Which was the most fascinating civilization

The riddle of the Danube civilization - The discovery of the oldest high culture in Europe

The time from the first farmers to the beginning of almost urban-looking settlements undoubtedly belongs to around 4,000 BC. BC to the most fascinating epochs of prehistoric Europe. Although it has been intensively researched for over 100 years, little is known to the general public about the central period of upheaval of the so-called Neolithic and Copper Ages. Therefore, the project of the linguist Harald Haarmann to present this fascinating time comprehensively and comprehensively is a desideratum. Unfortunately, however, the band often treads very idiosyncratic paths, as can be seen from the title, which postulates a “Danube civilization” as the “oldest high culture in Europe”.

Haarmann begins with the beginnings of European peasantry in the 7th millennium and describes the immigration of agricultural groups from Anatolia. The author denies settlement by farmers by sea because this was not technically and logistically possible. He forgets that Cyprus and probably also Crete, the western Mediterranean coasts and Northeast Africa have been settled by farmers and that watercraft were definitely used.

Nevertheless, Haarmann considers the route across the Bosporus to be the only possible communication route. This is said to have been dry at the time because the "Great Flood", the filling up of the Black Sea, had not yet progressed. That land bridge offered the gateway from Asia to Europe. Haarmann finally connects the, actually successive, breakthrough of the Bosporus with old-world flood myths up to the biblical flood. Believe it or not, nothing has been scientifically proven.

The author describes the development of the individual cultures mentioned, followed by chapters on “Economic and Living Space”, “Crafts and Art” or “Religion and Mythology”. Here the reader gets a fairly solid overview of the material culture of the Southeast European Neolithic. In the chapter on the socio-political structures of the “Danube civilization”, however, Haarmann turns to two old but still popular ideas: the early farmers were organized in an egalitarian order, and there was also a “matriarchy”. Haarmann assumes that there is no research consensus here, on the contrary: In the latter case, there are some arguments in favor of patrilocal conditions. The often invoked female statuettes are likely to have been symbols of fertility, but certainly not evidence of the political and social leadership roles of women.

The little book also becomes idiosyncratic when it comes to the history of language. Haarmann explains scratches, signs and symbols as evidence of a "Danube script" which is said to have been used in the religious field. From this postulated early writing of old Europe he draws the connections to the Aegean writing systems. Here, too, much remains speculation.

Haarmann's statements often ignore the data situation. It is true that the cultural achievements of the societies of the 7th to 4th millennium in old Europe can by no means be belittled, but one may not want to speak of a “Danube civilization”. Certainly these were communities linked to one another via extensive networks, but not politically united, as would be expected in high cultures. The written form is at least controversial, despite the deeper symbolism of many testimonials.

Review: Prof. Dr. Detlef Gronenborn

The riddle of the Danube civilization - The discovery of the oldest high culture in Europe
Verlag C. H. Beck, Munich 2011, 286 pages, book price € 16.95
February 16, 2012

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