Friday 15 June 2018


This is Tibetan plateau, a vast elevated plateau in Central Asia and East Asia, covering most of the Tibet Autonomous Region and Qinghai in western China, as well as part of Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir, India. 

It stretches approximately 1,000 kilometres (620 mi) north to south and 2,500 kilometres (1,600 mi) east to west. With an average elevation exceeding 4,500 metres (14,800 ft), the Tibetan Plateau is sometimes called "the Roof of the World" because it stands over 3 miles (4.8 km) above sea level and is surrounded by imposing mountain ranges that harbor the world's two highest summits, Mount Everest and K2, and is the world's highest and largest plateau, with an area of 2,500,000 square kilometres (970,000 sq mi). 

The plateau is the home to Tibetan people and Sherpa people

And these people have a very interesting legend. The legend of Yeti. In the folklore of Tibetan plateau, the Yeti or Abominable Snowman is an ape-like creature, taller than an average human, that is said to inhabit the Himalayan region of Nepal, Bhutan, and Tibet. The legend says that during the snow storms Yeti comes down from the mountains to the villages and steals local women. The legend of Yeti was widely publicised by the western explorers who not only believed in it but also contributed to it by stories of encounters with Yeti during their expeditions. 

This is a drawing of mountain climbers in the Himalayas spotting an Abominable Snowman or Yeti in the distance circa 1950 in Nepal

The scientific community has generally regarded the Yeti as a legend, given the lack of evidence of its existence. Recently, a genetic study was undertaken during which all the artefacts found throughout the region which were attributed to Yeti (bones, claws, hair) were analysed. The DNA from the samples was matched with Himalayan, Tibetan and Eurasian brown bears and Asian black bears DNA. Based on these results, the researchers concluded that the belief in Yetis has its roots in biological facts and is based on human encounters with bears that still live in the region today. The researchers also concluded that the existence of a large hairy ape like creature in the Himalayan-Tibetan region is indeed a myth which has no base in reality.

And this is where the story of Yeti would have ended. If it wasn't for the strange DNA of the people from Tibetan plateau. Both Tibetan and Sherpa populations are genetically most similar to each other and then to other modern East Asian and Central Asian populations. However there is something very interesting about people from the Tibetan plateau. After modern Oceanic populations, modern Tibetan populations show the highest rate of allele sharing with archaic hominins at over 6%. Modern Tibetans show genetic affinities to three archaic populations: Denisovans, Neanderthals, and an unidentified archaic population. Once scientists started looking closely at these archaic DNA sequences, they discovered something very very interesting. 

Researchers have long wondered how Tibetans live and work at altitudes above 4000 meters, where the limited supply of oxygen makes most people sick. Other high-altitude people, such as Andean highlanders, have adapted to such thin air by adding more oxygen-carrying hemoglobin to their blood. But Tibetans have adapted by having less hemoglobin in their blood; scientists think this trait helps them avoid serious problems, such as clots and strokes caused when the blood thickens with more hemoglobin-laden red blood cells.

In 2010 geneticists discovered that Tibetans have several genes that help them use smaller amounts of oxygen efficiently, allowing them to deliver enough of it to their limbs while exercising at high altitude. Most notable is a version of a gene called EPAS1, which regulates the body’s production of hemoglobin. These genes are not found in any other human population outside of Tibetan plateau. 

Since this gene was discovered the scientists wandered where it came from. And then in 2014, while looking through the genes found in Denisovans DNA, they spotted EPAS1. The mystery was solved. The "superathlete" gene, which helps Sherpas and other Tibetans breathe easily at high altitudes was inherited from Denisovans, one of the archaic human species now extinct. 

But there is the problem. It is commonly accepted that Denisovans went extinct soon after they mated with the ancestors of Europeans and Asians about 40,000 years ago. So the only time when Tibetans could have acquired EPAS1 gene is at that time. But it is also commonly accepted that the Tibetan plateau has only been inhabited by humans for around 15,000 years. Now considering that Tibetan plateau population is the only one in the world which possesses the EPAS1 gene, it is most likely that they acquired it on the Tibetan plateau. Which means that either Denisovans survived on the Tibetan plateau until 14,000 years ago (35,000 years longer then anywhere else in the world), or that modern humans arrived to Tibetan plateau much much earlier than originally thought. 

But this is not the biggest problem that this genetic discovery poses. 

Within Tibetan mythology, the origins of Tibetans are said to be rooted in the marriage of the monkey Pha Trelgen Changchup Sempa and rock ogress Ma Drag Sinmo.

