~ General Quotes
~ Oxford History of Pre-Historic Europe
~ The Sea Kingdoms: Celtic Britain & Ireland (Alastair Moffat)
~ The Brendan Voyage (Tim Severin)
~ The China Voyage (Tim Severin)
~ The Atlantic Celts: Ancient People or Modern Invention (Simon James)
~ Ancient Greece: From Pre-Historic to Hellenistic Times (Thomas R Martin)
~ 70 Great Mysteries of the Ancient World
~ The Polynesians (Peter Bellwood)
"Who could have imagined
that in the interior of the dreaded Gobi Desert, and precisely in that
part of it which in desolation exceeds all other deserts on the face
of the earth, actual cities slumbered under the sand, cities wind-driven
for thousands of years, the ruined survivals of a once flourishing civilization.?"
- Sven Anders Hedin (1896)
"If enough data on
a number of different genes are gathered, we might eventually be able to
reconstruct a history of the entire human species."
- Luca Cavalli-Sforza, author of "The Great Human Diasporas"
By 13,000 BC the world's
hunter-gatherer population was probably approaching about 8.5 million people.
The carrying capacity (the ability of the world's many environments to
supports animals and people) still exceeded that required by the human
population, largely because humans were becoming more efficient in their
exploitation of a broad spectrum of food resources. After 13,000 BC, the
population curve approached that of carrying capacity. In a sense, the
world was full, or at least occupied sparsely, by people who lived off
its game, plant and other food resources. Homo sapiens sapiens had settled
in periglacial regions, in tropical rain forests, on offshore islands,
and in the Americas.
This development may have set off behavioral changes resulting from restricted mobility and greater competition. Notable among these changes would have been a necessity to solve problems locally rather than just moving away from them. Hunter-gatherer societies throughout the world developed highly localized adaptations to new, less predictable conditions, with a more intensive exploitation of food resources and, in many areas, a trend toward more permanent settlement, the use of storage technologies, and more complex societies. Such intensification of the food quest and greater sedentism preadapted many groups for adopting agriculture and animal domestication.
- Brian M. Fagan, "People of the Earth - World Prehistory"
The Greeks, a people
glorious and arrogant, valiant and headstrong. These were the men and women
who laid the very foundations of Western Civilization. Their monuments
still recall perhaps the most extraordinary two centuries in history.
- from the introduction to "The Greeks: Crucible of Civilization"
"Periclean Athens seems
to me to belong in the smallish collection of cities where truly great
moments in the human experience took place. Culture, in the broadest sense,
reaches a peak."
- Donald Kagan, in "The Greeks: Crucible of Civilization"
"Neolithic people were
doing a whole lot more than we give them credit for; they were just as
smart as you and I, they just did different things."
- Dennis Stanford
It is difficult to
determine the actual number of Celtic-speaking people at the height of
their power but estimates made by modern scholars would indicate that the
population of Celtic Gaul fluctuated around the figure of 6 million, with
close on another million people in the territories of the Belgae. At the
time of Julius Caesar there probably were almost 2 million inhabitants
in Britain, and close on half a million in Ireland. With regard to the
number of Celtic-speaking people in the Iberian penninsula, in the second
century BC these must have easily exceeded a million. A similar number
seems to be appropriate to the region of the Alps and northern Italy at
that time, while in the broad area along the Danube the number of Celtic
of Celticised people may have approached 2 million.
- Daithi O'Hogain, "The Celts"
The first genetic map
to be prepared for the whole of the British Isles has shown that there
significant genetic variation. The Institution of Molecular Science at Oxford profiled 6,000 people and compared their blood samples with DNA extracted from the remains of Stone Age people. There was a
99 per cent correlation. This suggests that the original gene pool has hardly been disturbed by the
waves of invading Celts, Gaels, Romans, Vikings and Normans.
- ATQ Stewart, "The Shape of Irish History"
# OXFORD HISTORY OF PRE-HISTORIC EUROPE (ed. Barry Cunliffe)
Because of the existence
in some but not all societies of historical writing during the first milennium
BC, the period has often been termed 'protohistoric' instead of prehistoric.
Of course, the understanding of the past gained through archaeology is
broadly different in nature to understanding derived from historical texts.
Having both sorts of evidence is a boon and a challenge.
- Timothy Taylor, "Thracians, Scythians and Dacians"
"We modern men are
not 'modern' at all. On the contrary we still belong to the last generation
of cave dwellers."
- Hendrik Van Loon, speaking in 1925
Weighing the evidence,
my conclusion is that the Neanderthal burials have survived through good
fortune in protected locations in climactically favoured regions which
kept carnivores and corpses apart long enough for the latter to survive
as intact skeletons. The intention of those who did the burying is unknown
but was probably concerned more with carcass disposal than with the numinous
qualities of preservation, afterlife, spiritual and symbolic motivation
that is frequently claimed for these interesting finds.
- Clive Gamble, "The Peopling of Europe"
At the end of the Pleistocene
(10,000 BP) populations were living in a manner that had not changed in
its essence since the first arrival of biologically modern humans in Europe
30,000 years previously. They were characterized by an egalitarian social
organization and highly mobile lifestyles. Within 5,000 years three irreversible
events had occured that underwrite the developments of later prehistory:
ranked societies had appeared; agricultural economies had been adopted;
man had interfered with, and dramatically altered, the natural environment.
