Who Built Stonehenge? Bell Beakers and Neolithic Burials

Seventeenth century depiction of Stonehenge from the Atlas van Loon

Stonehenge remains one of the world’s enduring mysteries. Who carved these enormous stones, moved them hundreds of miles, and erected them upon Salisbury plain–and why?

Archaeologists estimate that the first major construction began at Stonehenge around 3,100 BC, when workers dug a large, circular ditch around the site and piled up the resulting dirt in a round bank. But the interesting part of this phase of construction is the third circle inside the first two, consisting of 56 graves, atop which bluestones may have once stood. The bones of deer and oxen were also placed in the surrounding ditch.

Were these sacrifices, or was Stonehenge originally just a cemetery, perhaps for the community’s most important members?

The second stage in Stonehenge’s development, from about 3,000 BC to 2,600 BC, involved the building of wooden structures and further burials. Interestingly, Neolithic grooved ware pottery is associated with this stage.

Grooved ware pottery appears to have been developed way off in the remote, cold, wind-swept Orkney Islands at the tip of Scotland. I’ve written about the Orkneys before, because they also have significant Neolithic sites, including–most relevant to our conversation–the Ring of Brodgar:

The Ring of Brodgar… is a Neolithic henge and stone circle in Orkney, Scotland. Most henges do not contain stone circles; Brodgar is a striking exception, ranking with Avebury (and to a lesser extent Stonehenge) among the greatest of such sites.[1] … These are the northernmost examples of circle henges in Britain.[2] Unlike similar structures such as Avebury, there are no obvious stones inside the circle,[3] but since the interior of the circle has never been excavated by archaeologists, the possibility remains that wooden structures, for example, may have been present. The site has resisted attempts at scientific dating and the monument’s age remains uncertain. It is generally thought to have been erected between 2500 BC and 2000 BC, and was, therefore, the last of the great Neolithic monuments built on the Ness.[4]

The idea that anyone built anything major way off in the Orkneys, which definitely did not support the kind of comfortable, sedentary population that the Nile, Tigris, Euphrates, and Indus, is remarkable enough. That they built something comparable to Stonehenge and Avebury is incredible, and that a pottery style which appears to have begun in Orkney spread to Britain and Ireland almost defies belief. Surely Orkney lacked the population to man the kind of migrations necessary to impose their pots on others, but perhaps Orkney was some kind of Neolithic cultural leader, perhaps a sacred place people journeyed to from across the seas–or perhaps the people of Orkney traded their pots for products not found locally, their style became popular, and folks in different areas began making their own versions.

But Avebury, Stonehenge, and Brogdar weren’t the only Stone Circles:

The stone circles in the British Isles and Brittany were constructed as a part of a megalithic tradition that lasted from 3300 to 900 BCE, during the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Ages.[2] It has been estimated that around 4,000 of these monuments were originally constructed in this part of north-western Europe during this period,[2] although only around 1,300 of them are recorded, the others having been destroyed.[3]

Around 2,600 BC, Stonehenge entered its 3rd building phase, involving the erection of some 80 large stones in two concentric circles (“Q” and “R”) near the center of the enclosure. These 2-ton stones were transported 150 miles from a quarry in the Preseli Hills, (modern-day Pembrokeshire in Wales.) According to Wikipedia:

This phase tentatively began as early as 2600 BC, although recent radiocarbon dates from samples retrieved from one of the sockets in 2008 during excavations by Darvill and Wainwright suggest a date of around 2400 to 2300 BC. The final report is yet to be published, but some interesting results follow from the partial excavation of Q Hole 13 where ‘associations with Beaker pottery’ were noted.[1]

The Q and R Holes not only represent the foundation cuts for the first central stone construction, but they also were to include several additional stone settings on the northeast. This modified group face the midsummer sunrise with a possible reciprocal stone aligned on the midwinter sunset. This is the first evidence for any unambiguous alignment at Stonehenge (the solstice axis). … the dates suggested from the 2008 excavation (above) implies the Q & R arrays were perhaps no earlier than 2,400 BC, presenting a challenge to the recently accepted Late Neolithic date for the construction of the iconic sarsen monument. …

Now this is really interesting. The original proliferation of these circles is associated with the neolithic Groved Ware Pottery people. They tended to build chambered tombs and to dig large circular ditches and banks accompanied by human burials. They may have marked these graves with large stones.

Reconstruction of a Beaker burial, (National Archaeological Museum of Spain, Madrid)

Then a new kind of pottery shows up, the Beakers. The Bell Beaker pottery arrived in Britain around 2,500 BC, and around that time a new, significant phase in the construction of these sites begins. Large numbers of extremely heavy stones were brought in and the original north-eastern entrance was widened so that it matched the direction of the midsummer sunrise and midwinter sunset. Additionally, a road appears to have been built Stonehenge and the River Avon between 2600 and 1700 BCE, perhaps a delivery route for supplies that had been floated down the river. The road is partially aligned with the summer solstice, and ends at another stone circle.

So where the Grooved Ware People perhaps had some kind of cult of the dead, or at least put a lot of effort into constructing fancy burial monuments for their dead, the Bell Beaker people appear to have been really interested in solar alignments.

According to BellBeakerBlogger, even Bell Beaker burials reflect this solar interest:

All burials exhibit similarities that are central to Beaker culture or Beaker-ized people. They are usually flexed, individual burials within a plot, cemetery or larger complex. Men and women face the rising Sun, which along with other information, indicates a religious belief with emphasis on a solar deity.

The sequence of events that occurred at Stonehenge also appears to have happened at Avebury:

The chronology of Avebury’s construction is unclear. It was not designed as a single monument, but is the result of various projects that were undertaken at different times during late prehistory.[19]Aubrey Burl suggests dates of 3000 BC for the central cove, 2900 BC for the inner stone circle, 2600 BC for the outer circle and henge, and around 2400 BC for the avenues.[1]

Avebury was one of a group of monumental sites that were established in this region during the Neolithic. Its monuments comprise the henge and associated long barrows, stone circles, avenues, and a causewayed enclosure. These monument types are not exclusive to the Avebury area. For example, Stonehenge features the same kinds of monuments, and in Dorset there is a henge on the edge of Dorchester and a causewayed enclosure at nearby Maiden Castle.[20]

Archaeologist Mike Parker Pearson noted that the addition of the stones to the henge occurred at a similar date to the construction of Silbury Hill and the major building projects at Stonehenge and Durrington Walls. For this reason, he speculated that there may have been a “religious revival” at the time, which led to huge amounts of resources being expended on the construction of ceremonial monuments.[21]

Religious revival, or triumphant victory celebration?

