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02 Introduction and Acknowledgement

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    1 INTRODUCTION AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS 1. The present work is an archaeo-semiotic investigation designed to question and document the existence of an srcinal and mainly not linguistically based system of writing from Southeastern Europe. The  Danube  script   is examined through data presented from the Neolithic and Copper Age. During this expanse of time, the  Danube civilization  played a central role in Southeastern Europe, contributing many innovations and  practices. Sign analysis has been utilized as a filter for archaeological data. In turn, archaeological context, observed in conjunction with other related information, provided new insights for examining this sign system. The need for an applicable interplay between two disciplines, Semiotic and Archaeology, has emerged from a deficiency within existing expertise. It is generally embedded within inflexible canonic models regarding the srcin of ancient scripts and the historical development of ars scribendi  that are challenged by the Danube evidence. Analysis of the widely recovered, sign bearing, prehistoric artifacts requires both insights regarding the principles and organization of sign systems, and an archaeological understanding of ancient societies and cultures, specifically their rationale for inventing or adopting writing technology. Harald Haarmann and Joan Marler have recently recalled that studies on the history of writing have remained, to this day, an arena where experts from different fields (mainly linguists and archaeologists) and amateurs alike demonstrate their expertise (or speculations) by making pronouncements about the emergence of ancient scripts and their historical development (Haarmann, Marler 2008). Linguists who are familiar with languages of antiquity, and who study the scripts in which they are written, have an understanding of the organization of sign systems and, in cases of phonetic scripts, they can see how such signs may be related to sounds. However, their grasp of the historical mechanisms behind the srcins of this invention, and of how writing skills have unfolded, is limited by the widespread relegation of   ars  scribendi  to a vicarial role as a more or less truthful reflection of the spoken language. Further, there is a lack of comprehension concerning archaeological insights about the cultural embedding of ancient societies and their motivations to introduce writing. Archaeologists make authoritative declarations about writing systems without even discussing basic definitional approaches to writing technology. They are not engaged in the study of sign systems (language and non-language related) within a network of communication, because that semiotic scientific terrain extends beyond the archaeological sphere. Therefore, they often observe patterns of consensus and adhere to conventional truisms. The state of art is even more problematic concerning studies associated with the  possibility  that that Neolithic and Copper Age cultures of the Danube valley and its hinterland might have developed an early and srcinal form of writing that predated Egypt and the Near East regions by 1000-2000 years. Linguists/Semioticians and archaeologists very rarely join and metabolize forces, each generally using the entrenched old-fashioned truisms of the other discipline that the proper specialists are in process of discarding as outdated. Semioticians and linguists discuss “why,” “how,” and above all, “if” ars scribendi came out in the villages of the Danube civilization. Yet, they do this without becoming involved in archaeological studies, examining assemblages of inscribed objects at museums and excavation sites, coping with the material and cultural fabric of the Danube civilization, or dealing with the trajectories of the socio-cultural evolution of communities, cultural groups, and complexes as they emerge from the archaeological record. In many cases, their archaeological and historical background is anchored to outdated visions. They become limited, considering the potential occurrence of a European archaic script to be so unthinkable that the simple  possibility of it is ignored and its evidence given very scanty attention. In rare occasions when the data is not  blindly rejected, they often come to postulate an ex   oriente lux  drift for this technology. Archaeologists make pronouncements about how writing technology emerged in ancient societies, and its nature and role as an institution of early civilization, without proper semiotic methodological tools, intimate knowledge of the infrastructure of sign systems and considering how various principles of writing apply to different linguistic structures. Often they make assessments