- Steven J. Mithen, "The Mesolithic Age"
# THE SEA KINGDOMS: CELTIC BRITAIN & IRELAND (Alastair Moffat)
There is a unity of
experience down the western edge of Britain which makes it a distinctive
place, another country inside the one we think we know. To find a way of
seeing that history better we need to forget national boundaries. Scotland,
Ireland, the Isle of Man, Wales and England all make artificial distinctions
across Celtic Britain and Ireland.
The sea is the unbroken link that binds this experience together. For most of the last 3,000 years the sea was a far better highway than any on land. This has created a cultural coherence which is very old and far more widespread than is often realized. From around 500 BC Celtic languages were spoken down the length of the Atlantic littoral of Western Europe... for at least 500 years and probably much longer there existed a common Celtic sea-going culture along the Atlantic coasts which also reached deep inland.
Looking back over the immense sweep of all that has happened in these islands, a constant theme insists on its place. For a multitude of reasons, some of them accidental, the story of the Celtic peoples is the story of the war for Britain, and of those who lost it, again and again. The Romans, the Anglo-Saxons, the Normans, the English and the British (including many Scots, Welsh and Irish Britons) won that war, and by the 18th century had colonized all of these islands.
The early Celtic society
of Britain was non-literate, not illiterate (for that implies something
deficient) and it relied on memory and recital. For a hundred generations,
stories were told in the circle of firelight: the early peoples of Britain
listened to their history. The tales of Celtic Britain, of the west, seem
now to be of the twilight, of dying languages and minorities, of emigration
and loss, of quaintness and yesterday.
In Scotland, Ireland, Man, Wales and Cornwall a new future is dawning. The old imperial monolith of the United Kingdom is rapidly crumbling as England's first colonies rediscover what they were and realize what they might become once the corrosive habit of blaming the English for everything has withered into disuse.
With at least a millenium of resentment to draw on, the Celts of Britain, the losers, have wasted much time in defining themselves primarily as un- or anti-English.
Gaelic Scotland began to die at Culloden. The repressive aftermath of the battle was the beginning of a long end for the clans, their culture and their language. The significant difference between the two armies was not their equipment - modern against medieval - or their tactics - discipline against a furious charge - but their reasons for fighting. One took the field for the maintenance of a Protestant and increasingly constitutional monarchy, for a version of progress and for regular pay and rations, The other fought for its sense of itself. Behind the clansmen who recited their genealogy stood the ghosts of their pasts, and in their war cries were the names of their places. Within a generation of Culloden the great emigrations to the New World had begun to convert the Highlands from a working landscape into mere scenery.
The Celtic languages
of Britain have outlasted the Roman occupation, the invasions of the Anglo-Saxons
and the Normans and now, it seems, the onslaught of the Internet and a
global economy driven by an understanding of English.
Because Welsh is such an old language and because it described Britain first, it carries a version of the history of the whole island inside it, its words are the quiet transports of memory. If we listen hard to what the Welsh say, we can hear an echo of Britain talking 2,000 years ago.
Around 1000 BC the Celts began to move all of Europe. Place names trace the extent of their journeys. The rivers Danube, Rhine and rhone all rise in their homeland in the uplands of Europe, and all have Celtic names. The root word 'gal', cognate to the modern Gael, shows where they or their influence reached. Beginning as far west in mainland Europe as it is possible to get, Celtic culture stretched to Portugal, Galicia in northern Spain, Gaul (the Roman name for modern France), Cisalpine Gaul in northrn Italy, Galicia in southern Poland and Galatia in central Turkey.
Britain was probably first called Alba, or White-Land by the Celts living in what is now the Pas de Calais). While the use of Albion has withered in English, it has remained in Celtic languages, but in a different, more localized sense. Alba is the Gaelic word for Scotland because that is what the Irish called it. It is the cause of some pain for patriotic Scots to accept that Scotland is named in our most Scottish language after a geographical feature romantically associated with England - the white cliffs of Dover.
We think of the Hebrides now as remote, on the edge of Britain and Europe with nothing between them and America but the vastness of the mighty Atlantic.We think like this because we have rapid means of moving overland: roads, cars, railways as well as aeroplanes. All of these means of travel are new, and so is our way about the islands off the west coast of Britain. As late as the 15th century and probably later, ordinary people living near the sea will have known much more of the outside world than a peasant living 15 miles from London. Because sailors from many parts of the west coast of Britain and northern Europe docked regularly on the islands, these people heard stories and languages, saw goods, that came from far beyond their immediate experience.
There is a small but fascinating group of Celtic loan words that have made their way into English by a very circuitous route. When the increasing popularity of jazz and blues music helped to import black American slang, devotees were often asked, 'Do you dig it, man?'. Dig has no agricultural associations but comes from the Gaelic root, 'tuig', which means to understand. There is a variant in Cockney with the use of the word 'twig'.
Stonehenge was erected at least 2,500 years before the first signs of Celtic culture appeared in Britain... even though there is more than a whiff of suburban amateur drama about modern Druids, the most interesting about them is their revival. Despite a remarkable degree of daftness, otherwise sensible people want to believe, want to retain the name of the Druids.