Work continued at Stonehenge over the next two hundred years, from about 2,600 BC through 2,400 BC, during which the monument’s enormous, central stones were erected. These rocks weigh between 25 and 50 tons each. This was an enormous undertaking that must have required hundreds of people just to move each stone and lift it into place.

Bell beaker pots

“Pots, not people,” is one of archaeology’s most famous maxims, an exhortion to regard a change in material artifacts–say, new pots–as simply a result of local cultural change, trade, or diffusion, rather than the arrival of an entirely new people. The Pots not People reading of the transition from Neolithic Grooved Ware to Copper Age Bell Beakers is simply that people invented new pots (and the technology to work metals.)

In the case of the Corded Ware people, this turned out to be wrong–the Corded Ware People turned out to be the Yamnaya, AKA the Indo-Europeans, who boiled out of the Ukrainian steppe around 4,000 BC, and by 500 BC had conquered almost all of Europe, Iran, Turkey, India, etc. They contributed significantly to the modern European gene pool, especially in eastern Europe.

Arout 3,000 BC, the Bell Beaker culture, named for its distinctively bell-shaped pots, began appearing in Western Europe. The pots didn’t spread smoothly across the continent, but were concentrated along Atlantic and Mediterranean river valleys:

Radiocarbon dating seems to support that the earliest “Maritime” Bell Beaker design style is encountered in Iberia, specifically in the vibrant copper-using communities of the Tagus estuary in Portugal around 2800-2700 BC and spread from there to many parts of western Europe.[2][12]

The initial moves from the Tagus estuary were maritime. A southern move led to the Mediterranean where ‘enclaves’ were established in south-western Spain and southern France around the Golfe du Lion and into the Po valley in Italy, probably via ancient western Alpine trade routes used to distribute jadeite axes. A northern move incorporated the southern coast of Armorica. The enclave established in southern Brittany was linked closely to the riverine and landward route, via the Loire, and across the Gâtinais valley to the Seine valley, and thence to the lower Rhine. This was a long-established route reflected in early stone axe distributions and it was via this network that Maritime Bell Beakers first reached the Lower Rhine in about 2600 BC.[2][19]

Another pulse had brought Bell Beaker to Csepel Island in Hungary by about 2500 BC. … From the Carpathian Basin Bell Beaker spread down the Rhine and eastwards into what is now Germany and Poland. By this time the Rhine was on the western edge of the vast Corded Ware zone. … A review in 2014 revealed that single burial, communal burial and reuse of Neolithic burial sites are found throughout the Bell Beaker zone.[23]

… The earliest copper production in Ireland, identified at Ross Island in the period 2400-2200 BC, was associated with early Beaker pottery.[2][27] …The same technologies were used in the Tagus region and in the west and south of France.[2][28] The evidence is sufficient to support the suggestion that the initial spread of Maritime Bell Beakers along the Atlantic and into the Mediterranean, using sea routes that had long been in operation, was directly associated with the quest for copper and other rare raw materials.[2]

spread of bell beaker pottery

The Bell Beakers reached Britain around 2,500 BC.

Unfortunately, the Bell Beaker people didn’t leave any written records, so we don’t know what language they spoke. Were they Indo-Europeans? Moroccans? Did they conquer river valleys across Western Europe, or just tried exchange their pots for local goods along long-established trade routs?

And are they responsible for the menhirs found across western Europe?:

A menhir … is a large upright standing stone. Menhirs may be found solely as monoliths, or as part of a group of similar stones. Their size can vary considerably, but their shape is generally uneven and squared, often tapering towards the top. … they are most numerous in Western Europe; in particular in Ireland, Great Britain and Brittany. There are about 50,000 megaliths in these areas,[2] while there are 1,200 menhirs in northwest France alone.[3] Standing stones are usually difficult to date, but pottery, and/or pottery shards found underneath some in Atlantic Europe connects them with the Beaker people. They were constructed during many different periods across pre-history as part of a larger megalithic culture that flourished in Europe and beyond.

Almost nothing is known of the social organization or religious beliefs of the people who erected the menhirs. There is not even any trace of these people’s language; however we do know that they buried their dead and had the skills to grow cereal, farm and make pottery, stone tools and jewelry. Identifying their uses remains speculative. Until recently, menhirs were associated with the Beaker people, who inhabited Europe during the European late Neolithic and early Bronze Age — later third millennium BC, ca. 2800 – 1800 BC. However, recent research into the age of megaliths in Brittany strongly suggests a far older origin, perhaps back to six to seven thousand years ago.[6]

(Sound familiar?)

Of the Beaker Culture of Ireland, Wikipedia states, in classic archaeologist style:

The ‘bronze halberd’ (not to be confused with the medieval halberd) was a weapon in use in Ireland from around 2400-2000 BC[71] They are essentially broad blades that were mounted horizontally on a meter long handle, giving greater reach and impact than any known contemporary weapon (O’Flaherty 2007). They were subsequently widely adopted in other parts of Europe (Schuhmacher 2002), possibly showing a change in the technology of warfare.

Just a change in technology, definitely not evidence of people getting conquered.

On May 9, 2017, The Beaker Phenomenon And The Genomic Transformation Of Northwest Europe was published on BioRxiv, finally providing some of the answers to our many questions:

We present new genome-wide ancient DNA data from 170 Neolithic, Copper Age and Bronze Age Europeans, including 100 Beaker-associated individuals. In contrast to the Corded Ware Complex, which has previously been identified as arriving in central Europe following migration from the east, we observe limited genetic affinity between Iberian and central European Beaker Complex-associated individuals, and thus exclude migration as a significant mechanism of spread between these two regions.

In other words, the initial spread of Bell Beakers from Iberia to central Europe was primarily cultural–the people involved are not closely related.

However, human migration did have an important role in the further dissemination of the Beaker Complex, which we document most clearly in Britain using data from 80 newly reported individuals dating to 3900-1200 BCE. British Neolithic farmers were genetically similar to contemporary populations in continental Europe and in particular to Neolithic Iberians, suggesting that a portion of the farmer ancestry in Britain came from the Mediterranean rather than the Danubian route of farming expansion.