without even discussing basic definitional approaches to writing technology. The archaeological record of inscribed artifacts from the Neolithic and Copper Age of Southeastern Europe is persistently cheapened by many archaeologists as bearing “pre-writing” signs, “potter’s/owner’s marks”, “magic-religious symbols”, or generic “signs,” despite the presence of features that clearly argue against such suppositions. In its comprehensive meaning, the term “Danube script” indicates the srcinal successful experiment with writing technology of the populations making up the Danube civilization and not a ”precursor” to writing, or “pre-writing,” as in some have described it (Winn 1981; Masson 1984; Hooker 1992). Therefore, the author had to explore a relatively unknown horizon, some pioneering and untied research apart (including Torma, Schmidt, Childe, Petkov, Georgievskij, Todorović, Cermanović, Vlassa, B. Nikolov, G.I. Georgiev, V.I. Georgiev, Gimbutas, Makkay, Winn, Joanović, Trbuhovich, Vasiljevich Haarmann, Todorova,    2 Gh. Lazarovici, Luca, Paul  and Starović). Consequently, a strong effort was expended in deb ugging and developing the appropriate theoretical framework and methodology. Additionally, a great deal of energy went into inspecting the inscribed objects, building a databank on the inscriptions, establishing an in-progress inventory of the signs employed by the Danube script, and synchronizing chronological and cultural development (  DCP -  Danube Civilization Phases ) with the life cycle of the Danube script. To make this task more difficult, still nowadays the history of writing has yet to be established as an independent domain of the social sciences, unlike Historical Linguistics. 2. In Southeastern Europe, the experiment with literacy started around 5900- 5800 BCE with the Starčevo - Criş (Körös) IB/IC and Karanovo I horizon, some two thousand years earlier than any other known writing. It is called the  Danube script   because it srcinally appeared in the central Balkan area and had an indigenous development.  Ars scribendi  quickly spread along the Danube River and tributaries northward to the Hungarian Great plain, westward to the Adriatic coast, southward down to Macedonia and Thessaly, and eastward to Ukraine. The Danube script flourished up to about 3500-3300 BCE, when an economic-social upheaval connected to an ecological crisis took place: according to some, there was an intrusion of new  populations, whilst others have hypothesized the emergence of new elites. At that time, the Danube script was eclipsed and was later to be lost. The region where the Danube Civilization and the Danube script flourished. The Danube script (framed in orange) was utilized in the core area of the Danube Civilization (framed in red).    3 The over-arching terminology of “Danube script” includes what has been call ed the “Vinča signs” and the “Vinča script” (Winn 1973; ibidem 1981; ibidem 2008: 126; and Merlini 2004a: 54). The connection of the inscribed signs with the Vinča culture that flourished in the Developed/Middle Neolithic within the core area of the great Danube basin has a reasonably long history. However, it categorizes only a specific period of the  Neolithic and Copper Age timeframe, has provincial boundaries, and does not evoke a clear geographical region. The experiment with literacy has to be extended in time (from Early Neolithic to Late Copper Age) and in space (embracing the whole Southeastern Europe). Other scholars use “Danube script” as synonymous with the “Old European script,” coined by Gimbutas (Gimbutas 1991; Haarmann 2002: 17 ff.; ibidem 2008a: 12; and Haarmann and Marler 2008: 1). However, this designation is based on the vague concept of “Old Europe” conceived by the same author (Gimbutas 1974; ibidem 1991), as below explained, and elicits a distinct connection with Southeastern Europe. The most suitable term would be  Balkan-Danube script,  being the preponderant use of signs found in the territory that is identified by two renowned geographical markers: the Balkan region and the Danube River (Winn 2008: 127). The author’s use of “Danube script” merely reflects the necessity to shorten “Balkan-Danube” in favor of a flow of water that is the backbone of the European matrix (Merlini 2002c). “Danube script” is an operational term and is not intended to designate to some extent a unity of literacy that lacks documentary evidence. When the databank of the Danube script inscription that the author is developing (  DatDas – Databank of the Danube script  ) will reach the required critical mass of information, further investigation is needed in going over the unitary frame called “Danube script”. Statistical analysis will support the identification and sorting out the distinct paths drawn by the cultural institution of writing in the regional Neolithic and Copper Age traditions of Southeastern Europe. For example, both Hooker and Owens refer to the occurrence of “Balkan scripts (Hooker 1992; Owens 1999: 116). Comparing the signs from the Gradešnitsa culture with those from the coeval cultures of Thrace and Northwestern (former) Yugoslavia, B.  