Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Red Paint People, Doggerland and my DNA.

Over the last couple of months I have been putting up the occasional post on my own family tree, as it is becoming defined by DNA analysis, and at the same time have been looking at some of the early arrivals of Indians in Maine and the North East American continent. (My interest in the latter was initiated by the question of when Europeans first arrived on the continent in enough numbers to influence facial features of the locals).

Two weeks ago I was fortunate to be able to attend a lecture by Bruce Bourque, the Curator of Archaeology at Maine State Museum, and the authority on the Red Paint People, of whom I have written earlier with a follow-up post on their travels. His talk, and the book he just recently released (The Swordfish Hunters) provides much more detail on a people that have largely been neglected by “the archaeologists of Harvard,” who have tended to disregard significant developments this far north of Boston.

The Red Paint People are also called “the Moorehead Phase”, after Warren Moorehead, who first identified them as the “Red Paint” people, because of their custom of burying red ocher with the bodies in their cemeteries. They flourished in a small part of Maine, and their cemeteries have been found along the banks of local rivers. There is, however considerable evidence that they harvested fish and sea-food (their cemeteries have been found in large shell middens), with a peculiarity that they also hunted, ate and used the bones and rostra (the “sword”) of local swordfish. The latter, in particular, was used to provide a stiffened mount behind the harpoon and spear tips used in hunting. They appear to be the first to hunt swordfish, which would have been a dangerous prey for early Holocene man, since they have a nasty habit of attacking the boats of those who have just stabbed them with a harpoon.

Figure 1. Red Paint Cemeteries in North-East America (The Swordfish Hunters)

The book is a fascinating story of detective work, and archaeology as it builds a picture of a people that began around 5,000 years ago and suddenly disappeared around 3,800 years ago. Dr. Bourque points to evidence that it does not fit within an overall unified culture which has been described as the Maritime Archaic, but rather stands on its own, and emerges from the “Small Stemmed Point” tradition that preceded it. But is totally separate from the Ceramic period that follows.

One of the intriguing parts of the story lies in the thousand-mile link with the Ramah Peninsula in Labrador, that I discussed in a previous post, and Dr. Bourque also points to close similarities between the findings in Maine, and those at the Port au Choix site. One identifying characteristic lies in the development of stone gouges, for use in hollowing out the inside of dugout canoes.

Figure 2. A Stone Gouge from Maine, and an artist’s rendition of how it would be hafted. (The Swordfish Hunters).

The gouges, as the book argues, show that the Red Paint Peoples were building substantial canoes and boats around 4,000 years ago, that were substantial enough for voyages of a thousand miles, and that this would also make them viable for use in harpooning swordfish (an art in itself as the book illustrates).

The climate change around the time that this culture was flourishing in Maine is not seriously discussed in the book, but I think that it is worth looking at, in context, because it ties in a little with what was happening across the Atlantic, where the culture that built Stonehenge had moved into Britain.

Figure 3. Climate swings in the Northern Hemisphere over the past 10,000 years (the Holocene) (Consulting Geologist)

The significance of these temperature variations is often significantly discounted as climate scientists today would rather emphasize the point of the effects imposed by man, rather than the natural effects we cannot control. Yet the higher temperatures that did exist, even as recently as the last (Medieval) Warming Period are evidenced, for example, by the recent uncovering of an Eskimo village which has been buried under a glacier for the past 500 years. The inhabiting tribe of Yup’ik Eskimo lived, among other things, on caribou and lived at Quinhagak in Alaska. Without the protective ice cap that has covered the site from the time that the Yup’ik left there at the beginning of the Little Ice Age, the site is now rapidly being eroded into the Bering Sea (a fate that is similarly threatening the sites in Maine, where coastal erosion and sea level changes have covered most of the Red Paint People’s locations). But it indicates that we are only now reaching the temperatures at that site that prevailed in the Medieval Warming Period.

The Red Paint People lived at the beginning of what is now referred to as the Minoan Warming Period. And, from data obtained from the Greenland Ice Cores, it is possible to note a couple of facts about the time that the tribe appears to have vanished. First, if the temperatures, as derived from the Ice cores recovered from Greenland are examined in a little more detail:

Figure 4. Temperatures in the region over the last 5,000 years (from the Greenland GISP2 Ice core)

Perhaps more to the point, if the extent of sea ice at the time is considered (from the same source) it fell to an historic low during the Minoan.