The persistence of Celtic religious traditions should not be wondered at, it is the only the business of recognizing them that is difficult. To keep evil at bay priests erected poles with skulls fixed on top, or set an array of wooden heads around the fire. These were the ghost fences... turnip lanterns are the direct descendants of ghost fences. As the darkness of winter approached the Celts built them to drive away evil. Nowadays at Hallowe'en, children light candles inside hollowed-out turnips, and having carried them around the streets they set them inside windows looking outwards, keeping an ancient tradition unbroken.
Royal succession in Celtic society was not arranged around ideas of primogeniture but was instead kin-based. Custom held that a king could be succeeded by his sons, his grandsons and even his great-grandsons. In practice this allowed the fittest and most ruthless of the extended royal family to assume the throne, not necessarily the first-born son of the king.
A jack was a padded leather coat which reached down to the knees sometimes worn if no mail could be afforded. Below this the Gallowglass wore knee-length boots which got the famous name 'jackboots', and when the long jack was shortened so that it could be comfortably worn on horseback, it was called a jacket.
It is a comment on the lasting impact made by the Normans that the generic Egyptian word for foreigner is 'firengi', which derives from the Frankish warriors who went to the Holy Land in the early Middle Ages.
"I sought for merit
wherever it was to be found... and I found it in the mountains of the north.
I called it forth and drew it into your service, an hardy and intrepid
race of men."
- William Pitt (Elder), explaining recruitment of Highland regiments to King George II
In the 19th century Celtic Britain lot enormous numbers of her people. The statistics are worth listing: 8 million left Ireland between 1801 and 1921; 18.5 million left Scotland between 1814 and 1914; Only in Wales were matters different. The huge human needs of the rapid industrialization of the southern valley meant that the population more than doubled between 1801 and 1901, and it was second only to the USA as a destination for immigrants.
# THE BRENDAN VOYAGE (Tim Severin)
No one could tell us
how to steer out boat through the gale. No boat quite like her had been
afloat for the past thousand years or so. Her most extraordinary feature
was only apparent if one examined her closely: the boat was made of leather.
It was this thin skin, flexing and shifting as the boat moved that now
stood between us and the fury of the Atlantic.
Why on earth, then, were my crew and I sailing such an improbable vessel in the face of a rising gale? The answer lay in the name of our strange craft: she was called 'Brendan' in honour of the great Irish missionary, Saint Brendan, who had lived in the 6th century. Tradition said that Saint Brendan had made a voyage to America... the sceptics declared that to suggest that anyone could have crossed the Atlantic in a boat made of animal skin was unthinkable, impossible, a mere fantasy, and the idea of a leather boat proved it. The obvious way of checking the truth of this remarkable story was to build a boat in similar fashion and then see if it would sail the Atlantic.
How ironic, I thought to myself, that our greatest danger should be from Man, not from Nature, a risk that Saint Brendan never had to face. I doubted that anyone aboard the trawler had even seen us. If they had, what would the lookout say to the trawler's skipper? That he had seen a boat from another century running wildly before the gale with a square sail bearing the Celtic cross in crimson and steered by five desperate-looking men in sodden clothing? Any watch-keeper who reported that sight to his captain on a night in the Atlantic was liable to be dismissed for drunkenness or sent to a psychiatrist.
"There's nothing impossible
either about a leather boat or the voyage you want to make. I can do a
design study and drawings for a boatyard to work from. But what neither
I nor anyone else can give you is the knowledge of how to handle this boat
at sea. That knowledge has been long lost. It is up to you to rediscover
it. Always remember that you are trying to follow men who went to sea with
generations of experience behind them. That may turn out to be the unknown
factor in your venture."
- Colin Mudie, of the "Royal Institute of Naval Architects"
It was an unforgettable day, with brilliant sunshine alternating with stinging showers so typical of west Irish weather.
Through my interpreter,
I bombarded the crew of the curragh with questions... "Can you carry heavy
loads alright?" I asked. "Why yes, in spring we take cattle out in the
canoes to leave them to graze on the islands," came one answer, and someone
else added a comment which made the others laugh.
"What did he say?" I asked my schoolteacher-interpreter. "He said the cows are less trouble. They don't ask so many questions."
There was no doubt now that a leather boat, becalmed on these northern waters, held some sort of attraction for whales. It was not an exaggeration to say that it drew them from the depths. If this was still happening in the 20th century when the whale population is so sadly depleted, what must it have been like in the 6th or 7th century AD? The leather boats of the Irish would have been the very first vessels that these whales would ever have seen in these waters. It was scarcely surprising that the Irish priests came back amazed by the whale life, bearing stories of monsters, of huge sea creatures, of their boat touching the animals.
As for our own feelings about killing the wildlife, no one appeared to have any regrets. I regarded it as an exercise in the hunter's skill. We were catching our prey with the most primitive of instruments, and there was no risk that we would deplete the rapidly increasing population of fulmars in those waters. In fact, of all the seabirds, the fulnars attracted the least sympathy. In the Hebrides and Faroes the fulmar population had been expanding rapidly at the expense of the other seabirds. The fulmars were ousting the smaller birds from their nesting ledges. Their unpleasant habit was to spit a green lime at the resident guillemot or puffin, a slime which ruined the waterproofing of the other bird's feathers so that it drowned the next time it settled on the water.