Nikolov expressed the conviction that just a few of them were alike. He concluded that every separate ethno culture had produced its own sign system based on its respective tradition (Nikolov B 1984: 7). Nevertheless, the appearance of several scripts in the Balkan-Danube area throughout the Neolithic and Copper Age has to  be demonstrated based on the understanding of the interconnections of sign use in the different cultural regions. Up to now, regional and cultural subdivision was successfully, although prototypically, tested by the author by creating some sub-databases of  DatDas .  DatVinc  registers data on writing in the Vinča culture, which had the pivotal role in sign production.  DatTur   is established from the signs utilized by the Turdaş culture, documenting that the  “Turdaş script” developed as a light regional variant under the framework of the Danube script (Merlini 2008c; ibidem forthcoming).  DatPCAT   records inscribed finds and inscriptions from the Precucuteni-Cucuteni- Ariuşd -Trypillia cultural complex, evidencing the presence of a late script related to the Danube script (Merlini 2004b; ibidem 2007c; ibidem 2008d). Criticalities have not solely arrived from the side of the cultural and territorial articulation of the script. Concept and trajectory of the Danube civilization have to be substantiated from the archaeological record in a more solid way. It is vital to respond to scholars who dispute the presence of a civilization in the Neolithic and Copper Age of Southeastern Europe. Negation of existence for the Danube script and the Danube civilization are strictly connected. If a writing system can emerge only in a socio-economic, cultural and institutional context characterized by developed agriculture, full metallurgy, cities with large public buildings and monumental art (Makkay 1995), according to these scholars the Neolithic and Copper Age communities of Southeastern Europe did not reach such a degree of development. It is important to challenge the viewpoint that considers an independent and srcinal invention of writing in the Danube basin to be an absurdity based on the general laws of social, economic and cultural development. This requires, at first, a substantial elaboration, in archaeological or anthropological terms, of the definition of ‘civilization’. Second, appropriate criteria and benchmarking indicators, capable of testing this label of ‘civilization,’ must be chosen with regard to the network of the agro-pastoral farming communities in European prehistory. In short, by “civilization” the author is referring to a complex society with overarching ideologies that  possesses a strong cultural core (Yoffe et al. 2005: 253). Traditionally, literacy is the most basic characteristic of civilization. The term “Danube Civilization” is here addressed for the Neolithic and Copper Age societies of Southeastern Europe that flourished from c. 6400 to c. 3500-3300 BCE (see Childe 1929; ibidem 1929; Haarmann 2002: 17ff.; and Merlini 2003h). This terminology is coherent with the acknowledgment that the Danube River and its tributaries favored the advent of an institutional, economic, and social network of developed cultures that can be addressed as “civilization” in congruence with those that emerged in Mesopotamia, Egypt, China, Indus valley, and Iran. The Danube Civilization was characterized by the required context for literacy. It illustrated an extended subsistence farming economy and lifestyle through the improvement of agrarian land and technology, a tendency toward sedentary life in permanent settlements,    4  proto-urbanism with concentrated agglomerates organized by planned layout, solidly built dwellings, and a tendency to distinguish profane (abodes, workshops and tribal/communal dwellings) and sacral (sanctified spaces and temples) architecture. It was characterized by advanced technologies (particularly in weaving,  pottery, building and metallurgy), long distance trade and expansive exchange that even involved status symbols and luxury goods. The Danube Civilization exhibited the development of many household activities and skills such as spinning, weaving, leather processing, clothes manufacturing, shoe fabricating, and the manipulation of wood, clay, and stone. It speaks of a specialization of labor and social complexity, even if within the context of a semi-egalitarian social structure. The socio-economic system was associated with a complex ideological system connected to the agricultural creed of fertility and fecundity, elegant and cultured art, refined patterns of magic-religious imagery, an intense spiritual life, sophisticated religious organization and ritual. The complexity reached in the economic, social, institutional and cultural frames required an IT innovation to record, manipulate and transmit increasing packages of information. An effective system of communication was established (the  Danube Communication System ) by the means of tallies, marks, emblems, symbols and signs, of which writing technology was a crucial component .  