July 22, 2012

A physico-anthropological study of skeletal material from Neolithic age to Hellenistic times in Central Greece and surrounding region

I have located the text of George Panagiaris important 1993 doctoral thesis on Greek skeletal material. This may be one of the most comprehensive efforts to study the Ancient Greek population from a physical anthropological perspective (413 male and 354 female crania, using 65 biometric characters as well odontological traits).

Panagiaris' conclusions in English can be found in p.10 of the document. He confirms that the greater period of discontinuity in the material is observed during the Helladic period (=Bronze Age in Greek archaeology), where broad-headed incoming groups appear, side by side with the older Mediterranean population. He attributes this to the arrival of such people from the highlands Pindos range, although he sees the possibility of Anatolian influences as well, but has no comparative data. He cites the tendency for broader skulls in higher latitudes, although this general trend in H. sapiens probably does not explain the local trend within Caucasoids where the key difference is between mountaineers (where the Alpine, Dinaric, Armenoid, and Pamir-Ferghana types are well-represented) and lowland folk. Perhaps, if various ancient DNA projects manage to study some Greek material we may be able to ascertain the events that were taking place in Greece at that time.

Of course, the issue cannot be seen in isolation, because at this time we see an increase in brachycephalic types in Crete and Anatolia, the appearance of the intrusive brachycephalic Bell Beaker folk in Western Europe, and perhaps even the presence of the interfluvial type (Pamir-Ferghana type) in the eastern Saka. 

Personally, I see something important in these developments: why would broad-headed mountaineers make their appearance in the lowlands at this time in history? I am strongly leaning towards the idea that this has to do with metallurgical innovation during this time. According to Roberts et al. (2009), from which the figure on the left is taken:

Metallurgy in Eurasia originated in Southwest Asia due to the widespread adoption of, and experimentation in, pyrotechnology and the desire for new materials to serve as aesthetic visual displays of identity, whether of a social, cultural or ideological nature. This can be demonstrated through the early use of metal for jewellery and the use of ore-based pigments along with the continued use of stone, bone, and other materials for most tools. The subsequent appearance of metals throughout Eurasia is due to the acquisition of metal objects by individuals and communities re-inventing traditions of adornment, even in regions hundreds of kilometres from the nearest sources of native metals or ores. The movement of communities possessing metallurgical expertise to new ore sources and into supportive societies led to the gradual transmission of metallurgy across the Eurasian landmass. By the second millennium BC, metallurgy had spread across Eurasia, becoming firmly rooted in virtually all inhabitable areas (Sherratt 2006). The ability to smelt different ores, create different metals or increase metal production did not occur in a linear evolutionary fashion throughout Eurasia, but rather appeared sporadically over a vast area – a result of regional innovations and societal desires and demands. 
There is no evidence to suggest that metallurgy was independently invented in any part of Eurasia beyond Southwest Asia. The process of metallurgical transmission and innovation created a mosaic of (frequently diverse) metallurgical traditions distinguished by form, composition and production techniques. It is within this context that innovations such as the earliest working of gold in the Balkans or the sudden emergence of distinctive tin-bronze working in Southeast Asia should be seen. 
The richest ore deposits were found in mountain areas as Thornton (2009) makes clear:
Models for the development of metallurgy in Southwest Asia have for a long time been focussed on research carried out in the lowland regions of the Levant and Mesopotamia. These models do not take into account the different developmental trajectories witnessed in the resource-rich highlands of Anatolia, the Caucasus, and Iran. In this paper, the beginnings of the use and production of metals in Iran will be juxtaposed with a cursory overview of the lowland model (the ‘Levantine Paradigm’) in order to highlight these differences. By synthesizing data from a number of current research projects exploring the early metallurgy of the Iranian Plateau, this paper demonstrates how at least one of the highland regions of Southwest Asia was at the very forefront of technological innovation from the seventh through the second millennium BC.  
I had planned to write a separate post on the interplay between metallurgy and the rise in social complexity that led to the spread of (at least some branches of-) Indo-European and Semitic during time, but this is probably as good a place as any to summarize the argument:

The practice of metallurgy launched the first globalization: in order to produce high quality metal objects, one needed a variety of specialized workers: prospectors, miners, metalworkers. The necessary ores do not occur everywhere on the map, and production requires a complex logistic operation to manage resources and talent. One needed, in addition, to establish a network of traders and warriors to carry out and supervise the trade, since demand for metal objects was wide and not limited to the vicinity of their production.

Production and trade networks facilitated the flow of ideas, and necessitated the flow of peoples, both because expertise was non-local, and also because the producers wanted to supervise their profitable business. There is an advantage to being an early adopter of new technology; many of the shifts in power in world history depended on a technology differential (European guns in the New World, mounted archers on the Eurasian steppe, triremes in the Mediterranean, Macedonian long-spears vs. Persian light infantry being some examples).