Seven miles above our heads we could sometimes see the silver dots of airliners flying between Europe and America, drawing their vapour trails across the sky. In just 6 or 7 hours these aircraft were making a journey that it would take 'Brendan' many weeks to complete, if we succeeded in our passage at all. How, I wondered, would those airline passeners comfortably seated in their chairs, with their film headsets and plastic metal trays, react if they knew that far below them four men in a leather boat were crawling at less than 2 miles an hour across that innocent-looking of ocean, dependent largely for their survival upon skills and materials that had not changed in a thousand years.
When the wind blew from the north, from the ice, it sliced through one's defences. Before emerging on watch, it was wise to struggle first into cotton underwear, then a suit of woollen underclothes, then the heavy Faroes underwear, two pairs of socks, trousers and shirt, and two sweaters, before leaving the protection of the shelter and tugging on oilskins. The technique was to wear as many layers of warm clothing as possible and to dress up before going outside.
"What ship are you?"
The US Navy ship 'Mirfax' asked by radio.
"Brendan out of Reykjavik and bound for North America."
"Can I have that again?" came a puzzled voice.
"Brendan out of Reykjavik and bound for North America. Our boat is an archaeological experiment. She's made of leather and testing whether Irish monks could have reached America before the Vikings."
"I had better take this down in writing," said Mirfax's radio operator.
If we were lucky enough to trace the leak, what then? The more I thought about our straits, the gloomier I felt. It seemed so futile if Brendan were to sink so close to the end of her mission. She had already proved to her crew that an early medieval Irish skin boat could sail across the Atlantic. But how could people be expected to believe that fact if Brendan sank 200 miles off Canada? It would be no good to say that there was less pack ice off Canada and Greenland in early Christian times, anf that the Irish monks would probably not have faced the same problems. To prove the point about early Irish voyages, Brendan had to sail to the New World.
Brendan touched the New World at 8pm on June 26 on the shore of Peckford Island in the Outer Wadham Group some 150 miles northwest of St Johns, Newfoundland. She had been at sea for 50 days. Earlier navigators could have made their landfalls almost anywhere along the coast of hundreds of miles in either direction. What mattered was that Brendan had demonstrated without a shadow of a doubt that the voyage could be done.
Brendan had shown us
that the quality of medieval boat equipment was easily equal to the task
of promoting the oceangoing ambitions of the sailor-monks. Indeed, it was
an interesting fact that the medieval equipment on Brendan was often a
match for its modern equivalent, and occasionally superior to it when used
in the grindingly harsh conditions of an open boat in the North Atlantic.
The modern equipment worked better, until it broke, but then the traditional
gear, clumsy and inefficient though it was, managed to survive the adverse
Similarly, there is little that the medieval sailor would want to borrow from the modern sailor to improve his personal comfort and sustenance. Apart from modern waterprood outer clothing, the medieval sailor was better clad in his woollen trousers, shirt and cloak than in garments of synthetic fibres. And when he embarked on a cold, wet voyage in an open boat, his diet of dried meats and fish, oats, fruit and nuts was unsurpassed. It was more nutritious and palatable, and lasted better, than the dehydrated package foods of today.
When the Norsemen arrived first in the Hebrides, the Faroes and in Iceland they found that Irish seamen had been there before them, and that Irishmen had settled these islands.
There are three references in the Norse sagas to an Irish connection, however faint, with the New World. Erik's saga had a report from two American 'Skraelings', or natives, that they knew of men near their tribe who wore white clothes and marched in procession bearing poles before them to which cloths were fixed, and yelling loudly. At the time, the Norsemen tought the reports referred to Irishmen. Then secondly, the Icelandic 'Landnamabok' talks about a country "which some call Ireland the Great. It lies west in the sea bear Vinland the Good". A Norseman who was driven there by bad weather, it says, was unable to escape and was baptised by the inhabitants. Finally, there is a report from an Icelandic trader named Gudlefir Gunnlaugsson, who was gale-driven across the sea from the west coast of Ireland, and made land on an unknown shore where he thought he recognised the natives using Irish words in their language.
# THE CHINA VOYAGE (Tim Severin)
[After an unexpected
landfall in the Ryukyu Islands]
Miyako islanders were proud of their reputation, particularly when it came to comparisons with their neighbours on Ishigaki. In the 19th century the Ryukyus had been an independent kingdom ruled by a king on Naha or Okinawa Island, and Ishigaki and Miyako had been the remoter islands where the government sent troublemakers and convicted criminals. But the type of criminal was quite different. Political prisoners and intellectuals were sent to Ishigaki, while common felons, murderers and thieves were sent to serve their sentences on Miyako. "People on Ishigaki still think with their heads and are cool and offhand," I was told in Miyako. "But we are proud to be the descendants of common criminals who respond with their hearts. Here as we say, we have big stomachs!" and my informant patted his own.