Figure 5. Sea Ice extent over the Holocene (The Ice Chronicles ) (Note the plot has been flipped, relative to the original, in order to conform to the consistency of showing the older period to the left of the plot in the rest of the post).

With this considerable warming the ice retreated from the shores of Greenland, and it became an even more hospitable place that it was at the time almost 3,000 years later when Erik the Red came calling. This warming had another consequence, because it led to a steady rise in the levels of the sea. This is shown in the book as it affects Maine, important since it shows how the shoreline dwellings from the period have since been inundated.

Figure 6. Sea levels off the coast of Maine over the Holocene (The Swordfish Hunters)

But in Europe that sea rise from the beginning of the Holocene had another consequence. It flooded the land-bridge (known as Doggerland) between what became the isle of Britain and the continent.

Within the British Isles, by 4,000 BP the country had been colonized for about a thousand years by the arrival of an agricultural movement that displaced the earlier hunter-gatherers and, in turn. rapidly changed from a “slash and burn” land clearance into the development of a “celtic arrangement of fields. Colin Burgess in "The Age of Stonehenge" has noted that the settlements towards the end of that transition were already being constructed defensively.
A more recent unmarked burial pit at Fengate contained three disarticulated burials and one, crouched, the latter with a leaf-shaped arrowhead still sticking between the eighth and ninth ribs.
The warmer clime was conducive to the spread of agriculture and an increasing density of population. The cutting of the land bridge, and the slow flooding of what later became the Dogger Bank, in the North Sea, had a personal consequence.

Figure 7. The location of Doggerland about 7000 BP (Bryony Coles via doggerland)

My Y-chromosome has been designated as R1b1b2a1a1d*, which is a variety of Celt, that, as I have mentioned in an earlier post, had come down from Cro-Magnon man. The analysis that has evolved over the past few years (apparently starting at 23andme suggests that this a “Freisian” variety of Celt and there is a body of thought moving to the conclusion that they were the inhabitants of Doggerland that were driven to Britain when the final inundation occurred around 5500 years ago, just before the first circles at Stonehenge were constructed. (And here I now discover that maybe I wasn’t the first of my lineage to work on a Stonehenge).

The first circles at Stonehenge were developed about 5,000 years ago (at the left side of Figure 4). But around 2150 BC or some 4000 BP the Beaker People arrived. In contrast with those, maybe us, who had first developed the site and were moon worshipers, they worshiped the sun. What made the Stonehenge site become what it did was that the simple markers already there to align critical lunar phases could, by moving around the circle ninety degrees, also align to the major solar alignments at mid-winter, mid-summer etc. The ruling elites of the time became more powerful, and with the warmer climes helping sustain agricultural production, society became more static. And the more powerful had enough manpower available to develop, over the next millennium or so, the full glory that became Stonehenge. They also grew into the Wessex Culture with its elaborate and rich graves.

The Beaker People were Celts and still, at the beginning of this time, used stone axes and flint-shaped arrowheads. But copper daggers are found even in the earliest graves and this was the time where the culture was moving into the Bronze Age in Britain, some time after it had developed elsewhere in Europe.

Given that the Red Paint People were aware of native copper deposits, (and were starting to make small ornaments with them) had they known of the metal forming traditions developing in Europe then metal objects would have shown up in the graves. They did not, and even to the time of Champlain stone tools were in use.

So it is logical to conclude that seafaring though the cultures were on both sides of the Atlantic they did not communicate at this time, at least not well enough to teach metal craft, at a time when it might have been easier to travel, from one side of the Atlantic to the other. On the other hand, it might be possible to conjecture an explanation for the long and narrow bayonet points which Dr. Bourque points out as a significant feature of Red Paint burials. He notes that these are too weak to have any great utilitarian value in society, because they were made of stone. He therefore suggests that they had only a ceremonial aspect that has been lost. But it could be that they were an attempt to copy the spear heads that were beginning to be developed in Britain at the time, but which were made utilitarian only by being made of metal. And that would suggest some form of communication between the two societies.

There remain a couple of additional thoughts, both about the ability of early societies such as these to travel long distances, and the mysterious disappearance of whole societal segments. But they arise in events in Greenland that happened during the Medieval Warming Period; the migration of the Thule from Alaska to Northern Greenland in 1000 AD, and the abandonment of the Western Settlement of the Viking in Greenland. Since this is a different time period I will therefore leave those topics to a subsequent post.

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