Thousands of years ago, Neolithic humans in southern Britain constructed some of the most enduring evidence of early civilizations: enormous megaliths, including Stonehenge, used by generations of prehistoric peoples as sites for burials and rituals.
Some historians have argued that Neolithic workers built these henges over the course of centuries. But new research published in Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society suggests that ancient builders actually constructed one such structure—the Mount Pleasant henge just outside of Dorchester, England—in a much speedier timeframe of between 35 and 125 years.
Researchers proposed the revised timeline after radiocarbon dating artifacts recovered from the Mount Pleasant site. Though the items tested were excavated more than 50 years ago, they had not been analyzed with modern dating techniques until now, according to a statement from Wales’ Cardiff University.
As Steven Morris writes for the Guardian, the Mount Pleasant complex originally consisted of a timber-and-stone monument; a henge, or circular enclosure surrounded by a ditch; and a palisade, or fence made out of enormous felled trees. Per Rhys Blakely of the Times, workers felled thousands of trees and spent “millions” of hours constructing the enclosure.
Though the land on which the Neolithic henge stood has been ploughed over and turned into farmland, Historic England notes that key traces of the sprawling site remain intact. Mount Pleasant sits just south of Dorchester, about an hour’s drive south of Stonehenge.
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What do Homo sapiens have that our hominid ancestors did not? Many researchers think that the capacity for symbolic behaviors—such as art and language—is the hallmark of our species. A team working in South Africa has now discovered what it thinks is some of the best early evidence for such symbolism: a cache of ostrich eggshells dated to about 60,000 years ago and etched with intricate geometric patterns.
This fits with other recent suggestions of symbolism from South Africa. For example, last year, researchers reported pieces of ochre etched with what may be abstract designs and dated to 100,000 years ago at Blombos Cave on the Southern Cape; similar etchings dated to about 77,000 years ago were previously reported from Blombos. The Blombos team argued that this represented a continuous, long-standing symbolic tradition, but some archaeologists question whether such etchings qualify as true symbolic behavior.
Since 1999, a team led by prehistorian Pierre-Jean Texier of the University of Bordeaux in France has been working at another site, the Diepkloof rock shelter , on the Western Cape about 180 kilometers north of Cape Town. This shelter contains evidence of several cultures that used stone tools typical of modern humans. Over the past few years, the team has uncovered fragments from an estimated 25 ostrich eggs in 18 archaeological layers dated by two separate techniques to between 55,000 and 65,000 years ago. The fragments are etched with several kinds of motifs, including parallel lines with cross-hatches and repetitive non-parallel lines, the team reports online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Moreover, the team found that some of the patterns seem to have changed over time. The hatched-band motif is found only in the earlier 12 layers at Diepkloof and then disappears. The team also found a few eggshell fragments that appeared to have been pierced with a tool to make a hole in the top part of the egg. The researchers suggest that the large eggs, which had a volume of about 1 liter, might have been used as water containers, as hunter-gatherers in South Africa’s Kalahari Desert have used ostrich eggshells during historical times. The Kalahari people decorated the eggshells with engravings to indicate either who owned them or what they contained. The team concludes that the discovery “represents the earliest evidence of the existence of a graphic tradition among prehistoric hunter-gatherer populations.”
But is this really symbolism? Yes, says Stanley Ambrose, an archaeologist at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. “The diversity of design motifs is impressive. It is an important new addition to the corpus of evidence for the development of modern human symbolic and artistic expression in Africa.”
Others aren’t so sure. The engravings could have been done for aesthetic purposes unrelated to symbolism, says Thomas Wynn, an archaeologist at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. Researchers need to demonstrate that such engravings “require symbolic thinking,” rather than simply assuming that all such etchings are symbolic, says Wynn.
