2.5.1.6 Farmers

 0 Contents 2 Background 2.5 Societal 2.5.1 Europe

Family 2.5.1.8

2.5.1.7  Europe Copper Age

Introduction

Pot from the Cucuteni culture
Copper Age cultures of the Balkans
The first metal to be worked anywhere in Europe was copper. The new technology appeared first in the Balkans. Farmers had prospered on the rich, silt soils of the lower Danube basin. Hamlets in what is now Bulgaria, Romania and Serbia grew into solidly-built villages of multi-roomed houses. Pottery kilns fired at high temperatures paved the way for metallurgy. Smelted copper tools and ornaments began to circulate around 5000 BC.1D. Anthony and J.Y. Chi (eds.), The Lost World of Old Europe (2009). Gumelniţais one such site in Romania which has lent its name to a wider culture stretching from the Danube estuary to Thrace. Rebuilt again and again on the same site, its remains form a tell, typical of the culture. To the north of the Gumelniţa culture was the impressive Cucuteni-Tripolye culture (within the present Romania, Moldova and Ukraine). To the west, in present-day Serbia, the long-lived Vinča settlement stood on the banks of the Danube from around 5500 to 4000 BC. It too gave its name to a wider Balkan culture.

Even before smelting was invented, people were attracted by the colour and shine of natural copper. From about 10,000 BC copper and malachite were worked cold into beads and ornaments in the heartland of the Neolithic where Anatolia meets the Levant. By 8,000 BC some within that core area had discovered that heat (annealing) made copper-working easier. Then around 5,000 BC smelting and cast-copper objects appeared both east and west of the heartland: at Tal-i Iblis in Iran and Belovode in Serbia. This simultaneous surge of the same technology makes a single locus of invention likely, probably in eastern Anatolia, the centre of the range of early smelting. Given the difficulty of acquiring the technology, it is likely that knowledge of copper-working was passed on within a family or clan, who might travel widely if there was not work enough for them in one place. 2M. Radivojević et al., On the Origins of Extractive Metallurgy: New evidence from Europe, Journal of Archaeological Science (published online ahead of print June 2010); B. W. Roberts, C.P. Thornton and V.C. Pigott, Development of metallurgy in Eurasia,Antiquity, vol. 83 (2009), pp. 1012–1022; B. Roberts, Creating traditions and shaping technologies: understanding the earliest metal objects and metal production in Western Europe, World Archaeology, vol. 40 (2008), no.3, pp.354-372; B. Roberts, Migration, craft expertise and metallurgy: analysing the spread of metal in Western Europe, in E. Lightfoot (ed), Movement, Mobility and Migration, Archaeological Review from Cambridge, vol. 23.2 (2008), pp. 27-45. The Balkans had significant deposits of copper, which would be an attraction to metal-workers.

Gold

Treasures from the Varna Necropolis

They also had gold. Gold is too soft to use for tools, but it is the king of metals for personal adornment. It is easily worked, does not tarnish and gleams like the sun. The earliest gold objects in the world have been found in the Balkans. The wealth of gold objects found in the Varna necropolis (4600-4200 BC) in Bulgaria astonished the world. The bulk of the gold was found in just three of the hundreds of graves. These three were also distinctive in having staffs or sceptres among the grave goods: symbols of royal or spiritual power. Social stratification had entered Europe.3I.S. Ivanov, Varna necropolis: the dawn of European civilization (2000); Excavations further north along the Black Sea coast at Durankulak found more rich graves of the same period: P.L. Kohl, The Making of Bronze Age Eurasia (2007), pp.46-47. Today we take rank for granted. Leaders have been a part of European life for the whole of recorded history. Yet European prehistory shows little sign of marked distinctions between individuals until the Copper Age. Gold in burials becomes one of the strongest clues to high status. The golden crown was to become the emblem of royalty.

The Ozieri Culture

Bowl of the Ozieri culture (Lilliu 1999).
Copper deposits and places associated with the early copper trade.

