For years, the consensus has been that religion arose to promote social cooperation only after people began settling in villages and farming. The theory goes, that religion was needed in order to ease tensions that occurred after hunter-gatherers settled into an agrarian life. This agrarian lifestyle produced food surpluses and a need for labor, which promoted the subsequent development of large societies.
Göbekli Tepe, flips this script, so to speak. The massive structure supports the idea that early people came to worship. There is no evidence of settlement, which has been seen by some researchers as one of the many mysteries surrounding the site. However, archaeologists have excavated stone basins that may have held beer made by nomadic foragers or even early farmers, and then brought to the site during pilgrimage. There is also evidence which shows that at the mountain settlement about 20 miles away from Göbekli Tepe, called Nevah Cori, plants were first domesticated. Perhaps they were farmed to supply religious ceremonies. Nevertheless, Nevah Cori has T-shaped pillars with animal images, like Göbekli Tepe. Similar pillars and images have also been found at settlements up to 100 miles away from Göbekli Tepe. Clearly, there was a significance placed on Göbekli Tepe, so much so that it influenced settlement and even behavioral patterns of people on a massive scale. Perhaps even more interesting, is that the archaeological record shows that there was not only a shift in settlement patterns, but there was also a spiritual, or religious shift.
What significant event may have occurred to bring about such a shift?
Archaeological evidence suggests not only a possible physiological event in human history, but also a spiritual one. We have evidence to support this spiritual shift, dating as far back as at least 70,000 years. It can be found in the hills of the remote Ngamiland region of Botswana.
It is here that archaeologists discovered what appeared to be remains of what some believe to be the world's earliest religious worship sites. In the shelter of these rocks, early man performed advanced rituals to worship the python. According to a report published by the University of Oslo (Norway), these rock paintings show that early man practiced some form of religious ritual some 30,000 years earlier than the oldest findings in Europe.
Until this discovery, archaeologists believed that man’s first religious rituals were practiced over 40,000 years ago in Europe. Associate Professor Sheila Coulson, from the Oslo University, is convinced she has discovered mankind's oldest known ritual in Botswana while searching for Middle Stone Age artifacts in the Tsodilo Hills. The Tsodilo Hills are listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site and are known for having the largest concentration of rock paintings in the world.
To this day, the Tsodilo Hills are sacred to the local San people, who call them the "Mountains of the Gods." The San people also still consider the python as their most sacred animals. According to their creation myth, man descended from the python in the sky. The streambeds around the hills are believed to have been created by the python as it circled the hills looking for water. In order to get a San guide into the hills, one must first gain permission from the ancient serpent.
Even after permission has been “granted” by the python god, reaching the cave is no easy feat. It is extremely difficult to access and so secluded, that it was not even discovered by archaeologists until the 1990s. At the site, there are two rock paintings on one side of the cave and a rock with a three-to-four hundred man-made indentations in it. This strange rock resembled the head of a large python, measuring six meters in length and two meters in height. With the sunlight glistening on the indentations, it gives the appearance of snake skin. An even more stunning site is at night, when the radiant glow of firelight bounces and flickers on the “scales” of the python, giving the feeling that the snake is undulating through the darkness.
To find out more about what specific rituals may have been performed at the site, archaeologists dug a test pit in front of the python stone. There, they uncovered a number of the stones that were likely used in the making of the indentations. These stones, as well as ancient tools, dating to at least 70,000 years ago, were found with more than 13,000 artifacts.
An even more interesting detail, is that the spearheads were made from material not from the Tsodilo region, but from areas much further away, indicating these were indeed, special. Additionally, the spearheads found were of better quality and more colorful than other spearheads from the same region and era.
Archaeologist found that only the red colored spearheads had been burned. They theorized that the early inhabitants of this site took an assortment of colored spearheads to the cave where they would finish carving them. Then, they would perform a ritual burning of the red ones. Given the absence of any other artifact type at the site, it is believed that no one lived here. Much like Göbekli Tepe, there are no signs of cooking hearths or other evidence of domestic life at the site. Rather, it points to the site as serving a special ritual purpose. All of this points to the idea that early humans were capable of abstract thinking, much earlier than previously accepted.
Moreover, behind the python rock is a secret chamber, believed to be accessed only by a shaman. It is there, that he may very well have hidden and spoke to pilgrims from his hiding place. From his vantage point, he would have had keen view of the comings and goings of people around him. He would also be in complete control, as the illusion would have been mesmerizing to an early human ancestor, having never before seen our experienced such a thing.
