posted by mdn at 7:17 AM on June 12, 2005


Women don't run Judaism or Israel.

On what is that statement based?
According to the "jew if your mum is" rule outlined above, I'd say that:
1. A jewish man wishing to have jewish children is forced to look for a jewish woman.
2. A jewish woman wishing to have jewish children can pick anyone she damn well pleases.

Advantage: Jewish woman.

Of course, the stereotyping of jewish men/women (especially jewish mothers) reflects, I think, more on the gender equality of gentile society than on Judaism.

Sure, rabbis are men and so forth, but rabbis
are mere interpreters of the tradition - women are those who carry it forward.

I guess it would be helpful to further debate to have a clear definition of what a patriarchal/matriarchal society is.
posted by spazzm at 7:18 AM on June 12, 2005


If you read their old book, judaism doesn't come off very woman-friendly.

True, but the old book isn't very anything-friendly, IMHO.

The point about rape, soldiers and outside women is interesting, tho'.
posted by spazzm at 7:21 AM on June 12, 2005


The point about rape, soldiers and outside women is interesting, tho'.

Comedy gold!

Somebody had to...
posted by spazzm at 7:24 AM on June 12, 2005


Hebrew heredity flipped around the beginning of the 1st Century A.D. It was patrilineal and changed for precisely the reasons taz and spazzm suggest. I submit that if you want to be truly Ultra-Orthodox, you should accept the patrilineal way.

As for pornography, there doesn't appear to be any archaeological concensus on that issue.

I guess if this discovery pans out, that whole "living in caves" and "scared of the sun" rhetoric flies right out the window.
posted by Captaintripps at 7:26 AM on June 12, 2005


Interesting post, thanks. I'm currently reading Guns, Germs, and Steel (previously mentioned upthread) which discusses the reasons for civilization development in extreme detail. Fascinating stuff.

As for patriarchal societies... seems to me that the issue isn't with certainty of parentage, but with dispersal of wealth and power. Men were the ones with both and so they were the ones who would pass money and prestige on to their children. Thus it became important to keep track of who was the father of whom to track the cash flow.

It also makes for better scandals. You can't really get much out of "but she wasn't really his mother!" as that's far too easily proven/disproven.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 7:33 AM on June 12, 2005


Fascinating post, insomnia.

Why are people being pissy about "nameless archaeologists" when the Independent story sayeth thus:

"Our excavations have revealed the degree of monumental vision and sophistication used by these early farming communities to create Europe's first truly large scale earthwork complexes," said the senior archaeologist, Harald Staeuble of the Saxony state government's heritage department, who has been directing the archaeological investigations. Scientific investigations into the recently excavated material are taking place in Dresden.

Herr Doctor Staeuble is also mentoned in the (rather wacky) Teutonic cult webpage discussion of the sites.

Keep in mind that the German sites being investigated are in the former DDR, where these sorts of investigations were not a usual priority. Now, with aerial photography and ground-penetrating radar, much can be determined now that would not have been noticed before. The investigations are also quite recent, which is why they are, dare I say it, "news."

There is a real distinction between a society which is "matriarchal", or "ruled by women," and one which is "matrilineal," where family relationships and inheritance of property are determined based on the family of the mother.

Be sure to discuss 7000 year old evidence of human habitation with your Young Earth Creationist friends. Bevets, are you out there?
posted by rdone at 7:41 AM on June 12, 2005


The 2nd "related link" in the first article quotes enough anthropologists to give it the ring of truth. I'm not sure I like this one, though:

Dr John Robertson, a Washington University-based anthropologist, said: "There is much of this period that we still don't understand, but humanity was beyond the stage of hunting down prey and smearing itself with the entrails.

That's more than a bit dismissive of the complexity of hunting/gathering societies, doncha think? Yeesh. Anyway, this one's better:

Andrew Sherratt, professor of archaeology at the University of Oxford, said: "The problem has been that all that is often left of these structures are post-holes. It is only when we begin to reconstruct them that we understand the elaborate nature of the culture.