- From Science News, Engraved Eggs Suggest Early Symbolism by Michael Balter 3/1/2010
During the Stone Age, humans shifted from the nomadic lifestyle to the more settled life of farmers. A documentary on an important period of human history. Watch Part 2 here: https://youtu.be/XSGRd5Ve1zI
Around 12,000 years ago, humans underwent a transition from nomads to settlers. That epoch, the Stone Age, produced monumental building works. Part 1 of this two-part documentary illuminates the cultural background of these structures and shows the difficulties Stone Age humans had to contend with. Until around 10,000 BC, humans lived as hunters and gatherers. Then an irreversible change began. Settlements formed. "For millions of years humans lived as foragers and suddenly their lives changed radically. This was far more radical than the start of the digital age or industrialization," says prehistorian Hermann Parzinger, president of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation. For a long time, scholars believed that a sedentary lifestyle was a prerequisite for constructing large buildings. Then archaeologist Klaus Schmidt discovered Göbekli Tepe in southern Turkey, a 12,000-year-old complex of stone blocks weighing up to 20 tons. Its builders were still hunter- gatherers. They decorated the stone columns with ornate animal reliefs. How these structures were used and who was allowed access to them remains a mystery. But we now know that the site was abandoned and covered over once settlements took root. Human development continued its course. The discovery of agriculture and animal husbandry led to larger settlements, a changed diet and ultimately to dependence on material goods. This social upheaval in the late Neolithic period has influenced our lives up to the present day. But experts agree that the monuments of the Stone Age prove that humans have gigantomanic tendencies and a need to immortalize themselves.
Paleolithic Age- https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Paleolithic_Age
In 1177 B.C., marauding groups known only as the "Sea Peoples" invaded Egypt. The pharaoh's army and navy managed to defeat them, but the victory so weakened Egypt that it soon slid into decline, as did most of the surrounding civilizations. After centuries of brilliance, the civilized world of the Bronze Age came to an abrupt and cataclysmic end. Kingdoms fell like dominoes over the course of just a few decades. No more Minoans or Mycenaeans. No more Trojans, Hittites, or Babylonians. The thriving economy and cultures of the late second millennium B.C., which had stretched from Greece to Egypt and Mesopotamia, suddenly ceased to exist, along with writing systems, technology, and monumental architecture. But the Sea Peoples alone could not have caused such widespread breakdown. How did it happen?
In this major new account of the causes of this "First Dark Ages," Eric Cline tells the gripping story of how the end was brought about by multiple interconnected failures, ranging from invasion and revolt to earthquakes, drought, and the cutting of international trade routes. Bringing to life the vibrant multicultural world of these great civilizations, he draws a sweeping panorama of the empires and globalized peoples of the Late Bronze Age and shows that it was their very interdependence that hastened their dramatic collapse and ushered in a dark age that lasted centuries.
A compelling combination of narrative and the latest scholarship, 1177 B.C. sheds new light on the complex ties that gave rise to, and ultimately destroyed, the flourishing civilizations of the Late Bronze Age--and that set the stage for the emergence of classical Greece.
TITLE Photo: The Ain Sakhri lovers. British Museum: 11,000-year-old Natufian sculpture. The Epipaleolithic Natufian culture existed from around 13,050 to 7,550 BC in the Levant. The culture was unusual in that it supported a sedentary or semi-sedentary population even before the introduction of agriculture. The Natufian communities may be the ancestors of the builders of the first Neolithic settlements of the region, which may have been the earliest in the world. Natufians founded Jericho, which may be the oldest city in the world. Some evidence suggests deliberate cultivation of cereals, specifically rye, by the Natufian culture, at Tell Abu Hureyra, the site of earliest evidence of agriculture in the world.
Michael Balter, Science Magazine, in re: Archaeology thinks that Mankind made leaps of cognition over the last hundred thousand years that explain revolutions in managing our environment and our habitat, and our ability to cook – leading to better nutrition and better brains.
It wasn’t so long ago that the majority of archaeologists were focussed on the Upper Paleolithic in Europe, about 50,000 years ago. Theory was that people didn’t do art till they got to Europe [puzzling!]. Now we see it goes back 200,000 years in Africa. Till ten years ago we had no real evidence that people then had engaged in symbolic behavior (such as art). With spear points, we're pushing it back farther. In South Africa, very sophisticated behavior going back 500,000 years – and who knows how much farther back it'll go as we unearth more evidence? Gaps in the record are due not only to patchy excavation; there are times when complex behavior and symbolic behavior are more appropriate, certainly among large groups, where people may wear ornaments.
Natufians, farmers of the Near East: the Neolithic “revolution”; they were sophisticated hunter-gatherers, wore ornaments. Site Karna 4, in Eastern Jordan, found sophisticated huts, habitations, ornaments, shell beads – some of the beads come from 2,000 km away in the Indian Ocean. . . . once you had agricultural surplusses in order to have village life, you get to fairly dramatic changes. Evolution, not revolution, for Homo sapiens.
WHO THEY WERE