Just imagine for a moment you are an early human ancestor, approaching the summit after a long journey. Here, you catch a glint of light jutting off of what appears to be one of the most universally dreaded creatures in natural human history; the serpent. Although trembling in fear, you proceed. After all, this is what you came here for. Perhaps you are bringing your spearheads to be blessed so that you have luck in the hunt. Maybe you seek healing; a common association with serpent symbolism. As you stand in awe and reverence at the serpent, a low, cavernous voice bellows out to you. You would be in a highly suggestible state, having been scared and manipulated into submission to the will of the great serpent.
Had you been a cleverer fellow, you may have had some suspicion. Maybe you are brave and decide to go directly into the belly of the beast to see from where this voice was emanating. Alas, you would have likely been tricked, as the shaman would have disappeared from the chamber by way of the small shaft leading out onto the hillside!
There is so much yet to learn about early man and his religions. Sites like Göbekli Tepe are still being researched and many more have yet to be discovered. In time, I believe we will find evidence of an even earlier, advanced civilization in the region.
I would hedge my bets on there being more than an X, but perhaps Civilizations A, B, and C; all of which having their own derivative sub-civilizations. I think the desire to find a Civilization X is no different than that of the Evolutionist’s desire to find a “missing link.” It is so alluring because of its simplicity. It is as if there is a promise that if you search far enough, you will find the one puzzle piece that can provide us with the complete picture of human origins. I happen to think that there are more than just one puzzle piece. In fact, I would go so far as to say there is more than one puzzle completely.
Some have suggested that the Sumerians should be researched more in depth because they were the first people. However, this is not true. Homo sapiens, meaning "man who knows," in Latin, is the scientific name for the general human species. Homo is the genus, or, taxonomic category that is positioned above species and below family. This includes Neanderthals and Denisovan, as well as many other of our extinct cousins. In fact, Homo sapiens is the only surviving species of the genus Homo. Modern humans are classified even further as the subspecies, Homo sapiens sapiens. This classification system branches out further and further whenever a new specimen is found. Sometimes, a specimen that does not neatly fit into this ongoing jig saw puzzle gets conveniently forgotten in the basements of museums; museums funded by oligarchs.
Now, you may argue according to your religious beliefs, or personal research theories, that these “ancestors” are of no relation to us modern humans, thus, their existence does not factor into the equation. To which I would point to the Omo remains, discovered between 1967 and 1974 in Africa, at the Omo Kibish sites near the Omo River, in Omo National Park in south-western Ethiopia.
Found at the site were a number of bones including, two partial skulls, four jaws, a leg bone, and about two hundred teeth. This discovery provided evidence of the first anatomically modern humans appearing in the fossil record about 195,000 years ago, right around the time scientists claim modern humans diverged from a common ancestor 200,000 years ago. If the radiocarbon dating is correct, these fossils are the oldest known Homo sapiens remains, “making Ethiopia the cradle of Homo sapiens.”1
Ethiopia may be considered the cradle of Homo sapiens, but Mesopotamia, home of Sumer, is known as the cradle of civilization. The distinction is quite evident. Existing and civilization building are two very different things. However, one could then reasonably ask what about Göbekli Tepe? Evidence found at Göbekli Tepe clearly indicates more than just simple existing was taking place. Considering that the settlement is at least 11,000 years old, it is much older than any settlement found near Ur. Thus, the enigmatic inhabitants of Göbekli Tepe should be considered the cradle of civilization, but the problem with this is how one defines civilization.
Some scholars adhere to the theory that Göbekli Tepe was a temple but not all scholars agree. Archaeological evidence of day to day activities have led other scholars to believe that Göbekli Tepe was a multi-purpose domestic settlement. Still, the general consensus is that Göbekli Tepe was a hunter-gather site with the possibility of rudimentary agriculture. Does this constitute civilization? Perhaps it is the seed of civilization but to date, no evidence of an advanced state of human society where a high level of culture, science, industry, and government has been found.
This is not to suggest that Göbekli Tepe is not a profoundly important site to the history of humanity. After all, its mysteries have only begun to be addressed. I only mean to suggest that in Sumer, something different happened. This something would do more than simply plant the seeds of human civilization, it would go on to develop complex systems and hierarchies the world had never before seen.
