Category Archive 'Neolithic'

11 Apr 2018


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Rock Crystal Dagger, 3000 B.C., Spain.

Daily Grail:

Structure 10.042-10.049 is another large two-chambered megalithic construction made from slate slabs. In the second chamber archaeologists found the body of a young male aged between 17 and 25 lying in the foetal position along with a large set of grave goods. These included an undecorated elephant tusk laid above the young man’s head, a set of 23 flint blades, and numerous ivory objects. Additionally, red pigment made from cinnabar had been sprayed over the body and the objects surrounding it. The “remarkable crystal dagger blade”, however, was not found with these grave goods, but instead in the upper level of this chamber.

The rock crystal dagger blade appeared in the upper level of Structure 10.049 of the PP4-Montelirio sector, in association with an ivory hilt and sheath, which renders it an exceptional object in Late Prehistoric Europe… The blade is 214 mm in length, a maximum of 59 mm in width and 13 mm thick. Its morphology is not unheard of in the Iberian Peninsula, although all the samples recorded thus far were made from flint and not rock crystal…

The manufacture of the rock crystal dagger blade must have been based on an accumulation of transmitted empirical knowledge and skill taken from the production of flint dagger blades as well from know-how of rock-crystal smaller foliaceous bifacial objects, such as Ontiveros and Montelirio arrowheads… It was obtained from a large monocrystal at least 220 mm in length and 60 mm in width. Given that these single crystals are hexagonal, they would have a similar width along all their different axes.

The rock crystal source used in creating the crystal weaponry has not been pinpointed exactly at this stage, though analysis suggests two potential sources, “both located several hundred km away from Valencina”.

Given the technical skill and difficulties involved in creating the objects from crystal, rather than flint, researchers believe the motives behind their construction must have been very specific. They note that while crystal objects were found throughout the site…

    The more technically sophisticated items, however, were deposited in the larger megalithic structures…As such, it is reasonable to assume that although the raw material was relatively available throughout the community…only the kin groups, factions or individuals who were buried in megaliths were able to afford the added value that allowed the production of sophisticated objects such as arrow heads or dagger blades.
    In this respect, however, it is important to note that, paradoxically, none of the most sophisticated artefacts studied in this paper can be ascribed to any particular individual: the rock crystal dagger from Structure 10.042-10.049 was found in the upper level of the main chamber (10.049) in which no human bones were identified; in Montelirio, neither the core nor the arrowheads can be ascribed to any on 20 individuals found in the main chamber; lastly, in the case of Ontiveros, the only available publication offers no evidence that the 16 arrow heads were associated to any particular individual.

    It seems therefore reasonable to suggest that rock crystal may have had a dual significance for the Chalcolithic society of Valencina. On the one hand, it had a social significance due to the exoticism of the material and the fact that its transformation required very specific skills and probably some degree of technical specialisation. These objects would have had a “surplus value” based on the exoticism and rarity of the raw material, the techno-economic investment of their manufacture (a know-how limited to very few people) and their use linked to the world of beliefs and funerary practices. They probably represent funerary paraphernalia only accessible to the elite of this time-period.

    On the other hand, rock crystal must have had a symbolic significance as a raw material invested with special meanings and connotations. The literature provides examples of societies in which rock crystal and quartz as raw materials symbolise vitality, magical powers and a connection with ancestors In her analysis of European Neolithic religion, Marija Gimbutas linked the ritual and votive use of white quartz nodules to a symbol of death and regeneration often associated with funerary spaces. Quartz and rock crystal were even portrayed as rocks with great supernatural powers in European Christian tradition. In his Lapidarium, King Alfonso X the Wise of Castile (1276-1279 CE) emphasised its power to connect human beings with the spiritual world, as well as its ability to protect them from danger.

25 Mar 2018

Hingsgavldolken Blade

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Flint knife known as the Hingsgavldolken blade, circa 2400-1800 BC. On display at the Danish National Museum.

19 Aug 2015

Something Peculiar Happened 4000 to 8000 Years Ago

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These two graphs show the number of men (left) and women (right) who reproduced throughout human history.

Pacific Standard:

Once upon a time, 4,000 to 8,000 years after humanity invented agriculture, something very strange happened to human reproduction. Across the globe, for every 17 women who were reproducing, passing on genes that are still around today—only one man did the same.

“It wasn’t like there was a mass death of males. They were there, so what were they doing?” asks Melissa Wilson Sayres, a computational biologist at Arizona State University, and a member of a group of scientists who uncovered this moment in prehistory by analyzing modern genes.

