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Gilgamesh of Uruk
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PostSubject: Artificial Mountains   Mon 02 Apr 2012, 17:44

The "What and Where" quiz reminded me how many cultures have built Artificial Mountains (Pyramids, Ziggurats, Towers of Silence etc) as part of their sacred landscapes. I have often wondered if that indicates the culture originated in an area of actual mountains of not. What does everyone else think?
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Islanddawn
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PostSubject: Re: Artificial Mountains   Mon 02 Apr 2012, 18:55

It is an interesting point Gil, and one that I hadn't considered before.

Most cultures tended to build up to represent or honour greatness in one form or another, but why? Mmm, I must mull.
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PostSubject: Re: Artificial Mountains   Mon 02 Apr 2012, 20:05

If they didn't build up they often built on top of whatever was available that was high anyway.

To go back to the Maya and the other Yucatan peoples, that's the flattest place I have ever seen and completely covered in scrubby forest so there are virtually no vistas anywhere. That might be one explanation for pyramids there apart from the high=sacred and nearer the sky gods theory; the buildings could only be seen from any distance by being tall enough to rise above the trees and so be able to have a commanding presence in the landscape and be visible to outsiders as a power statement. A tall structure also allows the very clear manifestation of status since social differentiation can be made apparent by the level you are able to rise to, literally as well as figuratively. In general though, building high is perhaps ultimately about the impact created by visibility from a distance and the expression of that power statement in terms of the demonstration of resources available to achieve the construction of the monument.

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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: Artificial Mountains   Wed 11 Apr 2012, 09:47

I am not sure that it is wise to attempt to ascribe one common motive or aspiration to all those who constructed "artificial mountains" in their time. While emulation of natural formations might indeed have been in the back of all of their minds with regard to aesthetic expression, I would doubt that so many diverse societies over so huge a timespan could be assumed to have shared a common goal when it comes to the point they were trying to make, or indeed have drawn inspiration from the same appreciation of the surrounding landscape which itself was as diverse as their circumstances.
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PostSubject: Re: Artificial Mountains   Sat 13 Oct 2012, 21:50

On a more general note, the question of mountains (or the lack of such) often results in a pre-judged evaluation of the people who inhabit a particular area. The differentiation between 'highlanders' and 'lowlanders' can be found in many countries and needless to say is often fraught with stereotypes. Quite often the very evaluation of whether or not a country is mountainous can also be based on cliche or even just on plain false data. A comparison of the highest points of various countries around the world is quite revealing.

Let's start at the bottom. Everyone knows that the Netherlands are one of the lowest lying countries in Europe don't they. And so it may come as something of a surprise to find out that the highest point in the Netherlands, at 332m, is higher than any point in Denmark. And the Netherlands' highest point is also higher than any point in the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Yet Lithuania’s neighbour Poland has a mountain higher than any mountain in mountainous Norway.

Further afield in the Caribbean we find that Jamaica’s highest peak is higher than any in Sweden while Hispaniola’s highest peak is higher than Germany’s Zugspitze. Panama, which became independent of Colombia because Panama was an isthmus and low-lying and so suitable for the building of the Canal, nevertheless contains a volcano which is higher than any mountain in the spectacular Drakensberg range of South Africa. And although Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and Mount Kenya in Kenya are famously snow-capped mountains in the tropics, neighbouring Mount Stanley on the border of Uganda and the Congo is also higher than any mountain in France, Italy, Switzerland or even Indonesia.

South-East Asia also throws other surprises. Who would believe that flood-prone Bangladesh has a hill higher than any hill in Ireland. Or that Cambodia includes a mountain higher than Scotland's Ben Nevis. Malaysia’s Mount Kinabalu is higher than any mountain in Austria, Japan or New Zealand. Meanwhile Burma’s highest peak is higher than Russia’s Mount Elbrus which is the highest mountain in Europe. Can anyone actually name Burma's highest peak?
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PostSubject: Re: Artificial Mountains   Sun 14 Oct 2012, 00:19

Who would believe that flood-prone Bangladesh has a hill higher than any hill in Ireland.

Well, I would, but that's because I think of the UK as not having any mountains, and assuming Asia is hilly.

I think the differentiations are between people living away from what is considered 'civilisation' and those closer to more people. People living in 'highlands' are usually more isolated and in smaller population pockets. It's really just the same rather tired rural/urban divide that assumes people in the country don't have the width of life experience of city dwellers and therefore must be introverted, insulated and inferior. And there is some justification in this attitude, though in these days of modern communications, low airfare prices, high internet use, people from anywhere in the developed world (and in many places in the less developed world) can access knowledge and people quite easily).

(I have to change your word to Myanmar to be certain I don't know. That's not true of course; I know perfectly well I wouldn't have a clue. Thought my husband might know but he said, "Haven't a clue" too.)
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PostSubject: Re: Artificial Mountains   Sun 14 Oct 2012, 05:30

Well the country/mountain/urban divide is nothing but pure ignorance and, as you say, inexcusable in this day and age of communication. But the prejudice is on all sides, urbanites condescend and generalise about mountain or country folk who in turn generalise and condescend about city folk.

However whether one lives on the top of a mountain or in an inner city it doesn't mean that one life experience is inferior to that of the other, it only means that the experiences are different. The age old and ridiculous equation of difference = inequality.