While not the first ever people, and not the first to make art or large settlements, the Sumerians forever changed the trajectory of humankind. Thanks to having invented the world’s first true system of writing, 2 the Sumerians have left us with many artifacts and texts to paint a picture of life in their time.
1. Leakey, R. E. F. "Early Homo Sapiens Remains from the Omo River Region of South-west Ethiopia: Faunal Remains from the Omo Valley." Nature, 1969, 1132-133.
2. Millard, A. R. (1986). "The Infancy of the Alphabet." World Archaeology 17 (3): 390–398. doi:10.1080/00438243.1986.9979978
In my research for Land of the Watchers, I have found an interconnected web of facts all leading, perhaps unsurprisingly, to oil. While it may come as no big revelation, America’s war in the Middle East has been over oil, as have both world wars. The quest for oil has been the cause of innumerable deaths around the world for years and this quest is not new. Many are surprised to learn how ancient humanity’s knowledge of oil is. The Sumerians, Akkadians, and Babylonians were aware of the importance of oil, as were Native Americans. Let’s take a quick look at ancient oil, starting with the Sumerians.
To start, the term oil is usually used as a more generalized term referring to a viscous, flammable liquid, insoluble in water. However, petroleum is a more specific term referring to a hydrocarbon oil found in the upper strata of the earth, which goes through a refining process to be used as fuel. The word petroleum literally means “rock oil,” translated from the Greek to Latin form petra ‘rock’ and oleum ‘oil.’ Drilling is not the only way to find oil. Oil can also be found in what are called seeps, or oil springs. When the oil from these springs evaporates, it leaves behind a semi-solid hydrocarbon product called bitumen. This has been used for thousands of years as a waterproofing agent, for plumbing, boat building and brick bonding. There is even some debate on whether or not it was the pitch used to waterproof the reed basket that carried the infant Moses into the Nile River. Herodotus, Aristotle, Strabo, Plutarch, and others have discussed the ancients’ use of bitumen in detail. It is credited as being the literal glue that held together the Tower of Babel. Petroleum was essential to the infrastructure of Babylon the Great. It was also an important component to ritual sacrifice.
Vegetable and animal oils have traditionally been used in Abrahamic religious ceremonies. In fact, the word Christ is from the Latin ‘Christus,’ which is from Greek ‘khristos’ meaning "the anointed.” This anointing refers to a ceremonial process where oil is smeared on the head. Many are familiar with these etymologies and many are familiar with anointing ceremonies which are still performed in numerous modern religious settings. However, the act of anointing with oil predates the Abrahamic religions. It even predates Egyptian religions, which also anointed with natural oils.
In the Sumerian records, there are many mentions of oils and their uses. Cedar oils, vegetable oils, even bitumen was regularly referenced. However, there is one very special oil that was used in an important ritual. It translates simply to “mountain oil.” Could this “mountain oil” be “rock oil” or petroleum? I have spent countless hours combing over Sumerian records, searching for clues to human origins and a better understanding of the power structures that have come to dominate our world. In my personal reading of the Sumerian tablets, I have found more to support that the Sumerian god’s were interested in this mountain oil more than even gold. In fact, I have found very little to support that gold was of special interest to the gods. Mountain oil, on the other hand…
I have traced this particular mountain oil to the Zagros Mountain range, homeland of Enil, Inanna, and other key figures in Sumerian mythology. This oil was used in a strange, yet familiar, ritual to honor Inanna, the daughter of Nanna and Ningal, who is also associated with Venus. Nanna, her father, son of Enlil and Ninlil, later became identified with Assyrian moon god Su'en/Sîn, whose name meant "illuminator." His worship center was Ur, whose name literally meant the dwelling place of Nanna. Now, I will not go too deeply into familial connections in this post but in Land of the Watchers, I do go into more detail and provide clear infographics to simplify the drama of the Sumerian gods. For now, the takeaway is that the oil from the mountain home of the Sumerian creator gods was important to their rituals and civil structure.
It has been known for a very long time that the Zagros Mountains were a special place. In addition to being the dwelling place and retreat of the Sumerian gods, they were also the home to the first known dragon, named Kur. Kur, the serpent, is so much associated with the mountains, that it is depicted as a picture of a mountain in cuneiform. Archaeological evidence has revealed interesting clues to the myths of the Zargos Mountain dwellers. The serpent-man hybrid clay figurines, excavated by Sir Leonard Woolley, have been associated with this civilization, the Ubaid peoples, who originally down from the Zagros Mountains of Kurdistan, hence the 'Kurd' in Kurdistan (stan = place of or home). So, in addition to the Zargos Mountains being associated with the Sumerian gods, they are also known as housing a great serpent or serpents.