Another member of the research team, a biological anthropologist, hypothesizes that somehow, only a few men accumulated lots of wealth and power, leaving nothing for others. These men could then pass their wealth on to their sons, perpetuating this pattern of elitist reproductive success. Then, as more thousands of years passed, the numbers of men reproducing, compared to women, rose again. “Maybe more and more people started being successful,” Wilson Sayres says. In more recent history, as a global average, about four or five women reproduced for every one man.

05 Mar 2010

Older Than Stonehenge or the Pyramids

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Newsweek reports on revolutionary new theories of the significance of a site in Kurdish Turkey that has been re-dated and re-evaluated. Previously dismissed as a medieval cemetery of little interest, the Göbekli Tepe monument stones are being re-interpreted into “an Ice-Age Rome” associated with a completely new theory of the development of human culture during the Neolithic period, which moves human spiritual aspiration (temple building) into the center of causality replacing material technology (agriculture). How very German! And how very strange. A completely unique site of spectacular interest 1500 years older than Çatalhöyük and astonishingly more sophisticated.

The Göbekli Tepe site is clearly very rapidly going to become a world-wide cultural icon and a continuing focus of interest and interpretation.

They call it potbelly hill, after the soft, round contour of this final lookout in southeastern Turkey. To the north are forested mountains. East of the hill lies the biblical plain of Harran, and to the south is the Syrian border, visible 20 miles away, pointing toward the ancient lands of Mesopotamia and the Fertile Crescent, the region that gave rise to human civilization. And under our feet, according to archeologist Klaus Schmidt, are the stones that mark the spot—the exact spot—where humans began that ascent.

Standing on the hill at dawn, overseeing a team of 40 Kurdish diggers, the German-born archeologist waves a hand over his discovery here, a revolution in the story of human origins. Schmidt has uncovered a vast and beautiful temple complex, a structure so ancient that it may be the very first thing human beings ever built. The site isn’t just old, it redefines old: the temple was built 11,500 years ago—a staggering 7,000 years before the Great Pyramid, and more than 6,000 years before Stonehenge first took shape. The ruins are so early that they predate villages, pottery, domesticated animals, and even agriculture—the first embers of civilization. In fact, Schmidt thinks the temple itself, built after the end of the last Ice Age by hunter-gatherers, became that ember—the spark that launched mankind toward farming, urban life, and all that followed.

Though not as large as Stonehenge—the biggest circle is 30 yards across, the tallest pillars 17 feet high—the ruins are astonishing in number. Last year Schmidt found his third and fourth examples of the temples. Ground-penetrating radar indicates that another 15 to 20 such monumental ruins lie under the surface. Schmidt’s German-Turkish team has also uncovered some 50 of the huge pillars, including two found in his most recent dig season that are not just the biggest yet, but, according to carbon dating, are the oldest monumental artworks in the world.

The new discoveries are finally beginning to reshape the slow-moving consensus of archeology. Göbekli Tepe is “unbelievably big and amazing, at a ridiculously early date,” according to Ian Hodder, director of Stanford’s archeology program. Enthusing over the “huge great stones and fantastic, highly refined art” at Göbekli, Hodder—who has spent decades on rival Neolithic sites—says: “Many people think that it changes everything…It overturns the whole apple cart. All our theories were wrong.”

Schmidt’s thesis is simple and bold: it was the urge to worship that brought mankind together in the very first urban conglomerations. The need to build and maintain this temple, he says, drove the builders to seek stable food sources, like grains and animals that could be domesticated, and then to settle down to guard their new way of life. The temple begat the city.

This theory reverses a standard chronology of human origins, in which primitive man went through a “Neolithic revolution” 10,000 to 12,000 years ago. In the old model, shepherds and farmers appeared first, and then created pottery, villages, cities, specialized labor, kings, writing, art, and—somewhere on the way to the airplane—organized religion. As far back as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, thinkers have argued that the social compact of cities came first, and only then the “high” religions with their great temples, a paradigm still taught in American high schools.

Religion now appears so early in civilized life—earlier than civilized life, if Schmidt is correct—that some think it may be less a product of culture than a cause of it, less a revelation than a genetic inheritance. The archeologist Jacques Cauvin once posited that “the beginning of the gods was the beginning of agriculture,” and Göbekli may prove his case.


Wikipedia article


Smithsonian Magazine article.

Must see slideshow from the Smithsonian.


German Archaeological Institute site


From Darleen via Bird Dog.

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