Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Ancient Lerna (learning from the ancients).

Monday, 2nd November

I noticed in our 'Rough Guide' that the route from Agios Andreas to Napflio took us past an archaeological site called Ancient Lerna. The guidebook said it was the most significant find in the country from the Neolithic period, and since I was utterly ignorant of any Greek history prior to the Bronze Age, I thought it might be worth visiting.

The site is down a narrow rough track on the outskirts of the village of Milli. Luckily there was a place to park Maisy by the village war memorial, and it was only a short walk to the site.

It's interesting rather than impressive. What the American archaeologists found was a small settlement inhabited from 5000 BC to around 1500 BC. The most significant monument is the so called 'tile house' which is a substantial 'palace' from the late Neolithic/Early Bronze Age, reconstructions show that the edifice was two storied and had a tiled roof, the earliest to be found in Greece. As we wandered around a school party of primary aged kids arrived, they seem interested, not simply standing and listening, but chipping in with comments and questions. They seemed much more interested in the remains of the fortifications than the house, as I would have, I think, aged 10.

The most precious find is protected by a modern cover

The rest of the site you can wander about in at will.

Like many early cultures, the people at Lerna buried their ancestors at the fromt door, so they could remain part of the family, they were still there, but in a spirit land.
The artefacts unearthed are also fascinating, the torso of a small 'earth goddess' figurine, surprisingly anatomically accurate for such an early date. The pottery too showed unusual sophistication, not only in its linear decoration, but in terms of function. It comes as a bit of a surprise to find 'sauce boats'. These people were not living a primitive hand to mouth existence, they had 'cuisine'.

A neolithic sauce boat.

7,500 years old - looks distinctly 'Next Home'
The Lerna 'Venus'

The House of the Tiles - Early Helladic circa 2300BC, (25m x 12m)  mud brick on stone foundations, two storey.

Thinking about these things has changed the way I regard the past. Usually, historians categorise, then narrate difference - how Normans were different to Saxons, Tudor buildings different to Georgian. Whigs different to Tories, Impressionism different from Cubism. However, when you consider that Lerna was inhabited continuously for 3500 years - a hundred generations - as long a period as the present day from the date of its final demise in 1500 BC, then you are struck as much by the continuity and changelessness of human culture as by its progress.

A couple of years ago when I was researching material for my dissertation I became interested in the work of American 'Deep Ecologist', Gary Snyder. More famous as a poet, his collections of essays, such as 'Practise of the Wild' and 'Turtle Island' make equally interesting reading. Provocatively, what Snyder argues is that rather than progressing from primitive to civilised, in evolutionary terms we are no different to our ancient forebears of 40,000 years ago, Physically our brains are the same, and so far as we can tell, our spoken language is no more developed. Of course, we are more sophisticated technologically, and written language allows us to store information more easily, however, in Snyder's view, in terms of living as a part of broader nature, and understanding our relationship to the planet, we have much to learn from human prehistory.

I love Gary Snyder's sense of the span of things, how the 'human age' is just one phase in planet Earth's existence.

What happened here before -

Gary Snyder

— 300,000,000—

First a sea: soft sands, muds, and marls

        — loading, compressing, heating, crumpling,

        crushing, recrystallizing, infiltrating,
several times lifted and submerged,
intruding molten granite magma
        deep-cooled and speckling,
                gold quartz fills the cracks—

— 80,000,000—

sea-bed strata raised and folded,
        granite far below.
warm quiet centuries of rains
        (make dark red tropic soils)
        wear down two miles of surface,
lay bare the veins and tumble heavy gold
        in streambeds
                slate and schist rock-riffles catch it –
volcanic ash floats down and dams the streams,
        piles up the gold and gravel—

— 3,000,000—

flowing north, two rivers joined,
        to make a wide long lake.
and then it tilted and rivers fell apart
        all running west
        to cut the gorges of the Feather,
                Bear, and Yuba.
Ponderosa pine, manzanita, black oak, mountain yew,
        deer, coyote, bluejay, gray squirrel,
ground squirrel, fox, blacktail hare,
        ringtail, bobcat, bear,
                all came to live here.


And human people came with basket hats and nets
        winter-houses and underground
        yew bows painted green,
        feasts and dances for the boys and girls
                songs and stories in the smoky dark.


Then came the white man: tossed up trees and
        boulders with big hoses,
        going after that old gravel and the gold.
horses, apple-orchards, card-games,
        pistol-shooting, churches, county jail.

We asked, who the land belongs to. [...]
                the land belongs to itself.
        “no self in self: no self in things”

        Turtle Island swims
        in the ocean-sky swirl-void
        biting its tail while the worlds go

we sit here near the diggings
in the forest, by our fire, and watch
the moon and planets and the shooting stars—

my sons ask, who are we?
drying apples picked from homestead trees
drying berries, curing meat,
shooting arrows at bales of straw.

military jets head northeast, roaring, every dawn.
my sons ask, who are they?

        WE SHALL SEE
        WHO KNOWS
        HOW TO BE

Bluejay screeches from a pine.


To travel with an open mind through Greece is to dally with time itself. Theoretical physicists can find scant evidence of the physical existence of time, at least of our common sense notion of the sequence of events. Increasingly they at are talking of moments bubbling up simultaneously in space, some close, some further away, but coexistent. In this model, imaginatively at least, we are free to walk with the ancients. A few years ago I wrote about bumping into the Greek goddess, Afaia, on a bus. For some reason it's easier to suspend disbelief about such matters under the blue sky of Aegina than winding through the Pennines towards Macclesfield.

No wonder philosophy appears to be outrageously over populated by Greeks. It is a beautiful land, with a comely climate that encourages people to loiter, stop, stare, speculate and chat. The same can't really be said about the road across the Cat and Fiddle, it seems to encourage middle-aged KPMG auditors caught in the clutches of the male menopause to hurtle across it on super-charged Kawasakis in some ritualised attempt to recover lost youth, lost virility or lost hope. It's a rule of thumb among goddesses, they simply won't, for reasons of sartorial propriety, appear before men wearing crash helmets, they're none too keen on silk ties and Windsor knots either. I know this, they've told me..

Sent from my iPhone


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