"What appears to have been discovered in Germany is something which might have astonished, for example, Britons, who were only just beginning to farm in this period. But to the Mesopotamians, it would have been the grounds for a rather patronising pat on the back."


I've often wondered about the possibility that we've overlooked past complex societies that existed between 50,000 and 5,000 years ago because they relied solely on wood for their structures. It made sense that there'd be at least a couple of detailed, wood-based cultures during that time whose artifacts and structures have long since decayed into moldy dirt. Putting aside the apparent joy of white supremacists at this news (from insomnia_lj's 2nd link: "Ur-Teutons created all cultures of the world"), this does look like a fascinating find.

Need more details, though. Has anyone found other mentions yet?
posted by mediareport at 7:41 AM on June 12, 2005


Join the Neolithic Revolution!*
*Some hunting and gathering may be necessary.
posted by spazzm at 7:53 AM on June 12, 2005


There appears to be no John Robertson at Washington University's anthropology department.

There is an Andrew Sheratt at Oxford's archaeology department.
posted by Captaintripps at 8:10 AM on June 12, 2005


grapefruitmoon, if you're enjoying Guns, Germs and Steel, be sure to check out Diamonds latest, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, in which he examines in detail how a society's response to its environmental problems combines with climate change and hostile neighbors and/or friendly trade partners to determine its fate. I'm reading it right now. Fascinating stuff, and could shed some light on what happened to this society.
posted by trip and a half at 8:40 AM on June 12, 2005


"civilisation"? is this the british way to spell civilization? see also "revolutionise" (from the first link). Maybe their Z was broken.
Also giant breasted figures are nothing new-what is generally considered the world's oldest art object is just such a piece.
posted by slimslowslider at 8:49 AM on June 12, 2005


Like we really needed to find more humans. They're all the same, anyway.
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:52 AM on June 12, 2005


No matriarchies? Buh-buh-buh-but what about Wonder Woman? Wasn't that a matriarchy?
posted by warbaby at 9:04 AM on June 12, 2005


Thanks for the recommendation, trip and a half. I'll put it on my list.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 9:17 AM on June 12, 2005


As an anthropologist, I'd like to weigh in on this. First of all, it makes me suspicious that this wasn't reported in a journal like Nature or Science, because big stuff like this usually is. Second of all, always be wary of anthropologists calling something "religious" or "spiritual" or "symbolic". Those are our catch-all terms for "we really don't know what this was for." Also, the first article seemed to me to ascribe a lot of purposes to buildings that may be incorrect. It's risky to say "this was used for this" unless we have historic records or people from that culture giving us information.

Lastly, orthagonality: yes there have been matriarchies. The Iroquois Indians in eastern North American were matriarichal right up until European colonization, and there is evidence that the immediate precursors to the Egyptians also were. (I'd have to dig around for links on that, since it's info I learned doing my degree, not on line.) There are probably other examples I can't remember right now, too.
posted by fossil_human at 9:24 AM on June 12, 2005


North American, not North American. oops.
posted by fossil_human at 9:26 AM on June 12, 2005


Damn! North America! No "n".
posted by fossil_human at 9:26 AM on June 12, 2005


Before Stonehenge, there was Woodhenge and Strawhenge...

Maybe their collapse was due some big, bad wolves that roamed Europe during the Neolithic age...
posted by Jon-o at 9:33 AM on June 12, 2005


Bad Wolf! : >

ahh, thanks thebest and ortho--I had always thought that because most of Europe was so wooded and full of animals that people didn't have to develop agriculture (sort of like Native Americans?)... it wasn't as much of an issue for people further south, who had to husband their resources and figure out ways to irrigate, etc.
posted by amberglow at 9:45 AM on June 12, 2005


Agriculture took a while to develop in northern Europe because, as noted up thread, the weather and domesticates available weren't ideal. Also, until the development of a heavier plough in the middle ages, it was very hard to farm the heavy soils across much of north west Europe. Early farmers tended to farm less fertile light soils, now usually given over to grazing.
posted by jb at 10:05 AM on June 12, 2005


Orthogonality: "and of course the Bible, with its numerous instances of the Hebrews being 'told by God' to sack cities and either kill all the inhabitants, or to kill all, including children, except for fertile women."

