- continued, part 2 -

Architecture - the big mother of script?

Walter Andrae and German Architecturo-archaeological research of the 1930’s

In the framework of a consciously speculative search for alternatives, it might be a rewarding task for students to imagine (along very practically oriented reconstructions) how our settlements and cities today might have looked around the 1930’s had the theories of W. Andrae (1930, 1933), and not the modern movement, gained influence on architectural doctrines and on the construction industry.

Andrae was the most prominent theorist of German pre-war architecturo-archaeological research, which was very active in the early 1930’s, excavating the lowest levels of early Mesopotamian cities like Uruk. Its center was in Berlin. Unfortunately, these most advanced studies into the microstructure of ancient Egypt's and Mesopotamia's history of architecture became victims of the Second World War. Only in the 1950’s was research taken up again (Heinrich, 1957). It had no influence on architectural theory, but it may have opened new and deeper meanings for both pre-modern built form and the spatial organization of architecture.

Andrae was still one of those types of scholars — rarely found after two World Wars — who were strongly rooted in a wide, universalistic worldview derived from strong interdisciplinary impulses for research. What does this philosophy look like?

Andrae is close to that specifically German tradition of a metaphysically founded, philosophical idealism. It still strongly defines the objectively real within the framework of ideas, and considers matter as a manifestation of the spiritual; however, none of the opposites is isolated. The relation between them is of central importance. In this way, any objective field can become the basis ofdialectic systems that can be interpreted synchronically as tensions, or diachronically asdevelopments.

Accordingly, Andrae is not merely an archivist in archaeology. Strongly focussed on building research, his outlook brings the search for meanings to the forefront. His method is close to modern hermeneutics in philosophy (Dilthey, Heidegger) when it comes to interpreting historical sources (Andrae, 1933:2ff.), but he also strongly maintains evolutionary outlooks.

Evidently, the 1930’s were not yet ready for his approach. Andrae's method has hardly gained the significance it should have earned. Only today are we gradually becoming aware of the revolutionary value of his ethnoarchaeology (Fig. 4. 5). Note that ethnoarchaeology was only recently officially established as an interdisciplinary sub-discipline. It received its main impulses from those domains of archaeology that expanded into the conventional domains of ethnology— that is to say, from the domains of traditional cultures, above all the Americas, and also Southeast Asia. Thus, Andrae had somehow anticipated this domain long before it became established. He did this by: 1) classifying presently practiced reedbuilding of the so-called Marsh-Arabs in the river mouth area of theEuphrates and Tigris as traditional survival of a very ancient history of building, and 2) making this ethnoarchaeological paradigm one of the most important prerequisites of his archaeological research into earliest sources of reed construction.

His main question was, taken as a traditional survival, could the present reed constructions of the Marsh-Arabs be the vital counterpart of what the archaeologist finds, in the same cultural area, depicted on lasting materials like stone, ceramics and metals, dated thousands of years ago?

Naturally, this brought Andrae, as a scholar, into conflict with his discipline: archaeology. Archaeology reconstructs the cultural past of humans with dug out remnants. It is fundamentally based on the assumption that durable remains can tell us something about the cultural past. Its periodisation system is based on this (Stone Age, ceramic culture, metal times, etc.).

One of Andrae's main theses is that the Greek Ionian column evolved from a Mesopotamian sacred reed bundle (Ishtar sign). This is a new vision! Important traits of culture might not have developed in man's relation with durable materials but, in his dealing intensively with perishable stuff, the highest ontological values might have developed. Evidently, this could be a rather shocking insight for archaeology.

This conflict is always present in Andrae’s works. Deeply impressed, on one hand, by the finds of excavations and the new possibilities they are opening, he remains, on the other hand, strongly loyal to his professional archaeological thought. This, naturally, leads to obvious contradictions in his interpretations.

Structural analysis and metabolism

Classic archaeology, influenced by the writings of Vitruvius, admired the Greek temple as a unique creation of the Greek mind and, on the whole, interpreted the columns as load bearing elements. With the Doric order as the prototype, the column form was assumed to be following its loadbearing function. In contrast to this, Andrae put the Ionian column— on the threshold to the Near East — into the foreground. He considers it independent of the whole of the temple, as an individual symbolic form, and thus does not just admire its linear beauty (as was conventional). He interprets it as a bundle and analyzes it comparatively in the wider framework of its constructive structure. This is certainly plausible and revolutionary. It completely outdates the conventional interpretation of load bearing function plus ornamentation for the Ionian and Corinthian columns.

