In researching the Minoan civilization of Crete (2nd millennium BC) I have been studying the anthropology of tribal groups focused around women**. It is a surprisingly rich and interesting subject which has found itself in a turf war with archaeology. Archaeologists study the past "through the spade" whilst anthropologists study living tribal groups. On occasion, studies of the sexual organization of human groups can be seen to bear upon ancient myths and hence on the social organization of tribes from the late Stone Age onwards. Perhaps archaeology has not taken studies of tribal organization to heart because they involve alternative modes of sexual reproduction, of ownership and belonging. The myths, iconography and legends of first millennium BC Mediterranean cultures indicate that human groups always organize themselves on two principles: what they have to do to eat and how the genders become organized for that work and sexual reproduction.
** For this I returned to William Sullivan's The Secret of the Incas ,
and found the extraordinary The Prehistoric Aegean by George Thomson
In the landforms of Iceland we see an unusually self conscious preoccupation of a new land, to establish its foundation myths alongside circular landforms with a numerical structure. In that case 36 godar were defined, commensurate with our 360 degrees within a circle, each then containing ten degrees. If the oak leafed decagon of west-southern Britain is considered similar, its divisions contain 36 degrees so that the two circular structures are complementary within a shared scheme of 360 degrees, a system of division as old as the Sumerians of 3000 BC.
John Michell (Twelve-Tribe Nations) found a widely distributed twelve-tribe tradition "from Iceland to Madagascar, from Europe through the ancient East to America" - and the most natural cause might be found within the tribal politics of its prior human groupings. That is, human groups may have an invariant preference for order according to the divisions natural to its early gens (breeding groups) which can, according to taboo, intermarry. These groups, transformed into a state with a leader and specialist institutions, then manifest the pre-existing notion of tribal divisions geographically.
The manner in which breeding groups organize is thought to arise by splitting into two parts when a group gets large enough. Gens grow and subdivide and then, according to their taboos, every gens has its own animal or other badge with which the gens becomes identifiable. Depending on whether hunting or pastoralism is primary, it may be the women whose lineage defines the child (men must live in the woman's tribe) whilst in pastoralism the reverse is true (women must live in the man's tribe). Farming tends towards monogamy since man and woman can then work together - our agricultural norm of marriage; in difficulty since husband and wife rarely farm and sexual taboos no longer regulate society. The evidence for all of this can be found in the vocabulary of human groups where familial relationships are sometimes very detailed whilst some terms, such as uncle or grandmother, are surprisingly broad in scope and hence ambiguous.
This sub-division of small tribal groups, there for the purpose of variety in breeding, inherently leads to more groups than are easily manageable through a simple confederation on one level. Complexity also arises when larger groups of gens interact with other large groups within the landscape. Larger groups can develop trade with each other, encouraging specialization within villages and towns. There can be surpluses and there would be a reaching out to other groups to exchange these for other goods. But then one has to see how technologies like metal are operating and how weapon creation is complementary with trade: it can seem easier to absorb neighbors rather than trade with them.
Sexual taboos used animal and plant badges to identify members of a genetic group, these badges often involving magical rites. Some badges appear to have survived and informed now-familiar religious icons, such as different forms of the goddess first evolved by taboo groups. Symbolic frameworks emerged out of taboo, giving inter-breeding groups foundation myths and religious notions. Any symbolic structuring of a tribe would be informed by the prior numeracy emerging from badged sub-groups, in order to form an idealized map as a framework for administrating a manageable number of parts, into ten or twelve parts - in order to act with common purpose. The nation-building process would be dividing an expanse of land into an integrated number of regions like the spokes of a wheel, as was presented in Arthur's myth of a round table of knights. Groups falling within a given region then belong to that region, which has its own center.
Because of its long and complex history, Britain is not divided or mapped like this. In any case, a regular structure would not fit it as a whole island and in fact the white-leafed decagon is about as big a regular circle one could have in Britain. If such structures arrived in the first flush of expansion by tribal groups (by coalescence of naturally dividing breeding groups) then regularity in division of a circular structure might be a simple and hence attractive decision, graspable by the pre-existing familial mind of all the tribe members and un-requiring of the complex mapping found in present day printed maps. Directions from the center locate a tribes regional affiliation without a map. Such a structure is attractive also to autocratic or bureaucratic needs, whilst integrating prior mythic or religious structures, now relating to the overall pattern - as occurred in the establishment of Iceland.
The people of the North appear to have preferred organization according to twelve, as is seen in Iceland etc. and this may relate to an Indo-Europeans desire to incorporate prime number three rather than prime number five. In reading George Thomson's description of the Roman state, one sees that units of ten and one hundred were popular. If the Roman model of ten (300 units in all forming the Roman state electing a king or rex) then could the white-leafed decagon's organization (if it is a tribal state structure) be a division chosen for the post-Roman Anglo Saxon state of Alfred or was it pre-Roman? It is quite likely that post-Roman governmental structures could have evolved from the Roman organization of Britain or at least from Roman ideas in contrast to Norse norms and one notes that the Anglo Saxons were organized according to Hundreds (of tribes) in their administration.
This theory departs from my own "monoculture of thinking" about landscape structures having to be the product of number specialists wishing only to stamp shapes or their elite knowledge onto the land. The simple notion of a circle representing the earth and human groups upon it is natural to tribal groups. Using a convenient number (ten or twelve) to regionally locate and allocate tribes, created an efficient means for organizing tribes upon the Earth. The anthropology of human groups, their invariant evolution and natural modes of work and reproduction, needs to be considered in understanding otherwise enigmatic landscape geometries.
Phaidon's Atlas of the Greek World by Peter Levi gives a useful cross bearing on George Thomson's book from an Oxford Fellow in Classical Studies:
"A great deal was made of mother goddesses in a bold and brilliant discussion, The Prehistoric Aegean, by the Marxist scholar George Thomson. His pioneering study has not been accepted as a whole, but some pieces of it have been digested, often without acknowledgment, by later writers. The sweep of his work, which was an attempt to apply anthropology and a wide range of other disciplines to what we know of Greek prehistory, is hard to deal with; it has therefore been neglected. He identifies his Minoan mother goddess with Demeter, and if she had a name that is as good an equivalent as any. Since he wrote before the deciphering of Linear B, he could not have known that Demeter's name was not used by the Mycenaeans, but that does not essentially weaken his position. The later pantheon did undoubtedly develop out of the earlier. What is not so certain is that the early society was matriarchal and matrilinear. The anthropological model that George Thomson was using is not now widely accepted by anthropologists. Whether or not his theory that the Mycenaeans came from the direction of central Asia is correct, analogies exist there for the dominant role of women, not only among the gods but in human society, that would confirm it." [43.]
It is fair to say that George Thomson's work has not been disproved but nor could it be approved of since its publication. It has therefore become esoteric: its conclusions remain respectable yet is "not accepted as a whole"; "it remains neglected", yet in parts has been "digested, often without acknowledgement" . This note will be moved to Bibliography when other articles refer to this subject.