Before Sumer, Crete
or the Maltese civilisation, there was “Old Europe”,
or the Vinca culture… a forgotten, rather than lost civilisation
that lies at the true origin of most of our ancient civilisations.
are lost civilisations, and then there are forgotten civilisations.
From the 6th to the 3rd millennium BC, the so-called “Vinca
culture” stretched for hundreds of miles along the river
Danube, in what is now Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria and the Republic
of Macedonia, with traces all around the Balkans, parts of Central
Europe and Asia Minor, and even Western Europe.
Few, if any, have heard of this culture, though they have seen
some of their artefacts. They are the infamous statues found in
Sumer, where authors such as Zecharia Sitchin have labelled them
as “extra-terrestrial”, seeing that the shapes of
these beings can hardly be classified as typically human. So why
was it that few have seen (or were aware of) their true origin?
The person largely responsible
for the isolation of the Vinca culture was the great authority
on late prehistoric Europe, Vere Gordon Childe (1892-1957). He
was a synthesiser of various archaeological discoveries and tried
to create an all-encompassing framework, creating such terms as
"Neolithic Revolution" and "Urban Revolution".
In his synthesis, he perceived the Vinca culture as an outlying
cultural entity influenced by more “civilised” forces.
His dogmatic stance and clout meant that the Vinca culture received
only scant attention. Originally, interest in the signs found
on pottery had created interest in some academic circles, but
that now faded following Childe’s “papal bull”.
Interest was rekindled in the 1960s (following the death of Childe),
largely due to a new discovery made in 1961 by Dr. N. Vlassa,
while excavating the Transylvanian site of Tartaria, part of Vinca
culture. Amongst various artefacts recovered were three clay tablets,
which he had analysed with the then newly introduced radiocarbon
dating methodology. The artefacts came back as ca. 4000 BC and
were used by the new methodology’s detractors to argue that
radio carbon-dating was obviously erroneous. How could it be “that”
the Sumerian site of Uruk had been dated to 3500-3200 BC. Vlassa’s
discovery was initially (before the carbon dating results) further
confirmation that the “Vinca Culture” had strong parallels
with Sumer. Everyone agreed that the Sumerians had influenced
Vinca Culture (and the site of Tartaria), which had therefore
been assigned a date of 2900-2600 BC (by the traditional, comparative
methodology, which relied on archaeologists’ logic, rather
than hard scientific evidence). Sinclair Hood suggested that Sumerian
prospectors had been drawn by the gold-bearing deposits in the
Transylvanian region, resulting in these off-shoot cultures.
But if the carbon dating results were correct, then Tartaria was
4000 BC, which meant that the Vinca Culture was older than Sumer,
or Sumer was at least a millennium older than what archaeologists
had so far assumed. Either way, archaeology would be in a complete
state of disarray and either some or all archaeologists would
be wrong. Voila, the reason as to why radio carbon dating was
attacked, rather than merely revising erroneous timelines and
There is no debate about it:
the artefacts from the Vinca culture and Sumer are very much alike.
And it is just not some pottery and artefacts: they share a script
that seems highly identical too. In fact, the little interest
that had been shown in the Vinca culture before the 1960s all
revolved around their script. Vlassa’s discovery only seemed
to confirm this conclusion, as he too immediately stated that
the writing had to be influenced by the Near East. Everyone, including
Sinclair Hood and Adam Falkenstein, agreed that the two scripts
were related and Hood also saw a link with Crete. Finally, the
Hungarian scholar Janos Makkay stated that the “Mesopotamian
origin [of the Tartaria pictographs] is beyond doubt.” It
seemed done and dusted.
But when the Vinca Culture suddenly predated Sumer, this thesis
could no longer be maintained (as it would break the archaeological
framework, largely put in place by Childe and his peers), and
thus, today, the status is that both scripts developed independently.
Of course, we should wonder whether this is just another attempt
to save reputations and whether in the following decades, the
stance will finally be reversed, which would mean that the Vinca
Culture is actually at the origin of the Sumerian civilisation…
a suggestion we will return to shortly.
what is the Vinca Culture? In 1908, the largest prehistoric and
most comprehensively excavated Neolithic settlement in Europe
was discovered in the village of Vinca, just 14 km downstream
from the Serbian capital Belgrade, on the shores of the Danube.
The discovery was made by a team led by Miloje M. Vasic, the first
schooled archaeologist in Serbia.
Vinca was excavated between 1918 and 1934 and was revealed as
a civilisation in its own right: a forgotten civilisation, which
Marija Gimbutas would later call “Old Europe”. Indeed,
as early as the 6th millennium BC, three millennia before Dynastic
Egypt, the Vinca culture was already a genuine civilisation. Yes,
it was a civilisation: a typical town consisted of houses with
complex architectural layouts and several rooms, built of wood
that was covered in mud. The houses sat along streets, thus making
Vinca the first urban settlement in Europe, but equally being
older than the cities of Mesopotamia and Egypt. And the town of
Vinca itself was just one of several metropolises, with others
at Divostin, Potporanj, Selevac, Plocnik and Predionica. Maria
Gimbutas concluded that “in the 5th and early 4th millennia
BC, just before its demise in east-central Europe, Old Europeans
had towns with a considerable concentration of population, temples
several stories high, a sacred script, spacious houses of four
or five rooms, professional ceramicists, weavers, copper and gold
metallurgists, and other artisans producing a range of sophisticated
goods. A flourishing network of trade routes existed that circulated
items such as obsidian, shells, marble, copper, and salt over
hundreds of kilometres.”