In fact, the people of Miyako felt themselves to be islanders first, and Japanese only recently. Their original dialect, though based on the Japanese language, was not understood on the main islands of Japan, and the people of the archipelago were a racial mix between the Japanese from the north and sea peoples from South East Asia. The Ryukyus had been controlled by the Chinese, by the Japanese, and most recently by the United States who occupied these strategic islands after the Second World War, before handing them back to Japan in 1972. Throughout these changes, the people of Miyako had continued their relaxed lifestyle and kept up a tradition of hospitality. Everywhere the Hsu Fu's crew went on Miyako we were given small presents, invited in for meals, and offered help.
The Pacific is so vast that a jigsaw of all the world's continents, plus Antarctica, would fit on its surface, and there would still be space to add Africa a second time. Then, too, the ocean is so deep that its volume is six times greater than all land above sea level. When compared to the Atlantic Ocean the Pacific contains twice the amount of water, and is much wider so that the distance from Tokyo to San Francisco is half again as far as from New York to Southampton in England. Thus, if you add the distance the Hsu Fu had already travelled to get to Tokyo from Hong Kong, then a succesful Pacific crossing would be roughly the equivalent of sailing across the Atlantic from Europe to America and back again. Why then try to attempt such an enormous trajectory in a wash-through bamboo raft, particularly when there had already been several succesful voyages on the Pacific by traditional vessels? A number of Chinese junks had cossed from Asia to America in this century, usually in the hands of Western yachtsmen, and the pioneering voyage of the balsa log raft Kon-Tiki from Peru to Polynesia in 1947 encouraged half a dozen similar raft journeys... The short answer was that Hsu Fu's voyage set out to test particular and rather different conditions. First, it was a raft voyage in the northern and cooler part of the ocean. The previous raft voyages had, for the most part, stayed in warm tropical waters where living conditions were usually much more agreeable and the winds blew steadily from astern. In a sense these were downhill voyages, while Hsu Fu was faced with travelling, if not uphill, then at least against winds which would vary, sometimes in our favour, sometimes not. And, of course, the weather in the North Pacific was likely to be more stormy. Second, the earlier raft voyages were not usually intercontinental endeavours. Kon-Tiki, for example, had finished up on the Tuamoto group of islands about two-thirds of the way across the coean after 4300 miles. Third, Hsu Fu was a very different sort of raft. She was made of flexible bamboo, while the majority of the other rafts had been more massive, sturdy timber structures. So Hsu Fu was both more fragile and at the same time attempting to travel farther than most rafts.
Crossing the Pacific succesfully on a bamboo raft wouyd not prove conclusively that there had been cultural contact between Asia and pre-Columbian America. It would only test whether the bamboo raft could have been a vehicle for such contact.
The efficiency with
which Trondur caught the yellowfins taught me something about the way that
ancient raft sailors could have survived at sea. On four previous voyages
on replica ancient vessels, I had noted how few fish we managed to catch
on a long voyage one we got out on the deep ocean, even with an expert
fisherman like Trondur on board. On those trips it would have been possible,
but only just, to have survived on the number of fish we caught. Now, adding
up the number and size of the fish we had caught since Trondue had joined
us at Shimoda, it was clear that if we had been say, the crew of a raft
on the Pacific 2000 years earlier, we were catching easily enough fish
to sustain us without any extra rations. So why the difference between
the Pacific voyage and my previous sea journeys? The obvious reason, the
more I thought about it, was that we were on a raft and not a normal hulled
vessel. Hsu Fu's broad, shallow platform was a floating island where sea
life chose to congregate.... A similar lesson could be drawn from our rainfall
records. Hsu Fu was sailing though an uncommonly bad summer so presumably
there was more rainfall than usual, but by our calculations we would have
been able to catch enough rainwater to survive if we rationed it carefully
and rigged efficient rain-collectors.
Hsu Fu's experience was not the only evidence that sailors could survive aboard slow-moving vessels on the Pacific. In October 1832 a small Japanese trading vessel, Hyojun Maru, was crippled by a storm while sailing along the Japanese coast on a short-haul voyage. The little ship lost its mast and rudder, and was swept out into the Pacific. For more than a year the vessel drifted, prey to the winds and current while her 14 crew members tried to survive. Luckily their cargo included rice which they supplemented by catching fish and collecting rainwater. One by one, as the castaways died, their colleagues stacked the corpses in barrels. Three men were still alive when after 14 months at sea, the Hyojun Maru went aground on the American coast south of Cape Flattery in what is now Washington State.
Hsu Fu, I thought, had to be one of the only ocean-going vessels to have fish swimming under it, clean through it and even over it.
"Now there are maggots
on the bonito. I've wiped most of them off already. Do you think it will
be all right to eat?
"I've read that in the early 19th century the ship's biscuit was so riddled with weevils that you tapped your biscuit on the table to shake out the vermin. It's something you can tell your grandchildren, that you had to eat maggot-infested dried fish which was so tough you had to cut it with a hammer and chisel."
"It's true. But what they won't believe is that it is delicious."
- Joe and Tim, as supplies start to dwindle
As far as I was aware,
we had made one of the longest raft journeys in modern times. It was probably
the record for any modern raft journey in northern waters. As an experiment
in maritime archaeology and long-distance voyaging in ancient craft we
had completed our programme by taking Hsu Fu as far as we could using the
traditional materials we had to hand. We had no more natural fibre rope
and no more rattan. If we chose to keep going forward, repairing the raft
with lanyards of modern nylon rope, then that was for a different reason
to the original motive for the China Voyage. We would not be testing the
bamboo sailing raft as it might have existed 2000 years earlier, we would
be setting ourselves a test of seamanship and our own stamina.
