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A Lost European Culture, Pulled From Obscurity
December 1, 2009 9:14 AM   Subscribe

The Lost World of Old Europe: the Danube Valley, 5000-3500 B.C.
posted by homunculus (21 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

Read the New York Times article this morning (figured it'd make it here sooner or later). I found the carving of the man thinking incredibly cool. I've always had a hard time believing that man waited so late in the 30 to 50 thousand years that he's essentially been around to start developing culture and civilization. It makes you wonder what else is lost or buried that could reveal even more ancient societies.

Also interesting was the speculation that they were wiped out by migrants from the Steppes. A cycle that pretty much carried on up to the Mongols and their invasions in the 1200's.
posted by Atreides at 9:20 AM on December 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

Read the article this morning as well -- and I had a somewhat cynical response to how it would be received in certain quarters. Go with me a second:

A couple years ago there was a special on the Discovery Channel or the History Channel or something similar, about a theory that ocean-going Cro-Magnon folk from Ice-Age Europe may have ventured across the Atlantic by following the pack ice, and may have reached some parts of North America at the same time as -- or just prior to -- folks who had wandered over the Bering Strait Land Bridge. The research was sound enough, and I came away thinking, "Huh, that's kind of interesting."

Then a couple days later I heard the rumblings of a couple of yabbos online here and there posting how this was "omg ultimate proof of the supremacy of the white race and Europeans because they'd ultimately colonized the New World first after all!!!!!" Which I suppose can't be helped, but it still just threw a real wet blanket on things.

So unfortunately, when I saw in the article that this early European civilization pre-dated Egypt by a few centuries -- all I could think was, "crap, here it comes again."

Archeology is an infinitely cool thing, I just wish some folks out there didn't twist it to shit on me.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:37 AM on December 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've been reading about (mainly UK, but also French) megaliths, so this is well-timed.

Until recent discoveries, the most intriguing artifacts were the ubiquitous terracotta “goddess” figurines, originally interpreted as evidence of the spiritual and political power of women in society.

I guess archaeologists haven't heard of porn.
posted by DU at 9:40 AM on December 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

omg ultimate proof of the supremacy of the white race and Europeans because they'd ultimately colonized the New World first after all!!!!!

Ugh, I know. Just a few minutes ago I googled for what's known as "america's stonehenge" and one of the top hits turned out to be a white supremacist site. I didn't notice until I saw it saying that Celtic runes were proof of "Whites" being present.

I have to marvel at the kind of brain it would take to intellectually march backward in time, towards when all races were the same race, looking for clues on how one race is superior.
posted by DU at 9:42 AM on December 1, 2009

Which great rivers have not produced a civilization and why?
posted by jefficator at 10:06 AM on December 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

I guess archaeologists haven't heard of porn.

Prehistoric porn.
posted by homunculus at 10:28 AM on December 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'm waiting to hear that we didn't originate from Africa, but from Australia. And after that, that what we're experiencing is just the idle dreamtime imaginings of an Aboriginal thinking about the future.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:54 AM on December 1, 2009

I, for one, welcome our new former terracotta over lords ladies women.
posted by Danf at 11:08 AM on December 1, 2009

Cool post, thanks.
posted by MarshallPoe at 11:23 AM on December 1, 2009

Also, don't miss the NY Times slide show.

Nice to see that the Venus of Hohle Fels finally stopped putting off that diet.
posted by dgaicun at 11:52 AM on December 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

Which great rivers have not produced a civilization and why?

Depends on your definition of civilization, I guess. The Amazon was thought not to have spawned a major civilization, but that's turned out to be wrong - and re-defined what we consider civilization in the process.

It also depends on what you mean by "great river."

But, in answer, The Yeseni river has fostered a few cultures, but no major civilizations (cities, architecture, etc.) Same with the Ob, Congo, St. Lawrence, Zambezi and Murray.
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:57 AM on December 1, 2009

jefficator: "Which great rivers have not produced a civilization and why?"

Wikipedia has a list.

posted by Science! at 12:08 PM on December 1, 2009

EmpressCallipygos, Dennis Stanford and Bruce Bradley are working on the possibility that Clovis points, first found in North America around 11,000 years ago, derive from similar flaking techniques developed thousands of years earlier in Spain. Their theory has been called the Solutrean hypothesis (and is quite controversial, as you might expect). Some of the articles listed in the selected recent publications section here will give you their version.
posted by gudrun at 12:37 PM on December 1, 2009

Which great rivers have not produced a civilization and why?

The Columbia. Because of the weed.
posted by msalt at 1:09 PM on December 1, 2009

An interesting stopy but alas we had not in the US developed early enough to station a military base and airfield among them, while they were busy making artifacts out of mud. We mioght have saved them fromn vanishing.
posted by Postroad at 1:34 PM on December 1, 2009

I remember reading something about "Old Europe" a few years ago which was dismissive of the possibility that it was a real and integrated culture. I think a lot of the problems came from Gimbutas' work, mentioned in the article, that relied on a certain amount of speculation. It's nice to see that there really is something there, as it feels like another brick in the wall towards reconstructing prehistory.
posted by Sova at 2:41 PM on December 1, 2009

Those Thinker figurines are astonishing. So subtle.

I recently drove right by the site where the Venus of Willendorf was discovered. It's not far from Vienna, but that part of the Danube valley is pretty rough terrain. Hard to imagine someone there 25,000 years ago carving imported limestone into a symbolic representation of a woman.
posted by Nelson at 4:15 PM on December 1, 2009

One of my favorite sf books, The May-colored Land by Julian May, has aliens crash landing right in the Danube Valley. Uhm...
posted by francesca too at 4:19 PM on December 1, 2009

Their theory has been called the Solutrean hypothesis (and is quite controversial, as you might expect).

for more on this theory, a name you should know is Don Cornelius
posted by Hoopo at 4:38 PM on December 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

Some of the most interesting archaeological digs right now seem to be in Bulgaria and that region; there are a number of fantastic Thracian finds coming out of Bulgaria this decade, too.

These are fantastic finds. The quality of the gold work and the designs on the vessels remind me of the work of some of the early Italianate tribes, who not coincidentally have oral histories of some their ancestors coming from points north. I look forward to the stylist analysis that is sure to come in the next few years from ancient art historians.

It has been my experience that bigots in all forms (and nationalists and chauvinists) are all-too willing to selectively pick from archaeological findings to prove whatever they want to prove; it's the stuff they reject or leave out that often disproves it. Or, you know, common sense. Or logic.
posted by julen at 4:49 PM on December 1, 2009

I always understood that a reliable economy, and the regularity which went with it, was a pre-requisite for 'civilisation' and 'culture'. (Actually, these terms are highly loaded; suggesting that any of the paleolithic societies were uncivilised or uncultured is playing to a Victorian idea of 'progress'.)

In order to produce the kind of material/architectural remains which achaeology finds, a society needs, essentially, to be farming. Only when the society is bound to the farming cycle does it settle in one place, build permanent structures and start to focus on gathering/producing material objects. AFAIK this is why the earliest 'civilisation' we would exepct to find would be associated with the earliest farming.

I would think that looking at the area around the fertile crescent, particularly at rivers and coasts should identify some likely sites. The Caucases, Turkey and at the bottom of the Black Sea possibly?
posted by BadMiker at 5:42 AM on December 2, 2009

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