This very popular Tibetan creation myth holds that in the beginning the world was covered by water, which evaporated little by little, leaving room for animal life. To the flooded land of Tibet came a monkey that had withdrawn there to immerse himself in meditation and to follow a life of asceticism and chastity. He settled on Mount Gongori. One day, while he sat in meditation, a female demon came to seduce him. She threatened that if he refused to sleep with her she would visit a demon and conceive a multitude of small monsters that would destroy all living creatures. The wise monkey yielded and married her. A few months later six small monkeys were born of their union. The monkey let his six children grow up in the forest, but three years later he discovered that they had become five hundred. The fruits of the forest were no longer sufficient to feed them, and the five hundred monkeys beseeched their father to help them find food. Not knowing what to do, he went to ask help from Avalokiteśvara the god of compassion. Then Avalokiteśvara went on the mount Meru where he gathered a handful of barley, and offered it to the monkey father. Then the monkey father learned agriculture and, after a good harvest, could finally feed all his children. As they fed on the cereals, the monkeys gradually lost their hair and their tails. They also started to use bone and stone implements, then made clothes and built houses, forming a civilization from which the Tibetan people descended.

Now this is very very interesting legend. 

Remember the legend about Yeti. Yeti was a huge hairy ape like creature which came down from the mountains and stole women from the villages. Presumably to mate with them...

The Tibetan origin myth is the exact opposite of the the Yeti legend. It is a legend about the hairy mountain monkey who was seduced by a white female demon who came up to the mountain and who wanted to mate with him...

In both cases the hairy mountain monkey and female that came to (or was brought to) the mountain produced offspring which became the ancestors of the Tibetan plateau population. The population which is the mix of Denisovans (big hairy smart apes???) and modern humans. The population which has the bigger amount of Denisovans DNA than any other human population. The population which is the only human population which inherited the Denisovans high altitude gene EPAS1 which allows people to survive on the roof of the world...

And here is the question: Are these Tibetan plateau legends about mating between humans and huge, smart hairy apes from the mountains memories of the actual mixing between the modern humans who arrived to the Tibetan plateau and Denisovans who they found there?

No, that is not possible, I can hear people say. That mixing occurred at some stage between 14,000 and 40,000 years ago. No memory can survive that long...

Well...Remember my post "Dreamtime"? In it I talked about the fact that we now have proof that some Australian Aboriginal legends are actual histories which are over 45,000 years old...

So it is actually quite possible that these Tibetan plateau legends are also histories which have been preserved as legends for tens of thousands of years.

But why am I talking about the legend of Yeti in the blog about Old European Culture? Well how old are European legends???

PS: Well it turns out that recent archaeological discoveries prove that modern humans did actually arrive to Tibet right on time to first intermix with Denisovans, acquiring the high altitude gene and then exterminate them. 

The Nwya Devu Paleolithic site discovered by this team confirms that human ancestors set foot on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau at elevations approaching 5,000 meters above sea level around 30,000-40,000 years ago. It is the first Paleolithic archaeological site discovered in Tibet that preserves intact stratigraphy allowing age-dating of the site’s antiquity. Nwya Devu is located in the Changthang region of northern Tibet, about 300 km northwest of Lhasa, the capital of Tibet Autonomous Region, at about 4,600 meters above sea level.

Saturday 9 June 2018

Neolithic Artemis

The Vinča culture, also known as Turdaș culture or Turdaș–Vinča culture, is a Neolithic archaeological culture dated to the period 5700–4500 BC. It occupied a region of Southeastern Europe (i.e. the Balkans) corresponding mainly to modern-day Serbia (with Kosovo), but also parts of Romania, Bulgaria, Bosnia, Montenegro, Republic of Macedonia, and Greece.

The culture was named for its main site, Vinča-Belo Brdo, a large tell settlement located near Vinča a suburb of Belgrade, Serbia, which was discovered by Serbian archaeologist Miloje Vasić in 1908.

Current consensus is that Vinča culture is an offshoot of the preceding Starčevo culture which belonged to the First Temperate Neolithic (FTN) archaeological horizon, consisting of the earliest archaeological cultures of Neolithic Southeastern Europe, dated to c. 6400–5100 BCE. The cultures of the FTN were the first to practice agriculture in temperate Europe, which required significant innovations in farming technology previously adapted to a mediterranean climate. People from Starčevo culture built the first agricultural temple in Blagotin, Serbia. 

Farming technology first introduced to the region during the First Temperate Neolithic was developed further by the Vinča culture, fuelling a population boom and producing some of the largest settlements in prehistoric Europe. These settlements maintained a high degree of cultural uniformity through the long-distance exchange of ritual items, but were probably not politically unified. Various styles of zoomorphic and anthropomorphic figurines are hallmarks of the culture. 