Stone-age Britons were genetically similar to stone-age Iberians.

Beginning with the Beaker period, and continuing through the Bronze Age, all British individuals harboured high proportions of Steppe ancestry and were genetically closely related to Beaker-associated individuals from the Lower Rhine area. We use these observations to show that the spread of the Beaker Complex to Britain was mediated by migration from the continent that replaced >90% of Britain’s Neolithic gene pool within a few hundred years, continuing the process that brought Steppe ancestry into central and northern Europe 400 years earlier.

In other words: Bell Beaker pots s originally diffused culturally to the Rhine, where they were adopted by people with Indo-European steppe ancestry. These steppe people then conquered Britain, killing 90% of the stone-age inhabitants.

The victors appear to have gone on a building spree, repurposing neolithic monuments and dedicating them to their own deities, much as the Christian Hagia Sophia was transformed into a mosque following the Islamic conquest of Constantinople.

On a probably related note:

Durrington Walls is the site of a large Neolithic settlement and later henge enclosure located in the Stonehenge World Heritage Site. It lies 2 miles (3.2 km) north-east of Stonehenge in the parish of Durrington, just north of Amesbury.

Between 2004 and 2006, excavations on the site by a team led by the University of Sheffield revealed seven houses. It has been suggested that the settlement may have originally had up to 1000 houses and perhaps 4,000 people, if the entire enclosed area was used. The period of settlement was probably short, between 15 and 45 years starting sometime between 2525 and 2470 BC.[3]

It may have been the largest village in northern Europe for a brief period.[4][5][6] At 500 metres (1,600 ft) in diameter, the henge is the largest in Britain and recent evidence suggests that it was a complementary monument to Stonehenge.[7]

Grooved ware pottery has been found in abundance at Durrington Walls. Why this sudden concentration of Neolithic pottery around the time of the Beaker invasion and rebuilding of Stonehenge? Were they captives brought to the area to work on the henge? Or a fortified refuge holding out against the invaders?

By the Iron Age, circa 1,600 BC, Stonehenge had largely fallen out of use, or at least new construction had halted. This was long before the arrival of the Celts in Britain, around 500 BC, so whether the Druids ever made use of Stonehenge as a sacred site or not, they certainly didn’t build it.

 

Additional sources:

Nature: Ancient-genome study finds Bronze Age ‘Beaker culture’ invaded Britain

Sarkboros: Bell Beakers and the North African Late Neolithic, on potential Bell Beaker origins in Morocco

Razib Khan: The coming of the Milesians: abstract of “The Bell Beaker Paper”

the big 6 (part 4: Norte Chico, Peru)

4. Norte Chico (Peru):

source
(Note: I cropped the photo, so the river is no longer visible) Photo from “Real History of the World,” but it also appears on a billboard at the site itself, so photo is legit.

According to Wikipedia,

The Norte Chico civilization (also Caral or Caral-Supe civilization)[1] was a complex pre-Columbian society around 3500BC-1800BC that included as many as 30 major population centers in what is now the Norte Chico region of north-central coastal Peru. Since the early 21st century, it has been established as the oldest known civilization in the Americas.

Picture 4We can debate about whether or not Egypt, Mesopotamia, and even the Indus Valley culture really arose independently of each other, but there’s no doubt that Norte Chico, the first known civilization in the Americas, arose all on its own.

Norte Chico is a pre-ceramic culture of the pre-Columbian Late Archaic; it completely lacked ceramics and apparently had almost no visual art. The most impressive achievement of the civilization was its monumental architecture, including large earthworkplatform mounds and sunken circular plazas. Archaeological evidence suggests use of textile technology and, possibly, the worship of common god symbols, both of which recur in pre-Columbian Andean cultures. Sophisticated government is assumed to have been required to manage the ancient Norte Chico.

source
From Ritual is Power, an archaeologist’s blog about Norte Chico

Norte Chico is located in a north-central area of the coast, approximately 150 to 200 km north of Lima, … It comprises four coastal valleys: the Huaura, Supe, Pativilca, and Fortaleza; known sites are concentrated in the latter three, which share a common coastal plain.

Unfortunately for me, Wikipedia doesn’t have much on Norte Chico; it looks like a lot of the discoveries are relatively recent and so haven’t yet made it into the article. This means I’ve had to dig through other sources, some more reliable (Peru Reports) than others (“dolphin space aliens built ancient pyramids in Peru!”)

I’m doing my best to get information from the more reliable sites, but forgive me if I mis-remember some speculation as fact.

Caral, Peru
Caral, Peru

Like Egypt and Sumer–but unlike the Indus Valley–the people of Norte Chico built monumental architecture (notably, pyramids, in much the style that you’d expect if you’ve ever seen a picture of a Mesoamerican pyramid, though their great age has rather reduced their grandeur.)

The Norte Chicoans built their pyramids by creating a large square wall of mortared stones, and then filling in the center with rocks transported in woven bags. (Given the state of the Norte Chicoan pyramids, despite the lack of inclement weather in the area, I suspect the Egyptian methods stand up better over the millennia.)

source
source

I suspect that early civilizations tended to build pyramids not because they were all secretly in contact with each other, but because if you want to add a second, third, or fourth story to a building, everything is less likely to fall down if you move each layer in a step. This results in the famous “step pyramid,” like those of the Mayans, Aztecs, early Egyptians, and Norte Chicoans. (Only the Egyptians, to my knowledge, went on to build real pyramids–ie, pyramids with smooth sides.) In other words, pyramids are just the easiest way to make a big building out of stone.

The Norte Chicoans used irrigation to raise corn, sweet potatoes, and other crops, plus they fished for anchovies. They also raised cotton, which appears to have been domesticated almost simultaneously in both the Indus Valley and Norte Chico.

huanca stones
huanca stones

I have also seen references to these intriguing stones–the huancas?–but not much in the way of explanations. (I don’t think the Wikipedia page mentions them.) If I were to hazard a guess, though, I’d suspect they were a sundial.

