The Mystery of the Danube Civilisation

The discovery of Europe's oldest civilisation
marix Verlag ein Imprint von Verlagshaus Römerweg
  • 1. Auflage
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  • erschienen am 29. Mai 2020
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  • 288 Seiten
E-Book | ePUB mit Wasserzeichen-DRM | Systemvoraussetzungen
978-3-8438-0646-6 (ISBN)
Over the last few decades, archaeologists and cultural scientists have come to a better understanding of the extent of Neolithic civilisation on the Balkan peninsula. This Danube Civilisation, thriving between the 6th and 4th millennia BCE, was using a writing system long before the Mesopotamians and is remarkable for its accomplishments in craftsmanship, art and urban development. In this book, Harald Haarmann provides the first comprehensive insight into this enigmatic Old European culture, which is still largely unknown to the greater public. He describes the trade routes, settlements, mythology and writing system of this people, traces the changes resulting from the arrival of the Indo-Europeans, and shows how this first advanced civilisation in Europe influenced its successors.
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Harald Haarmann (* 1946) is one of the world's best-known linguists; PhD in Bonn, Habilitation (post-doctoral qualification) in Trier. He has been Vice-President of the Institute of Archaeomythology (director of its European office in Finland) since 2003; author of more than 70 books in German and English, some of which have been translated into over a dozen languages. In addition to his study of the Danube Civilisation, he has produced remarkable insights into the roots of ancient Greek civilisation and the early history of Rome. His work has earned him the Prix logos (Paris, 1999), the Premio Jean Monnet (Genova, 1999) for essay writing, and the Plato Award (UK, 2006).

The puzzle of a 7,000 year-old civilisation

1. The transition to the Neolithic in Europe (ca. 7500-5500 BCE)

Early farmers in Southeast Europe
The emergence of regional cultures
Cultural timeline of Old Europe

2. In search of the Old Europeans

The genetic footprint
Linguistic traces

3. Commerce and living space

Trade routes and commodities
Settlements and architecture
Religious sites and graves

4. Arts and crafts

Weaving and textiles
Pottery and firing techniques
Art forms and cultural symbols

5. Model of an egalitarian society

Matriarchal or matrilineal?
Families and clans
Oecumene and trade

6. Religion and mythology

The world view of hunter-gatherers and farmers
Female deities in Old Europe
The bull - Animal symbols as attributes of the goddess
Cults and rituals
Music and dance

7. Counting, measuring, recording

Numerical signs and numerology
Calendrical notation
Weights and measures
Potter's or ownership marks

8. The invention of writing

Origin and development of the Danube script
The spread of writing in Old Europe
Writing materials, inscriptions and varieties of text
The repertory of Old European signs
Written legacy of the Danube Civilisation
A script in the service of religion
The demise of the use of writing

9. The decline and legacy of the Danube Civilisation (from around 4500 BCE)

Political and cultural upheavals
The Balkan-Ancient Aegean cultural drift
Minoan-Cypriot contacts: How Aegean script was exported

Key to inside cover map



People went back and forth across the land bridge. Phases of largescale migration cannot be proven, but there must have been a regular exchange of ideas and goods, for not only the material legacy, but also the mythology and religious beliefs of people on both sides of the land bridge were similar (Haarmann/Marler 2008: 34ff.). The leitmotifs of the cultural similarities were female statuettes made of clay and distinctive burial forms. Geographically, this cultural area stretches from Thessaly to the Peloponnese, Bulgaria, western Macedonia, Transylvania and other regions (Bachvarov 2003: 292f.). Who were the Mesolithic hunter-gatherers who occupied the Black Sea region and the Aegean islands in the time before the Great Flood, and who also sailed their boats along coastal waters in that early period?

The genetic footprint

It was not until the 1990s, in the context of human genetic research, that a decisive breakthrough on this question was achieved (beginning with Cavalli-Sforza et al. 1994, among others). The genetic structures of the populations in Europe and Western Asia exhibit five main components that are present in varying concentrations in the different regions. Each of these main components corresponds to a grouping of 95 individual genes, for which a combinatorial analysis reveals certain basic patterns, i.e. the main components. The geographic concentration of the main components can be depicted on maps. Among these, there is one map that is of particular interest for our study: it shows the geographical expansion of a genetic constellation that human geneticists call the "Mediterranean genotype" (Fig. 16).

It is immediately apparent that the populations for whom this genotype is typical are spread around the Aegean Sea and in a wide arc on the southern coast of the Black Sea. A high concentration of the Mediterranean genotype has been identified for Southeast Europe as well as for western Anatolia. These obvious similarities allow for only one conclusion: An ancient population has left its genetic footprint in the genotype of the population on both sides of the Aegean Sea and in the southern Black Sea region.

16The Mediterranean genotype (Cavalli-Sforza 1996: 63)

There has been much speculation about where these people came from. However, human geneticists have run into a dead end with their hypotheses. The interpretation of the Mediterranean genotype is a good example of how answering one question can give rise to another. In this case: Was the population around the Aegean in ancient times genetically homogeneous? - gives rise to the next question: Which ancient people can be linked to this genotype? However, this question cannot necessarily be answered by geneticists.

