Gypsies, skeletons in Crete, Stonehenge boy and a lost cairn on a bleak moor ... oh, and Kamchatka

30 Sep 2010

At we learn that Greek archaeologists have announced the discovery of a skeleton covered in gold foil in a grave on Mount Ida in Crete - dating to the 7th century BC. The gold had been sewn into a robe or shroud that wrapped the body of a woman - and she was accompanied by copper bowls, perfume bottles, and beads of amber, crystal and faience.

BBC News 28th September ... because of the political fuss about French plans to repatriate Roma (gypsies) the BBC decided to devote a web page to the roots of the people - and came out with a lot more information than I had been able to ascertain a few years ago when trawling the net as they have an origin in NW India. I was asked by an Indian immigrant about the gypsies and replied to the effect they were dispossessed tenant farmers as a result of the enclosures, or people that had been caught out participating in petty crime or had gained the disfavour of the local lord of the manor (sniffing around his daughter perhaps!). However, what he was really asking was about the gypsies of central and eastern Europe that have begun to appear in our country in recent years as a result of EU immigration rules. Hence, the BBC is informative in this subject, and the Gypsies did not migrate, as I thought, in the 14th century, across the Russian steppe zone, albeit in the wake of the Mongols, or driven before them, but instead they have a much earlier origin - in a much more interesting period of history. They originate in NW India, as everyone seems to agree, but their migration began as early as the 3rd century AD - or at least within the window of the 3rd to 7th centuries AD. This does of course embrace the low growth tree ring event that David Keys in Catastrophe: An Investigation into the Origins of the Modern World, claims resulted in a lot of migrations from Turks and Arabs to Goths and Indo Iranian tribes of the steppe. Realistically, a non-warrior centred migration such as those of the Gypsies could hardly have taken place across the steppe zone when the Avars and Huns were on the rampage. This is in fact what the BBC piece says - they moved from NW India through Iran to the Middle East where they were known as the Dom, seeking casual employment as they went - and as they wont. Eventually, they found their way into Byzantium territory, in Anatolia, where they were bracketed as heathens (with other obnoxious peoples such as the Vikings and the Turks) but here they were known as Rom (the d becoming an r). The heathen nature of the Rom was because they were Hindus and spoke a form of Sanskrit - and refused to be converted to the Christian faith which was dominant in Europe of the period. It was not until the 14th century they pop up in eastern and central Europe, moving through the Balkans - also subject to Byzantium. What caused the fairly rapid movement in the 14th century is unknown but there are two obvious possibilities - one is the Black Death. They might have wanted to get away from the epidemic. Alternatively, they moved into Romania and Hungary as a result of the Ottoman Turks and their conquest of Byzantium and rampages through the Balkans. As Hindus the Turks with their religion of Islam would have been quite murderous to say the least - but they may have fallen from the pan into the fire as the Europeans of central and eastern Europe have maintained a dislike and rejection of the gypsies from the very beginning of their appearance - and that dislike continues until modern times (which is why they have popped up in France and in the UK). This began in quite a naive manner, so to speak. The Roma appeared just at the time the Ottomans were waging war against central Europe, penetrating as far as Austria, pillaging and killing as they went, and the gypsies as newcomers and presumably with experience of the Turks were seen as collaborators and part of the enemy - a vicious foreign adversary. This is not quite as the BBC puts it but reading between the lines the persecution of gypsies was understandable in the beginning - but as their numbers grew the resentment festered and stewed and violence on the part of the host communities erupted. Large numbers of gypsies moved NE to Poland and Russia or SE to Ukraine - and that is why they are located on the steppe zone. Fascinating.

BBC News Sept 28th ... also reports on a chemical test from the teeth of a skeleton found in an ancient grave near Stonehenge. The bones of the teenager who died in around 1550BC were found with a distinctive amber knecklace which it is claimed denoted someone of importance. This might be just your archaeologist glossing a find but assuming it is correct the teeth are revealing as the teenager was born and lived as a child in a Mediterranean country - but how and why did he come to Wiltshire?

Meanwhile, the Wharfedale and Airedale Observer of Sept 26th there is a report on a prehistoric circle on Askwith Moor in Yorkshire - near what is known as Snowden Crags. The circle was, and still is, overgrown, and rather large, and appears to be associated with a Bronze Age cairn. The stones only poke out a couple of feet from ground level but this is the present day surface. In the Bronze Age they would have been more prominent as the ground level has risen as a result of podzolisation - but quite how much will require an excavation of the site.

Finally, as an oddment, the Kamchatka peninsular lies at the junction of several plates - the Pacific plate, Okhotsch plate, the Bering plate and the North American plate (it actually expands into Siberia). They all cause crustal stress in this small piece of land jutting out into the Pacific somewhat to the north of Japan. Presumably this region has played an important geological role in the past as well (see ). There are an amazing number of volcanoes packed into a small piece of land and many of them remain active and regularly erupt. What I found intriguing was that a string of volcanoes on the western side of Kamchatka appear to have switched off at the end of the Pleistocene - why?