Unlike Egypt and Sumer–and only somewhat like the IVC–we’ve uncovered no evidence of Norte Chicoan math or writing, and virtually no art. They did not make pots (no ceramics) so they had no pots to decorate (and their textiles have disintegrated greatly over the years.)

huanca stone
huanca stone

In front of the pyramids of Caral lie large, round, sunken pits–amphitheaters, from the looks of them. Unlike the Aztecs, however, archaeologists have so far uncovered no traces of sacrifice in the pyramids or amphitheaters–nor evidence of defensive walls or any sort of warfare. It could be that Norte Chico just didn’t have the population density to allow for warfare or the execution of captured enemies. However, since the whole excavation was only recently begun and archaeologists often seem to have a bias for proclaiming the civilization they’re studying peaceful until proven otherwise, I wouldn’t be surprised if this turns out to be incorrect.)

decorated flutes
click for the larger view, because the designs are actually quite good–from The Development of Flutes in the Americas

Archaeologists have found a bunch of flutes with engraved decorations, (proving the Norte Chicoans had both a musical tradition and a sense of humor,) and a few pieces of art have turned up, eg, a decorated gourd shell that archaeologists are claiming represents a local deity (the link is to one of the more questionable sites, so I am not 100% certain of its veracity–if someone finds this photo in an archaeological source, I’d be grateful to know about it.)

Archaeologists recently found three small statues, possibly offerings left at the Vichama site. One of the archaeologists claimed:

statuettes
statuettes

“…the position in which the statues were found as well as the larger size of the priestess, who has 28 fingers and toes and whose face is covered in red dots, demonstrate the importance women played in the pre-Hispanic cultures of Peru.”

Personally, I think archaeologists are over-confident when they make statements like this. How do we know she doesn’t have 28 fingers because the artist messed up, or that they aren’t toys?

Quipu in use
Quipu in use

Wikipedia also claims that they have found a quipu in the ruins. Quipus are sets of knotted strings used by the Inca empire (among others, probably,) to keep track of numerical matters like “number of soldiers captured in battle” or “bushels of corn owed in taxes.” Think of an abacus made of string; 5 knots on string one = 5 bushels of corn; 5 knots further down on the string = 50 bushels of corn, etc. Different colors of string could represent different items.

Interestingly, the Incas, 5,000 years after the Norte Chicoan society began, still did not have written language. I don’t know how you run an empire without written language, but they managed.

(There is some question of whether quipus could have been used to encode more complicated data, like language, but I have tried this and found the medium limiting. You can make a code in which phonemes correspond to a certain number of knots, [similar to codes where A=1, B=2, c=3, etc.] but this becomes unwieldy very quickly. I count 28 phonemes in the Incan language, [English has, IIRC, 40,] which means that just to encode a simple word like “quipu,” with four phonemes, [kh-i-p-u.] Just giving each phoneme a value based on its order in the chart, kh=15, i=2, p=7 [probably] and u=3, or 27 knots just to make one word.

Using different kinds of knots obviously improves the situation, but it still takes a fair amount of string to encode more than a few words. So while I find it reasonable that words like “corn” or “soldiers” might be spelled out in the knots, I doubt many people bothered to write down entire stories this way.)

Since 4,000 year old quipus look a lot like piles of disintegrated, tangled string, I’m holding off on declaring that the Norte Chicoans definitely had quipus until I at least find a picture of the thing.

(The Incas didn’t really use quipus for math, but they had some interesting abacus-like boxes.)

Some more pictures:

source
source
Caral, Peru
Caral, Peru

 

Caral, Peru
Caral, Peru

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To be honest, while it’s a fine start for a people moving from hunter-gathering to agriculture, I’m not all that impressed. Maybe someday we’ll find out more about these people and discover they had something really interesting going on, but right now, they don’t seem all that distinct from a lot of other groups.

 

 

 

Megalithic Burials are so Weird

The vast majority of the world’s oldest, still-standing human-built structures are tombs of one sort or another. (To be fair, this excludes not-still standing structures, like ruins.)

The Wikipedia page on the oldest buildings in the world lists 67 tombs, 11 religious buildings, 9 ruins people lived in (including settlements), 5 used for things like grain storage, and one amphitheater–or 72% of sites built specifically for holding dead people. Additionally, many religious buildings double as tombs–take your typical cathedral with its small graveyard–and we don’t know the purpose of some sites. Stonehenge, for example, contains over a hundred human burials, but we don’t know if Stonehenge was intended as a fancy graveyard, if the people were sacrificed there to sanctify the site, or if it was primarily a religious site at which important people were interred.

The Wikipedia list, alas, is far from complete–it mentions, for example, that over 1,000 Neolithic dolmens (believed to have been ancient burial sites,) have been found in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany, but doesn’t list them.

Wikipedia claims that there are 35,000 Neolithic and Broze Age dolmens from Korea, constituting 40% of the total–implying a total of 87,500, most of which are found in Europe. The stone circle–and stone ship–tradition in Iron Age Scandinavia was linked to burials. We’re not sure about the 1,000+ British stone circles, but Avebury–the largest stone circle in Europe–like Stonehenge, contained burials. 800 Bronze Age graves called “Giants’ Tombs” have been found in Sardinia; large “Beehive” tombs were built across Greece, southern Europe, and parts of the Middle East.

A tumulus is a mound of earth or stone raised over a grave, ranging in size from small mounds to hills 100 meters wide. Goodness knows how many of them there are; there are over 20,000 in Denmark alone.

Even the great pyramids of Egypt are nothing more than enormous tombs.

In other words, when ancient people died, their relatives–if they had any money–put a remarkable amount of effort into building them enormous, sturdy tombs.

Meanwhile, outside of a few settlements, people don’t seem to have put nearly so much effort into building houses for, you know, people who were still alive and could actually enjoy them.

Folks regularly filled the graves with the deceased’s personal belongings, including wagons, chariots, mummified pets, sacrificed horses, sacrificed wives, sacrificed slaves, food, mancala boards, spinning wheels, jewelry, pots, etc. The ancients believed that you really could take it with you.

I recall one account which noted a particular society that was having trouble accumulating wealth or building up any material development just because every time someone died, all of their belongings were buried with them.

In another account, an Indian chief claimed to have fallen ill and journeyed almost to the land of the dead. On his way back to his body, he encountered a line of deceased villagers, struggling to carry the great quantity of goods they’d been buried with all the way to the land of the dead. Upon waking, he instructed his tribe that the dead had asked to be buried with just the things they could easily carry–a very clever approach to reforming inefficient customs if I ever heard one!