Everything about “Old Europe” is indeed older than
anything else in Europe or the Near East. To return to their script.
Gimbutas had a go at trying to translate it and called it the
“language of the goddess”. She based her work on that
of Shan Winn, who had completed the largest catalogue of Vinca
signs to date. He narrowed the number of signs down to 210, stating
that most of the signs were composed of straight lines and were
rectilinear in shape. Only a minority had curved lines, which
was perhaps due to the difficulty of curved carving on the clay
surface. In a final synthesis, he concluded that all Vinca signs
were found to be constructed out of five core signs:
- a straight line;
- two lines that intersect at the centre;
- two lines that intersect at one end;
- a dot;
- a curved line.
Winn however did not consider
this script to be writing, as even the most complex examples were
not “texts”; he thus labelled them “pre-writing”,
though Gimbutas would later claim they were indeed “writing”.
Still, everyone is in agreement that the culture did not have
texts as that which was written was too short in length to be
a story, or an account of a historical event. So what was it?
In Sumer, the development of writing has been pinned down as a
result from economical factors that required “record keeping”.
For the Vinca Culture, the origin of the signs is accepted as
having been derived from religious rather than material concerns.
In short, the longest groups of signs are thus considered to be
a kind of magical formulae.
Vinca Culture was also millennia ahead of the status quo on mining.
At the time, mining was thought not to predate 4000 BC, though
in recent years, examples of as far back as 70,000 years ago have
been discovered. The copper mine at Rudna Glava, 140 km east of
Belgrade, is at least 7000 years old and had vertical shafts going
as deep as twenty metres and at the time of its discovery was
again extremely controversial.
Further insights into “Old Europe” came about in November
2007, when it was announced that excavations at an ancient settlement
in southern Serbia had revealed the presence of a furnace, used
for melting metal. The furnace had tools in it: a copper chisel
and a two-headed hammer and axe. Most importantly, several of
the metal objects that were made here, were recovered from the
The excavation also uncovered a series of statues. Archaeologist
Julka Kuzmanovic-Cvetkovic observed that "according to the
figurines we found, young women were beautifully dressed, like
today's girls in short tops and mini skirts, and wore bracelets
around their arms."
The unnamed tribe who lived between 5400 and 4700 BC in the 120-hectare
site at what is now Plocnik knew about trade, handcrafts, art
and metallurgy. The excavation also provided further insights
into Old Europe: for example, near the settlement, a thermal well
might be evidence of Europe’s oldest spa. Houses had stoves
and there were special holes for trash, while the dead were buried
in a tidy necropolis. People slept on woollen mats and fur, made
clothes of wool, flax and leather, and kept animals. The community
was also especially fond of children: artefacts that were recovered
included toys such as animals and rattles of clay, and small,
clumsily crafted pots apparently made by children at playtime.
It is but two examples that underline that Old Europe was a civilisation
millennia ahead of its neighbours. And Old Europe is a forgotten
culture, as Richard Rudgeley has argued: “Old Europe was
the precursor of many later cultural developments and […]
the ancestral civilisation, rather than being lost beneath the
waves through some cataclysmic geological event, was lost beneath
the waves of invading tribes from the east.” Indeed, Rudgeley
argued that when confronted with the “sudden arrival”
of civilisation in Sumer or elsewhere, we should not look towards
extra-terrestrial civilisation, nor Atlantis, but instead to “Old
Europe”, a civilisation which the world seems intent on
disregarding… and we can only wonder why.
“Civilisation” in Sumer was defined as the cultivation
of crops and domestication of animals, with humans living a largely
sedentary life, mostly in village or towns, with a type of central
authority. With that definition of civilisation, it is clear that
it did not begin in Sumer, but in Old Europe. Old Europe was a
Neolithic civilisation, living of agriculture and the breeding
of domestic animals. The most frequent domestic animals were cattle,
although smaller goats, sheep and pigs were also bred. They also
cultivated the most fertile prehistoric grain species. There was
even a merchant economy: a surplus of products led to the development
of trade with neighbouring regions, which supplied salt, obsidian
or ornamental shells.