A new culture appeared in Sardinia c. 4000 BC, which takes its name from the type-site at Ozieri. A rash of new settlements has been explained in terms of population growth, but is immigration possible? Among the innovations was metallurgy in silver and copper. The island is rich in these metals, which may have drawn craftsmen from afar. Metal artifacts date from 4,250-3,350 B.C. - the earliest in the Central Mediterranean. The Ozieri Culture was also capable of fine ceramics, the product of high-temperature kiln firing. These include the first tripod vessels on Sardinia, and pots decorated with spiral forms, both familiar from Cucuteni.4S.L. Dyson and R. J. Rowland, Archaeology and history in Sardinia from the Stone Age to the Middle Ages (2007), pp. 35-44; G. Lilliu, Arte e religione della Sardegna prenuragica (1999). Spirals also appear in anOzieri Culture tomb. In fact this form of decoration links a number of Neolithic cultures which created monumental tombs, and so had a history before the Copper Age. Yet the date at which this culture springs up is suggestive. It was around this time that many tell settlements in the Balkans were abandoned. Their craftsmen would need another home.

The Maikop Culture

The first cities in the world appeared in Mesopotamia around 3,800 BC. Civilization had a huge appetite for metal. Since the plains of Mesopotamia had no metal deposits, the craving had to be satisfied by imports. The nearest sources of copper, in what is now Iran, were exploited. Also up the Euphrates from the expanding city of Uruk were the copper-producing strongholds of Hacinebiand Arslantepe, which began to trade with Uruk around 3,700 BC. From Arslantepe it seems that scouts discovered the gold, silver and copper in the Caucasus Mountains. The trade route thus created brought wealth and metallurgy to what had been a quiet corner of the North West Caucasus. The result was the Maikop (or Maykop) Culture (c. 3,700-3,100 BC). Physically the Maikop appear different from the steppe people - more Near Eastern. The astonishingly rich tombs of Maikop chiefs seem to be one end of a cultural corridor to the palace and tombs at Arslantepe and on to the cities of Sumer. By this time smiths had discovered that arsenic mixed with copper made a harder alloy - the first type of bronze. Some kind of upheaval in Sumer brought an end to the trade with the Maikop people, and thus their culture.5D. Anthony,The Horse, The Wheel and Language (2007), pp. 49-50, 263-66, 282-98; P.L. Kohl, The Making of Bronze Age Eurasia (2007), pp. 54, 58-9, 72-83; A.A. Kazarnitsky, The Maikop crania revisited,Archaeology, Ethnology and Anthropology of Eurasia, vol. 38, no. 1 (March 2010), pp. 148-155. The cultural trail suggests that some moved north-east to blend with the people of the steppe, while others appeared in Anatolia as the Hatti.6I. Manzura, Steps to the steppe: or, how the North Pontic region was colonised, Oxford Journal of Archaeology, vol. 24, no. 4 (2005), pp. 313–338 (329); C.A. Burney, Historical Dictionary of the Hittites (2004), p.106.

 

Otzi the Ice-Man

The distribution of MtDNA in Europe (Vizachero 2007): click for original
Otzi (South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology)

The Alps were also rich in copper, which was discovered by metal-workers c. 4,500-4,000 B.C. Experiments were made in smelting the local ore at Brixlegg above the middle Inn Valley in the Austrian Tyrol. The smelters may have been Balkan prospectors. Those early experiments do not seem to have prospered, for it is not until the Bronze Age that the Alps became notable copper-producers.7B. Höppner et al., Prehistoric copper production in the Inn Valley (Austria), and the earliest copper in central Europe,Archaeometry, vol. 47, no.2 (2005), pp. 293–315. Initially copper would have been taken from surface outcrops, but when those gave out, mining began. The search for copper had spread to northern Italy by c. 3,500 B.C., where the earliest known copper mines in Western Europe were found at Monte Loreto (Castiglione Chiavarese, Liguria).8R. Maggi and M. Pearce, Mid fourth-millennium copper mining in Liguria, north-west Italy: the earliest known copper mines in Western Europe, Antiquity vol. 79 (2005), no. 303, pp. 66-77. Around 3,200 B.C. Otzi, the famous Alpine Iceman, was above the Inn Valley when he was struck by an arrow and died of his wound. His mummified body caused a sensation when it was discovered. As well as his own bow and arrows, he carried a copper axe of the Remedello type, made in the Po Valley of northern Italy, using the ores of Tuscany. Analyses of his teeth and bones show that he spent his entire life in the Alps, while his clothes suggest that he was a herder. Ötzi's mtDNA is of a K1 subclade first found in him, and so named K1ö for Ötzi. K clusters most densely in the Alps and north-west Europe today.9W. Müller et al, Origin and migration of the Alpine Iceman, Science vol. 302. no. 5646 (2003), pp. 862-866; L. Ermini et al., Complete mitochondrial genome sequence of the Tyrolean Iceman,Current Biology, (30 October 2008); Mummified iceman's ancient job determined, Live Science, 20 August 2008; P. Endicott et al, Genotyping human ancient mtDNA control and coding region polymorphisms with a multiplexed single-base-extension assay: the singular maternal history of the Tyrolean Iceman,BMC Genetics, vol. 10, no.29 (2009). Apparently only four matches have subsequently been found: one each in Greece, Norway, Russia and Scotland.10A. Moffat and J. Wilson,The Scots: A genetic journey (2011), p.32.