Writing technology did not emerge and develop anachronically, but as congruous consequence and manifestation of the framework in which it was utilized. Until now, several components of the Danube Communication System   have been identified. The author introduces a number of them in this work, giving semiotic guidelines to distinguish them from the script module. The Danube Communication System was comprised of magic-religious symbolism, divinity insigna, emblematic and schematic ornaments, devices for memory support, ritualistic markings, and notations relating to expressing numbers and/or numerology. There were calendric and chronographic annotations, terrestrial maps, sky atlases with constellations and motions of celestial bodies (sun, moon, and planets); marks for personal and family identity or ownership, marks of lineage recognition or community affiliation, social status or political authority marks, and signs representing bio-energetic points of the human body. Within the Danube Communication System, indications of a system of writing are apparent, too. This IT innovation enabled Neolithic and Copper Age communities to create archives collecting, metabolizing, accumulating, and spreading the knowledge they had acquired. It reinforced group solidarity and communal identity, supported humans to build dwellings, cult places and proto-cities, conveyed inspirational meanings, and helped them to understand and interpret natural environment, human milieu, and divine commitment. The cultural horizon of the Danube Civilization, the Danube Communication System, and the Danube script demonstrates that the status of early civilization can no longer be   limited to the regions that have long attracted scholarly attention (i.e. Egypt-Nile, Mesopotamia-Tigris   and Euphrates, and the ancient Indus valley). It should be expanded to embrace the Neolithic and Copper Age civilization of the Danube basin and  beyond. It is not synonymous with the term “Old Europe,” as coined by Marija Gimbutas, because she identified under this blanket-expression an extended area examined as a quite undifferentiated unit, the common home of an ensemble of pre-Indo-European cultures (Gimbutas, 1974; ibidem 1989; ibidem 1991; ibidem 1999). Sometimes, the “Old Europe” broadened from the Aegean and Adriatic, including the islands, as far north as Czechoslovakia, Southern Poland, and Western Ukraine (Gimbutas 1974: 17). Other times it enlarged “from the Atlantic to the Dnieper” (Gimbutas 1989: XIII). However, Gimbutas broadly documented the richness of these cultural traditions, which included writing technology as one of the major resources. 3. At the end of the nineteenth century, and during the early decades of the last century, the presence of an ancient script in the middle and lower Danube basin was seriously maintained by distinguished archaeologists, historians, linguists, epigraphists, and philologists who spent much energy on this issue. However, in recent decades it was held so unthinkable that the simple possibility of it was ignored and its evidence given very scanty attention.  Nowadays the issue is again up for debate. However, it is under a schizophrenic splitting. The scholarly work is just taking its first steps and needs to start from the basics (searching out the inscribed artifacts in museum collections and storerooms, controlling the published drawings, and building a semiotic framework for this script, etc.). On the other hand, the anticipated invention of a European ars scribendi  has triggering pernicious attention among amateurs and dilettantes who offer exotic and appealing mass media readings based on semiotic shortcuts and hazardous associations with subsequent systems of writing. The reader in search of a magic key to “crack” the Danube script will be disappointed by the present study. Most of the efforts have been spent in creating the  pre-conditions  for understanding the semiotic code of a system of writing that may never be deciphered. The aspiration of the present work is not to bring the debate to an end through exhaustive research. It attempts to relaunch it, re-examining widely held assumptions, questioning the existing understandings, feeding the collective rumination with new documentation and thoughts, and widening the agenda for the direction in which future research can productively proceed.

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