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Mega-Talk (Megalithic)
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Mick Harper
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Hatty and my talk on Global Warning: Der Truth goes into production next month but on the Hollywood conveyor belt theory, the next one has to be leaving the ground as the previous one is still flying. Therefore we begin here the day-by-day collation of the script of Megalith Britain: Der Truth.

Most of you will be familiar with the material but you are reminded that neither praise nor criticism of the project itself is permitted. However you are encouraged to comment (positively or negatively) on any of the various strands, as well as offering anything new you think might be helpful (you may or may not get credit).

As usual in AE, we do not begin at the beginning (always the hardest part) but a few sections in.
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Mick Harper
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Mega-Britain Part 5

In order to understand the prehistory of Britain, the best way to proceed is to dispose of Britain and come up with a somewhat similar geographical entity with an unrecorded past but which nevertheless bears an uncanny resemblance to Britain.

That way we can try to reconstruct ancient British history without the mythic and parochial academic contrivances built up over the centuries. We need not worry too much about evidence at this stage since the whole point about ancient British history is that there isn't much evidence, and what there is can be positively misleading. Anyway, here is Xland



We will not go back as far as the Ice Ages and what are oddly called by academics "the Upper and Middle Palaeolithic eras", because this part of the past truly is another country, but we shall adopt the coming of agriculture as the important event that begins the modern world. As a matter of fact we shall be demonstrating how little Britain has changed between 4000 BC and 1500 AD.

This is not the academics' view. Not only are they always at pains to show how much has gone on in the intervening aeons (it is after all their professional task to fill aeons of lectures) but their paymasters, the Great British Public, demand a story of ever onwards, ever upwards. Historians actually date 'history' itself differently. They take history as beginning with the advent of writing. This too is a professional convenience since writing provides far more evidence for the scholar than artefacts do.

In Britain's case the coming of writing coincides with the coming of the Romans, so not then very British history. Fortunately neither the Romans nor writing figure much in the history of Xland.
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Tilo Rebar


In: Sussex
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Mick Harper wrote:
...but we shall adopt the coming of agriculture as the important event that begins the modern world...

Just an idle thought, but was it the domestication of animals, rather than agriculture, which happened first - with the horse of particular significance? Perhaps the hunter-gatherer meme about early man is completely wrong.

Why give up the easy life for the hard work and drudgery of farming the land, which didn't become necessary until the earliest cities, like Colchester and Silchester, were developed?
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Mick Harper
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This is indeed the position as set forth in Chapter Ten of The Megalithic Empire. However it remains to be seen whether this part of the story will make it into this particular talk.
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Mick Harper
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Mega-Britain Part 6

There are two forms of agriculture, and this is as true in 4,000 BC as it is in 2,000 AD: intensive cereal and 'other', and it all depends on the physical geography which one is followed. If soil and temperatures are OK land will always be under intensive cereal cultivation because this is far and away the best return of calories per person and per acre. Apart from a few animals and the odd veggycrop, it's cereals, cereals, cereals as far as the eye can see.

On bad land, it's the other way round, pastoralism is all that is possible with maybe a patch or two of the hardier cereals. In Xland the general picture is that the south and east are given over to cereals and the north and west to crofters and pastoralists.



We might expect that this fundamental division will be recorded in the peoples of Xland -- and even the languages -- because the underlying agricultural facts of life mean that the cultural facts of life will also be fundamentally different. The main difference being in the population density of the two halves. In the south and east there will be a dense population -- even primitive cereal cultivation allows this -- in the north and west a sparse population, since pastoralism never permits a lot of people, even today.
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Mick Harper
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MegaBritain Part Seven

The question then arises, how do these people (these two peoples) organise themselves? Well, again, logic prevails. Since any kind of cereal cultivation before the age of steam required quite large numbers, it is a very communal exercise. Accordingly, intensive cereal agriculture before c. 1800 AD is almost wholly a matter of using the open field system, that is, when a large group, larger than any extended family, come together and farm collectively. The open fields are a necessity because plough teams (whether human or animal) are small in number compared to the people who can be supported and this is the best way (the only way?) of ensuring fairness.

These people who work collectively also live collectively. Not in the vast round houses beloved by archaeological reconstructionists, but in villages of small family houses. That's just the way human beings are -- they are family oriented but also rather social. Actually, they may have learned sociability because such concentrations lead to economic gains via low-level specialisation and benefits in terms of security. But anyway villages are pretty much a certainty anywhere there is intensive cereal cultivation.