- Tim, addressing the crew as the Hsu Fu starts to break up 1000 miles from America
What if we had to stay the winter in Japan after the first season's sailing from Hong Kong? ...The combination of a shorter distance, a layover in Japan, and tarred fastenings would probably have brought us to the American mainland.
Where did that leave the theory of trans-Pacific contact, the idea tht had originally sparked the concept of the China Voyage? The short answer was that we had demonstrated the feasibility of raft sailing, and that given a decent vessel and average weather luck a raft could make the crossing. We had also shown how sea survival in those latitudes was humanly possible, and that a raft crew could survive even if they were unintentional voyages driven out to sea by gales or carried away on a hostile ocean current. But equally we had shown how exhausting the voyage was, and that if such trans-Pacific voyages were made 2000 years ago then the survivors would have come ashore in a pitiable state. Would their arrival have influenced the high cultures of native America? Perhaps so, but only in certain limited areas... Much more likely, I thought to myself. the Asian mariners who did come ashore in the Americas were those who travelled there by mistake: the accidental voyagers who were swept away by gales or strong currents. Such visitors, even if they did step ashore alive, would have little more to offer than what they had brought in their heads, their knowledge and the skills associated with the sea... So in the final analysis any trans-Pacific voyages would have been or marginal significance.
# THE ATLANTIC CELTS (Simon James)
With the signing of the 1707 Treaty [Act of Union between England and Scotland], then, the name of Briton the best, and time-honoured, potential collective label for those peoples of the island who saw themselves as other that English was appropriated for all subjects of the new, inevitably English-dominated superstate. Edward Lhuyd used 'Britons' and 'British' as synonyms for 'Welsh people' and 'Welsh language', expressing their historical descent from, and continuity with, the Ancient Britons, a usage which the new state terminology rendered confusing. At the same moment Lhyd provided the 'terminologically dispossessed' groups with a new collective name and identity: 'Celtic'. I believe that the state usurpation of the name 'Briton' was a key reason for the success and speed of uptake of the label 'Celtic' during the 18th century and its subsequent establishment in popular culture.
The Ancient Celts of the isles, especially in the simplistic way they have traditionally been conceived, are definitely discredited, in British archaeology at least. It remains to be seen how far archaeologists will be able to dislodge them from conceptions of popular history. Scholars have lost much of the cultural authority which meant that men like Lhuyd would be listened to. Society in Britain, Ireland and the rest of the Western world now lacks the cultural homogeneity and hierarchy of authority which permitted his ideas to become universally accepted so quickly. Most would today much prefer the greater freedom of expression and resultant diversity to the conformism of the past, and feel that sceptical public treatment of scholarly pronouncements is a healthy thing. But we must then swallow the irony that, in a world of cultural fragmentation, it is far more difficult for us today to challenge and to dislodge old, discredited ideas which our predecessors helped establish so successfully in the popular imagination.
The isles have always been home to many peoples, who have fought one another, but also have drawn on one another; these people have created themselves and also created each other, through their contacts and conflicts, and the islands have always been open to newcomers, who have added to life and modified the course of our shared histories.
# ANCIENT GREECE (Thomas R. Martin)
The deepest background
of the social, material and even political history of ancient Greece lies
in the physical environment and its effects on the opportunities and the
constraints of life in this part of the Mediterranean region.
Chains of rugged mountains dominate mainland Greece, fencing off plains and valleys in which communities could keep themselves politically separate from one another while still maintaining contacts for trade and diplomacy.
The distinctiveness of the Spartan way of life was fundamentally a reaction to their living in the midst of people whom they had conquered in war and enslaved to exploit economically but who outnumbered them greatly. To maintain their position of superiority over their conquered neighbors, from whom they derived their subsistence, Spartan men had to turn themselves into a society of soldiers constantly on guard. They accomplished this transformation by a radical restructuring of traditional family life enforced by strict adherence to the laws and customs governing practically all aspects of behavior. Through constant, daily reinforcement of their strict code of values, the Spartans ensured their survival against the enemies they had created by subjugating their neighbors.
The labor of the helots allowed Spartan men to devote themselves to full-time training for hoplite warfare in order to protect themselves from external enemies and to suppress helot rebellions, especially in Messenia. Contrasting the freedom of Spartan citizens from ordinary work with the lot of the helots , the later Athenian Critias commented "Laconia is the home of the freest of the Greeks, and of the most enslaved."
The Greeks' superior armor and weapons and their adroit use of topography to counterbalance the enemy's greater numbers explain their victories from a military perspective. What is truly remarkable about the Persian Wars, however, is that the citizen militias of the thirty-one Greek city-states decided to fight in the first place. They could have surrendered and agreed to become Persian subjects to save themselves. Instead, eager to defend their freedom despite the risks and encouraged to fight by the citizens of their communities, these Greeks chose to strive together against apparently overwhelming odds. Since the Greek forces included not only aristocrats and hoplites (who had to be financially capable of supplying their own armor and weapons), but also thousands of poorer men who rowed the warships, the effort against the Persians cut across social and economic divisions. The decision by Greeks to fight the Persian Wars demonstrated courage inspired by a deep devotion to the ideal of the political freedom of the city-state, which had emerged in the preceding Archaic Age.