The importance of this mountain range to the modern oil industry cannot be stressed enough. Iran's main oilfields are located in the western central foothills of the Zagros mountain range. What I have found in researching Land of the Watchers has lead me down a path that follows big oil, the Kurdish conflict, WWI & WWII, the current war on terror, and the invention of the modern Middle East. The families behind the wars for oil are all too familiar names. The connections are astounding.
I have traveled down a road which starts in ancient Mesopotamia, goes through the Crusades, and onto the Americas, during a time when the Seneca people used petroleum from oil seeps in their rituals (rituals strangely similar to those of the Sumerians). In fact, the tribe became known by pioneers for their oil, which they traded. It would later become known as snake oil, the same snake oil that William Rockefeller, Sr., father of John D. Rockefeller, made a living as a con man selling. William Rockefeller, Sr. took snake oil as it was called, and bottled it under “rock oil.” He claimed it had special life-extension capabilities. He peddled it like a carny in the same way you would expect from a snake oil salesman.
My research has brought me full circle in a way. It has brought me to Cleveland, Ohio, a seemingly unlikely place with connections to Sumerian myths, the Crusades, Native American myths, ritual sacrifice, environmentalism, the quest for the elixir of life, and the strange insatiable thirst for oil. I have walked the paths of the oil barons, looking for the details that others have missed. I have visited newly discovered mysterious Rockefeller archaeological sites and found a series of clues that have been hidden in key places in the area. I have been completely thrown by what I have found and my experience has caused me to question everything I thought I knew.
In the nineteenth century, archaeologists unearthed a treasure trove of Sumerian medical manuals dating back over 4000 years. They contain instructions for the treatment of patients believed to be suffering from viral hemorrhagic fevers such as Ebola, Lassa Fever, Marburg Virus Disease and Crimean-Congo Hemorrhagic Fever. Although they were discovered quite some years back, many have only recently been translated because of relative difficulties with the translation of cuneiform script. However, the scientists feel confident that Ebola and related hemorrhagic fevers have been infecting humans for thousands of years.
The ancient diagnostic manuals consist of approximately 1000 cuneiform tablets, 660 of which are medical tablets from the library of Ashurbanipal, now preserved in the British Museum. They list disorders organized in sections ranging from gynecology to pediatrics.
Sumerian medical tablet from the Library of Ashurbanipal, listing 15 prescriptions used by a pharmacist.
Before this discovery, Mesopotamian medicine was understood primarily through the texts of classical authors such as Herodotus and Thucydides. Thucydides provided what has been called the first description of Ebola, writing that during the Peloponnesian War the disease showed a sudden onset, saying “persons in good health were seized first with strong fevers, redness and burning of the eyes, and the inside of the mouth, both the throat and tongue, immediately was bloody-looking and expelled an unusually foul breath. Following these came sneezing, hoarseness...a powerful cough...and every kind of bilious vomiting...and in most cases an empty heaving ensued that produced a strong spasm." This, according to a recent article in Emerging Infectious Diseases Journal (CDC), authored by epidemiologists Patrick Olson and Charles Hames of the Naval Medical Center in San Diego, and Abram Bennenson and Nicholas Genovese of San Diego State University.
The Sumerian tablets, however, show a much older genesis of hemmoragic fevers and describe viral hemorrhagic fevers in great detail, most notably, the Ebola virus and even include differential diagnostics at the end of each section. Paleopathologists from the Georgetown University School of Medicine, Washington, D.C. believe Sumerians may have called Ebola ‘Hand of Sibitti.’ As published in the journal Tropical Medicine and International Health, the tablet reads:
“If during his illness he does not raise his eyes (and) blood comes out of his eyes, his nose, his mouth, his ears and his penis all at the same time (it is) ‘Hand of the Sibitti.’ (If he has been sick for) 31 days (when this happens) (it is) ‘Hand of the Twin
Who are the Sibitti?
According to Sumerian mythology, the Sibitti, or the Seven, were evil entities which were half-human-half divine. They were messengers of the Lord Anu and were said to walk on the right side of Adad (the storm god). Sibitti could be seen only at night as they whirled about in the base of Heaven, circling furiously in front of the crescent moon.2.
