Friday, 15 December 2017

Bowls from Los Millares

Los Millares is a Chalcolithic occupation site 17 km north of Almería, in the municipality of Santa Fe de Mondújar, Andalucía, Spain. The complex was in use from the end of the fourth millennium to the end of the second millennium BC and probably supported somewhere around 1000 people.

The site covers 2 hectares (4.9 acres) and comprises three concentric lines of stone walls, the outer ring the largest, running more than 650 feet with nineteen 'bastions' and a gate guarded by foreworks. A cluster of simple dwellings lay inside the wall. The road to the site is guarded by four smaller outlying stone forts. There is an extensive cemetery of eighty passage grave tombs. The site was occupied between around 3200 BC and 1800 BC, when the Los Millares culture was replaced by El Argar civilisation.

Although primarily farmers, the inhabitants of Los Millares had crucially also learned metal working, especially the smelting and forming of copper. A large building containing evidence of copper smelting. Because of this, the site is considered highly important in understanding the transition from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age. The Los Millares culture eventually came to dominate the Iberian peninsula.

Pottery excavated from the site included plain and decorated wares including engraved bowls bearing oculus (a round or eye-like opening or design) motifs. Similar designs appear on various carved stone idols found at the site.

This is these ceramic bowls decorated with the "ocular" motif. It was dated to the period 3200–2300 BC. The bowl is currently displayed in Ashmolean museum.

Here is another example from the Museum of Almeria.

So what about the meaning of this "occular" decoration. The Ashmolean has this to say about it: "The meaning of the eye motif is unknown, but it must have had significance for Los Millares people. Some researchers believe that it may be related to the sun. Another interpretation is that it may represent an owl..."

That this motif indeed represents eyes can be seen from the fact that it is framed with what looks very much like eyebrows. Also the same motif is found on idols exactly where eyes are supposed to be.

But the motif also represents the sun, which can be seen from the fact that it is found on plates where it is not framed by eyebrows and where it is found in different numbers (1,2,3..)

So how can the same symbol represent the eyes and the sun? Well eyes are the organs of sight. But the sight is only possible if there is light. And the light is given by the sun. So without the sun there would be no light and no sight...

This link between the light and the sight is beautifuly depicted on Los Millares artefacts where the eyes are depicted using sun symbols.

The same symbolic link between the light and the sight is also preserved in Slavic language and tradition.

Svetovid is the Slavic sun god whose name comes from Svet + Vid = Light + Sight. Interestingly the word "svet" also means world, which does't exist until it is lit up by the light (svet) of the sun. At the same time the sun sees (vid) all the world (svet) from the sky. So Svetovid can mean both "the one who sees the world" and "the one who allows us to see the world".

You can read more about Svetovid symbolism in my post "Svetovid".

This makes the "occular motifs" from the Los Millares bowls really cool, right? 

But they are not half as cool as the motifs found on the other sides of the same bowls. Here is the back of the bowl from the Ashmolean museum:

And here is the back of another bowl, for which I am not sure where it is kept.

Here is the enlarged scene from the first bowl:

The scene on both bowls depicts a single male deer with large antlers and several animals which look like female deers, does (hinds). And this strange thing:

So what is the meaning of this scene? Well the Ashmolean says that the meaning of this scene is unknown. So let me see if I can offer a plausible interpretation.

This is Orion, a prominent constellation located on the celestial equator and visible throughout the world. It is one of the most conspicuous and recognizable constellations in the night sky.

The distinctive pattern of Orion, which looks like an X or like an hourglass, has been recognized in numerous cultures around the world, and many myths have been associated with it.

Now have a look again at the strange object that you can see on the above scene with deer. 

It looks exactly like the shape of the Orion constellation. And what is interesting, while the deer are engraved using straight lines, this strange object is gouged using poke marks. Why? Is it because the artists wanted to indicate that these are stars and the the object is a collection of stars forming a constellation, the Orion constellation?

But why would anyone put Orion constellation in the same scene with a single male deer and several female deers?