Iberia

Model recreating the prehistoric town of Los Millares, Spain

Another rich Copper-Age culture appeared in Iberia c. 3,000 BC, accompanied by social changes. The two foci were the lofty, fortified settlements of Zambujal(Torres Vedras, Portugal) and Los Millares (Almería, Spain). Both were set on promontories commanding approaches by river or sea. Zambujal and its satellites had the most easily defended position on a peninsula carved out by the great River Tagus meeting the sea. Ease of defence was combined with ease of access by sea. The Tagus estuary formed a natural harbour, and Zambujal itself once had a channel to the sea close by. The position speaks of a seaborne people, anxious to defend itself. There is ample evidence of warfare in both weaponry and death by violence.11L. García Sanjuán, Funerary ideology andsocial inequality in the Late Prehistory of the Iberian South-West (c. 3300-850 cal BC), in P. Díaz-del-Río and L. García Sanjuán (eds.), Social Inequality in Iberian Late Prehistory, BAR International Series vol.1525 (2006), p. 154. An earlier date for Iberian metallurgy has been argued, but on insecure evidence. See B. Roberts, Creating traditions and shaping technologies: understanding the earliest metal objects and metal production in Western Europe, World Archaeology, vol. 40, no.3 (2008), pp. 354–372.

There are also clues to clannishness in enigmatic plaques in burials, whose markings may record the lineage of the dead.12K.T. Lillios, Heraldry for the Dead (2008). Western Iberia was part of the Neolithic culture of the Atlantic seaboard, noted for its megalithic monuments, but burial in caves was common. When copper-working appears around the Tagus, so do artificial cave-tombs. (These can also be found on Sardinia.) Around Los Millares we see the emergence of the beehive tomb or tholos, with a circular chamber and corbelled vaulted roof. Gold and ivory, statues and jewellery suggest wealthy elites. We can build a picture of heavily-defended centres of regional power.13L. García Sanjuán, Funerary ideology and social inequality in the Late Prehistory of the Iberian South-West (c. 3300-850 cal BC), in P. Díaz-del-Río and L. García Sanjuán (eds.),Social Inequality in Iberian Late Prehistory, BAR International Series vol. 1525 (2006).

Although walled towns were a feature of the Near East, these Iberian settlements of round huts are more like defended villages than truly urban. The ivory was probably traded from Morocco.14T.X. Schuhmacher, J.L. Cardoso, A. Banerjee, Sourcing African ivory in Chalcolithic Portugal, Antiquity, vol. 83, no. 322 (December 2009), pp. 983-997. The once-popular idea that these cultures were direct transplants from the Near East is no longer seen as tenable. So where had the copper technology come from?

Metal-working goes hand-in-hand with wider social and economic changes. Europe was transformed in the third millium BC. New ways of living spread across the continent. Overland travel was speeded up with horse-riding and wheeled vehicles. Cultivation was easier with the ox-drawn plough. The birth of leaders and elites was allied to the cult of the warrior. From bronze came swords.

To follow the story of copper and bronze we need to go forward to the early Bell Beaker ware clustered around Zambujal, Los Millares, and other places along the copper trail, and consider the languages spoken in those areas in pre-Roman times. The conclusive clues turn out to be genetic. But first we need to go back to the beginning of that particular story.