Now imagine King Tut–or Ramses the Great–trying to carry all of that stuff he was buried with to the Egyptian afterlife.

As someone who thinks we should just compost bodies that aren’t being used for organ donation or scientific purposes, I find the whole idea of building giant tombs and filling them with stuff for dead people really weird. How much better off could the Egyptians (and Europeans,) have been if they had devoted of that effort and wealth to building irrigation system, aqueducts, sewer systems, better houses, schools, etc.–or just relaxing–instead of giant tombs for their dead?

But there is some logic to this madness.

Rituals surrounding human interment–whether by water, fire, air, or soil–go back at least 100,000 years, and even the Neanderthals may have buried their dead (also, potentially elephants and chimpanzees.) If there exists any modern or recent human society that does not have some form of rituals surrounding the proper disposal of dead bodies, I have not heard of them. (But maybe this?) Whether motivated by some animist impulse, grief, abhorence of dead things, or respect for the dead, these ritual are important to people.

And outside of communities that practice air burial, people dislike it when stray animals dig up the recently buried corpses of their deceased loved ones and scatter their bones about.

Thus most likely arose the sensible practice of piling rocks atop a grave, both to mark the spot for later mourning (and avoidance) and also to deter the depredations of wild animals.

The more important the person, the more relatives show up at the funeral to pile up rocks and the more importance the tribe places on ensuring that the body is not defiled. So it become a matter of social obligation to create nice cairns for one’s deceased relatives, and a matter of social status to have the biggest cairn.

Next thing you know, your country’s entire economy s devoted to building giant tombs and filling them with stuff.

Ancient Egyptian peacocks' tails
Ancient Egyptian peacocks’ tails

And then these burial monuments have stuck around for so long because of the taboo against disturbing them–people will happily disassemble an old house for the stones so they can build a new one, but people don’t like disassembling old graves to build houses out of.

Interestingly, though, these kinds of enormous burial mounds seem to have completely died out. Perhaps this is a side effect due to the lack of wolves digging up modern cemeteries.

Pictures from Oceana / Indonesia / Polynesia etc.

Lots of megaliths:

Haʻamonga ʻa Maui, a stone trilithon on the Tongan island of Tongatapu.
Haʻamonga ʻa Maui, a stone trilithon on the Tongan island of Tongatapu.

Haʻamonga ʻa Maui was built in the early 1200s (the talk page says 1300s); each of its three slabs weighs at least 30-40 tons.

“Between about 3000 and 1000 BC speakers of Austronesian languages spread through island South-East Asia – almost certainly starting out from Taiwan,[1] as tribes whose natives were thought to have previously arrived about from mainland South China about 8000 years ago – into the edges of western Micronesia and on into Melanesia. … In the mid-2nd millennium BC a distinctive culture appeared suddenly in north-west Melanesia, in the Bismarck Archipelago, the chain of islands forming a great arch from New Britain to the Admiralty Islands. This culture, known as Lapita, stands out in the Melanesian archeological record, with its large permanent villages on beach terraces along the coasts. … Within a mere three or four centuries between about 1300 and 900 BC, the Lapita culture spread 6000 km further to the east from the Bismarck Archipelago, until it reached as far as Tonga and Samoa.[2] In this region, the distinctive Polynesian culture developed. The Polynesians are then believed to have spread eastward from the Samoan Islands into the Marquesas, the Society Islands, the Hawaiian Islands and Easter Island; and south to New Zealand. The pattern of settlement also extended to the north of Samoa to the Tuvaluan atolls, with Tuvalu providing a stepping stone to migration into the Polynesian Outlier communities in Melanesia and Micronesia.[3][4][5]” (source) (bold mine)

 

Ahu Tongariki, Easter Island
Ahu Tongariki, Easter Island (source)
In't it cute?
Palindo, a megalith in Lore Lindu National Park, Indonesia

“Various archaeological studies have dated the carvings from between 3000 BC to 1300 AD.[4]

Megalith being transported on Nias Island, Indonesia, circa 1915
Megalith being transported on Nias Island, Indonesia, circa 1915

“The story has it that it took 525 people three days to erect this stone in the village of Bawemataloeo. (P. Boomgaard, 2001)” (source)

Wikipedia claims that Nias is a popular surfing and tourist destination, but beware that, “… transport links on and to the island have become poor. Internally, the road system is in a very bad condition. Externally the air and ferry links are unreliable. There are two ferry terminals (Gunungsitoli and Teluk Dalam) and an airport (Binaka, near G. Sitoli[6]) on the island, serviced mainly from Sibolga and Medan respectively. However, local ferry companies regularly go out of business (or their boats sink), so only one terminal may be active at any given time. Since the 2005 earthquake, transportation has improved to cope with the increase in travel needs for reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts.”

Toraja monolith, Indonesia, circa 1935
Toraja monolith, Indonesia, circa 1935

 

A group of headhunters on the isle of Nias, now part of Indonesia, surrendering to the Dutch
A group of headhunters on the isle of Nias, now part of Indonesia, surrendering to the Dutch

Elsewhere in Indonesia, “Ritual cannibalism was well documented among pre-colonial Batak people, being performed in order to strengthen the eater’s tendi.[2] In particular, the blood, heart, palms and soles of the feet were seen as rich in tendi.”

Marco Polo claims, “They suffocate him. And when he is dead they have him cooked, and gather together all the dead man’s kin, and eat him. And I assure you they do suck the very bones till not a particle of marrow remains in them…And so they eat him up stump and rump. And when they have thus eaten him they collect his bones and put them in fine chests, and carry them away, and place them in caverns among the mountains where no beast nor other creature can get at them. And you must know also that if they take prisoner a man of another country, and he cannot pay a ransom in coin, they kill him and eat him straightway.[7]

There’s some debate on just how much cannibalism the Batak were engaged in. “Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles in the 1820s studied the Batak and their rituals and laws regarding the consumption of human flesh… Raffles stated that “It is usual for the people to eat their parents when too old to work,” and that for certain crimes a criminal would be eaten alive: “The flesh is eaten raw or grilled, with lime, salt and a little rice.”[11]”

But, “German physician and geographer Franz Wilhelm Junghuhn visited the Batak lands in 1840-41. Junghuhn says about cannibalism among the Batak (whom he called “Battaer”):