The ionic column now proves to be a primarily fibroconstructive form which was secondarily transmaterialized into stone. It does not express conditions of stone building, but, evidently, the symbolic values of a hitherto unknown type of reed building that has disappeared in most parts of the world.

Note that this metabolism is a well-known phenomenon in design even today. Take, for example, the numerous plastic containers that allude to baskets by taking the texture of the woven basket into the new, industrially produced object. This is done because the texture of the basket has some ideological value. More than one hundred years ago, Gottfried Semper (1878) made this widespread phenomenon of metabolism of form the basisof his genesis of architecture and art.

Evolutionary theory

Andrae's concept of a bundled structure reveals an enormous amount of material in the Near East that is structurally related to the Ionian (and Corinthian) column (Fig. 6). According to Andrae’s description, in the first millennium we perceive a wide spectrum of “early column forms of Asia Minor to the late-Babylonian and Assyrian treelike or columnar symbols. Phoenician and Northern-Syrian symbols, as well as Iranian columns, show similar forms”, in the second millenium, we perceive “precursors, which appear in exuberant forms, particularly on sealpictures”, and “in the third millennium we come, alwaysin the cultic domain, … to the disk and ring bar symbols”. A straight path leads from these to early Sumerian sources, to the “double ring bundles of the steatite hut and to the individual ring bundles appearing on reliefs, seal pictures and terracotta inlaids, and, finally, to the pictographic sign, which is the primordial form of the Innin-Ishtar sign”. Andrae considers this sequential line of forms ('Formenreihe') as a “fairly continuous evolutionary chain from the Ionic column, through three pre-Christian millennia down to the primordial forms” (Andrae, 1933:34). An important support for this evolutionary thesis is Jordan's find, the clay-inlay plate in ring bundle form (Fig. 7). It confirms the accuracy of the hypothesis that stone columns, such as stelae, can be structurally considered as owing their forms originally to fibroconstructive bundling. The texture of the clay-inlay plate clearly proves this.

Substrate thesis

The clay-inlay plate and the earliest pictographic signs from Uruk do not merely confirm the evolutionary view that these bundle-like forms show a long development, however. If one considers them methodologically as archaeological sources, they transcend the merely archaeological. They presuppose a prototype which has been constructed from organic material — in this case through bundling stalks (Fig. 8, 9). In reconstructing the meaning of such reed symbols, Andrae has worked with the conclusion suggested by the objects (Andrae, 1933 :55ff.), but he has not developed it systematically.He remains strictly historically focussed on their construction of an evolutionary line related to the Ionic column. This also emerges in his introduction where he deals with the thentime-led discussion of this topic (Puchstein, Luschan). He remains strictly loyal to the archaeological method, and thus remains fixed on thevolute as an indicator.

Above all, Andrae did not answer the question of what in fact supports such an evolution. Surely, the spirit of the form does; however, as an archaeologically interpreted development processed by stonemasons, the forms would have to be much more stereotyped. Given the long process of learning how to cut stones — in each productive case gradually approaching the intended form —the range of formal experiments is rather limited. Thus, the factually great diversity of forms can be explained only if the stone forms of the Near East metabolically rest on a sunken organic substrate. The variety illustrated by Andrae did not develop in stone, but developed in the fibroconstructive substrate. It may have influenced, for quite some time, those forms developed with high expenses into durable materials for monumental purposes.

In the following, we will show that this hypothesis may be of great help if we focus our view on the earliest Sumerian stroke writing.

Research into meanings

Evidently, the archaeological method is of little use if the meaning of these forms is in focus. If the meaning of the ring bundle sign —and, implicitly, the evolution of the whole evolutionary line — is symbolic in character, as can be clearly shown for the Innin-Ishtarsign, the social condition becomes relevant. This, however, is off limits in the case of the archaeological method. Their digging sites, particularly those in the case of the Near East, are mostly bleak deserts with ruins devoid of human life. Thus, either Andrae was exposed to the pressure of the archaeological school, or he neglected to consider one point — that the symbolic can be explained only in a social context; otherwise, interpretation remains mere speculation. Consequently, Andrae has not satisfied this condition. His historically derived interpretations are not convincing in the framework of his pantheistic ideology. In addition, Andrae did not give due consideration to the cultural changes within the concerned areas influenced by Islamic superseding. Recent studies based on structural history regarding the territorio-semantic function of sacred symbols built ritually with fibrous materials (Egenter 1980, a + b, 1981, 1995) suggest, however, that Andrae's method can be taken up again, modified, and systematically enriched with new hypotheses.