The technology differential eventually dissipates as everyone gets access to the new inventions. This process may take several centuries, but in the meantime those monopolizing them enjoy a triple advantage:

  1. There is demand for their product
  2. They have the better weapons
  3. They are part of broader communities that can muster resources against anyone who crosses them
It is no accident that the Bronze Age started with technological innovation and ended up in a series of military conflicts. What began as a transformation of Neolithic communities by monopolizing guilds of the bearers of the new technologies ended up with everyone having access to them, and of course they went to war.

Getting back to the topic of Panagiaris' dissertation, I might try my hand at translating some interesting portions. These will be posted as updates in the space below.


Unknown said...

I am not fond of skull studies but ...

These (IMO incomplete) maps of the spread of copper working do not match with the arrival of Brachycephalics in Greece from the Pindos mountains (border with Albania). Its the wrong direction. Arrival from Anatolia maybe, but I cant see any reason to believe that ancient Anatolians were significantly different from ancient Greeks in skull shape.

This population moving into ancient Greece must have been drawn there (eg employment) or pushed there (population expansion or forced exodus). Rich miners swanning down from the hills for a bit of Greek nightlife do not seem to fit the bill.

Is this maybe the Slav population expansion into Greece?

Dienekes said...

All these are pre-medieval samples, so no "Slav population expansion" here.

Fanty said...

Brachycephalic mountaineers immediately reminds me of Dwarven kind.

Arent Dwarfs associated with mining and a metallurgy, superior to that of humans? Not only with Tolkiens dwarfs but also in real mythology.
And with large and round heads (seen from above).

Maybe there is a connection. ;-D

Dienekes said...

There are also the Idaean Dactyls who were credited with inventing metallurgy on Mt. Ida


I think it is quite likely that this is a remembrance of the people who brought metalworking across the Aegean.

At a later date, we have the Chalybes (a people from Georgia-Transcuacasus general area) who invented ironworking, and who gave Greek its word for "steel".

And there are also the Kabeiroi of Samothrace, associated with Hephaestus and metallurgy (http://www.ascsa.edu.gr/index.php/news/eventDetails/bronze-age-metallurgy-in-the-northeastern-aegean-a-case-study-of-mikro-voun/_

Antoni Jaume said...

At a later date, we have the Chalybes (a people from Georgia-Transcuacasus general area) who invented ironworking, and who gave Greek its word for "steel"

Do you know of any source for greek 'sideros'? As I understand it, if it was an original greek word the inicial 's' would have been replaced with an aspiration, so would be 'hideros'

shenandoah said...

I would recommend that researchers check the broad-headed types for Neanderthal DNA admixtures.

I also recommend that they make associated studies to learn how related female pelvis types correlate to skull types.

One type of female pelvis (the platypelloid, or "archaic") had, or has, some difficulty delivering broadheaded infants. They often present(ed) breech, and / or cause(d) the death of mothers in childbirth (especially for first-borns); which tended to thin out the population of women with that sort of pelvic structure.

Unknown said...

Is the Roberts work the final word on Metallurgy spread?.

Wars use better technology available but technology can not always lead to war.

Bronze age did not lead to major wars in other parts of the world.
In a corner of the world it was used in war as a latest innovation.

Grey said...

"Rich miners swanning down from the hills for a bit of Greek nightlife do not seem to fit the bill."

Analogous to medieval masons maybe?

Nirjhar007 said...

Dont know much of Bronze and Copper Age but India is producing Iron for ~4000years.
BTW Iron is known as the starter of The Age of Man isn't it?.

shenandoah said...

"...India is producing Iron for ~4000years."

That fits my theory that Neanderthals arose in Northern India... Denisovans perhaps in Southern India.

Hindus have also been practicing both burnt sacrifices and cremation of their dead for probably since long before they discovered the use of iron and other metals.

It makes logical sense, if they were burning "gifts" to the 'gods', that they might stumble upon such knowledge. Maybe that's how pottery and ceramics were also developed, initially. They probably thought the chemical reactions were some kind of 'magic', too.

Dienekes said...

"...India is producing Iron for ~4000years."

That fits my theory that Neanderthals arose in Northern India... Denisovans perhaps in Southern India.


Unknown said...

Perhaps what is meant is that Neanderthals impacted on North Indian populations and South Indians were more likely to be affected by whatever the Denisovans were (erectus? other?).

I have not seen any Neanderthals in India although they existed in Arabia nearby. I doubt they originated there as they seem to be evolved for extreme cold weather.

Denisovans certainly came into contact with the population flowing east that became South East Asian, and the coast is the most likely place of contact. But where is a big open question.

Anonymous said...

It's interesting that modern Europeans (or "white people") came mostly from these Anatolian/Fertile Crescent peoples who created the first farming systems, monuments like Göbekli Tepe and settlements like Catal Höyuk.