“People do the honest Battaer an injustice when it is said that they sell human flesh in the markets, and that they slaughter their old people as soon as they are unfit for work…They eat human flesh only in wartime, when they are enraged, and in a few legal instances.” “

“Oscar von Kessel visited Silindung in the 1840s and in 1844 was probably the first European to observe a Batak cannibalistic ritual in which a convicted adulterer was eaten alive. … von Kessel states that cannibalism was regarded by the Batak as a judicial act and its application was restricted to very narrowly defined infringements of the law including theft, adultery, spying or treason. Salt, red pepper and lemons had to be provided by the relatives of the victim as a sign that they accepted the verdict of the community and were not thinking of revenge.[14]”

Prisoners of war are tied to a tree and beheaded at once; but the blood is carefully preserved for drinking, and sometimes made into a kind of pudding with boiled rice. The body is then distributed; the ears, the nose, and the soles of the feet are the exclusive property of the Rajah, who has besides a claim on other portions. The palms of the hands, the soles of the feet, the flesh of the head, and the heart and liver, are reckoned peculiar delicacies, and the flesh in general is roasted and eaten with salt. The Regents assured me, with a certain air of relish, that it was very good food, and that they had not the least objection to eat it. The women are not allowed to take part in these grand public dinners.”[15]

“Samuel Munson and Henry Lyman, American Baptist missionaries to the Batak, were cannibalized in 1834. … In 1890 the Dutch colonial government banned cannibalism in the regions under their control.[18] Rumors of Batak cannibalism survived into the early 20th century but it seems probable that the custom was rare after 1816, due partially to the influence of Islam.[19]”

Debating exactly how much cannibalism was going on seems to miss the big picture.

Traditional house, Nias
Traditional house, Nias
Funerary Monoliths, Toraja
Funerary Monoliths, Toraja

“Each monolith here memorializes a particular deceased person, although – since the standing stones are neither carved nor signed – the person’s name may be soon forgotten. The buildings in the background, at the base of the hill, were erected as temporary pavilions for the funeral celebrations; they may eventually be reused here, disassembled and re-erected nearby, kept up for tourist visits, or left to deteriorate, depending on local condition.” (source)

Carved stone burial site, with effigies of the deceased, Toraja
Carved stone burial site, with effigies of the deceased, Toraja

“In Toraja society, the funeral ritual is the most elaborate and expensive event. … The death feast of a nobleman is usually attended by thousands and lasts for several days. … The ceremony is often held weeks, months, or years after the death so that the deceased’s family can raise the significant funds needed to cover funeral expenses. … During the waiting period, the body of the deceased is wrapped in several layers of cloth and kept under the tongkonan. …

“Slaughtering tens of water buffalo and hundreds of pigs using a machete is the climax of the elaborate death feast, with dancing and music and young boys who catch spurting blood in long bamboo tubes. … As with the sacrifice of the buffalo and the pigs, the cockfight is considered sacred because it involves the spilling of blood on the earth. … it is common for at least 25 pairs of chickens to be set against each other in the context of the ceremony.

“… The wealthy are often buried in a stone grave carved out of a rocky cliff. The grave is usually expensive and takes a few months to complete. In some areas, a stone cave may be found that is large enough to accommodate a whole family. A wood-carved effigy, called Tau tau, is usually placed in the cave looking out over the land.[30] The coffin of a baby or child may be hung from ropes on a cliff face or from a tree. This hanging grave usually lasts for years, until the ropes rot and the coffin falls to the ground.

“In the ritual called Ma’Nene, that takes place each year in August, the bodies of the deceased are exhumed to be washed, groomed and dressed in new clothes.[31] The mummies are then walked around the village.[32]”

(wikipedia)

Traditional house, Toraja, Indonesia
Traditional house, Toraja, Indonesia

Indonesia has some nice looking temples, called Candi:

8th century Sewu Temple compound, Indonesia
8th century Sewu Temple compound, Indonesia
Borobudur Temple, 9th century
Borobudur Temple, 9th century
Map showing the locations of candis built during the Indonesian Classical Period
Map showing the locations of candis built during the Indonesian Classical Period
Prambanan complex, 9th century
Prambanan complex, 9th century

432px-Prambanan_Cross_Section_Shiva.svg

Punden berundak, traditional megalithic monument of Indonesia
Punden berundak, traditional megalithic monument of Indonesia
10th century candi, photo by Dany13
10th century candi, photo by Dany13

As far as I can gather–though this is somewhat iffy because some of the sources sounded speculative and some of them that seemed better weren’t in English, and I couldn’t figure out what language they were in in order to translate them, but anyway–Indonesia has an ancient tradition of building “step pyramids” out of rocks, which morphed over time into building these big candi stupas, with some Hindu and Buddhist influence along the way.

I haven’t found many good pics of the ancient sites; one supposed ancient site appears to be a bunch of naturally-occurring basalt that people might have moved around, but the Wikipedia page on it sounded so questionable, I opted not to include it. (Again, there was a page that looked better, but was not in English.)

The ruined city of Nan Madol, Pohnpei island, Micronesia
The ruined city of Nan Madol, built in the ocean off the coast of Pohnpei island, Micronesia
Map of Nan Madol, constructed in the ocean off the coast of Pohnpei, Micronesia
Map of Nan Madol

Understanding Law in Micronesia notes that The Federated States of Micronesia’s laws and legal institutions are “uninterestingly similar to [those of Western countries]”. However, it explains that “law in Micronesia is an extraordinary flux and flow of contrasting thought and meaning, inside and outside the legal system”.”  …

“The people [of Micronesia] today form many ethnicities, but are all descended from and belong to the Micronesian culture. The Micronesian culture was one of the last native cultures of the region to develop. It developed from a mixture of Melanesians, Polynesians, and Filipinos. Because of this mixture of descent, many of the ethnicities of Micronesia feel closer to some groups in Melanesia, Polynesia or the Philippines. A good example of this are the Yapese who are related to Austronesian tribes in the Northern Philippines.[25] A 2011 survey found that 93.1% of Micronesian are Christians.[26]” (source)

Speaking of Micronesia:

Castle Bravo blast, Bikini Island, Micronesia
Castle Bravo blast, Bikini Atoll, Micronesia

“The islands of Bokonijien, Aerokojlol, and Nam were vaporized during nuclear tests that occurred there.”

