Skip to comments.New Discoveries In Syria Confirm Theory On Spread Of Early Civilization
Posted on 06/03/2002 1:42:03 PM PDT by blam
Contact: Carrie Golus
New discoveries in Syria confirm theory on spread of early civilization
Unique artifacts unearthed this season in Syria will force historians and archaeologists to rewrite the history books, because the traditional view of how civilization developed is looking increasingly wrong.
A cooperative expedition between the University of Chicago and the Syrian Directorate of Antiquities has uncovered the hallmarks of urban life in Syria a little after 4,000 B.C., a time when civilization was thought to be restricted to Mesopotamia. Already during initial excavations in 1999, discoveries at Hamoukar in northeastern Syria began to suggest that the standard view of where and how civilization first came about--in southern Mesopotamia, spreading to neighboring regions--was in need of revision.
Now, additional evidence, discovered this season by University of Chicago archaeologist McGuire Gibson and co-director Amr al-Azm of the Syrian Directorate General of Antiquities, strengthens the case for a different view.
According to traditional scholarship, civilization began in Mesopotamia and came about with the growth of cities and the development of writing. But Al-Azm and Gibson argue that the turning point in the development of civilization was not cities and writing originating in Mesopotamia, as commonly held, but deep changes in social structure that happened in more than one place at once. "Hamoukar," says Al-Azm, "is significant precisely because it may not be unique, but typical of these changes." The new objects found by the joint expedition imply hierarchy, bureaucracy, and even kingship in the early fourth millennium B.C., the earliest clear signs of complex society in ancient Syria.
This season's finds confirm the excavators' initial hypotheses and add new evidence. In completing the third season, the Syrian-American Expedition to Hamoukar further exposed a monumental city wall and unearthed a well-planned and solidly constructed building. These elaborate structures would have been necessary to house complex institutions like bureaucracy, specialized craft production, and centralized government.
A range of new artifacts also points toward social complexity. These artifacts include sharply differentiated sets of stamp seals: small, minimally decorated seals with simple geometric patterns vs. bigger seals with images of animals like lions. The differences between the seals indicate a bureaucracy with low-level functionaries, higher-ups and perhaps a king at the top. They are the clearest signs of complex society that have yet been found at the site. Impressions of cylinder seals, also newly discovered this season, are proof of cultural contact with southern Mesopotamia, which is beginning to look like a sharer of, rather than the only source of, early civilization.
"Although the settlement, at 15 hectares--about 33 acres--is smaller than what scholars usually call a city, it is clearly functioning as a city," said Gibson. "And at this early period the site also lacks writing, but it has signs of accounting, specialization, and government, things we associate with cities. Hamoukar has the appearance of a critical step in the history of civilization."
"Now we can see where it's all leading," said Al-Azm. "We've had Neolithic villages, we've had large cities, but in between we've had a gray area. Now we have a picture of what was in between."
Before work at Hamoukar began, evidence from other sites had already raised suspicions that the growth of civilization was both more diffuse (a multi-centered process, rather than with a single origin) and earlier (beginning before 3500 B.C.) than supposed. Excavations at other fourth millennium sites in Syria (Tell Brak) and Turkey (Arslantepe) provided support, but this year's finds at Hamoukar begin to confirm the case by giving explicit evidence of accounting, hierarchical bureaucracy and cultural contacts, all in a single coherent context.
The city wall, seen only in a small section during the 1999 season, has now been traced to a length of more than 20 meters. The wall dates to some time before 3,500 B.C.--that is, before colonizers from southern Mesopotamia established themselves on the site. During the first season of the expedition, researchers found large, ovoid ovens of a type not normal for private houses, but often associated institutions with a hierarchy of personnel to feed, such as temples or palaces.
