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The Oldest Pictograph for Copper

Last year, during our visit to Cretan site of Knossos and their wonderful museum in Heraklion dedicated in large part to the one of the greatest peaceful periods in human history, I didn't hide admiration for old Minoans and their way of life. I even said I would move to Crete without second thoughts if I had a time machine, mainly to avoid hostility of the world order we are currently living in today. At the time, considering only European continent, I was under impression that cultures like Minoan were rare and the Bronze Age society we glimpsed on Crete was maybe walking on the edge of being the only one in the history of mankind. To say the least, I couldn't be more wrong.

Only couple of millenniums before during the late Neolithic period, known as Chalcolithic or simply the Copper Age, there was an old European society that lived for centuries and also flourished in peaceful harmony and perfect equilibrium with nature, themselves and their immediate land where they built large settlements with big houses, streets and infrastructure. And one of their major cities, by using vocabulary for describing settlements built 7000 years ago, existed almost next to my backyard. So to speak.

Prehistoric Europe, probably like everywhere else in the world has experienced a civilization boom after neolithic revolution and invention of agriculture along with domestication of wild animals. That also included boost in population and ways of living and in this parts of the world, for almost eight centuries, if not longer, rose a civilization that belonged to the well known Turdaș–Vinča culture. Many archaeologists today consider this early civilization for the throne of being the first independent and distinguished modern humans and true civilization cradle.

More than ten major settlements were found and most of them in the process of excavation throughout Serbian territories with addition of several more within neighboring lands, especially Transylvania in central Romania. These people, not only perfected the agriculture but also were the first to initiate Copper Age to the world history. The art of pottery were their hallmark and many alien shaped figurines triggered a wave of 'ancient astronauts' theories and I will only quote one of referenced articles: "The appearance of these figurines is striking. Many depictions of extra-terrestrials in ancient literature and art reference the same oval shaped heads, enormous almond eyes with dark pupils and small noses and mouths". Whether or not this is evidence enough to conclude that Vinča people were in contact with extraterrestrial beings who helped them to achieve higher level of life I will let you to conclude or ignore but one thing is for sure, these people, along with their way of clothing and decorating, early metallurgy and functionality of their large, for the time, houses and settlements were almost on the same levels of civilization as the old Minoans who lived and flourished three millenniums later.

If you add to the facts that pottery were practiced at the household level with artifacts clearly created and shaped by children along with evidence that women's clothing included mini-skirts and trousers is really fascinating. All vanished civilizations from the ancient times earned their place in the evolution of humanity but those of them who practiced or invented something for the first time and what we today take for granted, represent our true and genuine heritage. Within the humanity tree, Vinča people deserved a very special place for two very important things in our evolution as a species.

They developed one of the earliest form of proto-writing, which still waits for definite evidence of whether or not it overgrown simplicity over centuries and became the true representation of their spoken language. The second achievement is indisputable for most scholars. This culture was the first one, in the current knowledge and archaeological evidence, to learn how to smelt copper ore. They were the pioneers who took the big step toward the end of the Stone Age.

Vinča–Turdaș symbols were found practically everywhere engraved on artifacts excavated in Serbia and Romania. Hence the name by which it is known as, like with Cretan civilization, we don't know how they called themselves. Most of the inscriptions are on pottery and vast majority of the inscriptions consist of a single symbol. This indicates that symbols are used similarly to what we are familiar today as "icons" and lots of different pictographs are probably designed to identify the object they are engraved on, the content of it, the owner, value and measure, perhaps even the ancient logo of the household or manufacturer. Most likely the names of individuals as well. For example the name Cochise of Native Americans' Apache means "oak, wood" and one of the Vinča symbols most definitely means the same thing. No doubt there were a series of pictographs related to copper and whatever they made out of it.

However, over the time of civilization existence, the script probably evolved along and these three tablets on the image above, found at a site in the village of Tărtăria indicate more complex writing that most likely represents words of their language. So far, no "Epic of Gilgamesh" alternative is found but lots of work on sites is still ahead and I am sure many other sites are still waiting to be found. Even so, Vinča symbols predate the earliest Sumerian cuneiform script, Egyptian hieroglyphs and the first Minoan writing by far.

To me, Vinča–Turdaș script most definitely resembles to all other linear scripts, which means by using the symbols it is possible to write complex lines and sentences but I am far from being the expert in the field. However, this suggestion is sound and lines of text dated to the period and found in two locations in Bulgaria and Greece support the hypothesis. For the theory become proven or disputed, cracking the ancient code must be done first but for all lost languages this is not easy. For example, old Minoans used "Linear A" script that is still a mystery even though related to its solved big brother "Linear B". Its amazing that these three scripts are possible to download in a form of true type fonts and just for fun I used them in this image to print "Milan's Public Journal" in Vinča, Minoan and Mycenaean. This is rubbish of course and all these people from the past would need very different keyboard to write their languages (letters of alphabet would not do any good for their symbols) but still, it was fun to play with.

While the writing puzzle is still not solved, Vinča people who lived nearby natural deposits of copper ore very quickly developed a process to extract the metal from the mineral and to build various tools and weapons used only for hunting. One of such sites is the one from my neighborhood. Only an hour of driving to the south is the archaeological site of Pločnik, probably the first ancient city in the world where the copper smelting is industrialized. We visited the site last weekend where we found amazing replicas of Vinča people homes and also nearby museum in the city of Prokuplje with lots of excavated items from the site and lots of stories from the excavation itself.

Even today, there are deposits of malachite and azurite in the wide area where the site is located and our guide hinted that in the past they were probably able to find them in the river as well. Both are common copper minerals that are melted at 700°C. Campfires are about 200° short of the temperature needed, so they built square shaped furnaces stored in larger buildings, with pipe-like earthen blowers with hundreds of tiny holes in them used to blow compress air directly into fire. Whether people, like Viktor in above video, were manually blowing the air or they had some sort of leather bellows is still unknown.

The place is very big - more than 100 hectares, the ancient city was large and populated 5500 to 4700 BC in a row until it was destroyed in a big fire by probably intruders from the far. What happened with survivors and where they moved after is also not known. Like Minoans, no peaceful society ever survived hostile events and probably cease to exist entirely or fully dispersed among the newcomers. Anyhow we were all carrying lots of impressions from the last weekend trip to the history of our own neighborhood, along with a piece of pottery, 7000 years old we received as a gift from the excavation park. No words could describe all of our gratefulness, especially Viktor's, when he had to choose a piece that maybe once belonged to his peer from the early Copper Age.

The Minoan Legacy:

Stone Age of Iron Gates:

Cyclops of Peloponnese:

Image & Video refs:


Serbian refs:Плочник_(археолошки_локалитет)čnik

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