As far as I know, the Hebrews were the first to practice genocide. When they conquered a city, they always killed all the inhabitants, including the women, " they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old." Previous conquering peoples had spared the women.

If you can cite a case where the Hebrews spared more than a token number of single fertile women (the household of Rahab) , I'd like to know about it. Likewise, if you have any citation of other people killing fertile women before the Israelites at the time of Joshua.
posted by tkb at 10:12 AM on June 12, 2005


People project whatever interests them on anything. A clay figure representing an exaggerated female form becomes either religious or pornographic depending on the viewer, saying more about them than the figure. Post holes and filled in ditches become temples or rec rooms. Meh.

Their discovery, revealed today by The Independent, will revolutionise the study of prehistoric Europe

fossil_human, seems like every week and half something allegedly revolutionary happens in science, is this truly the state of your discipline, constant radical revision of previously held views or is the Independent's hyperbole putting the lie to the whole story ?
posted by scheptech at 10:26 AM on June 12, 2005


I guess it would be helpful to further debate to have a clear definition of what a patriarchal/matriarchal society is.

I see two definitions:
1 : a family, group, or state governed by a matriarch
2 : a system of social organization in which descent and inheritance are traced through the female line

I'm thinking about definition 1 -- a generally hypothetical society in which women run everything. If you're thinking about definition 2, then Judaism is matriarchal, but that's not going to help women much in everyday life. Israel has a low percentage of women in the Knesset, so it could hardly be called a matriarchy in terms of power, and there are no female rabbis in Orthodox Judaism. Women might be making progress in Judaism, but they aren't running it.

Sure, rabbis are men and so forth [men and so forth?], but rabbis are mere interpreters of the tradition - women are those who carry it forward.

So having babies carries Judaism forward and being a rabbi doesn't? Hmm.
posted by pracowity at 11:12 AM on June 12, 2005


Definition 2 is the definition of matrilineal.
posted by Captaintripps at 11:14 AM on June 12, 2005


I had to wonder about the part musing why the civilization collapsed after the structures were only used for a hundred years. We always see things this way, but doesn't it seems as likely the giant-mysterious-monument phase was an abberation in a much longer-lived civilization's history?

Like, somehow a bunch of neighboring zones/villages/etc got into some silly status race over who could build the biggest/coolest stupid monuments, then people got over it?

It's like future archaelogists poring over the widespread remains of abandonded drive- theaters, wondering why the civilization that created them suddenly disappeared. What unknown tragedy destroyed it? What societal upheavals and cataclysms led to this Easter-Island like vanishing act?
posted by freebird at 11:32 AM on June 12, 2005


ah, like potlatch?
posted by amberglow at 11:35 AM on June 12, 2005


gah - "drive-in" movie theaters, of course.
posted by freebird at 11:35 AM on June 12, 2005


Yah, potlach is a good analogy. Though now that I'm off and running, drive-ins are my new favorite assinine correlative for giant ancient constructions like this.

Seriously though - can you imagine how amused and/or pissed most ancient people if they discovered we were building our images of their culture on the massive constructions they happened to leave around?

"oh man - that was just those crazy fundamentalists building pyramids and embalming each other man. Most of us are not really into all that wierd death cult stuff. Gives the eccentric super-rich something to do I guess."

"mound builders? oh, those guys. Yah, well, building those goofy mounds seems to distract em from rolling around on their raping and pillaging binges, which is the other thing those freaks like to do. So we encourage em to build them, and act really impressed, but come on. Most of us are more into the dancing and smoking rituals , bro."

"No, we just built those things to create jobs during an economic down turn - public works, you know. The 'central basis for our cosmology and entire world view'? Are you kidding me?"