People adapt to suit the needs of their enviroment. Just as a country or mountain dwelling person would seem out of place in an urban centre or not have the necessary skills to negotiate daily existance in a city neither would a city dweller have the skills to survive life in the mountains and would seem out of place.
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PostSubject: Re: Artificial Mountains   Sun 14 Oct 2012, 15:41

IIRC there's an outlying subrange of the Himalayas which just about reaches the Burma / India / China border area - and it contains at least one peak over 5000m, Khakabo Razee or something like that, which is probably at least partly in Burma.
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PostSubject: Re: Artificial Mountains   Sun 14 Oct 2012, 23:31

Mounds were created during the iron age in England for hill forts - this was used in early motte and bailey castles which may - at a guess - have often been built on old hill fort sites. The great Bronze age mound at Mohenjo Daro - later topped with a Bhuddist shrine - covers no citadel construction so experts say but was made as a look out post over the great flat Indus plain beyond the city walls.

We once happened on 'Cow Castle' on an amble on Exmoor which is a fascinating man-made conical hill offering a good view over the local terrain. There were ancient metal diggings close by which perhaps needed safe guarding.

I tend to favour looking for the practical reason for such effort rather than something more esoteric. The high towers of Tuscany come to mind and likewise crenallated church towers. A raised structure says 'Here am we are and this is our stronghold - beware, we can see you.'
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PostSubject: Re: Artificial Mountains   Mon 15 Oct 2012, 09:43

Aside from hill forts, there are also burial mounds. Many of which are quite large and usually dominated a flat landscape.
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PostSubject: Re: Artificial Mountains   Mon 15 Oct 2012, 10:25

It is increasingly accepted that the term "hill fort" is something of a misnomer, at least as it applies to Iron Age settlement in the UK and Ireland. The longevity of their use - half a millennium in some instances - has always belied the assumption that they had a purely military purpose though it is certain that many of them acquired one with a vengeance during the early Roman occupation in Britain. In Ireland, where no such defining moment ever arose, both the terminology used to name them and an appreciation of their function has always been varied.

The distinction between "rath" and "dun" for example has never been lost, either in tradition or in more modern archaeological assessment of these common features in the Irish landscape. Regional variations, sometimes within just a few miles of each other, concerning their use as burial sites or not are also extensively documented and traditionally understood. Moreover their context within the landscape, sometimes appearing to have chosen the "wrong" site militarily but yet were undoubtedly military installations, and sometimes having been constructed in a perfect military setting only to have a purely domestic use according to tradition and evidence, all suggests political "hot spots" and "cold spots" which persevered through generations. The whole picture is of a very complex and varied society, and moreover one that was remarkably stable for all that. While the structures might have a superficial resemblance to each other their diversity of purpose reflects a far more complicated application than universal use of the word "fort" can ever impute.

Yet in Britain, thanks largely to the traditional predominance of the appellation "fort", this complexity is only recently being taken seriously. When I see archaeologists on programmes like "Time Team" etc struggling to appreciate this diversity without sounding like "New Age" revisionists I sometimes wonder why they just couldn't pick up a book and read about the Irish equivalents which, after all, originated within the same culture.
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PostSubject: Re: Artificial Mountains   Mon 15 Oct 2012, 10:39

Oh, I always thought the term, 'hill fort' meant an area of habitation; a place likely to have been protected for security but otherwise of varied use according to place and circumstances. Is this a semantics prob?

Surely if someoone like me has a broad understanding of the term it is not a new concept. I have read quite widely on the subject for many years - though I must confess this has been more centered on Gaul and La Tene growth.

Sadly pieces about history often contain description in 'information' boxes that it is hoped a general public can latch on to... hence the usual burble about, gulp, I hate to write this, the use of the word 'ritual.'
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PostSubject: Re: Artificial Mountains   Mon 15 Oct 2012, 10:57

The problem resides within the definition of "fortification" and what this normally implies. It is still a word commonly used even by experienced and knowledgeable archaeologists to describe ostensibly defensive structures. However even this subtle distinction manages to ignore yet another even more subtle distinction which has not been lost in Ireland, only apparently in the UK; namely what word does one use therefore to describe a structure which is defensive not against military attack but simply the elements themselves. Moreover when does the corral function overlap with or even outweigh either the domestic or military function? These questions are actually answered within the Irish language and therefore within the various traditional names for these features. In Britain, thanks to the rather abrupt cultural cut-off implemented at the end of the Iron Age, the subtleties were lost. My point is that they need not have been lost irretrievably. Ireland can be used as a pretty good match if one wants to piece together the intricate picture of which these structures were once such intrinsic and expositional components.
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PostSubject: Re: Artificial Mountains   Mon 15 Oct 2012, 11:15

I thought that the view of the variety of hill forts as dwellings, gathering places, ritual centres, statements of power etc rather than a blanket definition as defensive constructions had been generally accepted over here for quite a long time. Certainly the 'fort' appellation and the early excavation and interpretation of these by gentlemen of a military background may have embedded the militaristic interpretation in the public mind but not so much in the academy up here. Is this in some way similar to the Irish situation given that our experience of Rome is also different to the English?

If anything, and I'm afraid I can't immediately give any references, I have a suspicion that the 'revisionist' view, that the monumentality is largely a status symbol, may be being thought of in some quarters as being a little too 'peace and love, man' and being revised to take more account of tribal/regional competition and raiding if not warfare.

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PostSubject: Re: Artificial Mountains   Tue 16 Oct 2012, 09:17

A lecturer once pointed out the danger of false assumption based on the word "fortification" by informing us that while he enjoyed a fortified wine he was under no illusion that it had ever been subject to attack. There are many reasons to strengthen a structure, and "in the end of the day" (to use football pundit jargon) that is all the word means.
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