All posts by fraileyj

#Agriculture

Which primary or secondary characteristic is the most important? This one was easy. Agriculture. I find that agriculture actually is the basis of a lot of the other characteristics of a state: Urbanism, specialization, complex economy, stratification, and authority. The beginning of growth of the state is generally based on agriculture as well by the process of domestication. Domestication allows for the hunter and gatherer community to predictably control their own destiny for the first time. They will start to have some grasp of what kind of food they will have and how much they will have from year to year versus the alternative of looking around for food every week and hoping there is enough. This predictability allows for the branching out of society into other social realms. The reliance on seasonal patterns for agriculture may help develop different faiths from culture to culture as well. How often have you heard of a state praying to the sun or rain god? It isn’t a coincidence that the sun god is generally a primary figure and that sun and water are extremely important to agriculture. Also, the planning aspect of domestication and farming requires someone to be in charge for the better of the community. This spurs on some beginning level of stratification in the community as well as authority. Someone needs to be in charge of making sure that agricultural produce is being used or stored wisely. The domestication of cereal grains has been seen to influence the startup of sedentary communities versus nomadic communities. This is the very beginning stage of urbanism and urban growth. Densely populated centers where people reside don’t always allow for everyone to be an agriculturalist. Other careers must be found in creating pottery, religion, and architecture. This is the beginning of specialization in the state. Over time, all of these factors will develop and form the Heirakonpolises and the Tenochtitlans we all know and love. However, just as agriculture was the beginning of all of these characteristics and therefore the state itself, it can also be the cause of collapse of the state. The unsustainable use of land can cause desertification and the collapse of agriculture in a state. The reliance on annual flooding or other patterns for agricultural can bring a state to its knees if it cannot handle an unpredictable change in the pattern. Production of food is very important and can either sustain a state or bring it down; therefore it is the most important characteristic of the state.

I Don’t Like Them.

I really, really hate the 16th century Spanish. I would argue that 16th century Spain was one the most, if not the most, destructive force in the world at the time. The root of not only collapse but the obliteration of Mesoamerican culture can be blamed on the Spanish. The Maya had script of which we have found a few examples on stone and hard surfaces but not much has been found on perishable surfaces. Why is this? The Spanish felt it necessary to destroy the Maya’s cultural belongings. The Spanish destroyed enough of the material to skew our interpretation of the script. Similarly, the Inca had a system of writing based on strings and knots called quipu. Quipu were kept by people called quipu camaya who the Spanish saw fit to kill. Because of this, how quipu is interpreted was completely lost. This is awful news for historians and the preservation of ancient American culture. We have no idea what this stored data means and we will probably never know. Something that may be worse the loss of material culture is the killing of the native people. The Aztecs had their existence truncated by the arrival of the Spanish. Hernan Cortes landed in 1518 and had taken the Aztec capitol by 1521. By 1531 the Spanish had control of the entire region! They had no business coming to town and destroying these peoples’ lives for gold. Not only were the Spanish lacking in respect for the native people of the land, they blatantly disregarded their well being. On top of disrupting daily operations and rocking the entire social system the Spanish introduced disease to the population, which would ultimately bring the Mesoamericans to their knees. The native people had zero resistance to the diseases that were introduced to them, including syphilis. I would venture to say that the Spanish were in fact raping the native women as a “spoils of war” prize, ultimately killing them further down the road after spreading the disease further. The Spanish literally killed thousands of natives by having (possibly forcing) intercourse with the native women. My LEAST favorite Spaniard has to be Francisco Pizzaro though. What a grade-A tool. Sure, he may seem nice at first, with his “I’m a diplomat” introduction and his respectful demeanor, but as soon as you let him get close he will kidnap your king and give you the choice: Gold or the king will die. Of course you’ll scrounge up all the gold you can and when you give it to him he will just strangle your king to death anyway. That is exactly what he did the Inca. Just four years after that he basically came back and destroyed everything and everyone. BOOM. That’s the end of everything as far as the Inca go. Man, I really hate the 16th century Spanish.