"Um, actually that was just a brief lived group of sculptors that built all those big heads. We don't know why, it was just their thing. Nothing to do with anything else we do, sorry!"
posted by freebird at 11:51 AM on June 12, 2005


"What do they (these invisible and nameless archaeologists) see, when digging up the remains of a place, that makes them say with apparent certainty (if you can believe this article) that the interior spaces were temples?"

It is a matter of an educated guess, obviously, but some of the facts of how they were built indicate they had a spiritual significance.

The "temples" had different characteristics from the traditional long houses. They've found 150+ of them so far, and although they have nearly identical, rather complex astronomical and engineering characteristics in design, their size differs. That said, the amount of earth moved to create the structures appears to be constant.

In other words, the amount of time *AND* effort they took to construct was approximately the same in all cases. The reason for this, it is theorized, is that there was a certain set number of people who built them over what appears to be a ritually predefined period of time. These builders had some fairly advanced knowledge of astronomy and engineering for the time, that probably put them in a seperate class from the average person.

If these buildings were being designed for housing and defending a great leader, you'd expect both a much different design (which would include gates, ramparts, etc.) and construction which would evolve over time. You'd also expect to find signs of longhouses having been built in the structures, but there are no such indications.

That doesn't mean that these buildings weren't used by leaders, but if they were, they weren't used for defense, but for acts of ritual significance. That's not to say that ruling and making important decisions cannot be a matter of ritual, however.
posted by insomnia_lj at 11:58 AM on June 12, 2005


the amount of earth moved to create the structures appears to be constant [...] The reason for this, it is theorized,[...] set number of people [...] ritually predefined period of time.

Or, most market towns had a similar number of horse troughs from which to fill the water slides, so the volume of water used was about the same, so the earth removed was about the same.

Water slides, I tell you!
posted by freebird at 12:11 PM on June 12, 2005


But if they just built for longer, they could've made a really nice water slide park... and perhaps even a early version of mini-golf, and an advanced neolithic arcade.

These people were capable of ceramics and fine woodworking. Surely, ski-ball wasn't beyond the realm of possibility...
posted by insomnia_lj at 12:50 PM on June 12, 2005


"Scientists uncovered a Neolithic Tilt-a-Whirl yesterday, and evidence of fossilized cotton candy..."
posted by amberglow at 12:57 PM on June 12, 2005


some of the facts of how they were built indicate they had a spiritual significance.

If the "temples" had an astronomical significance, that indicates astronomy, not spiritual things.

An astronomy guild would have strong traditions and exact methods of building observation platforms or mounds or whatever they had, and they would make sure the pattern was always followed exactly to guarantee accurate stargazing. "We need X people to work X days to build an observatory exactly like this..."

Of course, these things could have been temples. But they also could have been almost anything else that doesn't preclude stargazing.
posted by pracowity at 1:08 PM on June 12, 2005


In other words, the amount of time *AND* effort they took to construct was approximately the same in all cases. The reason for this, it is theorized, is that there was a certain set number of people who built them over what appears to be a ritually predefined period of time. These builders had some fairly advanced knowledge of astronomy and engineering for the time, that probably put them in a seperate class from the average person.

Worlds earliest modular homes?

I'm kind of skeptical of the temple idea- big effort in a world where it probably took most of your time just to survive. Maybe there was a long war and those were military outposts, all built exactly the same way by an advance engineering division and when it was over they quit building them and the locals filled them in because their sheep were always falling in the ditches and drowning. Or maybe they were regional markets and they moved the location around from year to year in order to maximise trading opportunities and everyone had to build them the same size to make it fair. Or maybe its where they kept their livestock in the winter and the ditches are for fodder storage or something.
posted by fshgrl at 1:47 PM on June 12, 2005


it makes me suspicious that this wasn't reported in a journal like Nature or Science

Yeah, me too. I don't believe any "scientific discoveries" I read about in the daily papers. I'm surprised the notoriously skeptical MeFi crowd is swallowing this hook, line and sinker.