In the framework of his specific interest for the Ionian column, Andrae had no reason to deal with Sumerian writing in general. He needed the Innin sign as a primordial form for his developments (Fig. 10). If we are aware, however, of the close relation of the Innin-Ishtar sign and its prototype, the reed bundle, Andrae's structuro-analytical method poses several questions. Did the early Sumerian stroke signs generally depict fibroconstructive types of built form? Did early script, as well as architecture, share a common plastico-spatial prototype, however perishable? Evidently, Andrae was aware of the close connection between early script signs and the plastic model of the built prototype (1932:2ff.), but his interest remained fixed on his specialty: the Innin-Ishtar sign and its spiritual backgrounds. It is very likely that he also avoided a generalisation because this would have implied a confrontation with the sub-discipline responsible for this phenomenon: the archaeology of early script. This has to be dealt with in the following because it imports quite new conditions and sets the signs into different connections but is, however, rather helpless about the meanings of early script.

Script-archaeology and the problem of the origins of script among the Sumerians

In the first quarter of our century, archaeological script research entered a fascinating phase. Increasingly, within various studies, the consciousness arose that archaic writings of the ancient Near East had a much larger dissemination than was hitherto thought. Archaic signs extend from the Aegean Sea to the Indus Valley in India. The diggings of Evans on Crete were very important with respect to the documentation of Cretan-Minoan writing (1909, 1921, also 1952; for the outlines of research history see Pope, 163 ff.; Fig. 11, 12). Between 1900 and 1909, Messerschmitt published a complete edition of then known Hethitic texts. Winkler’s discovery of the archive of cuneiform texts at Bogazköy, around 1910, was similarly important (Pope, 157). In addition, the results of elamitic writing research have to be mentioned (S.Scheil, 1935; Fig. 13). Around 1924, systematic excavations started for the first time in the Industal at the present Harappa and Mohenjodaro, and later in Chanhudaro, where important finds of scripts were made.

The most important branch of research, however, was research into cuneiform text and its framework, particularly the new sumerological script research. Following French excavations in Lagasch and American research inNippur, which mainly produced relatively developed cuneiform documents, German research with Koldewey (since 1902) at Fara, the old Schuruppak, uncovered a large number of administrative, economical and lexical texts of the twenty-fifth century. All were considerably more ancient than what had been known before. Deimel published the finds around 1920. At the occasion of an Anglo-American excavation at Kisch (1923), Langdon discovered several hundred plates near Jemdet Nasr that contained pictographical signs that could be dated around 2800 BC. Published in 1928, these could be considered as the most ancient Sumerian signs known at that time (Fig.14). This may have stimulated German research (from 1928 onwards, under Jordan) to undertake a stratigraphical project in Uruk/Warka. Krämer (27) evaluated this excavation as something fundamental to the image of the development of Sumerian culture. Evidently, basic levels were reached that could be attributed to the very first settlers (about 3000 BC) of Uruk. In the red temple, one of the earliest monumental buildings, around1930, approximately 1000 Sumerian economic texts were found (Falkenstein, 1936; Fig. 15) dated as Uruk-IV period (about 2900 BC.). The evolution of cuneiform script could now be stratigraphically documented down to its origins! Krämer calls this research the keystone of Mesopotamian archaeology (:28), and Ekschmitt agrees: “They are the most ancient script documents of the world” (:44). This is also acknowledged by Kienast (:44). The clayplates of the most original layer in Uruk-IV provide us with the most historically primitive sources of script.

Schmitt emphasizes that the most ancient of Sumerian scripts were evidently produced “more than a thousand years earlier” than the first documents of Chinese script. They only enter our view with the second pre-Christian millenium (:241). “An admirable achievement of archaeology then, but, unfortunately, we know nothing in regard to the question of how the Sumerians arrived at the decisive insight that language can be written” (Schmitt, :244). Perhaps the question is put forth the wrong way.

It is not only the most ancient documents of writing that are in front of our eyes. Uruk is still one of the most ancient cities of the world, if not the most ancient. “The so-called plate of populations in the 10th chapter of Genesis mentions the city Erech in the land Sinear[(Gen 10:10) as among the foremost ancient cities of the earth. Sinear is the country Sumer, and Erech is the city of Uruk, today Warka” (Ekschmitt, :43). Ekschmitt describes the “turning point from the fourth to the third millenium” as a threshold with a “sudden and grandiose ascent” (:43). He indicates four creations“with which this first Sumerian epoch characterized the face ofBabylonia” for the times to come: “Its architecture reached accuracy and monumentality and developed the concept of the high temple” .Furthermore, the cylinder seals that were used as amulets and property marks were an essential innovation compared with the more ancient stamp seals. They particularly indicate a highly developed art of cutting seals and, at the same time, provide us with “a picture book related to the history of Babylonian culture and religion” (Ekschmitt, :44).

