Megalithic shipping and trade routes

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Megalithic shipping and trade routes

Postby Boreades » 12:08 am

So - we've set up a megalithic supermarket (a.k.a. Carnac). Every year, loads of punters turn up looking for the latest fashion in henge-ware and signposts. Haggling is done and deals are agreed. Phoenician goodies swapped for megalithic/Celtic manufacturing. Lovely jubbly, as some traders would say. Next, how to get your shopping home?

Many traditional archeological (TA) people have obsessed ad-nauseum about how huge stones could have been moved many miles (see Bluestones, Stonehenge, etc). But they're not engineers are they? In truth, across land, it's really not difficult, even when they weigh tonnes. Ask any child who's played on a playground see-saw or roundabout, they will have an instinctive knowlege of the way fulcrums and pivots reduce large deadweights to objects that can be turned with very little force. A Google search easily turns up Youtube video demonstrations of that being done with very big stones.

So, c/o the local megalithic movers, you've got your shopping to the nearest port. From Carnac, that's got to be in Quiberon Bay or the Gulf of Morbihan. Counter-balanced cranes can easily lift your newly acquired stoneware onto your boat ready to ship home.

Ah, but this is where it does gets tricky! Anyone who's sailed any distance in a boat offshore will know that things have a habit of moving around with the motion of the boat. Annoying if it's your dinner on the plates on the table. A bit more serious if it's a 20 tonne lump of stone.

So - megalithic stone movers would need seriously big strong boats. What we need is some evidence that people in the Quiberon area were producing big cargo vessels that could handle large volumes. The blessed TA's will object at this point, saying there is no record from these megalithic people of how they could have done this. I'm glad to say Oh yes there is. For that, we need to turn to none other than Julius Caesar. See his account in his Gallic Wars, Volume Three, in which he describes the Veneti defending their homeland from the invading Roman Navy.

'The Gauls' [Veneti] ships were made with much flatter bottoms [than Roman ships] to help them ride shallow water caused by shoals or ebb tides. Exceptionally high bows and sterns fitted them for use in heavy seas and violent gales, and the hulls were made entirely of oak, to enable them to stand any amount of shock and rough usage. The cross-timbers, which consisted of beams a foot wide, were fastened with iron bolts as thick as a man's thumb. The anchors were secured with chains instead of ropes. They used sails of raw hides or thin leather, either because they had no flax and were ignorant of its use, or more probably because they thought that ordinary sails would not stand the violent storms and squalls of the Atlantic and were not suitable for such heavy vessels … adapted for sailing such treacherous and stormy waters. We could not injure them by ramming because they were so solidly built, and their height made it difficult to reach them with missiles or board them with grappling irons. Moreover, when it began to blow hard and they were running before the wind, they weathered the storm more easily; they could bring in to shallow water with greater safety, and when left aground by the tide had nothing to fear from reefs or pointed rocks.'

i.e. these "illiterate Celtic barbarians" had superior technology to the Romans. They had c.200 big ships compared to c.100 smaller ships for the Romans. But the reason the Romans beat them so easily in a naval battle was that these were trade ships, not warships.

See here on a gaming forum for a reconstruction of what the Veneti ships may have looked like.

See also the "Asterix Ship" found in St Peter Port. Bob Dean concludes it was based on the pre-Roman Venetic ships, and quotes the same passage from Caesar. It had a cargo hold of c. 200 cubic metres. For comparison, the capacity of a full-size modern shipping container is c. 67 cu.metres. i.e. these Veneti trading ships were big.

It seems fairly clear that Veneti were inventive and pragmatic maritime traders, operating via a network of related Celtic clans all up & down the West coast of Europe. Somewhere on the trading route they must have met and traded with the Phoenicians trader. I imagine that any canny Celtic trader meeting his Phoenician counterpart might get asked "Where's the tin from?" - in their shoes I would protect my sources and say something vague like "Oh, further north". So only a vague story gets carried back to the likes of Ptolemy in Alexandria.