Also, a matriarchy is ruled by women -- line of descent is irrelevant.
posted by languagehat at 1:49 PM on June 12, 2005


As far as I know, the Hebrews were the first to practice genocide.

What a load of horseshit. Not only are you taking quotes from a semi-mythical account written by the descendents of the conquerors as accurate history, you also offer no evidence to support the assertion that "previous conquering people had spared the women." How do you know? If I had to pick, I'd go for the extermination of the neanderthals by modern humans as a possible first "genocide." At least that has a *little* science to back it up.

swallowing this hook, line and sinker

Well, some of us are still looking around for other news accounts. And Captaintripps, "a Washington University-based anthropologist" is pretty obviously a fudge to describe someone associated with a university but not on the regular faculty. Still, I'm reserving judgment, even if I think it likely that at least a few complex, wood-based societies have escaped archeologists' notice.
posted by mediareport at 3:03 PM on June 12, 2005


1. A jewish man wishing to have jewish children is forced to look for a jewish woman.
2. A jewish woman wishing to have jewish children can pick anyone she damn well pleases.


this assumes that the jewish woman has a choice in who she marries. In most ancient societies marriages were agreements between the fathers, and to some extent the groom, but it often did not have much to do with what who the woman wanted. In the traditional society, marriages would not have been recognized to non-jews, anyway. I think the only reason for the woman line of descent rule is because it's simple and easy. If one could always have been sure of men's lineage, I'd bet it would have gone that way, but on a pragmatic level, only the maternal lineage can be unquestioned. If they'd tried for paternal lineage, a person's membership in the tribe could always be brought up for scrutiny and argued over.
posted by mdn at 3:20 PM on June 12, 2005


Quoth languagehat

I don't believe any "scientific discoveries" I read about in the daily papers.

Would you feel differently if the site were being excavated by archaeologists from the Martin Luther Univeristy, Halle-Wittenberg? The photo documentation included with the post leads to the site of the Institute for Prehistoric Archaeology of said university, of a certain antiquity, and--harrumph--association with religion, which Institute has been doing a dig there since 2003 and offers significant documentation of what appears to be painstaking scientific investitgation of the Goseck "ring."

Jeez, y'all, one would think that the story highlighted in the FPP were from a tabloid. The spectrum of reaction contained in the comments centers on the whole deal being a hoax. The pix linked above show the "ring": unquestionably a man-made artefact, irrespective of whether it may have been the Neolithic equivalent of Winchester Cathedral.

And as for whether the ring had any ceremonial connection, it is inconceivable that it did not, for the very reason that it would have required a substanial outlay of caloric output to achieve its construction. No one would question an interpretation that the ring was a species of fortification; we all stipulate to the Hobbesian situation of ancient (and modern) man. But if the ring is not a military defense work--and the pictures reveal no evdence of this--it is perfectly reasonable to infer a religion-related use for the palisaded site.
posted by rdone at 4:42 PM on June 12, 2005


this assumes that the jewish woman has a choice in who she marries. In most ancient societies...

Are we talking modern Judaism or, say, Judaism as it was practiced 2000 years ago?
I don't have any definite proof, but I'm willing to wager most modern jewish women can and will marry whoever they want.

This is, of course, a derail - my main point is that matriarchial societies can, and do, exist.

1. a family, group, or state governed by a matriarch

So a democracy with a female head of state is a matriarchy? I guess that qualifies, at various times, Iceland, Norway and Finland - just to name a few.
If hereditary rulers count, then the UK is a matriarchy under the Queen, doubly so during the Thatcher years.
posted by spazzm at 5:17 PM on June 12, 2005


So having babies carries Judaism forward and being a rabbi doesn't?

Again, according to the "jew if your mum is" rule outlined above, the only sure-fire way of ensuring the growth of Judaism is having more jewish babies, Judaism not usually being a missionary religion. So yeah.

The point is moot, however, since there are female rabbis in all branches of Judaism save the Orthodox.
posted by spazzm at 5:23 PM on June 12, 2005


As there are typically more human females than males any democracy is, in theory, a matriarchy.