Taken together, this season's finds indicate a new degree of complexity. In the digs, a burned building was unearthed that provided a freeze-frame of culture at Hamoukar. Buried under the building's debris were hundreds of artifacts, in place as they had been during the last minutes of the life of the institution. Large storage jars, stone vessels, mortars and pestles, and unusual, possibly ceremonial objects were found in one room. An extraordinary item is a large bone facsimile of a sheathed dagger, which hints at a sophistication in metal-working remarkable for the fourth millennium, when copper and bronze were first being developed. It may have belonged to someone of high status. In the same room, but also in others, there were found more than three hundred pieces of clay that had been used to seal up boxes, bags, baskets, jars, and doors, all indicating a complex administrative structure for the society.
The finding of impressions of cylinder seals--a strictly southern Mesopotamian form--on clay in this building at Hamoukar means that the people here were in contact with the south. In at least two instances, there were both cylinder seal impressions and stamp seal impressions on the same piece of clay, w hich may possibly indicate the actual physical presence of southerners at Hamoukar by this time, and certainly implies close contact. Compared to the stamp seals and impressions found in the earlier season, the ones from the burned building are bigger and more complex, signs of difference between high and low status officials. A black stone stamp seal, in the form of two bears sitting on their haunches and kissing, is a unique item. "To see that these were not friendly teddies," Gibson explained, "you need only look at the stamping surface on the base, where there's a vulture surrounded by human and animal body parts."
Perhaps the most important seal imprinted on clay was a large, rectangular artifact showing a lion biting the leg of a goat, which turns to try to escape. Lions, in later Mesopotamian art, are closely associated with kings, and it is reasonable to assume that the several types of large seals with lion hunts were used by local rulers. An outstanding example of a bone stamp seal, which shows a lion attacking a horned animal, was found in a pit in the oven area behind the burned building.
Gibson describes the cumulative result of this evidence--the administrative artifacts, the institutional-scale ovens, the large, central building, and the city wall: "They show that bureaucracy, accounting, social stratification and possibly the position of kingship all were being created earlier than we thought, at a time before southern colonists arrived to occupy the territory. Clearly, the north was relating to the south as an equal rather than as an undeveloped resource area that was peripheral to a 'civilized' south." This evidence of equality in development implies that there was a long, prior development of complexity, not just in Iraq but also in Syria, and arguably in Turkey and Iran.
This season's work at Hamoukar is beginning to make inescapable the conclusion that cities and the other hallmarks of civilization (stratification, craft specialization, monumental architecture, monumental artwork, government above a tribal level, writing, etc.) were coming into being in a number of places simultaneously in the Near East, not just in southern Mesopotamia. In addition, says Gibson, it tells us something essential about how civilization began: "What all these features have in common, what really makes the difference, is a social organization--an organization beyond kinship ties, beyond tribe or family entities. This is what makes government and civilization possible."
I would go for a comet/asteroid swarm impacting, nuclear blast? Don't think so.
BTW, thanks for the link.
See the new book by Edwin Bryant, The Quest For the Origins of Vedic Culture: The Indo-Aryan Migration Debate (Oxford U.P. 2001).
Bryant is agnostic about whether the language of the Indus Valley script might be some early version of Sanskrit/Vedic. He thinks that the resolution of the question depends on a decipherment of the script.
By the way, I don't think any respectable scholar suggested that the language of Linear B was an earlier version of Greek before the Ventris-Chadwick decipherment proved that it was. So the Indus Valley script turning out to be Sanskrit would not be without parallel.
But I have been plagued for years with a nagging suspicion, that this may not be the first time around for the whole civilization thing.
Frankly, I have yet to see anything new on earth, that has not happened before. I must admit, though, that when things happen around me, I am often surprised - and sometimes, delighted.
Linguistic evolution may shed light on history
A picture is generally valued at 1,000 words. What might be the worth of an image of the 7,000 or so languages now spoken in the world? Scientists searching for patterns within this cacophony of lingoes are convinced that languages hold pivotal clues to questions about human history that other areas of study have been unable to answer. In their quest to demonstrate this new idea, these scientists are finding themselves in stiff debate with others who argue that the approach amounts to barking up the wrong tree.
