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Old Europe
Geographical rangeSoutheast Europe and adjoining areas of Central Europe and Eastern Europe
PeriodNeolithic, Copper Age
Datesc. 6000—3500 BC
Preceded byMesolithic Europe
Followed byBronze Age Europe

Old Europe is a term coined by the Lithuanian archaeologist Marija Gimbutas to describe what she perceived as a relatively homogeneous pre-Indo-European Neolithic and Copper Age culture or civilisation in Southeast Europe, centred in the Lower Danube Valley.[1][2][3] Old Europe is also referred to in some literature as the Danube civilisation.[4]

The term 'Danubian culture' was earlier coined by the archaeologist Vere Gordon Childe to describe early farming cultures (e.g. the Linear Pottery culture) which spread westwards and northwards from the Danube Valley into Central and Eastern Europe.

Old Europe

Karanovo culture ceramic vessel, 6th millennium BC, Stara Zagora Neolithic Dwellings Museum

In 4500 bc, before the first cities were built in Mesopotamia and Egypt, Old Europe was among the most sophisticated and technologically advanced places in the world ... At its peak, about 5000–3500 bc, Old Europe was developing many of the political, technological, and ideological signs of "civilization". Some Old European villages grew to citylike sizes, larger than the earliest cities of Mesopotamia ... Old European metalsmiths were, in their day, among the most advanced metal artisans in the world, and certainly the most active. The metal artifacts recovered by archaeologists from Old Europe total about 4,700 kilograms (more than five tons) of copper, and over 6 kilograms (13.2 pounds) of gold, more metal by far than has been found in any other part of the ancient world dated before 3500 bc. The demand for copper, gold, Aegean shells, and other valuables created networks of negotiation that reached hundreds of kilometers. Pottery, figurines, and even houses were decorated with striking designs. Female "goddess" figurines, found in almost every settlement, have triggered intense debates about the ritual and political power of women. Signs inscribed on clay suggest a system of primitive notation, if not writing.

— Anthony (2010)[5]

Old Europe, or Neolithic Europe, refers to the time between the Mesolithic and Bronze Age periods in Europe, roughly from 7000 BCE (the approximate time of the first farming societies in Greece) to c. 2000 BCE (the beginning of the Bronze Age in Scandinavia). The duration of the Neolithic varies from place to place: in Southeastern Europe it is approximately 4000 years (i.e., 7000−3000 BCE); in parts of North-West Europe it is just under 3000 years (c. 4500−2000 BCE).

Miniature cult scene, Karanovo culture, 5th millennium BC

Regardless of specific chronology, many European Neolithic groups share basic characteristics, such as living in small-scale communities, more egalitarian[disputed ] than the city-states and chiefdoms of the Bronze Age, subsisting on domestic plants and animals supplemented with the collection of wild plant foods and hunting, and producing hand-made pottery, without the aid of the potter's wheel. There are also many differences, with some Neolithic communities in southeastern Europe living in heavily fortified settlements of 3,000–4,000 people (e.g. Sesklo in Greece) whereas Neolithic groups in Britain were usually small (possibly 50–100 people).[6]

Marija Gimbutas studied the Neolithic period in order to understand cultural developments in settled village culture in the southern Balkans, which she characterized as peaceful, matristic, and possessing a goddess-centered religion.[7] In contrast, she characterizes the later Indo-European influences as warlike, nomadic, and patrilineal.[7] Using evidence from pottery and sculpture, and combining the tools of archaeology, comparative mythology, linguistics, and, most controversially, folkloristics, Gimbutas invented a new interdisciplinary field, archaeomythology.

Gold, copper, ceramic and stone artefacts, Varna culture, c. 4500 BC

In historical times, some ethnonyms are believed to correspond to Pre-Indo-European peoples, assumed to be the descendants of the earlier Old European cultures: the Pelasgians, Minoans, Leleges, Iberians, Nuragic people, Etruscans, Rhaetians, Camunni and Basques. Two of the three pre-Greek peoples of Sicily, the Sicans and the Elymians, may also have been pre-Indo-European.

How many Pre-Indo-European languages existed is not known. Nor is it known whether the ancient names of peoples descended from the pre-ancient population actually referred to speakers of distinct languages. Gimbutas (1989), observing a unity of symbols marked especially on pots, but also on other objects, concluded that there may have been a single language spoken in Old Europe. She thought that decipherment would have to wait for the discovery of bilingual texts.

The idea of a Pre-Indo-European language in the region precedes Gimbutas. It went by other names, such as "Pelasgian", "Mediterranean", or "Aegean". Apart from marks on artifacts, the main evidence concerning Pre-Indo-European language is in names: toponyms, ethnonyms, etc., and in roots in other languages believed to be derived from one or more prior languages, possibly unrelated. Reconstruction from the evidence is an accepted, though somewhat speculative, field of study. Suggestions of possible Old European languages include Urbian by Sorin Paliga,[8] and the Vasconic substratum hypothesis of Theo Vennemann (also see Sigmund Feist's Germanic substrate hypothesis).