If all females in the US agreed on an issue they could force it trough solely based on superior numbers.

This is interesting.
Given the fact that all US presidents have been male (no-one has even bothered to nominate a female candidate, IIRC) this means one of the following:
1. All the best candidates are male.
2. All the best candidates are not male, but females feel they are better off with a male president anyway.
3. All the best candidates are not male, and females feel they won't be better off with a male president, yet they vote for a male president for various other reasons.

As regarding to the 'not nominated' point I mentioned above, I think both parties would quickly come up with a female candidate if they thought over 50% of the population would vote for her.
posted by spazzm at 5:50 PM on June 12, 2005


Matriarchal - ruled by women. Not by a woman - Elizabeth's England was decidedly patriarchal (which had interesting consequences for her ruling style), but by women in general. Women heading families, businesses, etc. Our society today isn't really patriarchal in the same sense as it was 500 years ago - then fathers truly ruled, in the sense of heading households, being the legal guardians and head of women, children and apprentices, heading businesses, the king as father to the country, etc.

Matrilineal: tracing descent through the mother. Does not imply matriarchy, can appear in patriarchal societies.

Matrilocal: a society in which the young couple move in with the woman's natal family, rather than his family. China was traditionally patrilocal; I believe Iroquois society was matrilocal. Also again, does not mean the society is matriarchal, though I can't think of any strong patriarchy which would be matrilocal (because of the way it can loosen ties of fathers and sons).

Also avunculocal, where, upon reaching maturity, sons are expected to move out of their parental home into their mothers' brothers' households. Also a very cool word to say aloud.

Household residence rules.
posted by jb at 8:38 PM on June 12, 2005


This doesn't seem especially unusual to me. The existence of the still untranslated Old European Script from 6000-4000 BC has been known for years, and its consistency and wide diffusion indicates a relatively stable, widespread culture capable of indoctrination and persistent training. In the damper, more marginal, ice-clad regions of northern Europe, related cultures were creating the causewayed camps. Within several hundred years they were building structures like Newgrange.
posted by meehawl at 4:24 AM on June 13, 2005


So, why was it that Europe was so late with everything?

To give you an answer to your question; it's cold up there. No, really, what the others said about agriculture is right, but it doesn't explain why Europe didn't develop it until late. The fact that the growing season is very short at those latitudes does.

As for Jared Diamond, his books are a good read, but full of holes. They are worth a read, but I wouldn't base my thesis on his theories. First off, he's a South Pacific expert, a place that finds more exceptions than rules and many micro-societies. Things start to break down as societies get bigger and as they interact more than the occasional outrigger with some trade goods.
posted by Pollomacho at 6:57 AM on June 13, 2005


Jared Diamond also pinched much of his theses on the earlier work by Al Crosby, the prime example being, Ecological Imperialism : The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900. Crosby's thesis is less directional and teleological than Diamond's.
posted by meehawl at 10:29 AM on June 13, 2005


Not all cultures in modern-day China are patrilocal. The are dozens of "minority" peoples in China; some of them are matrilocal even today. The Han majority are now patrilocal, but they weren't always.

Before western science, there was no distinction between spirituality and science. Astronomy, then, would have had a spiritual significance, just like every other aspect of daily life would to varying degrees.
posted by blissing at 4:17 PM on June 13, 2005


rdone, the descriptions at the Halle-Wittenberg site claim that this is the oldest known solar observatory (not the oldest known civilization) in Europe, and it all seems to be in the form of press information. As languagehat points out, reliable claims of significant archeological finds generally appear in refereed academic journals. I don't know what kind of reputation this university has, but it does appear to be a former East German university that's trying to make its way back into the academic mainstream. Apparently, these sites have been investigated since the 90s, so I'd expect there to be information about them in journals by now if they're at all important. Maybe someone with access to the archeological literature (fossil_human, perhaps?) can have a look for us.
posted by klausness at 7:37 PM on June 13, 2005


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