These hybrid beings were created by the union between Erra (Negral in Sumer) and the Earth with the intent that he could use them as weapons against humanity. This was particularly useful to the god Enlil, who after the deluge, established a series of measures to limit the growth of the human population, particularly those of the “black-haired” people, whom Anu wished to “annihilate.”
Inscribed on the tablets is a story of Erra, a warrior god of famine, who wishes to destroy all of the humans on earth and have complete dominion over the cosmos. The ruling god Marduk allows Erra to govern with the help of the Sibitti who do Erra’s bidding. Marduk says:
“I (Marduk) rose from my seat and the government (ši-piṭ) of heaven and earth dissolved
Interestingly, the word šipṭu means ‘governance’ and ‘destruction.’ It is one of the earliest examples of the order out of chaos idea. In the myth, Erra assures that if Marduk leaves his position of power, he will maintain šipṭu, (governing order) of both heaven and earth. What Erra doesn't specify to Marduk is what type of šipṭu he plans to enforce, so rather than maintaining governance, he chooses the šipṭu of destruction. The tablets go on to warn, “He who has not died in the struggle will die in the destruction (šip-ṭi). He who has not died in the destruction (šip-ṭi), the enemy will plunder.”4.
Following the birth of the weaponized demons, the Sibitti, the gods command them to “blaze like a flame” (kīma dGirri ku-bu-um-ma ḫu-muṭ kīma nab-li). Modern scholars believe this command sealed the relationship between the Sibitti and Erra, primarily because the etymology of Erra’s name is to scorch or char. Another interesting etymological aspect of Erra’s name is the word e-ra-a means copper and the word erû means grindstone. The poem rhetorically asks, “Who chews hard copper (e-ra-a) like leather, who forges tools?” implying great strength on the part of Erra. Further on in the tablets, Erra and the Sibitti go to the top of what they call Mount Ḫeḫe and in a flash of fiery light, raze it off of the ground.
Ultimately, Erra’s motive was to take Marduk’s place in rulership and some scholars have interpreted this to mean that just as Erra and Nergal’s identities fused, Erra is also a reiteration of Marduk.5. This is a common pattern in the ancient world, so it is logical to surmise that these deities were one in the same, at least in spirit.
Going back to the ancient viruses; when paleopathologists study disease, they are often looking to identify the genetic mutation and evolution of a virus. Understanding how these ancient deities “evolved” or “mutated” may be able to help us better understand the evolution of certain diseases. Another example of an Ebola-related viral strain was known as ‘Hand of Marduk’and is described in the texts as follows:
“If (his) limbs . . . , his epigastrium (has) a piercing pain, blood flows incessantly (from his mouth), his arms are continually weak, depression continually falls upon him (and) his eyes are suffused with blood (it is) ‘Hand of Marduk’; he will be worried and die. If his limbs . . . , his temples are overwhelmed, his throat (looks) skinned, his insides are continually cramped (and) he is sick all day and all night (it is) ‘Hand of Marduk’; he will be worried and die.”6.
Both ‘Hand of Sibitti’ and ‘Hand of Marduk’ were fatal and the tablets go on to describe bouts of uncontrollable bleeding from the mouth, abdominal pain, cramps, and bloody diarrhea, usually commencing between the fifth and 10th day of symptoms. Another notable parallel is the tablet’s description of the patient’s throat looking ‘skinned’ which is strikingly similar to the modern description of the throats of victims of modern Ebola.
How interesting it is, that as the ages of rulership changed, so did the diseases of the day. They did not change drastically, rather, they sort of co-evolved. This is yet another reason why we should never immediately discount the knowledge of the ancients, no matter how fanciful their stories may seem. I will be discussing the Ebola-Sumerian connection in greater detail this evening on Hyperspace at 7:00 p.m. EST on the Dark Matter Radio Network.
1. Coleman, M., and J. Scurlock. "Lost Medicine: Recovered from the Clay Tablets of Ancient Mesopotamia."
2. Kilmer, Anne Draffkorn. Strings and Threads a Celebration of the Work of Anne Draffkorn Kilmer.
5. Cagni, Luigi. L'epopea Di Erra. Studi Semitici 34.
6. Coleman, M., and J. Scurlock. "Lost Medicine: Recovered from the Clay Tablets of Ancient Mesopotamia."
Lately, there has been a story floating around the internet about the discovery of the “world’s oldest song,” a Sumerian hymn that was translated from a clay tablet. While a fascinating story worthy of excitement and discussion, it is not a new story. The song came from a collection of music inscribed in cuneiform on clay tablets, excavated in the early 1950s in the ancient Amorite city of Ugarit.