The Veneti, their Celtic clan brethren, and their ancestors back to megalithic times had been trading backwards and forwards across the Channel and up & down coats for millennia. From the vague written records of Greeks etc who heard where the tin came from, and Ictis is a name that gets mentioned.

I wonder if Ictis could be a generic name for any suitable trading island/port/harbour in Devon and Cornwall? Just as we had several Stannery Towns in Devon & Cornwall , why should we force ourselves into thinking all the exported tin etc came from only one Ictis, and then argue about where it was?

The stannery towns I know of in Devon are Chagford, Ashburton, Plympton and Tavistock.
In Cornwall, Penwith Tywarnhaile Blackmore Foweymore

Each of those maps easily to a coastal island or port.
Chagford -> Teignmouth (pronounced Tin-mouth by all locals)
Ashburton -> Dartmouth (safe deep water port)
Plympton -> Mount Batten (was an island before a causeway was filled in)
Tavistock -> Tamar (Tamaris according to Ptolemy's Geographica)
Penwith -> St.Michael's Mount (Cornwall)
Tywarnhaile -> Tintagel (island, and a major archaeo source of 6th C Med. pottery)
Blackmore -> St Austell
Foweymore -> Fowey (safe deep water port)

Loads to choose from!

I agree Burgh Island was a St Michael's Island and it could have been a small port, but let's not get hung up on one spot. I've sailed past there many times and never wanted to stay there in bad weather. Given the size of the Veneti ships, I'm sure they would have preferred more sheltered and deeper water ports like Falmouth, Fowey, the Tamar, Dartmouth etc. Anyway we know for sure that smaller boats were involved in moving trade goods all along the coast. e.g. the Salcombe shipwreck. That's one that got caught out , perhaps by bad weather when they were trying to catch a tide to meet a Veneti ship along the coast.

As a footnote, Quiberon and the Gulf of Morbihan were right at the heart of Veneti shipping and shipbuilding. There's a great continuity there as well, as the Celtic tradition of building big fast ships is still alive and well. For a great example , see the website of the Vendee Globe Round The World Race, happening right now. Nearly all the boats in the race are built in Brittany.

More later.
Boreades
 
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Re: Megalithic shipping and trade routes

Postby hvered » 1:24 pm

Boreades wrote:So - we've set up a megalithic supermarket (a.k.a. Carnac). Every year, loads of punters turn up looking for the latest fashion in henge-ware and signposts. Haggling is done and deals are agreed. Phoenician goodies swapped for megalithic/Celtic manufacturing. Lovely jubbly, as some traders would say.

Is there any way of tracing Carnac granite, or granite from a particular place (as was done, apparently scientifically, with the Stonehenge 'bluestones')? Granite from Devon and Dorset was in demand in historic times, stone from the Merrivale site on Dartmoor being a case in point.

Boreades wrote:So - megalithic stone movers would need seriously big strong boats. What we need is some evidence that people in the Quiberon area were producing big cargo vessels that could handle large volumes. The blessed TA's will object at this point, saying there is no record from these megalithic people of how they could have done this. I'm glad to say Oh yes there is. For that, we need to turn to none other than Julius Caesar. See his account in his Gallic Wars, Volume Three, in which he describes the Veneti defending their homeland from the invading Roman Navy.

My Plympton correspondent told me that the Portuguese and the Basques have been fishing for cod off the Newfoundland coast for millennia, huge numbers can presumably be netted if you know your fish timetables. Big strong boat design may have been the catalyst as it were for the whole shebang.


See here on a gaming forum for a reconstruction of what the Veneti ships may have looked like.

Not so different from traditional fishing boats in the highlands and islands. Splendid site!

It seems fairly clear that Veneti were inventive and pragmatic maritime traders, operating via a network of related Celtic clans all up & down the West coast of Europe. Somewhere on the trading route they must have met and traded with the Phoenicians trader. I imagine that any canny Celtic trader meeting his Phoenician counterpart might get asked "Where's the tin from?" - in their shoes I would protect my sources and say something vague like "Oh, further north". So only a vague story gets carried back to the likes of Ptolemy in Alexandra.

