Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Cosmology of the Ancient Balts

The Cosmology of the Ancient Balts
Straižys, V., Klimka, L.
Journal for the History of Astronomy, Archaeoastronomy Supplement, Vol. 28, p.S57
(Link)

"Historical Background"

In the present territories of Lithuania and Latvia archaeologists find habitation sites established eleven or twelve thousand years ago, at the end of a 60,000 year long glacial period during which the Baltic region was under the ice sheet at least for three long periods.  With the recession of the ice, the land gradually turned into tundra with herds of reindeer going further north in the summer.  Reindeer were followed by hunters who left their permanent settlements somewhere in the northern parts of Europe.  These were men of the Paleolithic Swiderian and Magdalenian cultures, armed with spears, bows and flint-head arrows, bone and horn harpoons, and stone slings, and followed by their domesticated dogs.  Art finds that reflect the spiritual world of Paleolithic man are scarce.  However, burial grounds of that period have survived to the present day.  The fact that ancient people were buried together with their clothes, decorations, daily-life utensils, as an extension of the earth, may also appear in the Paleolithic, the starry sky being inhabited by different animals, while the Sun and the Moon were symbolically imagined as deer.
    "In the Mesolithic (7500-3500 B.C.) the Baltic area was gradually covered by forests with abundant fauna.  The people of the Nemunas and Kunda cultures who inhabited these forests lived on hunting, fishing and gathering the food that nature provided.  From that period, a number of artifacts, made of bone and decorated with ornaments demonstrating some king of symbolic script, have survived to our day.  Among them is the symbol of the Sun, a circle, and the symbol of fire, a cross with arms of equal length.  It is quite probable that the myth of European and Asian peoples that explains the world as formed from a duck egg, originated in the Mesolithic, or even earlier . . ."

 
 
FIG. 8 Symbolic representation of heavenly bodies and atmospheric phenomena used by the Balts.
 
 
 

7 comments:

  1. Amazing, Marnie! Baltic cosmology reminds me a bit of SW Native American mythology (such as that of the Hopi), with visual symbolic representations of the four directions. I think we are so accustomed to Indo-European myths and symbols, like that that of the twin horses, that we may loose sight of the undercurrent and substrate influences of the Mesolithic and Early Neolithic on interesting models of cosmology.

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  2. Hi Roy,

    I've been reading a lot lately about the Anishinaabeg. Here's their creation story:

    http://www.gct3.net/wp-content/uploads/2008/01/creation_story.pdf

    The Anishinaabeg also had a mathematical system. So did the Maya, the Akan and some Inuit people. I haven't yet had a chance to look more broadly.

    Here's the link for the Akan:
    http://www.cfiks.org/akanart/akanart/themes/knowledge/akanmath.htm

    If you know of a good link for the Hopi and their creation story, maybe you could pass it along.

    "I think we are so accustomed to Indo-European myths and symbols, like that that of the twin horses, that we may loose sight of the undercurrent and substrate influences of the Mesolithic and Early Neolithic on interesting models of cosmology."

    I couldn't agree more.

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  3. Hi Marnie,
    Here is a link to google books for the myths incorporating four-ness (rather than trinity/duality) into myths:
    http://books.google.com/books?id=9I62BcuPxfYC&pg=PA336&lpg=PA336&dq=hopi+four+directions+mythology&source=bl&ots=4WSFTog2fW&sig=nANezxk8FEj4-dJFgBuaFpmfWYQ&hl=en&sa=X&ei=LxvTUquVO6TJsQSsuYGYDg&ved=0CFwQ6AEwBg#v=onepage&q=hopi%20four%20directions%20mythology&f=false

    Thanks for the Anishinaabeg link! There are a series of earth diver myths, like those of the Anishinaabeg, that have a foundational story of diving into the waters under the sea. Michael Witzel sees these narratives as a Eurasian/Native American substrate motif in his book on the "Origin of World Mythologies". Maybe the whole Mal'ta ancient DNA findings show a correspondence between the Mesolithic of Northern Eurasia and the Native Americans of the New World in their cognitive models as well.

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  4. Wow, Roy, that link to the book on creation myths is just an amazing comprehensive summary of the formation of the idea of the "four directions" as well as diver myths.

    As a matter of fact, after reading the Anishinaabeg muskrat diving to find soil myth, I was wondering how broad based that was. From your reference, it looks like the myth of diving to find soil extends across Eurasia at least to the Altai. Although it looks like it is an inverted myth. The good muskrat of the Anishinabeg has been turned into a bad guy. :)

    For the record, I'll add this diver myth:

    http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/celt/tsm/tsm14.htm

    In this case, the diver is a mare which carries her rider down to the "Kingdom of the Seals".

    "Maybe the whole Mal'ta ancient DNA findings show a correspondence between the Mesolithic of Northern Eurasia and the Native Americans of the New World in their cognitive models as well."

    I have to admit that I think these earth diver and flood myths are based on remembrace of the sea level rise after the LGM. From the record, it looks like the water rose very rapidly between about 12,000 and 8,000 years ago. It must sometimes have been very traumatic. I may be wrong.

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  5. Hi, just wondering, do you have any images of the actual Mesolithic bone carvings "demonstrating some kind of symbolic script"? I am also wondering if the symbols will turn out to be similar to the patterns found in carvings from the late Paleolithic site at Mezin, Ukraine? Wow, thanks! So it is Baltic. (This interests me partly my last name is from Lithuania.)

    Here's a link to the original article:
    http://articles.adsabs.harvard.edu/full/seri/JHAS./0028//0000057.000.html
    I must point out, on Marnie's blog, the prominent image of the distaff with sun motifs (Fig. 6 in original article) is that of Lithuanian grave markers called Krikstai, dating to the renaissance, maybe medieval periods; I would still like to see some image of the Mesolithic bone carvings "demonstrating some kind of a symbolic script" mentioned on the first page of the article and her blog post.
    I wonder if the Mesolithic symbols will turn out to be related/similar to the patters from the late Paleolithic site of Mezin. http://donsmaps.com/wolfcamp.html

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  6. Oops, I somehow accidentally pasted in my comment to Maju's blog as well. Sorry about that.

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  7. Hi John,

    Mesolithic bone carving does not appear to be specific to the Baltic. It's likely that the memory of this type of writing is preserved in the Baltic. However, fragments appear to be preserved across Europe, all the way from the British Isles to Eastern Europe.

    "Hi, just wondering, do you have any images of the actual Mesolithic bone carvings "demonstrating some kind of symbolic script"?"

    There are some Magdalenian reindeer bone finds that have regular tick marks on them.

    Also, the Dispilio tablet (Early Neolithic) appears to share a few symbols with the Baltic symbols mentioned in this paper.

    See also:

    The Ishango Bone:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ishango_bone

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