Underwater Wreckage

The underwater archaeology talk taught some very interesting things about the Adriatic Sea. For instance, I never knew just how important the sea was all through history. Dr. Petrobica informed us that there are currently around two hundred known shipwrecks along the Croatian coastline. Over one hundred are known to be Roman, four are medieval, and over seventy are modern. The Adriatic Sea is a gold mine of naval history- sometimes literally! These ships carried many different treasures though, not just gold. Many of the shipwrecks are from trading vessels, which would explain why the items on the ships originated everywhere. Eastern ceramics have even been found in the wrecks.  Along with Roman art and sarcophagi, Medieval glass cups and coins, to cool renaissance equipment such as sun dials and pad locks. Dr. Petrobica even mentioned how clothes and chandeliers dating back to the renaissance have been found. Considering the wide diversity of all of these goods’ origins how is it possible to know where and when these ships actually came from? If there are European ceramics and byzantine art on the same ship then how can we tell who this ship belongs to? I found it pretty clever when Dr. Petrobica told us they look at the living quarters and kitchen of the crew in order to find information about the origin. It makes sense too: The crewmembers will be eating and using food and tools that they are used to using and eating. This is a good way of identifying the people this ship belonged to. Merchant ships aren’t the only shipwrecks found in the sea, however. Military vessels are somewhat abundant as well, especially considering the sea’s tactical advantage in World War II.  The oldest cannons found, however, date back further than World War II. A cannon from the renaissance period has been found in the bay of Molunat which may indicate the ship was protecting itself from pirates. A World War II vessel that has been found is not even a ship but a plane! A B-24J Liberator is an American Bomber that was assumed to have been shot down over the sea. The excavators found an intact machine gun and propeller, but not before plunderers aid the sit a visit ahead of time. German torpedo boats have been found as well as a couple ocean liners. The Baron Gautsh was a passenger ship that ran into a minefield and sunk in 1914. I found the image of this ship underwater is very ominous because of how it lays on the sea floor: Completely upright as if it is sailing through the sand.

Centralization and Trader Housing

In class we said that perhaps the Harappan “Civilization” may have been decentralized. I would like to argue that centralization must have occurred resulting from the economic situation. The Indus valley peoples were heavily reliant on trade, perhaps more so than other ancient states at the time. This is called the Harappan world economic system. The sys is this complicated web of trading goods with states to the west in Mesopotamia and Egypt. The Indus region peoples are the product of an enormous dependence on trade. This world economic system is the reason the area thrived. Perhaps this is an argument for the centralization of a state. Instead of having everybody trading using different standards and methods we see that the Indus people had a specific uniform system of weights and measures. It is hard to believe that a system like this became so engrossed and accepted in a culture without having some type of leadership to say “This is what we’re going to use from now on.”. We see other institutions of standards as well in mud bricks. Mud bricks are used for everything and they’re all nearly identical. I imagine that brick makers around the area were told specific dimensions with which to create their product by some authority. If this leadership had the ability to extend their economic authority throughout the region then it must have been a state-like authority and centralized.

I’d like to shift topics to the idea that large urban centers may have been like a mecca in that it was a religious center visited by many people.  I like this idea and I think the architecture supports it. It may be possible that city authorities designed the housing to be space efficient and easy to build. Perhaps authorities designed these housing areas not to be used by families or individuals for long periods of times but perhaps more like a hotel room for limited periods of time. It is hard to look at the floor plans of the major cities and not ask why they were so deliberately and specifically built in the manor they are. Perhaps this is why. Also, I would like to put forth the possibility that the housing units were not necessarily designed for religious travelers visiting the city but for incoming traders to stay comfortably for short periods of time. Considering the extreme reliance on trade in the Indus region I imagine they did whatever they could do to make sure the relationships were maintained. If I were a traveling trader then having a shelter and private area to stay in while visiting the Indus region would be quite welcome after the journey and would make me want to keep trading there.

Comparing Mesopotamia and Egypt: What I Hope to Learn

Mesopotamian states and the Egyptian state arose at times and locations close enough to each other that interaction between the two may have occurred. I’m interested in seeing how this interaction is manifested in Mesopotamian culture. I’d like to look at Mesopotamia and Egypt comparatively from different standpoints. There are few specific areas I’m anxious to learn about:

 

–       Is it possible that the Egyptian economic practices influenced what we find in Mesopotamia? Are we seeing similar goods being traded and produced for similar purposes? Due to similar climates, I think the agriculture will be similar and thus we will discover similar goods stemming from it. Goods such as storage containers and farming tools. Also, although it may be hard to discover through the archeological record, I wonder if the two cultures observed the same business rituals similar to the hand-shake after the closing of a deal in contemporary times.

–       Did the Mesopotamian pantheon contain similar deities to what we found in Egypt? Is it possible that a god-exchange may have occurred? Perhaps we’ll find out about animal deities very similar to what we see in Egypt but perhaps by other names. Will there exist a chariot-riding sun god in Mesopotamia?