Since they stayed inside or in the shade so much, women rich enough not to have to work maintained very pale complexions. This pallor was much admired as a sign of an enviable life of leisure and wealth, much as an even, all-over tan is valued today for the same reason. Women regularly used powdered white lead as make-up to give themselves a suitably pallid look.
Equally controversial was Protagoras' view that there was no absolute standard of truth, that there were two sides to every question. For example, if one person feeling a breeze thinks it warm, while a different person judges the same wind to be cool, there is no decision to be made concerning which judgment is correct; the wind simply is warm to one and cool to the other. Protagoras summed up his subjectivism (the belief that there is no absolute reality behind and independent of appearances) in the much-quoted opening of his work entitled Truth (most of which is now lost): Man is the measure of all things, of the things that are that they are, and of the things that are not that they are not. Man in this passage (anthropos in Greek, hence our word anthropology) seems to refer to the individual human being (whether male or female), whom Protagoras makes the sole judge of his or her own impressions.
Greeks interested in
philosophy propose double arguments about the good and the bad. Some of
them claim that the good is one thing and the bad something else, but others
claim that the good and the bad are the same thing... death is bad for
those who die but good for the undertakers... shipwrecks are bad for the
shipowners but good for the shipbuilders... in the stadion race for runners,
victory is good for the winner but bad for the losers.
- Excerpt from anonymous 5th century B.C. handbook on sophistry
The course of later history proved the battle of Chaeronea in 338, in which Philip of Macedon and his Greek allies defeated a coalition of other Greek states, to have been a decisive turning point in Greek history: never again would the states of Greece make foreign policy for themselves without considering, and usually following, the wishes of outside powers. This change marked the end of the Greek city-states as independent actors in international politics, but they were to retain their significance as the basic economic and social units of the Greek world. But that role would be fulfilled from now on as subjects or allies of the new kingdoms that later emerged from the Macedonian kingdom of Philip and his son Alexander after the latter's death in 323 B.C. The Hellenistic kingdoms, as these new monarchies are called, like the Roman provinces that in turn eventually replaced them as political masters of the Greeks, depended on the local leaders of the Greek city-states to collect taxes for the imperial treasuries and to insure the loyalty and order of the rest of the citizens.
Philip's son Alexander (356-323 B.C.), promptly liquidated potential rivals for the throne and won recognition as king. In several lightning-fast campaigns, he subdued Macedonia's traditional enemies to the west and north. Next he compelled the southern Greeks, who had rebelled from the League of Corinth at the news of Philip's death, to rejoin the alliance. To demonstrate the price of disloyalty, Alexander destroyed Thebes in 335 B.C. as punishment for its rebellion from the League. This lesson in terror made it clear that Alexander might claim to lead the Greek city-states by their consent (a kind of leader called a hegemon in Greek) but that the reality of his power rested on his superior force and his unwavering willingness to employ it.
'Hellenistic' conveys the idea that a mixed, cosmopolitan form of social and cultural life combining Hallenic (that is, Greek) traditions with indigenous traditions emerged in the eastern Mediterranean region in the aftermath of Alexander's conquests. The Hellenistic kings spurred this development by bringing Greeks to live in the midst of long-established indigenous communities and also by founding new cities on Greek lines.
>> Read a version of the full text online
# 70 GREAT MYSTERIES OF THE ANCIENT WORLD (ed. Brian M Fagan)
Most of our archaeological
material consists not of shining gold but of detritus, things that were
lost or abandoned when worn out, broken or useless. Scholars write entire
books about collections of fragments of pottery without ever having seen
a single complete example of the vessels they are describing, and then
try to reconstruct the lives of the potters. By contrast, rock art is a
direct record: these are pictures from the past which preserve for us an
image of how ancient people experienced their own worlds.
- from "The Mysteries of Rock Art"
"To many, perhaps to
most people outside the small company of the great scholars, past and present,
'Celtic' of any sort is... a magic bag, into which anything may be put,
and out of which anything may come... Anything is possible in the fabulous
Celtic twilight, which is not so much a twilight of the gods as of the
- JRR Tolkien (1963)
Today we are used to
thinking of the Celts as a people of Europe's Atlantic fringe, but they
were once oe of the continent's most widespread peoples. The first Celts
known to history appear in the writings of Greek historians of the 5th
and 6th centuries BC. The term 'Celt' (Greek Keltoi) was initially used
to describe the peoples who lived inland from the Greek colony of Massalia
(modern Marseille). Later, the term was used virtually synonymously with
the Roman word Galli (Gauls) to describe a powerful group of peoples who
in the 3rd century BC dominated a vast swathe of Europe from the Atlantic
Ocean to the Black Sea, with offshoots in Spain, Italy and Anatolia. Classical
writers also recognized close similarities between these continental peoples
and the inhabitants of Britain and Ireland, though they never described
them as either Celts or Gauls.
