Saturday, May 27, 2017

The Ancient Tumuli of Nobles

Stones mark a necropolis at Ulan Tolgoi in Mongolia

Alice C. Linsley

From the dawn of human existence stone has been a primary material, and humans have refined techniques for working stone on both a small and large scale. The oldest known stone tools date to about 800,000 years. These were found in South Africa. Similar stone tools have also been found on Crete that date to 130,000 years.

Beginning about 10,000 years ago, we find huge stone structures. Some served ceremonial purposes involving observation of the heavens and others were used for the burial of high status persons. Sacred ceremonies were held at these ancient burial grounds such a coronations and royal weddings. It was believed that the ancestors were witnesses to these ceremonies.

The stone tombs are called tumuli or dolmens. In the Breton language the word "dolmen" means table of stones, or stone table.

In 1870, Conrad Engelhardt (1825-1881), a Danish archaeologist, wrote,
"Megalith graves extend in one almost unbroken chain from the Gulf of Riga along the south coast of the Baltic and the North Sea, through Scandinavia and Britain, along the eastern shores of the Atlantic Ocean and the southern shores of the Mediterranean as far as Tripoli; also in scattered groups covering Palestine, Syria, Seleucia, Tartary and Persia as far as India, where they again appear in large numbers. They are on the whole confined to the coastal stretches, to the lowlands and the river valleys. Considered as a whole, they are all of identical ground plan and mode of construction, and their monumental character appears to have originated in one and the same culture."
A spectacular example of a dolmen in Brittany is La Roche aux Fees or Fairy Rock. It dates to between 3000 and 4800 BC. The builders of this huge structure were skilled stone masons. They were attached to nobles in the R1b haplogroup. People in this group had dispersed throughout much of the ancient world by 10,000 years ago.

"Fairy Rock" tumulus in Brittany 

Tumuli have been found across a wide range of Europe and the Near East. Some have been found in Korea, China, and Japan. The geographical range of these communal graves corresponds to the range of dispersion of R1 peoples. The Nilotic Anu moved into Korea and Northern Japan, and it is likely that the 2000 year Ur-David mummy found in China is in the R1 Haplogroup also.

According to tradition, the ruler-priest Joseph Arimathea went to Cornwall in connection with mining operations there. Because mining and tomb construction involve the same skills, these were the work of a select group. Along the Nile, priests were involved in the construction of the royal tombs. From the time of the earliest pharaohs, mining and tomb construction were the work of priests.

Some of the oldest examples of stone work have been found in the areas inhabited by the R1b peoples. This includes the 100,000 to 130,000 year old stone hand axes found on Crete.

Early stone tools include sharp-edged flakes, flake fragments, and cobbles dated to between 2.5 and 2.6 million years. These were discovered at three sites along the Gona River in the Afar region of Ethiopia. Similar stone tools, known as Oldowan, have been found at Omo in southern Ethiopia, at Lokalalei in northern Kenya, and at Hadar, five miles east of the Gona River study area.

It appears that the dispersed R1 rulers are to be credited with building stone monuments and tombs wherever they moved. This is called "diffusion" of a culture trait or artifact.

One of the early proponents of the theory of diffusion was Oscar Montelius (1843-1921) of Sweden. In 1894, he expressed his belief that the form of the megalithic graves corresponds to the "tholos tombs" of Greece, Malta, the Balearic Islands and Asia Minor. However, there is a significant difference. The tholos tombs have a beehive shape (called girna in Malta). The stones are laid in horizontal courses and this structure was used for housing and sheep cotes. The beehive structure represents a more common architecture and should be considered apart from the stone tombs constructed for communal burial of high status families.

Sheep cote in Zanuta, West Bank
Photo: Emil Salman

Some of the beehive tombs contained objects of Egyptian origin dating between 3700 and 2500 years. The evidence of Nilotic influences was noted by Sir Grafton Elliot Smith (1871-1937) and William James Perry (1868-1949), both of whom concluded in their books that the stone working practices of the ancient Near East and European civilizations seem to have originated among the ancient Nilotes. They noted that the stone tumuli found in Brittany and elsewhere resemble the stone mastabas of the earlier Pharaohs in Sudan and the rock-cut tombs of Egyptian nobility.

Today we have reason, by virtue of molecular genetics, linguistics, and archaeological discoveries, to suspect that peoples had spread out of Africa long before Egypt was a kingdom. Among them were stone workers of considerable expertise. It appears that they moved northward, following the current of the Nile and continued on to Crete and Malta. Thomas Strasser and his team found hundreds of tools of African origin on Crete dating to between 100,000 and 130,000 years.

These are identical to hand axes fashioned in Africa about 800,000 years ago. The image (right) is of such a stone tool found at Kathu in South Africa. Similar stone tools have been found on the Iranian plateaus. Ancient African artifacts also have been found in China. There is considerable material evidence of prehistoric movements out of the Central Africa and the Nile Valley. DNA studies of Haplogroup R1B indicate settlements outside of Africa 10,000 years ago. Molecular genetics confirms the movement. R1b-M73 dispersed both to the West, reaching Spain and to the East, reaching China.

Related reading: Scythian Nobles Buried in SiberiaSun Cities of the Ancient World; Genesis and the Stone Age; Stone Work of the Ancient World; Sheep Cotes as Sacred Spaces; The Tool Makers of Kathu; Megalithic Culture in Indonesia by W.J. Perry; Primary and Secondary Burial of the Rulers of Old

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