Category Archives: archaeoastronomy

Bronze Age Sweden imported its copper

Dienekes’ Anthropology Blog mentions this week several papers that dwell in the nature of the Nordic Bronze Age, specifically in Southern Sweden. It turns out that the copper used by the Nordic smiths was not local in almost all cases but imported from elsewhere in Europe (Sardinia, Iberia, Auvergne, Tyrol and British Islands) or even West Asia (Cyprus). This imported copper was exchanged by essentially amber, it seems, an export product of the Nordic area since the Chalcolithic. Nothing is said about the tin needed to make bronze but most likely it came from SW Britain and/or NW Iberia, as these were the two main producers of the strategic metal in old times.
Of the three mentioned papers only one is freely accessible, and also quite interesting to read:
Nils-Axel Mörner & Bob G. Lind, The Bronze Age in SE Sweden Evidence of Long-Distance Travel and Advanced Sun Cult. Journal of Geography and Geology 2013. Open accessLINK [doi:10.5539/jgg.v5n1p78]


The Bronze Age of Scandinavia (1750-500 BC) is characterized by the sudden appearance of bronze objects in Scandinavia, the sudden mass appearance of amber in Mycenaean graves, and the beginning of bedrock carvings of huge ships. We take this to indicate that people from the east Mediterranean arrived to Sweden on big ships over the Atlantic, carrying bronze objects from the south, which they traded for amber occurring in SE Sweden in the Ravlunda-Vitemölla–Kivik area. Those visitors left strong cultural imprints as recorded by pictures and objects found in SE Sweden. This seems to indicate that the visits had grown to the establishment of a trading centre. The Bronze Age of Österlen (the SE part of Sweden) is also characterized by a strong Sun cult recorded by stone monuments built to record the annual motions of the Sun, and rock carvings that exhibit strict alignments to the annual motions of the Sun. Ales Stones, dated at about 800 BC, is a remarkable monument in the form of a 67 m long stone-ship. It records the four main solar turning points of the year, the 12 months of the year, each month covering 30 days, except for month 7 which had 35 days (making a full year of 365 days), and the time of the day at 16 points representing 1.5 hour. Ales Stones are built after the same basic geometry as Stonehenge in England.

The other two are sold under mercantile schemes:
Johan Ling et al., Moving metals or indigenous mining? Provenancing Scandinavian Bronze Age artefacts by lead isotopes and trace elements. Journal of Archaeological Science 2013. Pay per viewLINK [doi:10.1016/j.jas.2012.05.040]
I.B. Gubanov, Grave Circle B at Mycenae in the Context of Links Between the Eastern Mediterranean and Scandinavia in the Bronze Age. Archaeology, Ethnology and Anthropology of Eurasia 2012. Pay per viewLINK [doi:10.1016/j.aeae.2012.08.011]
Ling’s paper is the one indicating that Swedish copper had exotic Atlantic and Mediterranean origins, while Gubanov’s highlights that amber from the Baltic is found in one Mycenaean grave (specifically Grave Circle B) and not in any known Minoan (Eteocretan) one. For him this means that bronze metallurgy and other associated elements like the quadruple spiral motif arrived with Mycenaean sailors in the Bronze Age. 
Grave Circle B is actually older than the much more famous Grave Circle A (the pseudo “Agamenon’s Tomb”), although both belong to the Late Helladic I period (c. 1550-1500 BCE).

(public domain, credit: myself)
This chronology is interesting because it was roughly in those dates when SE Iberian El Argar civilization began its phase B, characterized by Greek influence in burials (pithoi). It is worth mentioning here that while these are the first findings of amber from Nordic Europe in the Eastern Mediterranean, such jewels were common in Iberia since c. 3000 BCE (beginnings of Chalcolithic period). 
It would seem therefore clear that Iberia was a pivotal area in this purported Scandinavian-Greek exchange. The question is: did the early Greek sailors actually reached Scandinavia themselves or were they rather just receiving products by mediation of Iberian traders with a long tradition of Atlantic (and Mediterranean) navigation?
It is probably a hard to answer question. But the studies point to some relevant cues, like the Swedish drawings of ships with rams and the presence of the (originally Mediterranean?) motif of the quadruple spiral, so similar to the Basque lauburu (four heads) icon (probably related to both the svastika and triskel). 