One of the most surprising aspects of the secrecy surrounding trade and trading places is how long it takes to correct errors on maps. Just the other day, fifty years or so on, Sandy Island has been 'undiscovered'. Some islands continued to feature, based on the authority of mapmakers like Mercator, for hundreds of years.
hvered
 
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Re: Megalithic shipping and trade routes

Postby Rocky » 6:13 pm

Each of those maps easily to a coastal island or port.

You clearly appreciate the importance of deep water ports/quays, ideal for loading shiploads of tin. I came across a long article on Mont St.-Michel and Ictis candidates, one of which was posited as Guernsey:

John MacCormack strongly favours the Channel Islands as 'Ictis', the place where the natives sold tin to merchants who carried it across to Gaul. He believes that the much lower sea-level around the English Channel in Roman times would have given these islands the appearance described by Diodorus Siculus writing in circa 30 BC. MacCormack, a renowned expert on Channel Islands' history, agrees that 'Grand Havre' at Vale, would have provided an ideal harbour on Guernsey, though less so in a westerly gale when St Peter Port would have been better sheltered. MacCormack also believes that the Cistercians may have been responsible for the navigational light on Les Écrehous which was re-founded by Val Richer in 1203. Finally, MacCormack reports historian Richard Hocart of the Historic Buildings Section of La Société Guernesiaise as suggesting that since both the Lihou and Vale Priories were effectively cut off from most of Guernsey at high tide, the chapel of St. George might have served Mont-Saint-Michel and its officers as a place from which to oversee their possessions which were mostly in the Castel parish where the land around St. George forms a separate sub-fief.
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Re: Megalithic shipping and trade routes

Postby hvered » 6:17 pm

Another candidate for 'Ictis' is Mount Itier, quite a plausible argument which is worth quoting in full even tho' it's rather long (apologies):

Mysterious Mount Itier: Press article by David Nicolas-Méry for La Manche Libre (April 2009) translated by CAL "In the south of the Bay of Mont-Saint-Michel rises Mount Itier which continues to puzzle many historians. Once the property of the monks of Mont-Saint-Michel, this hill takes us back to the origins of our region. Now in the commune of Huisnes-sur-Mer, it was first mentioned in the famous Revelatio which tells of the foundation of Mont-Saint-Michel by Saint Aubert, saying that the Itier lands were given by the Bishop of Avranches to the newly founded monastery dedicated to the Archangel. It is also recounts that a certain Bain, living on Mount Itier with his twelve sons, helped Aubert to build his first primitive church. Bain, this 'father' living on Mount Itier with his twelve 'sons' might in fact refer to the abbot of a monastery consiting of twelve brother monks. And close to Huisnes there was indeed the Merovingian monastery of Asteriac which possessed a hermitage on 'Mont Tombe' as Mont-Saint-Michel was then known.

While Asteriac is usually associated with the village of Beauvoir, we should really regard Beauvoir as incorporating the entire coastal area of the Bay from the river Sélune to the Couesnon. And it was on this area that the huge estate of Mont-Saint-Michel's vastly profitable Priory of Ardevon was superimposed in the Middle Ages. Even the name 'Itier' (Itius in Latin) is reminiscent of the Island of Ictis described by the Greek geographer Diodorus of Sicily, a contemporary of Julius Caesar. Diodorus says that numerous foreign merchants went to the Island of Ictis to buy tin which they then transported to Gaul. Several historians identify the English St Michael's Mount in Cornwall as the Island of Ictis. Establishing a link between our Mount Itier and this English island of Ictis, which later became a priory of Mont-Saint-Michel, would be interesting. Indeed, Mount Itier might have gained its name from its being the terminus of a maritime trade route between Cornwall, famed for its tin mines, and the Bay of Mont-Saint-Michel. In 1961 a mass military cemetery, containing the remains of 11,956 German servicemen killed on French soil, was established on Mount Itier. A 47 metre wide crater was dug into the centre of the hill, thus denying archaeologists access to evidence that would surely shed light on the obscure origins of this height."
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Re: Megalithic shipping and trade routes

Postby Rocky » 11:31 pm

Given the size of the Veneti ships, I'm sure they would have preferred more sheltered and deeper water ports like Falmouth, Fowey, the Tamar, Dartmouth etc. Anyway we know for sure that smaller boats were involved in moving trade goods all along the coast. e.g. the Salcombe shipwreck. That's one that got caught out , perhaps by bad weather when they were trying to catch a tide to meet a Veneti ship along the coast.

