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This Petroglyph Captures the Moment when Atlantic and Mediterranean Cultures Met
The Atlantic coast of northern Spain has an unusually high concentration of Bronze Age rock art, and among them is a unique piece of evidence: a carving of a boat unlike any other seen on the Atlantic coast.
This rock art panel is known as Auga dos Cebros. But although there are many depictions of boats in Atlantic Europe, this one is unique, and vital for research.
Archaeological discoveries have already shown that the relationship between Atlantic Galicia and the Mediterranean consolidated during the Iron Age. Punic goods and a bronze axe known to be used for Mediterranean trade have been excavated at A Cabeciña Costa dos Castros, while just 50km up the coast, the discovery of a Punic garum factory dating to 600 BC shows that Mediterranean traditions were being incorporated into Atlantic life. Connections were more than just commercial, and closer than previously thought. But when did the first contacts take place
This rock panel at Costa dos Castros captures unique evidence of contact between Mediterranean and Atlantic cultures before the Romans.
To unravel this mystery, researcher Javier Costas Goberna embarked on an epic virtual journey throughout Europe, searching for comparable boat depictions. This scientific adventure led him to travel in person as far as Turkey, in a constant quest to date and identify the petroglyph.
He started his research with what seemed the most logical step: looking for parallels with boat petroglyphs in other Atlantic regions, such as Cádiz (South Spain), Great Britain and Scandinavia. He did not succeed in finding a single comparable depiction.
The main reason was a question of naval engineering: the Atlantic boats were designed to be mainly oar-propelled, but the boat depicted in the Auga dos Cebros rock panel clearly uses sails.
So Goberna continued his quest in Mediterranean waters. Here he had a much larger number of objects to study: not just petroglyphs, but also murals, pottery embellishments, reliefs, stamps, coins and even boat descriptions in ancient literature, such as Homer’s Odyssey. After extensive research, Goberna found out that many of the Mediterranean boat models share a series of features with the Auga dos Cebros boat. One interesting shared feature is the shape of the bow and stern, both slightly opened outwards.
Just imagine a boat similar to the one on the photo leaving the Mediterranean to explore the Atlantic waters and eventually arriving on the Galician coast. Its shape, the strange men sailing it, the goods they carried and the new language they spoke must have had a huge impact on the inhabitants of Galicia; so huge that the boat was engraved in stone to record that day forever. That day marked the beginning of a wave of change as Mediterranean and Atlantic cultures embraced for the first time. We are immensely fortunate that this unique feature survived 4,000 years to the present day. Now it is our responsibility to preserve it for future generations.
Bronze Age trade networks across Europe and the Mediterranean are well documented; Baltic amber and bronze metalwork were particularly valued commodities. Here it is argued that demand for copper and tin led to changes in Scandinavian trade routes around 1600 BC, which can be linked to the appearance of figurative rock art images in southern Scandinavia. Images identified as oxhide ingots have been discovered in Sweden and suggest that people from Scandinavia were familiar with this characteristically Mediterranean trading commodity. Using trace element and lead isotope analysis, the authors argue that some bronze tools excavated in Sweden could have been made of Cypriot copper; these two discoveries suggest that Scandinavians were travelling to the Mediterranean, rather than acting through a middle man.
The Nordic razor,
I had posted a few studies suggesting links between Mycenaean Greece and Scandinavia, and here is another one. From the paper, this ties a bit to my ideas about the establishment of long-range networks associated with metallurgy in the Bronze Age:
It can be seen that there were two, chronologically separate, lines of introduction or transfer of the razor idea from the eastern Mediterranean to northern Europe. The spread of the two-edged razor to Central and Western Europe including Britain and Ireland took place just before or around 1500 BC. The one-edged razor arrived in Scandinavia in the decades before 1400 BC. The two ‘time-slots’ of transfer from the Mediterranean of two types of razors indicate the use of specific long distance networks that were probably in existence beforehand.
Antiquity Volume: 87 Number: 336 Page: 461–472
The Nordic razor and the Mycenaean lifestyle
*Danish Prehistory, The National Museum of Denmark, Frederiksholms Kanal 12, Copenhagen DK 1220, Denmark (Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
The bronze razor with the horse-head handle appeared in Scandinavia in the fifteenth century BC. Where did it come from and what did it mean? The author shows that the razor had some antecedents in the Aegean, although none of these objects were imported to the north. He argues that the Scandinavian warrior class consciously adopted elements of the Mycenaean warrior package, including a clean-shaven face. This vividly exposes new aspects of the busy and subtle nature of international communication in the Bronze Age.
The Bronze Age in SE Sweden Evidence of Long-Distance Travel and Advanced Sun Cult
Nils-Axel Mörner, Bob G. Lind
The Bronze Age of Scandinavia (1750-500 BC) is characterized by the sudden appearance of bronze objects in Scandinavia, the sudden mass appearance of amber in Mycenaean graves, and the beginning of bedrock carvings of huge ships. We take this to indicate that people from the east Mediterranean arrived to Sweden on big ships over the Atlantic, carrying bronze objects from the south, which they traded for amber occurring in SE Sweden in the Ravlunda-Vitemölla–Kivik area. Those visitors left strong cultural imprints as recorded by pictures and objects found in SE Sweden. This seems to indicate that the visits had grown to the establishment of a trading centre. The Bronze Age of Österlen (the SE part of Sweden) is also characterized by a strong Sun cult recorded by stone monuments built to record the annual motions of the Sun, and rock carvings that exhibit strict alignments to the annual motions of the Sun. Ales Stones, dated at about 800 BC, is a remarkable monument in the form of a 67 m long stone-ship. It records the four main solar turning points of the year, the 12 months of the year, each month covering 30 days, except for month 7 which had 35 days (making a full year of 365 days), and the time of the day at 16 points representing 1.5 hour. Ales Stones are built after the same basic geometry as Stonehenge in England.