17,000 BP

Archeological sites for this period are missing. The sites that we know of such as the aurignacian sites and Dolni Vestonice no doubt continued to be used, but we don’t have sites that could be the pre-cursors to Gobeckli Tepi, built around 12,000 BP. Where are the sites containing mankind’s first experiments in stone construction?

Throughout the development of mankind, indeed the development of all homimins, they took advantage of marine food sources as well as those on land. The practice of the majority of humans living close to the sea probably developed when homo-erectus evolved and hominins separated from the apes. The consensus amongst those who study human evolution is now rapidly moving to the belief that the evolution of an upright stance and bipedalism was as a result of these early hominins wading in rivers and the sea to gather selfish and any slow-moving fish or molluscs they could catch. When hominids migrated around the world they followed the coasts. Living close to the sea and rivers will have become an embedded part of human behaviour. We know from the shells in Dolni Vestonice that they traded with people living on the coast.

The problem of course is that by 17,000 BP a lot of water was still locked up in the ice of the last glacial maximum. Melting has started by 17,000 BP but only slowly, so sea-level will still have been 200 to 300 feet lower than it is today. Coastal settlements then will now be under the sea. It is hardly surprising that archeologists concentrate on sites that they can find on land rather than those under the sea. But doing so completely skews the picture of what human civilisation looked like across the world in this period.

If civilisations and early townships or even cities developed in this period, it is very likely their locations are now under the sea and inaccessible to archeologists. If the current coast is on a continental shelf it will many miles from where the coast used to be. If it is at a place where the land dips steeply into the sea, such as Norway, then this would also have made the location not so easy for humans. Hunting on steep hillsides is not as easy as in places where animals can be more easily encircled.

From 17,000 BP down to 13,000 BP the coastlines continually moved as the ice cover of the earth reduced. Any archeological sites now on the coast will date from after 13,000 BP.

The challenge in this alternative history is to create the picture of what civilisations across the world looked like in this period. In doing this, I must pay tribute to Graham Hancock and his book Underworld, which is the first major work to endeavour to paint this picture.

However as well as asking where civilisations might have developed that are now drowned, it is also sensible to ask whether there was maritime activity also happening. If people from the mediterranean coast took oysters the hundreds of miles inland to Dolni Vestonice, were they bringing back to the coast other things that they could trade by sea? The obvious candidate to look at is obsidian which is hugely useful and only occurs in a few places. But we must also not forget that at a later period good flint from Grimes Graves was being traded widely across Europe, which would have involved at least an initial sea passage.

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