FAMILY DISCUSSION. Part of Pagel's Indo-European tree, with Greek near the base, shows how different languages may have diverged from one another. Adapted from Pagel.
The controversial approach treats languages as though they were biological species and applies analytical methods developed by evolutionary biologists. Although linguists previously have created trees of languages, they haven't used computational methods to rapidly reconstruct relationships between large groups of languages.
Anthropologists and other investigators are using their new, more extensive language trees to trace the historical relationships of different cultural groups, from people conversing in Gujarati and Hindi to those speaking Navajo and Quecha. These researchers claim that, with that information in hand, questions about migration patterns, agriculture, and other society-changing practices become answerable in new ways.
Language trees are useful for depicting relationships of communities in the past 5,000 to 10,000 years or so, a period too short to be resolved by geneticsand exactly the time for which anthropologists and archeologists are seeking new streams of data.
When biologists build family trees among species, they look for shared characterssuch as the vertebrate spineor specific genetic sequences. Species with the greatest similarities are grouped to create a tree branch with several extensions. Then, those branches that share the most characters are put together into a bough. This tree of hierarchical relationships, known as a phylogeny, traces a path from ancestral species at the trunk to the most recently evolved species out on the twigs.
Charles Darwin alluded to the notion that languages evolve and diverge as species do. Like genetic systems, which are made up of nucleotides, genes, and individuals, says Mark Pagel, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Reading in England, languages have discrete units: letters, syllables, and words. Language, like a set of genes, is generally transmitted from parents to offspring. And just as mutations in DNA provide the basic biological variations on which natural selection thrives, changes also occur in languages. Variations in pronunciation or meaning are either rejected or preserved in the transfer of language from parents to their children.
Though natural selection per se doesn't act on new word variants, a form of cultural selection certainly does, says Pagel. For example, a catchier version of a word, such as aeroplane rather than flying machine, is more likely to persist.
For many decades, linguists used a tree approach, says Pagel. Comparisons, however, had generally been limited to a small number of languages, and the language analysts didn't take advantage of computer-based quantitative methods.
Russell Gray, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, notes that for as few as 10 languages, there are an astonishing 34 million possible trees that can be drawn. "For over 100 languages, you're talking about more possible trees than there are atoms in the universe," he adds. Now, Gray says, it's becoming possible to churn out trees for very large data sets.
"These methods are entirely appropriate," concurs Colin Renfrew, an archaeologist at the University of Cambridge in England. "Given that historical linguistics uses many discrete pieces of information, quantitative and technical methods of this sort are long overdue."
To test the mettle of the language-tree approach, researchers have been building hierarchies for Pacific islanders, sub-Saharan Africans, and Eurasians from Iceland to Bangladesh.
Clare Janaki Holden, an anthropologist at University College London in England, has used the phylogenetic method to produce a tree of 75 Bantu languages, which are spoken in the southern half of Africa.
Holden set out to examine whether a language tree might reflect the broader cultural history of the region, specifically the spread of farming. This is a good test of the approach, she says, since scientists using archaeological methods have already outlined the diffusion of agriculture in the region.
Holden used a preexisting data set of 92 words of basic vocabulary found in all 75 languages. These are words, such as man or hand, that are essential in all languages. Such words are thought to evolve slowly and be unique to a language.
The data were analyzed with computing software that groups languages so that those sharing the most words are deemed the most closely related. The tree that this effort produced largely agreed with previous linguistic work, says Holden. One difference was that a group of East African languages appeared in her tree closely related to some found in more southerly areas.
Holden and her colleagues at University College are now using linguistic trees to test theories about cultural traits. By mapping traits, such as farming or marriage practices, onto language trees, these researchers can find out how many times a practice evolved and whether it might be correlated with other genetic or cultural factors.