Figure 3.B. the spiral ornament from Sweden and Greece

This spiral icon is not Mycenaean in origin, having been found in Minoan Crete and Megalithic Malta (right), which are respectively older and a lot older than the Mycenaeans. The motif is not even exclusive of Europe, with very similar concepts found for example in the pottery of Western Mexico.
So while the similitude is striking, this evidence is not conclusive on its own. 
The Cypriot copper evidence alone is not enough evidence of Mycenaean
presence in Scandinavia, very especially as Cyprus seems important, long
before the Mycenaeans in the East-West Mediterranean connections.
Cyprus used their own script (probably used for the native Eteocypriot
language) up to the 4th century BCE and while Mycenaean presence in the
island seems attested in the very late Bronze Age, the island was not a
Mycenaean center at all but rather was under Hittite and Ugaritic
influence instead.  
So we are left with the claim of rammed ships being coincident with the Mycenaean period. However what I find searching around are dates of c. 1700 BCE (Norway), very early in the Mycenaean chronology and some two centuries older than the single amber finding in Mycenae. It could indeed be a Mycenaean influence but how conclusive is it?
I have a vague memory of a Mycenaean ship (?) found years ago in the waters of Denmark or Germany, however I can’t find anything searching online. Does anyone know something more detailed on the matter? This would be key evidence but I cannot trust my memory alone. 
So there seems to be some sort of interaction between the Eastern Mediterranean and Scandinavia but, as far as I can tell, specifically Mycenaean presence in the Far North is circumstantial rather than conclusive. 
Besides the issue of purported trade with the Mediterranean, there are some other interesting elements in Mörner & Lind 2013, notably the description of the Ales Stones ship-shaped megalith (“sun ship”) as an astronomical calendar:

Not sure how new this is but it is a very interesting thing to know, right?

Update (May 17): Dispatches from Turtle Island has some interesting and realistic calculations on how long would take an ancient ship to sail from Greece to Sweden and back (c. 112 days, he estimates).


Large concentration of decorated stones found in the Scottish Highlands

An area holding a dense concentration of stones with engraved “cup marks” has been unveiled near Evanton, Scotland. The discoverer, Douglas Scott, has mapped the 28 decorated rocks and found that they are aligned with the rising and setting of Sun and Moon. 
He has also found a wide circular ditched enclosure, with a small central standing stone next to a cupmarked stone, which suggested it was the remains of a henge. The entrance of this enclosure aligns with the winter solstice sunrise.
He believes that this was a major ritual center between the Neolithic and the Bronze Age. 


Neolithic ‘calendar’ found in Vietnam

The artifact, marked with ordered dots and strips that may well represent the lunar cycle, was found in Nguom Hau Cave (Na Hang District, Tuyên Quang province, Northern Vietnam). 

A similar artifact was discovered in 1985 not far away: Na Cooc Cave (Thái Nguyên province). 

The calendar has been estimated to be from c. 4000 years ago. 

The stone tool was found in a tomb marked with 14 large stones laid at a length of 1.6m. Bones were found under the stones but no skull was found, with Chung guessing that the skull may have decayed due to the humidity in the cave.

A number of other stone tools were buried with the corpse.

The dig also produced much other information from the Iron Age (3.0-3.5 Ka BP), Late Neolithic (4.0-4.3 Ka BP) and a deeper and very thick Early Neolithic layer consisting of many polished stone axes and other tools.
Together with other findings, the evidence mounts for inhabitation from at least 8000 years ago in this area. 

Source: Viêt Nam News (via Pileta).


Posted by on September 27, 2012 in archaeoastronomy, archaeology, East Asia, Neolithic, SE Asia, Vietnam


Echoes from the Past (Oct 14) – the genetic isolation of humankind

I’m planning an entry on Paleolithic and Neolithic navigation but meanwhile, here it goes some stuff (mariner or not) that I find interesting.
Homo genus became genetically isolate thanks to natural spermicide
H. erectus (female) reconstruction
A critical change in a immune system molecule, from Neu5Gc to Neu5Ac, made our ancestors effectively isolated from our cousins from the Pan genus and probably also from the then common australopithecines. 
This change would simply kill any non-human sperm in the uterus or, would it manage to succeed, the resultant fetus. This incompatibility with other hominins may have been critical in the process of speciation of the first Homo species such as Homo erectus, Homo habilis or maybe A. sediba. 
··> Science Daily, Darius Ghaderi et al. at PNAS (PPV for six months or freely accessible in some world regions).