These clay tablets date to approximately 1400 BCE, making the songs the oldest found so far. They are Hurrian songs that include a 3,400 year-old cult hymn called Hurrian Hymn to Nikkal, or A Zaluzi to the Gods. The hymn is known to archaeologists as simply, h.6, and is of an unknown composer(s).
Nikkal, or Nikkal-wa-Ib, was a goddess of Ugarit/Canaan and later Phoenicia. Her Sumerian equivalent is the goddess Ningal, the mother of Inanna and Ereshkigal. Nikkal was the goddess of orchards, whose name derives from Akkadian/West Semitic "´Ilat ´Inbi" meaning "Goddess of Fruit.”
In the sixties, Anne Kilmer, a professor of Assyriology at the University of California, interpreted the musical notation using mathematic calculations. According to Professor Kilmer, the tablets found were primarily lists of numbers for mathematical operations, along with instructions for a singer accompanied by a nine-stringed sammûm, a type of lyre. Once Professor Kilmer was able to understand the mathematical function of the coefficient numbers, researchers were able to conclude that the tablets were, indeed, related to numbers and not just a coincidence. From there, they were able to translate the music.
It was widely believed that the harmony did not exist before the ancient Greek Delphic Hymns, but thanks to these tablets and the work of researchers like Professor Kilmer, we can now say that harmony existed 3,400 years ago! There have been numerous musicians arranging and recording the tune, many with their own creative interpretations. However, I happen to like the following version most because it is based on the original transcription of the melody, as interpreted by Professor Richard Dumbrill, a leading expert in the archaeomusicology of the Ancient Near and Middle East and founder of ICONEA, (International Conference of Near Eastern Archaeomusicology).
Have a listen! For all my fellow musicians out there, here is a link to the sheet music so you can give it a go.
Listen to the song in the video below:
Archaeologists from the North Kharga Oasis Survey Project in Egypt discovered a panel containing the only known example of spider rock art in Egypt. It is has been dated to at least about 4000 B.C.E. This would put the art firmly into prehistoric times. The large broken panel was found on the west wall of a shallow sandstone the Kharga Oasis, located in Egypt's western desert about 175 kilometers west of Luxor, facing east, as to be illuminated by the morning sun. The primary panel depicts what has been dubbed "spiders" with a "star,'' and has been called a "very unusual" find by renowned Egyptologist Salima Ikram, a professor at the American University in Cairo.
Professor Ikram admits that the identification of the creatures as spiders is tentative, as there is little evidence the ancient Egyptians placed much significance on spiders. According to Ikram, thus known are rare examples from "religious texts dealing with the so-called 'Opening of the Mouth' ritual, a rite that was performed on the mummy or a statue to restore its senses for use in the Hereafter." (2013) She goes on to say that the "images are noteworthy if they are indeed spiders, as these would be unique depictions of such creatures in Old World rock art." The original article published by LiveScience asks "why did people in the Kharga Oasis create rock art showing spiders, especially when no other examples are known to exist elsewhere in Egypt or, it appears, the entire Old World?" (Jarus, 2013).
Is this the question we should be asking? First, I would say we need to determine whether or not these are likely depictions of spiders. Now, I want to preface this first by saying that the co-director of this project is a very respectable and admirable professional. Her many qualifications and accomplishments make her opinions highly credible. I have nothing but the highest respect for Dr. Salima Ikram. However, in the interest of research, I would pose this; as someone who has a focus on archaeozoology, Dr. Ikram may be more likely to spot animals in what she sees. As Karl Wilhelm Friedrich Schlegel said, "Everyone has found in the ancients whatever he needed or wished for; especially himself."
Take, for example, Henri Breuil, born February 28, 1877, a French archaeologist, anthropologist, and a devout Jesuit who studied cave art throughout Europe and Asia. After graduating from the Seminary of St. Sulpice and the Sorbonne, he was ordained a priest. Colleagues had been known to refer to him as an "irascible and egotistical man" (Silberman, 2012, p. 212). Breuil is known for his many books and interpretations of cave art, notably, the sympathetic magic theory. A lesser mentioned point about Henri Breuil, incidentally, is that he worked with The Ahnenerbe or "Inheritance of the Forefathers" which was a Nazi research institute founded by Heinrich Himmler to locate the supposed archaeological and cultural history of the hypothesized "Aryan race."
