Saturday, 27 June 2020

Nahal Mishmar hoard

In 1961, an extraordinary treasure was found in a cave in Israel. Hidden in a natural crevice and wrapped in a straw mat, the hoard contained 442 different objects: 429 of copper, six of hematite, one of stone, five of hippopotamus ivory, and one of elephant ivory



The incredibly elaborate metal objects were made with a copper containing a high percentage of arsenic (4–12%), basically arsenic bronze. Radiocarbon dating of the mat in which objects were wrapped showed that they were made between 4000 and 3500 BC...



The round knobs are usually said to be mace heads, but there is no evidence that any of them was ever used in combat...


The same goes for the so called "battle maces" or "sceptres" of "staffs"...No one really know what these were or what they were used for. Some had traces of wood in the holes, suggesting that they were stuck on poles...


But some, like this this one with a face (cute 😊) were definitely ceremonial objects. Unless these guys took "head butting" to another level 🙂


And there is no way that this amazing one topped with 4 horned animals with straight horns and 1 animal with spiral horns head was a weapon. It had to be a ceremonial object of some sort...


This is actually one of the most amazing objects I have ever seen...

10 of these cylindrical objects were also found in the hoard. The interpretations go from "crowns" to "stands for vessels with pointed bottoms". This one might have been used as a stand, but what a waste of a precious metal, when the same can be made from clay...


But some of these cylindrical objects were definitely not pointy bottom vessel stands...Like this one...Topped with birds and some strange structures with pointy horns attached to them...


So what are we to make of this. Items in the hoard were made by the people of the Ghassulian culture, a sedentary farming, metal working culture, which suddenly appeared "from somewhere up north" and settled in the area between 4500 and 3500 BC. 

They lived in villages and cultivated olives, grapes and grain...These are bedrock mortars used by Ghassulians for grinding grain...



They also built temples. Like this one known as Ein Gedi temple, literally "temple of the spring of the goat"...Located near an Ein Gedi oases bordering the Dead Sea...


You can read more about this in "Temples in the Ghassulian Culture: Terminology and social implications" by Milena Gosic

The bronze hoard was found in a cavern located on the nearly inaccessible slopes of Nahal Mishmar, a seasonal stream that flows into the Dead Sea. 12 km. from the Ein Gedi temple...


The remains of over 20 individuals were also found in the caves. Their lives ended in these caves under tragic circumstances which is indicated by the fact they had numerous injuries and that the wrappings were stained with blood...

They were members of the "foreign" "northern" Ghassulian population who were most likely attacked by the locals, their neighbours. They fled, hurriedly collecting and bringing with them their most valuable possessions, probably the temple relics...

Now what is interesting is that these Ghassulian guys seem to have been obsessed with horned animals with straight pointy horns. I believe that these were depictions of Ibex goats...

Here is another ceremonial axe, mace, staff (???) from the Nahal Mishmar hoard with two horned animals with straight pointy horns...



Which animals are these? 

I believe that these are Ibex (Bezoar) goats...


Why would these guys be so into Ibex (Bezoar) goats? 

Well, like all the farmers, Ghassulians were super dependant on rain...Especially because they lived in one of the driest places on Earth...Dead Sea...And there the rains arrive at the end of October beginning of November...


And guess what happens every year at the same time? Ibex (Bezoar) goats start mating...The beginning of the Ibex (Bezoar) goats elaborate mating rituals involving dancing and vicious fighting, was the signal that the rains are on their way...


Again, in Israel, like in Crete, Cyprus, Lebanon, Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Arabia...In all the places where rains arrive in November, we find Ibex (Bezoar) as the holy animal depicted in sacred art by farmers, praying for rain. And looking at Ibex (Bezoar) to tell them when it will come...

Now I will go back to my favourite object, the goats staff...


The four Ibex (Bezoar) goats on sides are not what the makers of this object wanted the viewers to have their attention focused on. It is the weird spiral horned goat in the centre...

I checked around and found that there is one animal with spiral horns which once lived in Levant: Addax


Now if the spiral horns animal depicted on the staff is Addax, we can finish this article right here...Addax has no distinct mating season...Which one of the reasons why I don't think that it is Addax which is taking the central stage on this amazing Ghassulians staff...

I think the spiral horns animal depicted on the staff is Markhor goat


Why would this guy be depicted on the stuff? Surely not because it looks cool (not that he doesn't). Markhor is depicted on the staff because Markhor mating season also starts in November...At the beginning of the rain season...

So here we have double animal symbol pointing to the same, extremely important annual event in Levant: the beginning of the rain season...

So all the goats depicted on this staff are directly linked with the arrival of rain, heavenly water...The most important event in the agricultural calendar of the people who built the temple of Ein Gedi (the spring of the goat). "Which was apparently linked to water warship"...

Did the people who prayed in Ein Gedi temple pray to the holy goat, the goat of rain? I already asked this question half jokingly when I talked about Ibex goat in Greek mythology...

But seriously now...

