Last week I came in on the last half of a PBS program about “The Secrets of Stonehenge.” I’d read most of the different bits and pieces, but it was nice to have them all pulled together with attractive shots of Stonehenge and its environs. However, the last ten minutes or so raised my eyebrows and started me wondering…
According to what the archaeologists have, ahem, unearthed thus far, the construction and most maintenance of Stonehenge tapered off after the arrival of the Bell Beaker culture around 4,500 Y.B.P.* According to the TV program, isotopic tests of skeletons related to the new culture show that the new elites were local, born and raised in England. This raises some interesting questions. Had they adapted the Bell Beaker culture with its use of copper and bronze (Chalcolithic and Bronze Age), and its system of strong social and economic differentiation? Where did they encounter the new culture, and how did they bring it back to England? The presenter strongly implied that yes, the egalitarian communal native farming culture had been overcome in the space of a century or so by the hierarchical metal users. Stonehenge was abandoned. But the new rulers were still natives to the region.
Genetic tests, however, suggest that instead of a purely cultural transition where local people were exposed to the new culture, adopted it, and brought it back to use at home, an invasion took place. Something or someone drove the older peoples of southeast England off their land. Although the use of stone tools did not come to an end, the metal-users overwhelmed the natives, at least genetically, and made their own imprint on the land with individual burials in mounds instead of communal cremation graves. Up to 90% of the individuals tested show “genetic replacement” with genes from the steppes rather than from England.
It is important to note that in at least some parts of the European mainland, a climate shift occurred at about this time. This led to the failure of agriculture in the Danube Basin and some places to the west (what is now Romania, Ukraine, Hungary, the northern Balkans). The cooler and wetter climate favored pastoralism over farming, so the transition might not have been as violent as some earlier students of the topic suggested. I don’t know enough about the paleoclimate patterns in England to hazard a guess as to the situation there, and the TV program didn’t say. However it happened, Bell Beaker replaced neolithic farmers and Stonehenge faded from communal use, at least the communal use from before 4,500 Y.B.P. Copper and Bronze replaced stone in ceremonial functions and slowly took over other jobs as well.
What I started wondering about, as I skimmed over the first chapter draft of the fifth Shikhari book, is this: can someone adopt pieces of a culture without taking in other bits of that culture? The Native American groups on the Great Plains, for example, took in things like metal pots and arrowheads, metal knives, and glass beads, fitting them into their own cultures. It was not until after the 1820s that some groups shifted their economies to better fit the free-market methods of the traders.
So… what about Shikhari and the Staré? Thus far, 150 years after contact or so, the Staré have adopted large chunks of human culture but kept even larger parts of their own. What if that starts to change? What if there is a movement among some of the upper Stamm to stop, or even to go back. True, the humans prevented the aliens from destroying Shikhari again, but what if it were the humans’ communications signals that brought the aliens back? Large numbers of the first Stamm, the leaders of the Staré, died in the fur-drop plague. Are there enough of the moderates to balance out new voices who want the humans gone, or complete separation of Staré from human? How could the Staré keep what they want of human technology while purifying it of human contamination and ideas? Or is it too late?
I have a feeling that this will be part of the book, along with Benin S. Petrason returning (boo, hiss). And someone going to see what exactly is going on with the wildlife, and that strange desert area with the glittery dust…
* Years Before Present, present being 1950
Welcome, Instapundit readers! Thanks for visiting. The Shikari series is what happens when books like Tunnel in the Sky and StarCat get crossed with Rudyard Kipling, H. Rider Haggard, and Jim Corbett’s books about India. The first book is suitable for age 13 and up.