Human thumb (Neanderthal or H. heidelbergensis) found in Sardinia
The finding of a thumb bone in Sardinia, dated to 250-300,000 years ago, may help break the fantasy of ancient humans not being able to navigate. This finding adds to those of Crete (c. 190 Ka ago and the famous Flores hominin), all of which must have crossed vast spans of sea in order to get to their destinations, implying at least some level of navigation. 
In the discussion at NeanderFollia, David indicated further evidence of archaic navigation I was unaware of: H. erectus must have reached Flores c. 900,000 years ago, in what is probably the most ancient navigation feat we can confirm ··> John Hawks, Environmental Grafitti, Adam Brumm et al. at Nature (PPV).
Also there is at least some uncertainty of H. ergaster or some other human species maybe crossing to Europe via the Strait of Gibraltar at similar dates as in Flores or maybe even earlier, but, because of the various possible routes involved this is less conclusive. Instead, Flores, Sardinia and Crete have not been connected to the mainland at any time in the biological history of the genus Homo.
Art workshop found in South Africa
A number of shells with indications of having held ochre have been found in the important site of Blombos Cave, South Africa. The shells had holes which suggest that they were used as containers. Other tools, such as hammers and knives, to work the clay, have also been found.

Babies know justice instictively
While actual perception and interest on fairness varies, a good deal of human babies (15 months old) clearly show interest in fair sharing and will actively share. Other babies have less interest in fairness however but they will share anyhow, even if in a less generous manner. 
Malaria research casts doubt on mitochondrial DNA ‘molecular clock’

It seems that the molecular clock is not on streak. Recently it was radically challenged for Y-DNA and it seems obvious that it will not survive in general, at least without radical revisions. A crucial assumption for the molecular clock hypothesis is that the clock ticks regularly or almost so. 
Well, it does not seem to be the case of mtDNA either: certainly not for the primate parasite Plasmodium sp

The use of fossils from the host as absolute calibration and the assumption of a strict clock likely underestimate time when performing molecular dating analyses on malarial parasites. Indeed, by exploring different calibration points, we found that the time for the radiation of primate parasites may have taken place in the Eocene, a time consistent with the radiation of African anthropoids. The radiation of the four human parasite lineages was part of such events. 

Celtic astronomical kurgan found in Germany
Dated to the 7th century BCE, the plan of a burial mound (or kurgan) of the Hallstatt period in the early Celtic area of Southern Germany has been reported. Allegedly the disposition of the wooden posts around the mound inform about the astronomy of the Moon, primarily, and the Sun and they may even describe constellations.

Altamira at risk on short-sighted tourism greed

Millán Mozota denounces at his blog, echoing other researchers, the short-sighted attitude of the Cantabrian authorities who have decided to open the Altamira cave to the public again in spite of the dramatic risk for the art in it.

In the last decade, considerable attention has been paid to the deterioration of the caves that house the world’s most prominent Paleolithic rock art. This is exemplified by the caves of Lascaux (Dordogne, France) (1) and Altamira (Cantabria, Spain), both declared World Heritage Sites. The Altamira Cave has been closed to visitors since 2002. Since 2010, reopening the Altamira Cave has been under consideration. We argue that research indicates the need to preserve the cave by keeping it closed in the near future.

The public can enjoy a replica of part of the cave at the nearby museum.
Iberian Neolithic idols
While in Spanish language, I can’t but call your attention to this fifth article of Neolítico de la Península Ibérica on the diverse array of idols known from the Neolithic and Chalcolithic of Iberia. Even if you can’t read any Spanish, you will no doubt gather some information and visual recreation from simply watching the many images and maps included in this blogpost. For example:

Orange ovals: “eyed” idols (oculados), brown ovals: “plate” idols (ídolos placa)

··> Neolítico de la Península Ibérica[es].

Last minute news:  some iris pattern genetics unveiled ··> The Spitoon.


Video: Magdalenian astronomy (in Spanish)

This video (51’36”) is sadly only available online in Spanish language in spite of having been shot originally in English (titles) and French (language of most of the people appearing in it). It deals with the research by French astronomer Chantal Jegues-Wolkiewiez of the astronomical knowledge of ancient Paleolithic people of what is now Southern France.

[Note: an English-language copy seems to be available for purchase HERE]


Sagittarius and Scorpio?
She began her research at the Southern Alps where she discovered that the dagger symbols on a stone indicate the rise of the Sun in the Autumn equinox. Eventually she began also researching caves from the heart of Paleolithic Europe: Dordogne (near modern Bordeaux), discovering that all or nearly all the caves with paintings have a clear solar orientation, being illuminated in either an equinox or a solstice. She also found several indications that the cycles of the Moon were being recorded as well.

Most fascinating (and controversial) is anyhow her claim that the famous paints of Lascaux represent the zodiacal constellations as perceived by the ancients. This last claim is however met with scepticism by many prehistorians, even if some also sympathize with her view. Paradigm-shaking in any case. 
Note: a similar claim was staked for the paintings of not less famous Altamira cave in modern Cantabria, Spain, in the book Arqueoastronomía Hispana, which also deals with other archaeoastronomical research in the Iberian Peninsula and the Canary Islands.