We can even calculate how these villages and open fields are distributed across the lowland half of Xland because there is a natural limit to how far a man (perhaps leading an animal) can walk and still do a day's work so it follows that the village will be in the centre of the open field system and be but a few miles distance from the next village and its open field system.

This is all in stark contrast to the north and west where the agricultural product does not permit a dense population and farming, indeed life itself, is largely conducted on the basis of crofts, homesteads and hamlets. There is a conspicuous lack of villages.
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Mick Harper
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MegaBritain Part Eight

But irrespective of the actual settlement pattern, the needs of agricultural communities never vary. They are mostly self-sufficient and the inhabitants rarely move around very much but there are inbuilt demands for items not locally available. Far and away the most important of these is salt. A cereal diet is extremely deficient in salt and needs topping up but, in any case, salt is a near-necessity for all kinds of preservation.

Salt is almost never available locally but contrariwise it is available from a great many places -- the sea and mineral salt deposits. It follows then that every agricultural settlement, whether a village or an isolated homestead, needs access to this salt. In other words, any society with intensive agriculture also requires a network of long-distance routes.

On top of this, or we might say reinforcing this, are other natural market flows of any early agricultural society. For instance, we know that superior flint axeheads are found hundreds of miles from their place of origin. There is also a very natural exchange between pasturalists and cereal cultivators. Although it is true that everybody goes in for mixed farming to some extent, it is no less true that there are parts of the country which are better providing the one than the other, and it can hardly be avoided that the pasturalists will create routes for bringing their beasts for exchange.
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Mick Harper
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MegaBritain Part Nine

However, if we just assume that salt needs to be traded, this alone has some radical and surprising consequences for X-land as a whole. If we imagine there has to be some kind of route between every inland village and a source of salt, this immediately creates a sort of national network. That is perhaps a bit surprising in itself since we do not ordinarily associate Palaeolithic society with road networks. However, it has to be accepted that this is something of an inevitability once it is accepted that agricultural villages a) need salt and b) can't produce it off their own bat.

But there are two other factors which, again, we do not normally associate with such early societies. The first is that there has to be a salt industry, however rudimentary. After all it is no use the village salt-man trekking all the way to the nearest bit of sea and then merely being faced by the briny ocean. There is no obvious way, apart perhaps from some salt-flecked sand, whereby he can actually gather salt. We have to assume that there are people on the seashore whose job it is to produce salt or his journey is pretty much pointless.

As it happens, producing salt from the seas around X-land is not an easy matter. The weather is far too cold to simply stand around sea-water brine-ponds waiting for the sun to do its evaporative work. You actually have to set up salt-pans and get fire to do the work. It's a very expensive way of making salt, and requiress an industry. That means there must be (in palaeolithic terms) a pretty sophisticated operation at points all around the sea-shores of X-land.

And that in turn has radical consequences.
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Mick Harper
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MegaBritain Part Ten

What is the major stumbling block when sending your village salt-man to the coast, presumably loaded with village produce for barter, and then him returning with an equally valuable load of salt? Well, the chief problem is you won't see him again. How can any one perform such a task without being casually robbed by anybody, indeed practically everybody, along the way? Going out or coming back.

So, is it realistic to imagine groups of people, coming together from nearby villages, banding together for defensive purposes? Of course it isn't. These people would be making regular journeys along regular routes so it is only a matter of time before miscreants will band together in slightly larger number and gain even greater rewards for their miscreancy. After all, they're the professionals.

The truth is, and it is something entirely disregarded by orthodox historians, that long distance trade requires long distance law-and-order. It requires, in fact, in some very basic sense, long distance government.

Of course it really is very basic government because all that is being demanded is some kind of organisation able to protect travellers in the salt trade. And, by a remarkable stroke of luck, in Xland, there is just such an organisation! The coastal salt industry. After all there is no point in making salt if your customers cannot reach you.

So if you want to make salt in the late palaeolithic -- and we know someone must have been making the stuff on a fairly big scale -- you also have to be able to trade it. And to trade it, you have to provide, in however nugatory a form, a long distance branch of the law-and-order business.
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Mick Harper
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MegaBritain Part Eleven

So let us reiterate. All this is strictly logical:
1. If there is a cereal-based agricultural society (which we know there was), there is a requirement for salt.
2. If there is a requirement for salt, this has to be brought from a long distance (either the sea-shore or a mineral deposit).
3. If there is a long distance salt trade, there must be some way of protecting the salt carriers/traders.