–       Is the Mesopotamian mythology made up of stories like those in Egypt? I’m especially curious to hear about how the afterlife compares to Egypt’s version and the weighing of a soul.

–       How does the art of Mesopotamian culture compare to that of Egypt?  Does Mesopotamian art hold similar characteristics of style and medium? Will we see an evolution of pottery through time like we discovered in Egypt? Will cemeteries and tombs be filled with rich text and goods of different varieties? I expect we will see very similar ceramics and statuettes but I’m convinced that palettes may be unique to Egypt. Growing up I hear of how makeup was used in Egypt but not elsewhere. The stereotypical image of Cleopatra with heavy eyeliner comes to mind.

–       In Egypt we see the role of military in unification of the state. In Mesopotamia will we see similar military usage within city-states? In terms of weapons and tactics are we going to see a lot of recurring ideas and objects? Will Mesopotamians be attacking walled cities with farming equipment as seen on the Towns Palette?

 

I expect to see quite a few things in common between Egypt and the Mesopotamian states. I think it will be interesting to find answers to the above questions and use them to explain the development of the Mesopotamian region.

On the Origin of Fermentation and Mead in Egypt

The ancient Egyptians were known to be avid practitioners of fermentation. They purposefully created alcohol for the purpose of consumption. Fermentation occurs when unicellular organisms known as yeast consume sugars and convert them to alcohol and carbon dioxide over the course of several weeks. For example, beer is formed when sugars extracted from grains are consumed by yeast. Ancient Egyptian beer (not like the beer of today) was known to be produced on a large scale for sale and consumption. Evidence of industrial beer brewing facilities have been discovered at urban sites across the land including Hierakonpolis. Beer, however, was not the only fermented beverage to be had in ancient Egypt.  Also, I do not believe it is the oldest fermented beverage to be created in the region. The Egyptians were avid mead drinkers as well.

What is mead? Mead is essentially fermented honey. Honey is a naturally occurring and highly caloric food, which would prove to be of immense value in any ancient society.  This was no different in Egypt where honey became of great importance. It was even mentioned as a fermentable in the Hymn to Ninkasi, a poem for the goddess of fermentation. As further evidence for the significance of honey is the existence of an Egyptian god of fertility, Min, who was referred to as the “master of wild bees”. Also, manuscript evidence seems to point to royally commissioned honey hunting parties protected by guards of archers. Honey was domesticated in the form of beekeeping to increase access to the supply.

So how was mead discovered in ancient times? I’m going to suggest a hypothesis put forth by Ken Schramm about the origin of mead/fermentation as a happenstance discovery in Egypt based on the following premises: 1) Yeast cells are found everywhere in the wild, floating around in the air and in/on things and 2) Honey hunters went on expeditions to retrieve honey and required vessels for storage.

Imagine you are a honey hunter and you have an animal-skin for carrying your water for the long journey and you come across a nice fat beehive. Not wanting the honey to go to waste and realizing your water skin is not full, you decide to be as efficient as possible and fill your skin with honey to take back home. After you arrive home, you put the water skin in storage until the honey is required. However, after a few days you notice the skin started to swell up and you open it to find the honey has mixed with the leftover water in your animal skin and it is a little bubbly and churning You decide to take a drink of the sweet liquid and to your surprise it tastes wonderful and a little hot. After a few more gulps you start to feel a little funny and happy.

What magic happened that turned the contents of your water skin into this elixir of the gods? We know now that a yeast culture must have been present in the animal skin that was then introduced to the buffet of sugar that honey provided. Fermentation occurred and mead was introduced to the population of Egypt. It would have been relatively simple to recreate the process and through time, perfect the art of fermentation of not only honey but other sugars as well.

Fermentation became ingrained in Egyptian society and later expanded to fermenting beer as a source of both income and calories. Many of these ancient practices are still happening today, although it looks much different now.

Side note: Mead would later be thought to be an aphrodisiac, probably because of the effects of alcohol and lowering the inhibition of selecting mates, which would improve chances of reproduction. It is rumored that the term “honeymoon” comes from the gift of mead at weddings to help the newlywed couple be more fertile for the month following the marriage.

Crane, E. (1999).  The World History of Bee Keeping and Honey Hunting. London: Gerald Duckworth and Company Ltd.

Schramm, K.  (2003).The Compleat Meadmaker. Boulder, CO: Brewers Publications.