Bronze Age Facebook

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Discovery News reports about a Bronze Age version of Facebook that has emerged from granite rocks in Russia and northern Sweden: A thousands-of-years-old timeline filled with an archaic version of the Facebook “like.”

Carved from about 4000 B.C. up to the Bronze Age, the rock art shows animals, people, boats, hunting scenes – even very early centaurs and mermaids. It was produced by generations of semi-nomadic people, who lived more inland in winter to hunt elk, and then occupied areas closer to coasts and rivers to fish.

As they were located in important and prominent locations on river crossroads, the rock art landscapes were likely very visible points where passing travellers would take notice of the traces of people who came before them, adding their own mark on the world.

All photos: Credit Mark Sapwell

Mark Sapwell, a Ph.D. archaeology student at Cambridge University, analyzed some 3,500 rock art images from Nämforsen in Northern Sweden and Zalavruga in Western Russia by using computer modeling. He told Discovery News, “The rock art we see today is the result of a culmination of many repeated acts of carving, each responding to each other over time. Like a Facebook status invites comment, the rock art appears very social and invites addition.”

Usually clustered on the granite rocks, the images ranged from groups of one to two images to rock art panels with over 500 images. Larger clusters represented a greater response and conversation between people.

“Additions to these works were exacting replications, stamps of approval – a primitive ‘like,'” Sapwell added.

Images involved in those clusters were the most popular or most discussed for that time. For example, in earlier periods (around 4000-3500 B.C.), a silhouette style of elk image is almost always seen among large clusters and rarely alone.

“One exciting part of the study is that the preference towards these popular images change through time. A very big change at Namforsen is the shift from elk to boat images, as if the ‘topic to talk about’ shifted from land to water,” Sapwell said.

The shift is dated to around 2000-1800 B.C., a time when travel and long-distance exchange between communities was becoming more important.

Another interesting part of the find is the importance of unique forms of hybrid imagery (for example a half-man half elk, or half-man half-boat), which was tried out in the early periods, but became less popular from around 3500 B.C.

“So generally, what we see in these landscapes are very interesting cases where through prehistory, particular themes in everyday life become worth commenting on. A little like the fashions of Facebook comments, these topics are seen to fall in and out of favor,” Sapwell said.

According to Sapwell, the enormous natural canvases attracted so much interest because their social network power was well understood by early Bronze Age people.

“Like today, people have always wanted to feel connected to each other –  this was an expression of identity for these very early societies, before written language,” Sapwell said.

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