Signed With Love, A Dead Civilization
Signed With Love, A Dead Civilization
By Rook Hawkins
Thomas Cahill wrote that “the Historian’s principal task should be to raise the dead to life.” Cahill is certainly right. Often times in antiquity, ancient historians would take this statement too literally, raising their protagonist from the dead using all sorts of miraculous and fictional motifs to do it. Thankfully, the days where city founders and saviors would meet their righteous followers on the road before ascending off into the sky are over, particularly when it comes to literary exegesis (although there are still a few evangelical and reactionary historians who try to do this with the Gospel Jesus). Modern historians have new ways to bringing the dead back to life, and more often than not, this is accomplished with methods revolving around science instead of superstition.
Lots of very exciting things are happening right now all over the world. Dead civilizations are being discovered and new assessments are being made about the origins of not only ancient civilizations, but civilization itself. Most recently, while this article is being written, two important digs are happening; one in Spain and the other in Turkey.
The dig in Spain has uncovered what appears to be the lost civilization of the Vaccaei. A large Iron Age settlement discovered at Las Ruedas at Pintia has revealed information previously unknown about the Vaccean culture, including the lifestyle of its citizens prior to the Roman occupation after the defeat of Hannibal in the third century BCE, at the end of the 2nd Punic War, but also burial customs and artistry. There is no doubt that this culture played an important roll in the development of Western Europe prior to the Romanization of the area, and interesting enough, there does not seem to be any written language that we know of. The Vaccaei at Pintia seem to have enjoyed a very long stay there, with the Iron Age settlement being built upon by the Romans and later the Visigoths when they expanded into Spain in the fifth and sixth centuries CE.
In Turkey, a far more fascinating archaeological dig is taking place, in both size and importance. The claim being made by the archaeologists who have unearthed the site suggest that they found the oldest temple (possibly in existence). At the site of Gobekli Tepe, in southeast Turkey, in the belly of a large hill, lay the ruins of the currently-dubbed oldest temple in the world, dated to 9100-8000 BCE – which has significantly adjusted thoughts on the origins of agriculture and settlement. Previously, it had been suggested that man grew crops first, built permanent structures later, and grew from there. However, the lack of evidence at this site suggests something else. There does not appear to be domestic remains of neither plant nor animal around or near the hill. The progression now being considered is that permanent structures came about first, agriculture and settlement came later. There is some speculation that this site may be instrumental in determining the transition between hunter-gathering and agriculture; the so-called ‘Neolithic revolution.’
Additional news on the Hurrian front; excavations in Urkesh has sparked new life into this civilization. The question being asked now is not “Who were the Hurrians” but rather “How much did they influence civilization?” A once-thought small tribe, the Hurrians were once thought of as a relatively late cultural development. This was based largely on the fact that Hurrian names are absent from recorded history until the Akkadians started getting more powerful. However, Dr. Piotr Michaelowski seems to feel that, much like the Sumerian language, Hurrian was not Semitic. He feels that they could have inhabited the land, only to later “make room” for the Semitic cultures who established the first empire at Akkad in Mesopotamia in the third millennium BCE. The problem with the Hurrian identifying their former Capital of Urkesh had been that they had seemed to have vanished shortly after the Hittite invasion in the late second millennium BCE.
Brief Excursus: It seems the Hurrian pantheon of Gods included Kumbari, God of the underworld, and his son, the storm-god, Teshub. Interestingly enough, Yahweh is known to be a storm-god in the Israelite pantheon with El as his father, and Baal is the storm-god of the Ugaritic pantheon, also with El as the father (or father head). Zeus, the storm god, and Chronos as his father, also seems to possibly stem from this archetype.
Bronze tools and implements, along with spear tips were found around the temple area of Urkesh. Underground plumbing, a sophisticated water system, architecture, and a large population (about 20,000 residents) add to the intrigue of this archaeological find. Also an underground chamber has been uncovered where it was once believed to be a link to the underworld, a key part of Hurrian—and later Hittite—belief about the dead and evil spirits. It may also have been a place of worship, being that the main head of the pantheon was the God of the underworld. The fact that the city has signs of a long existence shows that the Hurrians were not easily defeated, and could defend themselves even amidst the countless invasions and nomadic tribes wandering about tells us a lot about the Hurrian culture as warriors and as a civilization. The existence of Urkesh as a real city—if this is really Urkesh—will definitely impact ancient Near Eastern studies. 
To rival this find, however, is what is actually happening in the United States. And boy is it the shits. Literally. Dennis Jenkins (archaeologist) of the University of Oregon and Eske Willerslev (geneticist) of Copenhagen University is excavating the Paisley Caves, a basalt next to a prehistoric lakebed, in Oregon. What are they digging up? Not the skeletal remains of a prehistoric human, nor are they finding tools like the 13,000 year old Clovis tools found in New Mexico. No, what they are looking for are 14,300 year old human DNA in excrement left by man when he crossed the Bering Straight, now considered to be 15,000 years ago (instead of the previous estimate of 13,000 years ago), meaning that man crossed the straight 2,000 years earlier than previously expected. This author is eager to learn what sorts of new discoveries lie ahead with this new and fascinating (and stinky) find! I won’t ruin the whole article (its full of great anecdotes!).
Alas, with every great find, there are those who, somewhere in the world, will sensationalize their discoveries and attempt to promote or exaggerate sites beyond what they really deserve. In northern Jordan a group of archaeologists have claimed to find the first Christian church, dating it (presumptuously and rather uncritically) to 33 CE, and was established soon after—they say—the death of Jesus. The “church” (first, it’s actually a cave, and second, ‘churches’ did not exist in the first century – it would have been a synagogue) was found under a third-century church established by later Christians. Hershel Shanks, who I often find repulsive in his own presumptuous claims (the James ossuary, anybody?), actually gives a very good explanation on why the rush to date this so early is rather precarious of the archaeologists who discovered the site. His interview can be found here.
This concludes the update on some of the worlds current archaeological digs and their impact on historical studies. Hope you enjoyed.
 Thomas Cahill, Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter (2003), p. 8
 C.S. Minquez & F.R. Carnicero, “Pintia: Fortunes of a pre-Roman City in Hispania” CWA 29, pp. 22-29
 Nadia Durrani, “The Treasures of Southeast Turkey” CWA 29, pp. 53-55
 Hurru was a Bronze Age culture, dating back to at least the third millennium BCE.
 Andrew Lawler, “Who Were the Hurrians?” Archaeology Vol. 61 No. 4, July/August 2008, pp 46-52; Abstract can be found here: http://www.archaeology.org/0807/abstracts/urkesh.html
 Andrew Curry, “Ancient Excrement” Archaeology Vol. 61 No. 4, July/August 2008, pp 42-45; Abstract can be found here: http://www.archaeology.org/0807/abstracts/coprolites.html