Cavalli-Sforza and the members of his team have argued that the people who represent the Mediterranean genotype were the Ancient Greeks. The formation of this genotype would therefore be related to the early history of Greek colonisation on the Ionian coast (today western Turkey) and in southern Italy. The first centuries of the 1st millennium BCE would have been the probable timeframe.

The geographical extent of the radians of the Mediterranean genotype, which indicate a high concentration, includes areas where the Greeks never established colonies, where they never settled, and where there were no Greek enclaves. The Mediterranean genotype is also found in high concentrations in southern Italy, but also in the Balkan region, namely Croatia, Serbia, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova and Ukraine. It is difficult to imagine how the diffusion of the Mediterranean genotype could have gone as far as Transylvania given that the Greeks only maintained colonies on the Black Sea coast, such as Istros and Kallatis. The same applies to Bulgaria and Ukraine, where Greeks also settled only in enclaves on the Black Sea coast (Apollonia, Odessos, Olbia and others). On the Asian side, the core area of the Mediterranean genotype extends far into central Anatolia. But Greeks settled only near the coast, and there were no Greek cities on the Anatolian plateau. So what we are seeing on the genetic map is not the genetic footprint of the Ancient Greeks.

It makes much more sense to look for the traces of the early inhabitants of the region in an even older period, namely in the era before the Great Flood. Is it not plausible to conclude that the genetic map is showing us traces of pre-flood populations that lived in the Black Sea region and around the Aegean Sea? That would mean that the Mediterranean genotype shows us the initial distribution of the original population of this region, the population that settled there since the end of the Ice Age about 12,000 years ago. After all, there is archaeological evidence of continuous settlement from the Palaeolithic to the Mesolithic to the Neolithic in many places. A chronological sequence with the following transitions has been created for the region surrounding the Iron Gates in the Danube Valley: Transition from the Palaeolithic to the Mesolithic around 13,000 BCE, transition from the Mesolithic to the Neolithic around 6,000 BCE (Bonsall 2008: 245ff.). Information on the transitions in the Carpathian region can be found in Dolukhanov (2008: 289f.).

17Figurine heads with naturalistic features, 6th-4th millennia BCE: Women's faces and hairstyles (Gimbutas 1991: 62, 270)

18Figurine head with naturalistic features, 6th-4th millennia BCE: Men's beard style (Videjko 2008: 33)

Anthropological characteristics. Only vague statements can be made about what the Old Europeans looked like. Judging by the skeletal remains, they were people of medium stature with a slender physique. The modern observer can gain an impression of their physiognomy through the numerous sculptures depicting people (Hansen 2007). Admittedly, the facial features and bodies of the figurines are predominantly stylised and reflect general characteristics; very few sculptures have individual features - Old European art was not portraiture. Nevertheless, such figurines convey at least an approximate general impression of the outward appearance of the Old Europeans. Figurines with more naturalistic features are of particular interest. Details of the hairstyle are just as revealing as the contours of the faces (Figs. 17/18).

A specific genre developed in the representational art of the Danube Civilisation, namely sculptures depicting mothers with their children. The mother-child motif is generally depicted with the mother holding her child on her lap. They are just small sculptures, and yet these works of art radiate an immediate intimacy (Fig. 19). The mother-child motif was also carried over to the animal world. Here it was the mother bear that particularly inspired the imagination of the artists of Old Europe.

19The mother-child motif in figurative art, here as a seated group (Gimbutas 1991: 311)

The popularity of mother-and-child scenes was also preserved in the cultures that succeeded the Danube Civilisation (see Chap. 9). Mycenaean Greek art also developed a genre of its own, the figure of the kourotrophos ("child guardian"); (Demakopoulou 1988: 191).

Linguistic traces

If we know that the indigenous population of the region was genetically relatively homogeneous, does that mean that we can also say something about their language? Hasn't all linguistic heritage been overlaid or buried by the peoples who later came to the countries of Southeast Europe - such as Greeks and Thracians, Romans and Goths, later Slavs and Turks? In fact, very old linguistic traces have been preserved. Making them visible requires some reconstruction work, however. The search for traces leads us into the world of the most important pre-Roman cultural language in Europe: Greek.

The earliest evidence of the settlement of Greece by the population that gave the country its name (Hellas) dates from between 2300 and 2100 BCE (Early Helladic Period II and III). At that time, Helladic tribes migrated to Greece from the north. Their language belongs to the Indo-European language family, from which Greek is separated as an independent language branch (Mallory/Adams 1997: 244f.). When the Greeks came to their new homeland, they met a population that had lived there long before them. In their myths the Greeks called them "Pelasgians" (Gantz 1993: 198f., 204f.).

And when the Mycenaeans later settled on the coast of Ionia (Miletus is a Mycenaean settlement), occupied Crete and established trade bases in southern Italy, they too were preceded by an older population everywhere. The pre-Greek people on Crete were called the "Minoans" after the legendary King Minos. We don't know what they called themselves. At the time of the arrival of the Greeks, Sicily was inhabited by the Elymians. During the course of the 5th century BCE at the latest, they assimilated themselves into the Hellenistic world of Magna Graecia, as the Greek colonies in southern Italy were called.

The pre-Greek population had its own language. Perhaps it was several individual languages which were related to each other. With the help of their language(s), those people,...

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