Economy: “Additional money comes in from government grants, mostly from the United States, and the $150 million the US paid into a trust fund for reparations of residents of Bikini Atoll that had to move after nuclear testing.”

Apparently the radiation fallout affected some nearby islands, where a bunch of people got radiation poisoning and had to move. (Some Japanese fishermen, who hadn’t been warned about top-secret military testing, got killed by the blast.)

“Most residents of Micronesia can freely move to, and work within, the United States.”

“The roughly 3000 residents of the Federated States of Micronesia that reside in Kapingamarangi, nicknamed ‘Kapings’, are both one of the most remote and most difficult people to visit in Micronesia and the entire world. Their home atoll is almost a 1000-mile round trip to the nearest point of immigration check-in and check-out. There are no regular flights. The only way to legally visit is to first check-in, travel on a high-speed sailboat to the atoll, and then backtrack almost 500 miles. Owing to this difficulty, only a handful of the few sailors that travel across the Pacific will attempt to visit.”

It looks like an amoeba
Kapingamarangi

Technically, both Bhutan and North Sentinel Island sound harder to get to (and North Korea?) but point taken.

I was wondering if Indonesians knew about Australia (it seems like they would have,) and it turns out that at least some of them did: “Fishing fleets began to visit the northern coasts of Australia from Makassar (formerly Ujung Pandang) in southern Sulawesi, from about 1720, but possibly earlier. While Campbell Macknight’s classic study of the Makassan trepang industry accepts the start of the industry as about 1720, with the earliest recorded trepang voyage made in 1751,[5] Regina Ganter of Griffith University notes a Sulawesi historian who suggests a commencement date for the industry of about 1640.[6] Ganter also notes that for some anthropologists, the extensive impact of the trepang industry on the Yolngu people suggests a longer period of contact. Arnhem land rock art, recorded by archaeologists in 2008, appears to provide further evidence of Makassan contact in the mid-1600s.[7]

 

Luritja man, Australia, demonstrating a method of attacking with a boomerang (1920).
Luritja man, Australia, demonstrating a method of attacking with a boomerang (1920).

Prehistoric Australia is known primarily for its nomadic hunter-gatherers, but they did build some permanent or semi-permanent stone houses and other structures, eg:

Ancient Aborigine stone house, Heword Lake Condah Ruins
Remains of 1,700 year old Aboriginal stone house, Lake Condah Ruins
Lake Condah  Ruins Of Ancient Aboriginal Engineering Drainage Works
Lake Condah Ruins Of Ancient Aboriginal Engineering Drainage Works

More about the Lake Condah stone houses.

The website Trans-Pacific Project wonders if Polynesians made contact (and trade) with the Americas:

Did Polynesians make it to the Americas?

Don’t forget possible Melanesian DNA in the middle of the Brazilian rainforest.

They don't move them very often.
Rai stone, used as currency on the island of Yap
Hawaiian multi-hulled boat
Hawaiian multi-hulled boat

“On his first voyage of Pacific exploration Cook had the services of a Polynesian navigator, Tupaia, who drew a hand-drawn Chart of the islands within 2,000 miles (3,200 km) radius (to the north and west) of his home island of Ra’iatea. Tupaia had knowledge of 130 islands and named 74 on his Chart.[47] Tupaia had navigated from Ra’iatea in short voyages to 13 islands. He had not visited western Polynesia, as since his grandfather’s time the extent of voyaging by Raiateans has diminished to the islands of eastern Polynesia. His grandfather and father had passed to Tupaia the knowledge as to the location of the major islands of western Polynesia and the navigation information necessary to voyage to Fiji, Samoa and Tonga.” (source)

James Cook witnessing human sacrifice in Tahiti
James Cook witnessing human sacrifice in Tahiti

“The Samoan Crisis was a confrontation standoff between the United States, Imperial Germany and Great Britain from 1887–1889 over control of the Samoan Islands during the Samoan Civil War. The incident involved three American warships, USS Vandalia, USS Trenton and USS Nipsic and three German warships, SMS Adler, SMS Olga, and SMS Eber, keeping each other at bay over several months in Apia harbour, which was monitored by the British warship HMS Calliope.

“The standoff ended on 15 and 16 March when a cyclone wrecked all six warships in the harbour.” (source)

Welp.

Ratu Tanoa Visawaqa, Fijian chieftan
Ratu Tanoa Visawaqa, Fijian chieftan
Fijian mountain warrior
Fijian mountain warrior

Pottery art from Fijian towns shows that Fiji was settled before or around 3500 to 1000 BC, although the question of Pacific migration still lingers. It is believed that the Lapita people or the ancestors of the Polynesians settled the islands first but not much is known of what became of them after the Melanesians arrived…”

“Constant warfare and cannibalism between warring tribes were quite rampant and very much part of everyday [Fijian] life.[22] During the 19th century, Ratu Udre Udre is said to have consumed 872 people and to have made a pile of stones to record his achievement.[23] According to Deryck Scarr (“A Short History of Fiji”, 1984, page 3), “Ceremonial occasions saw freshly killed corpses piled up for eating. ‘Eat me!’ was a proper ritual greeting from a commoner to a chief.” Scarr also reported that the posts that supported the chief’s house or the priest’s temple would have sacrificed bodies buried underneath them, with the rationale that the spirit of the ritually sacrificed person would invoke the gods to help support the structure, and “men were sacrificed whenever posts had to be renewed” (Scarr, page 3). Also, when a new boat, or drua, was launched, if it was not hauled over men as rollers, crushing them to death, “it would not be expected to float long” (Scarr, page 19). Fijians today regard those times as “na gauna ni tevoro” (time of the devil). The ferocity of the cannibal lifestyle deterred European sailors from going near Fijian waters, giving Fiji the name Cannibal Isles; as a result, Fiji remained unknown to the rest of the world.[24]”

(source)

Remember, folks, whites are the most evil people to ever walk the face of the earth, and indigenous native peoples were all peaceful, non-violent matriarchists:

Link to the original article (warning, it is on Salon.)
Link to the original article (warning, it is on Salon.)

“The future of life on the planet depends on bringing the 500-year rampage of the white man to a halt. For five centuries his ever more destructive weaponry has become far too common. His widespread and better systems of exploiting other humans and nature dominate the globe. The time for replacing white supremacy with new values is now.”

What kind of non-white values ? Cannibalism? Burkas? Living without white technology like vaccines, antibiotics, and telephones?