Autumn is the time when one of nature's great spectacles, deer rutting (mating), takes place. The deer will mate from September to November, with the main breeding time occurring in October. 

The timing of the rut is controlled by the length of the day and it never changes. So it is an event which is fixed on the solar circle. By mid September, aggression is more marked. Mature stags are increasingly intolerant of each other, and there are short chases as they attain peak condition. These animals are first to rut. Traditionally, the first roars (loud deep low-pitched call) are heard in the last week of September, signalling the commencement of the rut. Each stag is seeking to gather hinds to herd together for his harem (on average 5 hinds), he will then endeavour to possess exclusively, by marking and defending the territory over which the hinds roam. 

He will mate with the fittest hinds, which normally come on heat by the second and third week in October. During the rut, while the stag waits for each hind in his harem to come in season, he will wallow in peat, thresh the vegetation with his antlers, as well as roar and clash in contest with competing males. As October draws to a close, the, majority of stags have finished the rut. 

In Slavic calendar the month of September, when the rut starts, is known as "Rujan", which means "the month of deer mating" (from archaic verb for deer roar "rjuti").

Now here is something amazing:

Around 3000 BC, Orion was visible from August to October.
Around 1000 BC, Orion was visible from September to November.

So the beginning of the rut, the deer mating season falls right in the middle of the period when Orion was visible during the period when Los Millares people made their misterious bowls...

Now compare the above picture of a single male deer with his harem of does (hinds) with the scene from the Los Millares bowls:

Deer rut, single male deer surrounded with a harem of does (hinds) ,taking place during the period when Orion is visible in the sky...

What did I tell you, super cool. And it gets cooler :)

The Rigveda refers to the Orion Constellation as Mriga (The Deer). 

In Sanskrit mṛgaśiraṣa, the 5th nakṣatra or lunar mansion as used in Hindu astronomy and astrology is the constellation Orion. Symbol is Antelope or Deer.

The term Mṛgaśira (मृगशिर) a composite of two Sanskrit words, mṛga (मृग) meaning deer/animal/beast and śira (शिर) meaning head or precisely, the top of the head.

What is also interesting is that in Serbian the word "orijaš" means giant and the word "mrga" also means giant. Both of these are very close to Orion and Mrga (Mriga) probably coming from the same ancient root.

Is the reason why Rigveda use deer as symbol for Orion the same as the reason why we find Orion depicted on the deer rut scene on Los Millares bowls? If this is so, and I believe that it is, then this has significant implications on the origin of Rigveda.

Accepted opinion, based on philological and linguistic evidence, is the Rigveda was composed in the north-western region of the Indian subcontinent, most likely between c. 1500 and 1200 BC. 

But is it possible that the association between deer and Orion is older? Like 1500 years older?

So to conclude:

Is this what the meaning of this "mysterious" scene is? And if so, what implications does it have on the origin of Rigveda? Did the same people make Los Millares bowls and write Rigveda? Or did two different people, one in Europe and one in North India, who both lived at the time when Orion marked the period of the deer rut, independently marked this in their own way: the Los Millares people by drawing Orion constellation as part of the deer rutting scene, and the creators of Rigveda by naming Orion Mriga - Deer? 

What do you think?


  1. An impressive insight of culture, thanks!


    1. What are the dates for these artefacts? At the moment Orion is best visible in January. Which coincides with the mating season of Ibex mountain goats in Europe

  3. Don't Hindus believe the Rigveda is much older. For that matter, don't the Zoroastrians also claim a much older date for their sacred texts than historians credit?

  4. posible que desde las culturas del valle del Indo, sean mas antiguas y desde allí se haya trasladado a India y hacia el Norte.

  5. Actually the number of the points does not correspond to the number of the stars of Orion constellation. If they were drawing a constellation I doubt that they would make a similar mistake. It looks to me more like a mathematical thing, since the number of points in each row is 4, 3, 2, 1, 2, 3, 4.

    1. Possibly, but I believe that they wanted to indicate the shape and the fact that they were depicting stars, not the exact number of stars in the constellation...