In research chronicled in the April 22 Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B, Holden compares the evolutionary scenarios suggested by her language trees with published archeological scenarios for the spread of farming in Africa from 5,000 to 1,500 years ago. The archaeological record suggests major African migrations of farmers. The first was a southerly spread of Neolithic crop farmers from western Africa into central-African forests. In the second mass migration, cattle farmers streamed south from Lake Victoria in eastern Africa.
Each of the two major language groupings in Holden's tree is spoken in areas inhabited by descendants of people who followed one of these two migrations. The languages "mirror closely the spread of farming for both these western and eastern streams," says Holden.
On the opposite side of the planet, in Auckland, Gray has been using similar methods to produce an Austronesian language tree. This group comprises about 1,000 languages spoken by 270 million people across the Pacific. Gray and his coworker Fiona Jordan, an anthropologist now at University College London, are using their tree to test hypotheses about the timing and sequence of colonization in the Pacific islands.
The researchers created a tree via a process similar to that of Holden. However, the data set5,185 words from 77 Austronesian languageswas not confined to basic vocabulary.
"What we found was very congruent with how most linguists would group the languages," says Jordan. A few languages from close-in islands, however, did appear grouped with languages spoken on islands much farther out in the Pacific. This may be due to lingual complexities created by terms absorbed from other languages, says Jordan.
Jordan and Gray have considered a hypothesis, supported by archaeological evidence, regarding the colonization of Pacific islands. Around 6,000 years ago, farmers from Taiwan and southern China may have migrated 10,000 miles over water from Taiwan to western Polynesia in just 2,100 years. Known as "the express train to Polynesia," this controversial idea was proposed in 1988 by Jared Diamond of the University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine.
Gray and Jordan tested the scenario. If the theory is correct, says Jordan, languages found nearest to mainland Asia would show up as the lowest branches of the tree. Languages spoken on islands sequentially farther out would appear in correspondingly higher branches.
Jordan and her colleagues used statistical methods to map the proposed migrations onto the language tree. They found that the languages of islands near Asia split off on lower boughs of the tree than did languages spoken on islands farther out. The result was a nearly optimal fit, says Jordan. "It would require a very different tree to disagree with the express train," she adds.
"The archaeological evidence shows a clear historical pattern" of how Pacific people spread, says Patrick V. Kirch, director of the Hearst Museum of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley. "When we get similar results from archaeology, traditional linguistics, and now this, it tells us we're really onto something."
Though the number of researchers applying phylogenetic techniques to languages is small, the idea is spreading. At a conference last March, Pagel presented his team's ongoing study, which is using complex models of evolution to build trees. His preliminary results support many of the existing theories of relationships among the Indo-European languages.
The tree shows some ancient linguistic splits that would be difficult to reconstruct using traditional linguistic-tree building, says Pagel. For example, Greek appears to be one of the first languages to branch off the European bough. "Everything we know about archeology tells us [Greek] is very old," he says, "combined with the fact that no one else can understand a word of it and that it has a different alphabet."
Trees or nets?
Despite the apparent success of the method so far, many academics are cautious about examining languages by using methods developed for biological species. They point out an important difference. Biological traits only rarely transfer between individuals of the same generation or unrelated lineages.
Although small amounts of DNA move between species, languages undergo far more mixing. For example, English is Germanic in origin, but the Norman invasion of England in the 11th century resulted in many French terms joining the language. Similarly in recent times, Japanese has acquired many English words, including commercial and technological terms. This is akin to a lineage of bears somehow acquiring the beak of a duck.
Most "species by definition can't borrow evolutionary features . . . while in linguistic or cultural contexts, such borrowings are perfectly possible," says Scott MacEachern, an archaeologist at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. The language-tree researchers assume isolated communities, continues MacEachern. This is not how groups normally behave, he says.