This is where the sea-faring Phoenicians traded. Were the Veneti actually Venetians? It may just be a coincidence (again!) that Venetians sounds like Phoenicians. It seems pretty clear that the Phs were very successful but because most historical references come from their detractors - i.e. Greeks and Romans - we've inherited a distorted picture of them. Worse, because all such references have been garnered by classicists - people with a vested interest in maintaining Greek and Roman supremacy - they've been presented as the Johnny-come-latelies of the Ancient World - parvenus who acquired all their know-how from the Greeks.
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Re: Megalithic shipping and trade routes

Postby Penny » 12:09 am

According to certain Greek sources (e.g. Strabo), the Phoenicians moved to the Med from the Persian Gulf - and possibly earlier still from North West India. If so, this would tie in with their involvement in the tin trade, since the earliest known source is said to have come from somewhere in Central India. As that supply became exhausted, the Caucasian supply would have come into its own - particularly since by then a demand for tin was developing in the West.

This would explain the Phs' motive for setting up colonies on the Levantine coast. In contrast to the beliefs of most modern scholars (who insist that they were indigenous peoples, who acquired their sea-going skills from the Greeks) the Greeks themselves believed Tyre to have been around for 3,000 years before they themselves settled the region. Their version makes better sense of accounts of Phoenician mining activities in the Greek Islands. Why, for example, would the Greeks have allowed the Phs to systematically demolish the island of Thasos for its mineral wealth if it was already a Greek territory? The fact that their work apparently went unhindered suggests that the Greeks had yet to become a force to be reckoned with.

Which leads on to why the Phs went on to push ever further west. As the reserves began to run low, Phoenician fortunes could only be maintained by the discovery of new mineral-rich regions.
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Re: Megalithic shipping and trade routes

Postby Boreades » 12:32 am

I tend to agree with Penny.

I've understood that the very earliest of "proto-Celtic" folks came from an area in the Middle East, around the Caspian Sea. They were pressurised to move by other folks crowding in from further north. (Why? Willing to discuss reaons for that separately)

What we call Celts seem to have split in two streams, one went east into northern India and beyond (see Tocharians). The other stream turned west and became "us", via Zoroastrians, Phoenicians, etc.
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Re: Megalithic shipping and trade routes

Postby Iona » 9:50 am

Celts (like Saxons) may be a generic term for salt-trader or salt-miner rather than a racial group as such which could explain their apparent geographical spread?
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Re: Megalithic shipping and trade routes

Postby Jools » 10:46 am

Boreades wrote:I've understood that the very earliest of "proto-Celtic" folks came from an area in the Middle East, around the Caspian Sea. They were pressurised to move by other folks crowding in from further north. (Why? Willing to discuss reasons for that separately)

Do discuss!

What we call Celts seem to have split in two streams, one went east into northern India and beyond (see Tocharians). The other stream turned west and became "us", via Zoroastrians, Phoenicians, etc.

Sounds quite purposeful. Do you think the 'streams' followed a pre-existing flow, or were they forging new routes?
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Re: Megalithic shipping and trade routes

Postby hvered » 12:38 pm

Iona wrote:Celts (like Saxons) may be a generic term for salt-trader or salt-miner rather than a racial group as such which could explain their apparent geographical spread?

I unintentionally watched a programme on BBC4 last night about Anglo-Saxon art (I'd thought it would be a repeat of The Killing III) and kept thinking how Celtic the artwork looked, for instance those entwined knots or lines that the presenter called snakes. The metallurgy was extraordinary though the programme didn't go into much detail about where the materials were mined. Still it was clear that the stuff, if not the people, had come from all over the shop.
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