As are the Vinča symbols, which some conjecture to be the earliest form of proto-writing. 

Though not conventionally considered part of the Chalcolithic or "Copper Age", the Vinča culture provides the earliest known example of copper metallurgy. The Vinča site of Pločnik has produced the earliest example of copper tools in the world. Like this copper axe.

However it seems that the people of the Vinča culture practised only an early and limited form of metallurgy and most functional tools continued to be made from chipped stone, bone and antler. 

As I already said, the Vinča culture main site was Belo Brdo (white hill), a large tell settlement located near Vinča a suburb of Belgrade, Serbia. It was, with the surface area of 29 hectares and the population of 2500, by far the biggest Neolithic settlement in Europe. The earliest deposits at Belo Brdo date to around 5700 BCE and belong to the Early Neolithic Starčevo culture. After that Belo Brdo was occupied by people of the Vinča culture. Whether there was a break in habitation on the site is difficult to say as Starčevo layer was severely disturbed by the Vinča people. A total of thirteen building horizons from this period make up the majority of the tell's stratigraphy, as new buildings were constructed on the debris left by periodic fires. The settlement was abandoned by 4900 BCE, some five centuries before the wider collapse of the Vinča culture.

In the Early Vinča phase Belo Brdo seems to have developed into a ritual centre for the entire region, the manufacturing centre for the production of ritual objects. The raw material for these objects often had to be imported from considerable distance, indicating also that from its earliest phase the site was part of large-scale exchange networks. It is therefore thought that Belo Brdo was a key place in a wider Vinča prestige economy, and an abundance of ritual paraphernalia, especially anthropomorphic figurines, is characteristic of the site. 

Many ritual objects first appeared there and then spread to other Vinča sites. And many of these Vinča culture ritual objects are later found in many other cultures throughout Eurasia and North Africa. 

Like for instance Mother and Child ritual scene which was found throughout Vinča culture territory in the 5th millennium BCE.

Among many figurines found on Belo Brdo archaeological site, this next one caught my eye few days ago. 

We can clearly see pair of breasts which means that this was a female figurine. However the figurine does not have human face. Instead it has a bird beak. And then there are what look like two necklaces made of large oval objects of the same size. And many more oval objects of the same size attached to the figurine's chest and legs.

While I was looking at this strange object, I couldn't stop thinking that I have seen it before. It took me a while to figure out where, but I finally remembered.

In Ephesus, a principal city of Greek Asia Minor, a great temple was built in honour of Artemis, which became one of the "Seven Wonders of the Ancient World". There Artemis was worshiped mainly as a fertility goddess, and was identified with Cybele the mother goddess of eastern lands. The cult statues of the Ephesian Artemis show her standing erect with numerous large oval things on her chest. There have been many theories as to what they represent. Some say they are breasts, others that they are bulls testes which were sacrificed to her. So the true interpretation remains uncertain, we can say that each represents fertility. There is also another possibility, that these oval objects are eggs which are also symbol of fertility and more importantly of rebirth.

The statue of Artemis from Asia Minor looks strikingly similar to the above Vinča culture figurine. And the fact that the Vinča culture statue has bird face, makes the hypothesis that the oval objects are indeed eggs. And not just any eggs. Partridge eggs.

Partridge and its eggs were symbol of fertility in Europe and probably Western Asia before chickens were brought from East Asia. I wrote about the symbolic link between partridge and the female fertility (both human and earth fertility) preserved in the Balkans in my post "Partridge".

But regardless of what the oval objects represent, testicles or eggs, how crazy is the similarity between these two statues? I know how much time passed between these two statues, but still...We know that there are striking similarities between ceramic objects found in Vinča culture sites and in early layers of Troy I. Before the advent of radiocarbon dating it was thought, on the basis of typological similarities, that Vinča and other Neolithic cultures belonging to the "Dark Burnished Ware" complex were the product of migrations from Anatolia to the Balkans. This had to be reassessed in light of radiocarbon dates which showed that the Dark Burnished Ware complex in the Balkans appeared at least a millennium before Troy I. Interestingly no one proposed that Troy I could have been a result of the eastward migration from the Balkans??? And Troy was in Anatolia, Asia Minor, where we find the above intriguing Artemis with eggs statue which is so strikingly similar to the Vinča bird goddess with eggs figurine...

But maybe here we don't see direct cultural link, but the same concept represented in the same way in two cultures separated by thousands of miles and millenniums...Who knows...