There's no reason why language, genes, and culture should evolve in the same ways, agrees John E. Terrell, an anthropologist at the Field Museum in Chicago. "There is nothing equivalent to genetic isolation in languages," he says. Because languages frequently transfer words or phrases between lineages, their relationships might more accurately be depicted as a net than a tree.
However, he concedes, applying the biological phylogenetic approach to languages "can be used to produce a first approximation [of lingual relationships] as long as you never lose sight that it's a quick-and-dirty technique."
Language trees may become more quickly accepted for specific sorts of broad-brushstroke studies, such as questions of large-scale colonization over long periods. Although many "anthropologists are horrified at the thought of treating cultural groups as bounded units evolving through time," says Monique Borgerhoff Mulder, an anthropologist at the University of California, Davis, they're "missing the scale of the question." She argues, "Specific mechanisms of social change are not relevant at this scale."
Even those who advocate phylogenetic methods to build language trees admit that the sharing of words between languages is a problem. However, some words are subject to less exchange than others. Pagel suggests that by avoiding technological terms and other language elements that are frequently transferred, the language-tree method can become more useful.
The technique holds too much promise to dismiss, says Gray. He points to its potential to foster synergism among biology, anthropology, archaeology, and linguistics. "Instead of different disciplines thinking that they have the golden bullet . . . we need to tie everything together," he says.
Parpula's two volumes of photographs covering the collections of India and Pakistan, which appeared in 1987 and 1991... and his 1994 sign list, containing 386 signs (as against Mahadevan's 419 signs), are generally recognized as fine achievements, not least by Mahadevan... This is a significant figure. It is too high for a syllabary like Linear B... and too low for a highly logographic script like Chinese. the nearest comparison... are probably the Hittite hieroglyphs with about 500 signs and Sumerian cuneiform with perhaps 600+ signs... Most scholars therefore agree that the Indus script is likely to be a logosyllabic script like its west Asian contemporaries. [pp 281-284]Robinson mentions "a substantial inscription found at Dholavira near the coast of Kutch in 1990, which appears to have been a kind of sign board for the city." [p 295]
These Dravidian speakers are presumably remnants of a once-widespread Dravidian culture submerged by encroaching Indo-Aryans in the 2nd millennium BC... The Indo-Aryan hymns, the Vedas... recount tales of conquest of the forts of the dark-skinned Dasa or Dasyu... the Vedas repeatedly mention the horse in their descriptions of warfare and sacrifice, and this animal was clearly a vital part of Indo-Aryan society... But there is not horse imagery at all in the Indus Valley civilization and virtually no horse remains have been found by archaeologists. Hence the Indus civilizations is unlikely to have been Indo-Aryan. [pp 290-291]
The Enigma Of The World's Undeciphered Scripts
by Andrew Robinson
Uncracked Ancient CodesSanskrit and early Dravidian, the ancient languages of India, seem to be the keys to deciphering the highly challenging script of the Indus Valley civilization of the third millennium b.c. in what is now Pakistan and northwest India. As with other languages, a photographic corpus of drawings, a sign list and a concordance must be compiled before decipherment will be possible. Work has proceeded along these lines for inscriptions on some 3,700 objects from the Indus Valley, most of them seal stones with very brief inscriptions (the longest has only 26 characters)... Robinson's descriptions of such analysis, and his accounts of both successful and unsuccessful decoding attempts, are clear, provocative and stimulating.
(Lost Languages reviewed)
by William C. West
Please FREEPMAIL me if you want on, off, or alter the "Gods, Graves, Glyphs" PING list --
Archaeology/Anthropology/Ancient Cultures/Artifacts/Antiquities, etc.
The GGG Digest -- Gods, Graves, Glyphs (alpha order)
I got a Mellaart title from the library (published in 1965) in order to scan a photo of this artifact. It's a plte, presumably used to serve or eat food, not too bad lookin', and in good condition for 7000 years old. BTTT on this topic.
Looks like they missed the exact center on that plate.
Looks like they missed the exact center on that plate.
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