Notes

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  1. D. Anthony and J.Y. Chi (eds.), The Lost World of Old Europe (2009).
  2. M. Radivojević et al., On the Origins of Extractive Metallurgy: New evidence from Europe, Journal of Archaeological Science (published online ahead of print June 2010); B. W. Roberts, C.P. Thornton and V.C. Pigott, Development of metallurgy in Eurasia, Antiquity, vol. 83 (2009), pp. 1012–1022; B. Roberts, Creating traditions and shaping technologies: understanding the earliest metal objects and metal production in Western Europe, World Archaeology, vol. 40 (2008), no.3, pp. 354-372; B. Roberts, Migration, craft expertise and metallurgy: analysing the spread of metal in Western Europe, in E. Lightfoot (ed), Movement, Mobility and Migration, Archaeological Review from Cambridge, vol. 23.2 (2008), pp. 27-45.
  3. I.S. Ivanov, Varna necropolis: the dawn of European civilization (2000); Excavations further north along the Black Sea coast at Durankulak found more rich graves of the same period: P.L. Kohl, The Making of Bronze Age Eurasia (2007), pp. 46-47.
  4. S. L. Dyson and R. J. Rowland, Archaeology and history in Sardinia from the Stone Age to the Middle Ages (2007), pp. 35-44; G. Lilliu, Arte e religione della Sardegna prenuragica (1999).
  5. D. Anthony, The Horse, The Wheel and Language (2007), pp. 49-50, 263-66, 282-98; P.L. Kohl, The Making of Bronze Age Eurasia (2007), pp. 54, 58-9, 72-83; A.A. Kazarnitsky, The Maikop crania revisited, Archaeology, Ethnology and Anthropology of Eurasia, vol. 38, no. 1 (March 2010), pp. 148-155.
  6. I. Manzura, Steps to the steppe: or, how the North Pontic region was colonised, Oxford Journal of Archaeology, vol. 24, no. 4 (2005), pp. 313–338 (329); C.A. Burney, Historical Dictionary of the Hittites (2004), p.106.
  7. B. Höppner et al, Prehistoric copper production in the Inn Valley (Austria), and the earliest copper in central Europe, Archaeometry, vol. 47, no.2 (2005), pp. 293–315.
  8. R. Maggi and M. Pearce, Mid fourth-millennium copper mining in Liguria, north-west Italy: the earliest known copper mines in Western Europe, Antiquity vol. 79 (2005), no. 303, pp. 66-77.
  9. W. Müller et al, Origin and migration of the Alpine Iceman, Science vol. 302. no. 5646 (2003), pp. 86 -866; L. Ermini et al., Complete mitochondrial genome sequence of the Tyrolean Iceman, Current Biology, (30 October 2008); Mummified iceman's ancient job determined, Live Science, 20 August 2008; P. Endicott et al, Genotyping human ancient mtDNA control and coding region polymorphisms with a multiplexed Single-Base-Extension assay: the singular maternal history of the Tyrolean Iceman, BMC Genetics, vol. 10, no 29 (2009).
  10. A. Moffat and J. Wilson, The Scots: A genetic journey (2011), p. 32.
  11. L. García Sanjuán, Funerary ideology and social inequality in the Late Prehistory of the Iberian South-West (c. 3300-850 cal BC), in P. Díaz-del-Río and L. García Sanjuán (eds.), Social Inequality in Iberian Late Prehistory, BAR International Series vol. 1525 (2006), p.154. An earlier date for Iberian metallurgy has been argued, but on insecure evidence. See B. Roberts, Creating traditions and shaping technologies: understanding the earliest metal objects and metal production in Western Europe, World Archaeology, vol. 40 (2008), no.3, pp. 354–372.
  12. K. T. Lillios, Heraldry for the Dead (2008).
  13. L. García Sanjuán, Funerary ideology and social inequality in the Late Prehistory of the Iberian South-West (c. 3300-850 cal BC), in P. Díaz-del-Río and L. García Sanjuán (eds.), Social Inequality in Iberian Late Prehistory, BAR International Series vol. 1525 (2006).
  14. T.X. Schuhmacher, J.L. Cardoso, A. Banerjee, Sourcing African ivory in Chalcolithic Portugal, Antiquity, vol. 83, no. 322 (December 2009), pp. 983-997.

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