Who wants to know the secret of the first cities in the world, should search not so far – because it can be found here, in Romania. “Proto-urban” gigantic cities, settlements of Cucuteni culture that had appeared 500 – 1,000 years earlier, are as large as or even larger than the cities found in southern Mesopotamia.
These giant settlements, which are clearly comparable with the subsequent Sumerian cities, are displaying none of the characteristics of social differentiation that is so obvious in later public architecture. The neo-evolutionary “proto-urban” term that has been applied to these gigantic Cucuteni settlements, can be misleading.
As much as the samples are allowing us and trying to reconstruct their social organizational structure, we must try to understand how these cities had functioned. A question must be raised: “Do these Cucutenian cities have a precise parallel ethnographic record or are they to a certain extent, a unique product of the late Chalcolithic period?”
Trying to determine the early development of a specific form of pastoral nomadism, we can say that the heard is representing a pastoral nomadism characteristic belonging to the Eurasian steppes. These specific forms of nomadism are known to us from various historical and ethnographic nuclei. One of these thesis is that this form of nomadism had appeared, at the end of the 2nd millennium B.C, only in the late Bronze Age and early Iron Age. In order to better understand the archaeological evidence that is taken separately, it is helpful to study other historical and ethnographical late communities belonging to the Eurasian pastoral nomads. The predominant societies were the ones developing a more mobile way of life and economy along the rivers valleys – like the shepherds societies and the ones raising cattle; societies that were directly comparable with the ones formed later in the steppes , during the 4th millennium B.C and the beginning of the 3rd one , by their descendants.
Many illusory archaeological reconstructions (for critique see Rassamakin 1999: 59; 2002: 66) have appeared to envisage the late Chalcolithic period or the cultures from the early Bronze Age – being marked by the marauding warriors or the ravages made by Genghis Khan and Timur to the stable societies from that time. Such an image is overlooking the fact that, at least, at the beginning of our story, the horses were not ridden and the metals were used more as ornaments than as weapons. In other words, the analogy can be more misleading than conclusive and should be applied without discrimination. The archaeological theory and evidence had been anachronically imagined the hordes of looters from the East (see Rassamakin 2002: 66), during the Eneolithic and Bronze Age. Another example of archaeological phenomena, about which we cannot find the perfect ethnographic parallels that are allowing the evolutionary development, it is the late fortified and symmetrically designed city of Sintashta – Arkaim (from the end of the 3rd and the beginning of the 2nd millennium B.C) that has been found in an area concentrated in the southern Trans-Ural Steppe and forest steppe region.
One of the principal investigators, G.B. Zdanovich (1999), made a reference about the landscape over which these settlements were being regularly distributed – naming it the “Country of cities” (Strana godorov) ; a name that is suggesting parallels with other territories (like the ones from southern Mesopotamia) that had benefited from the emergence of urban formations. Once being evoked, the image of these settlements (or cities – goroda) is presenting the features of the urban cluster like social differentiation, crafts specialized in pottery and ceramics, intensive agriculture and so on.
This evidence will be revised later in detail, but a minimal analysis is raising some doubt regarding the usefulness of this urban interpretation – the largest cities that had been found, Sintashta – Arkaim, are approximately 3 hectares. So, they are hardly equivalent with Cucuteni-Tripolie gigantic settlements or with the Sumerian city-states.
To a certain extent, the urbanism is a relative phenomenon and the discovery of such sites with a planned architecture (specific to the open steppes) is imposing a major reconsideration of what had happened during the transition from the early Bronze Age until the end of it; including the way this transition maybe had affected another parts of the world that were being interconnected with the Eurasian steppes.
Also, there is no doubt that the discovery of vehicles (chariots), the improvement of the bronze weapons (like spears and arrow heads), the funeral rituals made with sacrifices of expensive animals – are significant discoveries made at Sintashta.
Is the concept of urbanism adequately evoked? Does it not mislead us? One of the fascinating aspects of the “Country of cities” is even its disappearance. In this world of steppes, the current evidence is not supporting any continual evolution of an “urban” society. So, how can we explain its disappearance?
If we are going to reconsider the true archaeological discoveries, we will become more intrigued about how we are going to interpret them – opting toward a social cyclical transformation (among these steppes) rather than a continuous growth. This study is analyzing the early development of a more mobile and specialized form of economy that in the end had become the traditional form of pastoral nomadism – being characteristic to the large zones (physically interconnected between them) of the Eurasian steppes. This is showing how the early development of this distinctive way of life had started – visibly affecting the more stable models of communities (based on agriculture) from the south of these steppes. The emerging process (spread over at least two millennia) of this economy can be considered to be continuous and the changes, that took place inside of it, were being characterized by shocks resulted from a sudden appearance and disappearance of certain archaeological cultures. With an increased mobility, the movements of human groups took place systematically – becoming one of the most important connections of the “world of steppes” (represented by Proto-Getae) with the “world of sedentary farmers” (represented by Pelasgians). The mobility was improved with technological developments in transportation like the apparition of wheeled vehicles, and the domestication and exploitation (horseback riding) of growing horses. Equally important was the production and exchange of stones, metals, tools, and weapons. From a macro-historical perspective, the distribution of technologies and the exchange of materials can be traced over a larger geographical area. The expanding of the “metallurgical province” (Chernykh 1992) subsumes many archaeological cultures and communities, becoming bigger and bigger. Coming from a theory based on successive archaeological evidence (like the sudden dissolution of the Pelasgian CARPATHO – BALKAN METALLURGICAL PROVINCE and the expanding of the Proto-Getae North-Pontic Metallurgical Province, in the second quarter of the 4th millennium B.C), we can say that the expanding process was not regular and uniform but disrupted – with previous areas coming to a sudden collapse while others were still developing.
Significant was the growing need to obtain materials and, above all, to obtain the metal resources that were not evenly distributed on the interconnected area stretching from the Balkans to the Western Siberia and the steppes of Kazakhstan. The inter-regional exchange of these materials became as much as important as their initial production. All of these factors were connected between them; synergy that is affecting the adaptation to the open steppe – being necessary the development of a growing mobile economy that was initially based on foraging for food and intensive hunting, and was continuing with the herds of animals introduced locally and in the steppes. This mobility was transformed by the introduction of wheeled vehicles and later by the exploitation and innovation of horse breeding. Over time, this mobility had contributed to the process of production and specialization in the exchange of goods. Initially, the exchange of ornaments and other valuables took place in order to differentiate the members of a specific social group (or community).
Later, the production and the exchange of weapons had contributed to establish and maintain relationships between communities. The growing militarism that took place in these steppes is finding his reflection farther in the south, through radical changes in the patterns of settlements and a growing number of fortresses (like the cyclopean fortresses from the late Bronze Age and the beginning of the cyclopean Iron Age that had been found in the entire South Caucasus – see Smith 2003: 165-172). The Eurasian steppes are increasingly interacting more and more with the Middle East, through the exchange of materials (especially metals) and the prolonged movements of tribes.
Occasionally, the farmers had moved to the north participating in the development of the mobile economy with a greater reliance on livestock – this being typical to the shepherds who had moved to the south, in order to escape the hardness of life in steppes. In the end they had learned to disrupt the farming settlements and to rob their sedentary and vulnerable neighbors. Later, a model of inter-regional interaction (between the steppes and the sedentary farmers) will be established; model that will significantly affect our world history until modern times.
Source: The formation of the Eurasian-Bronze, by Philip Kohl
Written by Thraxus Ares
Translated by Ioana