Indo-European origins

See also: Proto-Indo-European Urheimat hypotheses

Maidanetske, Ukraine, c. 3700 BC. Cucuteni-Trypillia culture.[9]

According to Gimbutas' version of the Kurgan hypothesis, Old Europe was invaded and destroyed by horse-riding pastoral nomads from the Pontic–Caspian steppe (the "Kurgan culture") who brought with them violence, patriarchy, and Indo-European languages.[10] More recent proponents of the Kurgan hypothesis agree that the cultures of Old Europe spoke pre-Indo-European languages but include a less dramatic transition, with a prolonged migration of Proto-Indo-European speakers after Old Europe's collapse due to other factors.[11][12]

Colin Renfrew's competing Anatolian hypothesis suggests that the Indo-European languages were spread across Europe by the first farmers from Anatolia. In the hypothesis' original formulation, the languages of Old Europe belonged to the Indo-European family but played no special role in its transmission.[13] According to Renfrew's most recent revision of the theory, however, Old Europe was a "secondary urheimat" (linguistic homeland) where the Greek, Armenian, and Balto-Slavic language families diverged around 5000 BCE.[14] Three genetic studies in 2015 gave partial support to the Steppe theory regarding the Indo-European Urheimat. According to those studies, haplogroups R1b and R1a, now the most common in Europe (R1a is also common in South Asia) would have expanded from the steppes north of the Pontic and Caspian seas, along with at least some of the Indo-European languages; they also detected an autosomal component present in modern Europeans which was not present in Neolithic Europeans, which would have been introduced with paternal lineages R1b and R1a, as well as Indo-European languages.[15][16][17]




See also


  1. ^ Jacques Leslie, The Goddess Theory: Controversial UCLA Archeologist Marija Gimbutas Argues That the World Was at Peace When God Was a Woman, Los Angeles Times, June 11, 1989.
  2. ^ Sharpe, Katherine (May 2013). "Europe's First Farmers". Archaeology Magazine. 66 (3): 13. ISSN 0003-8113. Archived from the original on 13 June 2022. Retrieved 4 October 2022.
  3. ^ Theresa Thompson, The Lost World of Old Europe: the Danube Valley, 5000-3500BC, The Ashmolean Museum, The Oxford Times, June 8, 2010.
  4. ^ Haarmann, Harald (2020). The Mystery of the Danube Civilisation. Marix Verlag. ISBN 9783843806466.
  5. ^ Anthony, David (2010). Anthony, David; Chi, Jennifer (eds.). The Lost World of Old Europe: The Danube Valley, 5000-3500 BC. New York University, Institute for the Study of the Ancient World. p. 29. ISBN 9780691143880.
  6. ^ Reissued as Gimbutas, Marija (September 1, 2007). The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe: Myths and Cult Images (2 New Upd ed.). Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-52025398-8. Retrieved 9 January 2015.
  7. ^ a b Hayden, Brian (1987). "Old Europe: Sacred Matriarchy or Complementary Opposition?". In Bonanno, Anthony (ed.). Archaeology and Fertility Cult in the Ancient Mediterranean: Papers Presented at the First International Conference on Archaeology of the Ancient Mediterranean, the University of Malta, 2-5 September 1985. Amsterdam: B. R. Grüner. pp. 17–30. ISBN 9789060322888.
  8. ^ Paliga 1989
  9. ^ Rassmann, Knut (2014). "High precision Tripolye settlement plans, demographic estimations and settlement organization". Journal of Neolithic Archaeology. 16: 96–134. doi:10.12766/jna.2014.3.
  10. ^ Anthony 1995
  11. ^ Mallory 1991
  12. ^ Anthony 2007
  13. ^ Renfrew 1987
  14. ^ Renfrew 2003
  15. ^ Haak, W; et al. (11 June 2015). "Massive migration from the steppe was a source for Indo-European languages in Europe". Nature. 522 (7555): 207–11. Bibcode:2015Natur.522..207H. doi:10.1038/nature14317. PMC 5048219. PMID 25731166. We generated genome-wide data from 69 Europeans who lived between 8,000–3,000 years ago by enriching ancient DNA libraries for a target set of almost 400,000 polymorphisms.... This steppe ancestry persisted in all sampled central Europeans until at least 3,000 years ago, and is ubiquitous in present-day Europeans. These results provide support for a steppe origin of at least some of the Indo-European languages of Europe.
  16. ^ Allentoft; et al. (2015). "Population genomics of Bronze Age Eurasia". Nature. 522 (7555): 167–172. Bibcode:2015Natur.522..167A. doi:10.1038/nature14507. PMID 26062507. S2CID 4399103.
  17. ^ Mathieson, Iain; et al. (14 March 2015). "Eight thousand years of natural selection in Europe". bioRxiv: 016477. doi:10.1101/016477. S2CID 7866359. Archived from the original on 15 July 2022. Retrieved 4 October 2022.
  18. ^ "Ritual and Memory: Neolithic Era and Copper Age". Institute for the Study of the Ancient World. 2022.
  19. ^ Gaydarska, Bisserka (February 2020). "Trypillia Megasites in Context: Independent Urban Development in Chalcolithic Eastern Europe". Cambridge Archaeological Journal. 30 (1): 97–121. doi:10.1017/S0959774319000301. S2CID 208245898.
  20. ^ "Early contact between late farming and pastoralist societies in southeastern Europe". Nature. 2023. Tell Yunatsite in Bulgaria, associated with the Karanovo culture

Further reading

Media related to Old Europe (archaeology) at Wikimedia Commons