Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Cow Crazy in the Bronze Age
Interesting short article on the Bronze Age tombs of Alaca Höyük in northern Turkey. The elite tombs were full of objects related to cattle raising, including fancy cattle prods and the skulls of bulls -- which archaeologists like to call "bucrania," I guess for the same reason that they like to call rocks "lithics." Also in the tombs were lots of bronze ornaments like the ones above.
The authors plausibly suggest that these ornaments were also cattle-related, used to decorate prize cows and bulls during ritual processions. Such processions are common in cow-crazy cultures; the one above is the "Descent from High Pastures" still celebrated in some Austrian and Swiss villages. The inference is that these Bronze Age cultures were heavily pastoral, relying on their herds both economically and to define status and wealth.
The argument is impressive, and I should note that it is based entirely on the re-study of material from excavations done in the 1930s and 1950s. There is a vast amount of archaeology to be done with these old collections.