There is something very very interesting about this depiction of the Markhor goat on this Ghassulian staff...Markhor goats don't and as far as I know, never did live in Levant...They live in Central Asia...

Which means that the makers of the staff could not have seen a Markhor. Nor could they have observed Markhor's mating habits and linked them to the arrival of rainy season...

So does this mean that I was wrong and that the Ghassulians did indeed depict an Addax on the staff and not a Markhor? 

Well, I still think I am right and that the mysterious animal with spiral horns depicted on this staff is indeed a Markhor goat...And that the makers of the staff could have seen it and observed its behaviour for long enough period to link it to the beginning of the rain season...

But not in Levant...

The Ghassulians did come from "somewhere up north"...

How far up north...

Maybe as far as Elam? Or even Central Asia?

I will here propose that the staff was made by someone who came to Levant from Iran or Central Asia, or the staff was made in Iran or Central Asia...

And here is why I am so confident I am right...

This is the "Statuette of a bearded man". Elamite, 3rd millennium B.C.E. Height: 11.5 cm. Forughi Collection, Tehran...


Look at the "crown" he is wearing...Looks familiar? 


How many other similar objects do we know of?

But this presents us with another very very big problem...

The Nahal Mishmar hoard was dated to between 4000 and 3500 BC...Almost a 1000 years earlier than the above Elamite statue...

If the man depicted on this statue is indeed wearing one of "crowns" found in Nahal Mishmar hoard, and we know (believe) that the Ghassulians were immigrants from "up north" then is the dating of these artefacts correct?

Or did Ghassulians leave Levant and go back north, all the way to Elam?

Hmmmmm.....

PS:

I sent my article to Alla Yaroshevich from the Israel Antiquities Authority to get her opinion...

She sent me the link to this article published in 2018:


The article gives the analysis of the genetic data obtained from the remains found in the cave, which contained the Nahal Mishmar hoard...And this is the conclusion:

The Chalcolithic period in the Levant witnessed major cultural transformations in virtually all areas of culture, including craft production, mortuary and ritual practices, settlement patterns, and iconographic and symbolic expression. 

The current study provides insight into a long-standing debate in the prehistory of the Levant, implying that the emergence of the Chalcolithic material culture was associated with population movement and turnover.

We find that the individuals buried in Peqi’in Cave represent a relatively genetically homogenous population. This homogeneity is evident not only in the genome-wide analyses (half of the people burried in the cave had blue eye gene, and all had pale skin gene) but also in the fact that most of the male individuals (nine out of ten) belong to the Y-chromosome haplogroup T. This finding contrasts with both earlier (Neolithic and Epipaleolithic) Levantine populations, which were dominated by haplogroup E24, and later Bronze Age individuals, all of whom belonged to haplogroup J24,26.

The presence of Iran_ChL-related ancestry in Levan chalcoithic population – but not in the earlier Levant_N – suggests a history of spread into the Levant of peoples related to Iranian agriculturalists, which must have occurred at least by the time of the Chalcolithic. The Anatolian_N component present in the Levant_ChL but not in the Levant_BA_South sample suggests that there was also a separate spread of Anatolian-related people into the region. The Levant_BA_South population may thus represent a remnant of a population that formed after an initial spread of Iran_ChL-related ancestry into the Levant that was not affected by the spread of an Anatolia_N-related population, or perhaps a reintroduction of a population without Anatolia_N-related ancestry to the region. 

These genetic results have striking correlates to material culture changes in the archaeological record. The archaeological finds at Peqi’in Cave share distinctive characteristics with other Chalcolithic sites, both to the north and south, including secondary burial in ossuaries with iconographic and geometric designs. It has been suggested that some Late Chalcolithic burial customs, artifacts and motifs may have had their origin in earlier Neolithic traditions in Anatolia and northern Mesopotamia. Some of the artistic expressions have been related to finds and ideas and to later religious concepts such as the gods Inanna and Dumuzi from these more northern regions. The knowledge and resources required to produce metallurgical artifacts in the Levant have also been hypothesized to come from the north.

Our finding of genetic discontinuity between the Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age periods also resonates with aspects of the archeological record marked by dramatic changes in settlement patterns, large-scale abandonment of sites, many fewer items with symbolic meaning, and shifts in burial practices, including the disappearance of secondary burial in ossuaries. This supports the view that profound cultural upheaval, leading to the extinction of populations, was associated with the collapse of the Chalcolithic culture in this region.

This paper, which I didn't know about when I proposed that the people who made the objects from Nahal Mishmar hoard came from Iran, basically confirms my hypothesis...

Genetics confirms symbolic analysis...

How cool is this?

2 comments:

  1. There are artefacts from Tepe Hissar in Iran which resemble the 'maces/sceptres' from Nahal Mishmar:

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/mharrsch/305882206/in/photostream/

    https://2.bp.blogspot.com/-zzyvcMsbjxk/UtTSxGkVl3I/AAAAAAAAf84/zsAWCSqEeXo/s1600/tepehissar.jpg

    ReplyDelete