In a cavern known as The Sanctuary at Trois-Frères in Ariège, France, Breuil found a cave drawing of a horned humanoid figure, seen in the first figure. He sketched the figure later published that sketch in the 1920's (second figure). Please compare the two images. Figure 1 you may recognize, as it is commonly referenced. It is known as “The Sorcerer.” However, Figure 2 is an actual photo of the drawing form the cave. How close do they look to you?
Breuil interpreted the figure as being that of a sorcerer or shaman, and goes on to suggest the creators of this art were early human shamans that would travel deep into the darkest parts of the cavern and go into a trance like state. They would then paint images of their visions with the idea that they could draw power out of the cave walls. This theory, sketch, and the credibility of Henri Breuil have been the subject of much debate.
Though many past scholars viewed Breuil as almost infallible in his judgments, even calling him the “Pope of Prehistory,” modern critics point out that his work contains many errors and misjudgments and that the sketch takes too many liberties when compared with the actual painted image on the cave. It may be natural for a man of such devout faith to interpret the image as having some religious or spiritual connotation. This again is an example of finding “…in the ancients whatever he needed or wished for; especially himself.” The theory may not be altogether bad, however, considering the amount of speculation, it is peculiar how Breuil’s theory has become an accepted mainstream narrative for Upper Paleolithic cave art.
This is why it’s important to consider many perspectives. Look at the “spiders” on the rock art and see what you think they may be. How much of yourself and your own interests influence your interpretation?
One interesting theory that was brought to my attention was from a Facebook friend of mine, Brian Daynes from Great Doddington, England. He suggested that the circles may represent star positions in the sky and perhaps be a calendar similar to the alignment of the pyramids. He even went on to provide this graphic for comparison. Mr. Daynes points out that "Sirius (going from bottom left diagonally to top right) has the same plot points as on the stone. The stone is a drawing of the Sirius star system. With the fourth plot point out of alignment to the others, as seen on the star map and as seen on the pictured stone." I think this idea is as good, if not better, than the theory of these being spiders.
Albeit a substantial killer by way of approximate body count, the plague was not the most destabilizing event of the Fourteenth Century. It may not have had a direct death toll, but climate change (different from the highly politicized ‘global warming’) could be considered as the first domino to fall in a series of traumatic and destabilizing events leading to what would be known as The Black Death.
During the fourteenth century, the Medieval Warm Period was transitioning into what would later be the Little Ice Age. During this period, Europe’s climate underwent substantial and sudden changes. The weather became wetter and cooler. Artist's renderings of the time have often depicted people wearing heavier clothing, as well as gray skies, and snow cover, providing clues as to the weather of the time.. With this climate change, came subsequent crop failures since the crops either froze or were drowned with the increase in precipitation. These crop failures led to the Great Famine, which persisted until the early 1320. Grain stores were soaked and would rot, leaving less grain for the rodents to scavenge. This encouraged the rodents to move in to more densely populated areas looking for food while carrying their plague infested fleas with them to spread among the population. It would appear logical that in this sequence of events, that climate change was technically the most destabilizing event of the Fourteenth Century.
Further research into the physical evidence of such a connection came by way of a news item from the BBC. It cited recent research into the connection between climate change and the plague. The results put an interesting element of hard science to the argument, making a case that this sequence of events leading to the Black Death warranted more study.
In the article, a Dr. Thomas van Hoof and a team from Utrecht University, Netherlands, studied pollen grains and leaf remains collected from lake-bed sediments in the southeast Netherlands. They recorded the fluctuations in the abundance of cereal and tree pollen such as buckwheat and pollen from birch and oak trees. In doing so, the researchers were able to estimate changes in land-use between 1000C.E. and 1500C.E. Counting the stomata, or pores on ancient oak leaves provided the researchers a baseline with which to measure chances in the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide during the Fourteenth Century. This is possible since leaves absorb carbon dioxide through their stomata, and their density varies as carbon dioxide goes up and down.
The researchers found an expected increase in cereal pollen from 1200 which reflected the agricultural expansion. However, this was followed by a sudden dive around 1347. According to Dr. van Hoof, there is a noticeable decrease in stomata and a sharp rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide between 1200C.E. and 1300C.E. This is believed to be due to deforestation. This pattern appeared to reverse after 1350, suggesting that atmospheric carbon dioxide fell, perhaps due to reforestation following the plague.