In fact, they were not actually a “Neolithic civilisation”
– they were even further ahead of the times: in the region
of Eastern Serbia, at Bele Vode and (the already discussed) Rudna
Glava, in crevices and natural caves, the settlers of Vinca came
in contact with copper ore which they began fashioning with fire,
initially only for ornamental objects (beads and bracelets). They
were more “Bronze Age” than “Stone Age”…
this at a time when the rest of Europe and the Near East was not
even a “Stone Age civilisation”.
scholar, the already cited Marija Gimbutas, has highlighted the
importance of Old Europe. So much so, that many consider her to
have gone too far. She interpreted Old Europe as a civilisation
of the Goddess, a concept which has taken on a life of its own
in the modern New Age industry, extending far beyond anything
Gimbutas herself could ever have imagined. Bernard Wailes stated
how Gimbutas was "immensely knowledgeable but not very good
in critical analysis... She amasses all the data and then leaps
to conclusions without any intervening argument... Most of us
tend to say, oh my God, here goes Marija again". But everyone
agrees that her groundwork is solid, and it is from that which
Gimbutas dated the civilisation of Old Europe from 6500 to 3500-3200
BC. It was at that time that the area was overrun by invading
Indo-Europeans. The local population could do two things: remain
and be ruled by new masters, or migrate, in search of new lands.
It appears that the people of Old Europe did both: some went in
search of a haven to the south, on the shores of the Aegean Sea,
and beyond. Harald Haarmann has identified them as being responsible
for the rise of the so-called Cycladic culture, as well as Crete,
where the new settlers arrived around 3200 BC.
For Gimbutas, the difference between Old Europe and Indo-Europe
was more than just one people invading another. It was the difference
between a goddess-centred and matriarchal and the Bronze Age Indo-European
patriarchal cultural elements. According to her interpretations,
Old Europe was peaceful, they honoured homosexuals and they espoused
economic equality. The Indo-Europeans were warmongering males.
And it’s that conclusion with which many have great difficulty,
for nothing is ever as distinct as that.
Today, artefacts of the Vinca
culture grace the display cabinets of several museums, for they
are magnificent ceramics – of an artistic and technological
level which would not be equalled by other cultures for several
millennia. It is believed that their writing originated out of
sacred writing. Like Crete, they were a peaceful nation; Crete’s
palaces had no defensive qualities.
The recovered artefacts of the Vinca culture equally show they
had a profound spiritual life. The cult objects include figurines,
sacrificial dishes, anthropomorphic and zoomorphic dishes. When
we note that their number (over 1000 examples at Vinca alone)
exceeds the total number of figurines discovered in the region
of the Greek Aegean, we can only wonder why Old Europe is not
better known today.
Life was represented on these objects as embodying the cycle of
birth and death of Nature, along with the desire of man to get
Nature's sympathy or to mollify it in the interest of survival.
Shrines were discovered in Transylvania with complex architectural
designs, indicating the involvedness of the rituals which were
conducted in them. It may not have been a matriarchal, Goddess
worshipping civilisation, but it was definitely a complex and
established religious framework. Though nothing suggests it was
a Goddess cult.
The same mistake has been made in Malta, where for generations
certain statues were interpreted as “Mother Goddess”
statues, whereas alternative thinkers as Joseph Ellul pointed
out that there was nothing specifically feminine about these statues;
that they showed a deity, but that it could equally be male or
female. Recently, Ellul’s point of view has become shared
by other experts on Malta, such as Dr. Caroline Malone, who argued
that the theory that the Maltese temples were erected as part
of a goddess-worshipping culture is no longer valid. In her opinion,
Maltese prehistoric society was a relatively stable, agricultural
community, living on an intense and densely populated island,
which celebrated cyclical cycles of life, rites of passage, transitions
between different stages of life, from separation to reintegration,
fertility, ancestors, all of this within a cosmological context…
and very much like Old Europe.
3200 BC, the culture of Old Europe migrated, to the Aegean Sea
and to Crete. Today, they are considered to be the origin of the
Minoan civilisation, though it is a dimension that few Minoan
scholars have included in their writing, instead largely opting
to see Crete as yet another “stand alone” civilisation.
Gimbutas stated that: “the civilisation that flourished
in Old Europe between 6500 and 3500 BC and in Crete until 1450
BC enjoyed a long period of uninterrupted peaceful living.”
Motifs such as the snake, intertwined with the bird goddess motif,
the bee and the butterfly, with the distinctive motif of the double
axe, are found both in Old Europe and Crete. But the best evidence
is in the writing of Old Europe and the Linear A script of Crete,
which are to all intents and purposes identical.
But it is equally clear that contacts between Sumer and Old Europe
existed at the time of the Ubaid culture, in Eridu – the
site which inspired Sitchin so greatly in his formulation of the
Annunaki theory and his identification of these statues as “Nephilim”.
The Ubaid culture is ca. 4500 BC and though we should perhaps
not go as far as concluding that Sumer was a child of Old Europe,
the two cultures obviously knew each other. Indeed, in recent
years, Old European artefacts were even discovered in Southeastern
France, suggesting that the civilisation of Old Europe travelled
not merely to the East, but also to the West. Perhaps we should
even consider them to be at the origin of the megalithic civilisation?
But no-one, it seems, has dared to topple that stone yet.