There is also in here the presumption that a national network of routes/ paths/ roads must come into existence because of the need to get from all the various A's (where the salt is created) to all the various B's (the villages where the salt is consumed). Bearing in mind that this process must have been developing ever since the establishment of agriculture in Xland (in, let us say, 5,000 BC) it can safely be assumed that this network (and the basic regime of law and order along the network) will become reasonably established by 4000 BC.

However we cannot say more than this. Since salt is the only necessity that agricultural communities cannot provide for themselves and since the route from a given village to a given salt source is ... a given, there is no internal requirement for any change. To see whether there was any change, we shall have to turn, however reluctantly, to the archaeological evidence.
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Mick Harper
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MegaBritain Part Twelve

We have the evidence of the flint axes. We may not have much evidence of the salt, we may not have much evidence of anything very much from the late Neolithic, but by God we do have evidence of the flint axes and flint axes have not only been found all over the place but, above all, they have been found hundreds of miles away from where analysis shows they were made. They come from East Anglia and they turn up in the West Country, they are mined in the Lake District and they are found in the Midlands. .

Now this raises a profound puzzle. No matter how much enthusiasm is evinced by modern day flint-nappers, the truth is that a really good flint axe (reputedly from the Norfolk flint mines) is only marginally superior to any old flint axe you can mine for yourself locally. Even the best flint axe in the world is only a joy for a short while, that's in their nature, and you can get the job done with far worse. In other words good flint axes are a complete luxury -- and they are hellishly heavy to tote around in any quantity.

So we have arrived in a position where apparently difficult-to-transport and only marginally useful objects are being traded over hundreds of miles. What can we fairly conclude from this? Two things: first of all is that it is surely only economic to carry large quantities of flint axes long distances if you have animal transport travelling along reasonably hospitable routes. So forget peddlars wandering aimlessly around the countryside looking for a market. You cannot have animal trains wandering around anywhere without real and continuous roads. Someone was building and maintaining long distance roads in Neolithic Britain.

And secondly, you need some kind of navigational system since it beggars belief that people would just load up with superior flints and travel hundreds of miles just on the off-chance of arriving somewhere that is going to pay for them. That's the trouble with a road network -- there are all-of-a-sudden an infinite number of choices to make about which way to go. Someone must have been providing some method of finding your way about in Neolithic Britain.

And of course all this reinforces the idea of some kind of national law-and-order organisation since the flint axe trade is now going to join the salt trade in criss-crossing all parts of Xland. Basically, by 4000 BC X-land was, at any rate so far as trade was concerned, one great country.
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Wile E. Coyote


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Mick, I don't know if you have seen this yet.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wich_town

Your so called (Vik)ings were obsessed by Salt........

Might be a false trail, but I reckon, once rearranged, it is well worth a glance.
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Mick Harper
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These are on my radar.
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Mick Harper
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MegaBritain Part Thirteen

And so we naturally come to drovers. It's difficult separating cause from effect but if we have a situation, in Xland, where conditions are such that animals are wending their way over land via established routes, then it must be the case that areas where pastoralism is followed -- and therefore where meat is both relatively cheap and surplus to requirements -- will be trading with cereal areas where, contrariwise, cereals are cheap and surplus but meat is presumably in demand. Meat on the hoof is nearly as cheap as meat in the field.

It would follow from this that drovers' roads would become established over and above the trade in salt necessities and flint luxuries. They are a return cargo if nothing else. However, we need only evoke images of cowboy films to understand that drovers always have certain characteristics, and not necessarily ones that fit well into Palaeolithic X-land:
1. they tend to be in conflict with crop-farmers encountered along the way
2. they provide their own law and order
3. they do not necessarily have the internal coherence to maintain their trackways.
4. they are somewhat at the mercy of markets in the non-pastoral areas.

But what are these markets? The problem surely is, that in palaeolithic circumstances, there isn't one. After all crop farmers keep animals both for work and for manuring the fallow and, in any case, famously only eat meat on high days and holidays. They have no need, on the face of things, for the product of the pastoral areas. Even their own nearby pastoral areas.

Well, soon they will have. One of the curiosities of human existence is that we all need clothes but they are actually damned difficult to make unless you have a very low standard of couture. And oddly, because clothes have both a functional and a sexual purpose, human beings almost never have a low standard of couture. If that is true of the neolithic -- and it is an axiom of this version of history that human beings are drearily uniform in their desires throughout the ages -- a textile industry must have come into existence at least as early as the luxury flint axe trade. With particularly dynamic results.
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Wile E. Coyote


In: Arizona
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Mick Harper wrote:
because clothes have both a functional and a sexual purpose,


Mick Harper wrote:

human beings are drearily uniform in their desires


So are these, dreary uniforms?
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