What united these peoples in Classical eyes was shared customs and beliefs and, above all, a shared language all these peoples spoke what are now called Celtic languages, part of the great Indo-European family of languages. The word Celt was one which some, but certainly not all, continental Celtic-speaking peoples used to describe themselves, as it features as an element in both tribal and personal names; however, there is no evidence that any of the peoples of Britain and Ireland ever did so. This has helped to make Celtic identity one of the most controversial issues in modern British archaeology: can the prehistoric inhabitants of Britain and Ireland really be described as Celts if neither they nor their contemporaries described them as such?
It seems no ancient people calling themselves Celts lived in Britain and Ireland and, though there was certainly some exchange of population, there were no major migrations of continental Celts to the islands either. One response to this has been simply to write the Celts out of British and Irish prehistory but, not surprisingly, modern-day Celts have reacted angrily to this. What does it mean to be Celtic if the historic communities you claim descent from were not Celtic? Accusations of ethnic cleansing have been made.
How must we define the Celts then, if we are not to write them out of British and Irish prehistory? We cannot define the ancient Celts as a genetic community (a 'race') since ethnic identity is essentially cultural. Genetic studies demonstrate considerable continuity in European populations over thousands of years; identites have changed but to a great extent the people have stayed the same. A better approach is to define the ancient Celts in linguistic terms as the group of peoples speaking Celtic languages.
The ancient Celts were by the standards of the day, a sophisticated, rational and thoroughly modern people, neither the barbarians prejudiced Classical writers made them out to be nor the twilight fairy folk of modern romantics. It was their very sophistication that made their conquest by Rome both attractive and practical because it meant the Celts could be assimilated within the Roman system. It is telling in this respect that the only parts of the Celtic world that escaped Roman rule northern Britain and Ireland were also the least socially and economically developed parts.
- from "Who Were The Celts?"
I believe the picture
that emerges will show us one of the most intricate, thrilling and inspiring
episodes of the human adventure on earth.
- Tom Dillehay, "The First Settlement of the Americas"
"In these Proes or
Pahee's as they call them from all accounts we can learn, these people
sail in these seas from Island to Island for several hundred leagues, the
Sun serving them for a compass by day and the Moon and Stars by night."
- Captain James Cook, on the navigational skill of contemporary Polynesians (1769)
# THE POLYNESIANS (Peter Bellwood)
"It is extraordinary
that the same Nation should have spread themselves over all the isles in
this vast Ocean from New Zealand to this Island which is almost a fourth
part of the circumference of the Globe."
- Captain James Cook at Easter Island, March 1774
"The Vikings of the
- One historian's view of the Polynesians
As a distinct human population, characterized by unified origins and close ethnic homogenity, the Polynesians were the most widely spread people on earth prior to AD 1500. They alone settled the islands that we now call Polynesia, situated within the vast triangle formed by the Hawaiian Islands, Easter Island and New Zealand. With sides approximating 6,500 kilometres in length this triangle covers almost twice the area of the continental USA, although the actual ratio of sea to land is in the vicinity of seventy to one. The Polynesians began their expansion into this previously uninhabited zone around 1500 BC, and they had settled all major islands, including New Zealand, by AD 1000.
Their voyaging skills, their rich oral traditions, and their colourful and often despotic chiefdoms have interested outsiders since the days of Captain Cook.
To understand the real achievements of the Polynesians one needs to lie on the hard, smelly deck of a wallowing copra ship for a week or so; this is about all the average landlubber without a yacht can do these days, and it is a salutary experience never to be forgotten. The early Polynesians underwent hardships which few modern people could even visualize. The 4,000-kilometre voyage from the Society to the Hawaiian Islands may occupt a few inches on a map, but in a partially open canoe laden with men, women, children, animals and precious seed plants it could easily have become an appalling ordeal. The astounding fact is that the Polynesians reached virtually every island within the huge Polynesian triangle, although by no means all were permanently settled.
After the passage of
more than thirty years since Thor Heyerdahl published his ideas, it is
clear that there is no evidence, linguistic or archaeological, which can
be used to support a major American settlement on Easter Island, or anywhere
else in Polynesia. On the other hand there is the sweet potato, with its
Polynesian name 'kumara', similar to the term 'kumar' used by some tribes
of Peru... may represent no more than the chance arrival of a raft-load
of Peruvian Indians.
The evidence for American contact is slim indeed, and wind and current patterns along the Peruvian coast would make frequent arrivals most unlikely.
The Polynesians, as we now know, are of unified origin; their languages, physical type and social customs indicate this quite clearly. The adaptations which we can observe have all developed within the past 3,000 years from a single base-line society whose characteristics can be partially reconstructed, and they have developed without any major outside influence. This means that the role of environment can be seen in a particularly clear light. The Maoris of temperate New Zealand, the people of sub-tropical Easter Island, the atoll dwellers, the highly ranked societies of lush tropical Tahiti and Tonga, and the forgotten visitors to Pitcairn and Necker all developed rather different societies (or mysteries) to greet the first European visitors. Each received the distinctive stamp of its environmental milieu.
>> Quotes from "The
Civilization of Ancient Egypt" by Paul Johnson
>> Quotes from "Guns, Germs and Steel" by Jared Diamond
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