The researchers theorize that the drop in carbon dioxide levels could help to explain why the climate started to cool so suddenly. This new data has given scholars a quantitative data point with which to base further study. The new data adds weight to the theory that the Black Death could have played an important part in the changing of the climate, as opposed to the climate leading to the Black Death. Dr. Tim Lenton, an environmental scientist from the University of East Anglia, UK, said: "It is a nice study and the carbon dioxide changes could certainly be a contributory factor, but I think they are too modest to explain all the climate change seen."1 By contrast, Professor Richard Houghton, a climate expert from Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts, thinks that it may have been oceanic changes which led to climate change.
While there is no consensus, new scientific studies are being conducted to help better understand the causes behind both climate change and the Black Death so that we can avoid such future calamity. As it stands from my perspective, the Fourteenth Century was marked by a procession of traumatic events. However, I believe that it was climate change that set the procession into motion, thereby making it most deserving of the title; most destabilizing.
1. Kate Ravilious, "Europe's chill linked to disease," BBC News, February 27, 2006.
Chess is commonly believed to have originated in India as the game, Chaturanga Sanskrit meaning, "four parts", referring to divisions of the military of the Gupta Empire. In about the 6th century CE, it was adapted by the Persians who carried it west to Spain where it spread to Italy and then France. The game made its way to Wales in the 11th century, as a consequence of the Norman incursions, where it became known as Gwyddbwyll. Gwyddbwyll was also known as Fidchell in Ireland. Irish legend has it that Fidchell was actually invented by Lugh, the Irish god of light and was a game played by royalty as well as the gods.
Board games modeled on war, using carved pieces and checkered patterns like Chess, have cross-cultural ties and appear to have been part of the human experience for hundreds, or even thousands of years. In the 5th Century BCE, one of the first known board games modeled on war was the ancient Greek military-style board game, Petteia (aka Poleis, Polis, City, Cities, Pessoi, or Pebbles). The game, Petteia, as Plato and Aristotle called it, was played on boards with black and white stones lined up on opposing sides. The goal was to capture an opponent's stones by blocking them in between two others. Sound familiar?
So it could be argued that the game of Chess has its origins in ancient Greece. However, upon further examination, you will find archaeological evidence suggests board games, like Chess, can be found from the earliest stages of civilization and in all major ancient countries. This is particularly true in the Near East; the cradle of civilization. Numerous game boards with their playing pieces have been discovered in ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Anatolia. While scholars still debate their significance, it is generally agreed that these games were played by people in both higher and lower social classes.
Some of the most ancient archaeological examples of strategic board games were found in the Royal Tombs of Ur in Iraq by Sir Leonard Woolley in the 1920s. These game boards are some of the oldest examples excavated, dating from the First Dynasty of Ur, before 2600 BCE, as seen on the left. However, the trail does not stop here. Senet boards, found in Egyptian tombs, predate the game boards of Ur by almost 1000 years! The oldest hieroglyph depicting a game of Senet dates to about 3100 BCE. The image to the right is of a fresco from the tomb of Nefertari. It depicts Queen Nefertari playing Senet.
Still, new information on the origin of Chess was uncovered as recently as 2013, when a complete set of small carved stones was found in a 5,000-year-old burial mound at Başur Höyük near Siirt in southeast Turkey. The site was inhabited as early as 7,000 BCE and was on a trade route between Mesopotamia and East Anatolia. These game pieces could represent the earliest ever found. The pieces, pictured below, were sculpted in such shapes as pigs, dogs and pyramids, and are painted in green, red, blue, black and white. Archaeologists are still trying to figure out exactly how the game was played, but have determined that it is, indeed, similar to Chess.
So how old is Chess? It seems there is no way to be certain. From an archaeological perspective, its origins are still being unearthed. There does not appear to be a Scholar’s Mate on the horizon for this one. However, one thing is clear, Chess and Chess-like games have spanned many eras and cultures, undergoing numerous adaptations. The next time you sit down to a game of Chess, just think, you are taking part in a living history! For anyone who does not play Chess, you may want to consider trying it. Get back in touch with what it means to be human, as Chess has proven to be a steadfast part of our collective human experience.
Click here to read another ancient use for game pieces. One you might never have expected...