Far from the brutish stone age image archaeologists have held of the prehistoric builders of Britain's stone rings, Archaeoastronomer and sacred geometer Robin Heath argues that they were on the contrary, quite sophisticated and that, "During the last fifty years, many key megalithic sites in Britain and Ireland have been re-dated to push their construction horizon back way beyond the building of the Pyramids, whilst Babylonian astronomy is not thought to have amounted to very much before 2000 BCE. Yet in school books and museums in England, Stonehenge remains dated at around 1500 BCE. Modern books are slowly changing this - the sarcen circle is recently dated by (Professor John) North, to 2600 BCE - over a millennium earlier, and thereby contemporary with the building of the Giza pyramid complex." 1
It seems that the longer I study sacred space, the dates of more and more sacred places are being pushed farther back into prehistory. Also, the more I study them, the more I am aware just how advanced our pre-historic foremothers and fathers were.
For example, the oldest true labyrinth we knew of when I began to work with them in the early eighties was on a clay tablet in Nestor's palace in Greece that was preserved because of a fire in his library! It came from Troy - (ca. 1280 BCE). But now, the Mogor labyrinth in Galicia in northern Spain is oldest one we know of so far - 2000 BCE.
Mogor Labyrinth 2000BCE±
Photo courtesy of Jeff Saward
Back in the seventies, when I was beginning to learn about sacred space, one of the oldest dates I worked with was the beginning of the Egyptian dynasties - about 3,100 BCE.
Çatal Hüyük, in southern Turkey was originally excavated by James Mellaart. He dated it back to 6000 BCE. It was of special interest to me because it seemed to be very Goddess oriented. (Now that date has been pushed back by over 1000 years.) In the seventies, Jericho (as in "Joshua fit de battle ob ...") was the oldest city I knew of. The primative Natufian level was dated back to 10,000 BCE.
Recently, Göbekli Tepe, on the Syrian border in Turkey, has come to many peoples' attention. It has been dated back to 9,000 BCE. With its T shaped lintles and beautiful bas-relief carvings, in some ways the constructors of this site were more sophisticated than the builders of Stonehenge - 6,000 years later. It was most likely erected by hunter-gatherers and has been under excavation since 1994 by German and Turkish archaeologists.
But now let's go much further back in time to the Cro-Magnon cave paintings of Lascaux. This is one of several caves in southern France that exhibit the marvelous art work of - when I first heard of it - the earliest Homo Sapiens in Europe. Dated to 17,300 years old, these Upper Paleolithic paintings are found in a cave near the village of Montignac in the department of Dordogne. These artists were not primitive savages! (Please note, we will discuss this term later.) In addition to many powerful drawings of animals, a number of different constellations like Taurus, the Pleiades and the Summer Triangle have been identified. It has also been theorized that the paintings could be an account of past hunting success, or could represent a mystical ritual in order to improve future hunting endeavors, and that the caves were used for trance dancing.
©Jack Versloot <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Lascaux_II.jpg>.
Used with permission.
Earlier this year, I saw a film entitled Cave of Forgotten Dreams. (←This YouTube link will give you a taste of the film. The Full Movie is available for rent for £2.49) At the time it was made (2010) Werner Herzog gained exclusive access to film inside the Chauvet caves of Southern France, capturing at that time the oldest known pictorial creations of humankind (read: Cro Magnon). It was dated at 30,000 BCE±.
But now, there is evidence of even earlier cave art. In a cave in northwestern Spain called El Castillo are the oldest examples of cave art so far. Its been dated to 40,800 BCE.
From Scientific American. June 14, 2012.
And it wasn't made by Homo sapiens (Cro Magnon), who arrived in Europe along the eastern end of the Mediterranean at 40,000 BCE. According to the Guardian, these cave paintings in Spain were made by Neanderthals! "Once the archetype for primitive, uncivilised behavior, the species, illuminated through fossil excavations and lately analysis of their genome, has emerged as being not too dissimilar from our own. Contrary to their dim-witted image Neanderthals have been found to have used tools, to have worn jewellery, and, lastly, to have interbred with our Homo sapiens ancestors."2
Most of the civilizations I've written about in this article were, by our standards, less civilized than we like to think we are, and most have been referred to as "Primitive Savages."
I've written about this term 'Primitive Savages' before - from my perspective if refers to a culture that is probably more spiritually advanced than we are. It has been used throughout history (and pre-history), most recently less than 150 years ago to describe the Indians of the American Planes. I suspect that we can now, according to my definition, define the Neanderthals as primitive savages as well.
Don't Believe Everything You Think!
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1 Robin Heath. 1998. Sun, Moon & Stonehenge: Proof of High Culture in Ancient Britain. Cardigan, Wales: Bluestone Press. ISBN 0 9526151 77.
2 Alok Jha. 14 June 2012. Neanderthals may have been first human species to create cave paintings. guardian.co.uk.