“And just as some whites played a part in ending slavery, colonialism, Jim Crow segregation, and South African apartheid, there is surely a role whites can play in restraining other whites in this era.”

LOL what? Who, exactly, fought and died in the Civil War? A bunch of white people, you ass. Who put a stop to the slave trade in Africa? The English. (and probably the French, Dutch, etc.) Who stopped cannibalism throughout the world? Americans, Dutch, English, French, and missionaries from the world’s great religions–Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. (The influence of the last three on the bulk of Indonesia seems obvious enough.) Whites don’t have a monopoly on greatness, but the claim that whites have done nothing for the planet is not only ignorant bullshit, but displays a profound ignorance of and refusal to learn about the histories and cultures of the entire non-white part of the world.

Normally, SJWs might deem spouting astonishingly ignorant nonsense about non-whites “racist,” but so long as your ignorance is being used to attack whites, then obviously everything is peachy keen and you’re worthy of publication on a major liberal website.

The sunken continent of Zealandia
The sunken continent of Zealandia

“Pre-European Māori had no distance weapons except for tao (spears)[14] and the introduction of the musket had an enormous impact on Māori warfare. Tribes with muskets would attack tribes without them, killing or enslaving many.[15] As a result, guns became very valuable and Māori would trade huge quantities of goods for a single musket. From 1805 to 1843 the Musket Wars raged until a new balance of power was achieved after most tribes had acquired muskets. In 1835, the peaceful Moriori of the Chatham Islands were attacked, enslaved, and nearly exterminated by mainland Ngāti Mutunga and Ngāti Tama Māori.[16] In the 1901 census, only 35 Moriori were recorded although the numbers subsequently increased.” (source)

Maori people
Maori people

“During the Musket wars, it has been estimated that the total number of the Māori population dropped from about 100,000 in 1800 to between 50,000 and 80,000 at the end of the wars in 1843. The 1856–1857 census of Māori, which gives a figure of 56,049, suggests the lower number of around 50,000 is perhaps more accurate. … the Maori suffered high mortality rates for new Eurasian infectious diseases, such as influenza, smallpox and measles, which killed an unknown number of Māori: estimates vary between ten and fifty percent.” (source)

Model of fortified Maori town
Model of fortified Maori town

“Initial contact between Māori and Europeans proved problematic, sometimes fatal, with several accounts of Europeans being cannibalised.[35] … In the Boyd Massacre in 1809, Māori took hostage and killed 66 members of the crew and passengers in apparent revenge for the captain’s whipping the son of a Māori chief. Given accounts of cannibalism in this attack, shipping companies and missionaries kept a distance and significantly reduced contact with the Māori for several years.” (source)

 

 

Traditional tattoos on a Filipino man, Bontoc people (why is "Filipino" spelled with an F?)
Traditional tattoos on a Filipino man, Bontoc people (why is “Filipino” spelled with an F?)

“The realm of legend suggests that Ui-te-Rangiora around the year 650, led a fleet of Waka Tīwai south until they reached, “a place of bitter cold where rock-like structures rose from a solid sea”,[21] The brief description appears to match the Ross Ice Shelf or possibly the Antarctic mainland,[22] but may just be a description of icebergs and Pack Ice found in the Southern Ocean[23][24]

“Polynesian navigators employed a whole range of techniques including use of the stars, the movement of ocean currents and wave patterns, the air and sea interference patterns caused by islands and atolls, the flight of birds, the winds and the weather.[32]

“Harold Gatty suggested that long-distance Polynesian voyaging followed the seasonal paths of bird migrations. There are some references in their oral traditions to the flight of birds and some say that there were range marks onshore pointing to distant islands in line with the West Pacific Flyway. A voyage from Tahiti, the Tuamotus or the Cook Islands to New Zealand might have followed the migration of the long-tailed cuckoo (Eudynamys taitensis) just as the voyage from Tahiti to Hawaiʻi would coincide with the track of the Pacific golden plover (Pluvialis fulva) and the bristle-thighed curlew (Numenius tahitiensis). It is also believed that Polynesians employed shore-sighting birds as did many seafaring peoples. One theory is that they would have taken a frigatebird (Fregata) with them. These birds refuse to land on the water as their feathers will become waterlogged making it impossible to fly. When the voyagers thought they were close to land they may have released the bird, which would either fly towards land or else return to the canoe.

“For navigators near the equator celestial navigation is simplified since the whole celestial sphere is exposed. Any star that passes the zenith (overhead) is on the celestial equator, the basis of the equatorial coordinate system. The stars are known by their declination, and when they rise or set they determine a bearing for navigation. For example, in the Caroline Islands Mau Piailug taught natural navigation using a star compass. The development of “sidereal compasses” has been studied[33] and theorized to have developed from an ancient pelorus.[32]

“It is likely that the Polynesians also used wave and swell formations to navigate. Many of the habitable areas of the Pacific Ocean are groups of islands (or atolls) in chains hundreds of kilometers long. Island chains have predictable effects on waves and on currents. Navigators who lived within a group of islands would learn the effect various islands had on their shape, direction, and motion and would have been able to correct their path in accordance with the changes they perceived. When they arrived in the vicinity of a chain of islands they were unfamiliar with, they may have been able to transfer their experience and deduce that they were nearing a group of islands. Once they had arrived fairly close to a destination island, they would have been able to pinpoint its location by sightings of land-based birds, certain cloud formations, as well as the reflections shallow water made on the undersides of clouds. It is thought that the Polynesian navigators may have measured the time it took to sail between islands in “canoe-days” or a similar type of expression.[32]”

“The first settlers of the Hawaiian Islands are thought to have sailed from the Marquesas Islands using Polynesian navigation methods.[34] To test this theory, the Hawaiian Polynesian Voyaging Society was established in 1973. The group built a replica of an ancient double-hulled canoe called the Hōkūle‘a, whose crew successfully navigated the Pacific Ocean from Hawaiʻi to Tahiti in 1976 without instruments. In 1980, a Hawaiian named Nainoa Thompson invented a new method of non instrument navigation (called the “modern Hawaiian wayfinding system”), enabling him to complete the voyage from Hawaiʻi to Tahiti and back. In 1987, a Māori named Matahi Whakataka (Greg Brightwell) and his mentor Francis Cowan sailed from Tahiti to Aotearoa without instruments.” (source)