The most important novelty of the Uruk-IV period, concerning its later consequences, is the innovation of an entirely new way of life: the city.“Cities in ancient Sumer are temple cities. All the land is the property of the Gods”. All inhabitants are “workers and employees” of the temples. All “work in the fields, cattle breeding, fishing and commerce … the water economy, so important for life”, is under their control. Thus, Ekschmitt interprets the temples as “all embracing economic centers. And in serving this economy of the temple, the most important invention of the Uruk-IV period was made: the script” (44; analogously Gelb, :67; against this concept of a static theocratic hierarchy, see Krämer, :73 ff. in reference to Diakanoff).

In this phase, it is evident that the evolution of the city is closely related to the evolution of script. In fact, the Sumerian script was later developed to cuneiform script parallel with the development of the city under the influence of the Akkadians, who had another language. As a highly standardized script, the cuneiform type was used administratively and commercially, and it spread quickly over the entire cultural domain of the ancient Near East. That research managed to clarify this development can be seen as a very important point for the key position of the Sumerian script. Figure 16 shows the genealogical tree of script. The question of the so-called Proto-Sumerian picture script is of central importance. The Sumerian script is “the most ancient script and the only one for which we have a lot of iconic material at hand for the earliest levels” (Gelb, :66). What is surprising in this genealogical tree, however, is that very similar scratching-scripts later appear in very different locations of this early cultural circle. As previously mentioned, this occurs similarly in very distant areas, such as Crete and the Indus Valley of India. The discussion of the manifold of potential relations among the different earliest scripts is still open. Pope gives an outline of this discussion. According to him, evolved cuneiform script gradually spread from its original center in Mesopotamia and replaced the earlier stroke scripts. “The earlier types could only survive on the edges until relatively late (Fig. 17). The origin of script thus appears as a locally independent development at the same time as the necessary by-product of Bronze Age agrarian cultures” (Pope, 23). Similarly, Falkenstein, who published the clay plates discovered in Uruk, maintains that Sumerian stroke signs of the earliest strata illustrate “the immediate state of the early invention of script” (Ekschmitt, 45).“I can interpret the facts only in such a way that, with the plates of level VI b, we find ourselves at the beginning of script” (Falkenstein, 23).

There are other interpretations within the professional field in contrast to this assertion, however, but they are mainly based on conventional ideas about the invention of script. For instance, in view of similar natural conditions, the idea that script had developed from more or less gifted, playful scratching and drawing. Recognizable signs, such as eye, head, tree or sun, etc., were primary to this concept. Then this scratching developed into a more systematic use of signs increasingly influenced by language (words, syllables or sounds), and thus became increasingly abstract (Gelb, acc. toSchmitt, :244).

The larger part of the earliest script-signs from Uruk is not related to anything natural. This striking fact was simply covered up by interpreting the forms as abstractions, as stylistic rendering, or by assuming depicting precursors. Correspondingly, it was said that “many signs had already completely lost their original image-character”. Falkenstein responds to this in a way that makes the contradiction evident. That natural forms exist within Sumerian script (the mountain goat, for instance) proves, according to the natural prototype thesis, that the Sumerian script cannot be an evolved type of script. On the other hand, he maintains his thesis, according to which the mysterious scratchings must be the original, the beginning of script.“A clear decision is not possible” (Ekschmitt, 45).

Doubtless, it was this insecurity that prevented later discussions of the origins of script from acknowledging Falkenstein's suggestion with due merit. Falkenstein has not only postulated the Uruk-signs as the origin of script but has also classified them. He distinguishes two groups: “clearly pictographic signs” on one side and “abstract symbol signs” on the other. That the first group is further split into two depicting signs (Fig. 18) related to both the Babylonian image tradition and evidently imported signs “which show their prototype in strongly abbreviated presentation” is not of importance here (Falkenstein, :26). What is important is the distinction between a quantitatively smaller part of pictographic signs and an enormous number of abstract symbol signs.

Surprisingly, this classification, too, is hardly mentioned in later studies, except in the case of Ekschmitt, who, like Falkenstein, is member of the Near Eastern research group at Berlin. He is obviously familiar with the research of the Berlin school. He knows Andrae’s reed bundle theory and discusses it. Like Andrae, and later Heinrich, he also indicates the ethnoarchaeological potential and hints at the reedconstruction of the Marsh-Arabs (Ekschmitt, :45).

The fact that Falkenstein's classification is not discussed intensively carries on the contradiction. Most authors concur with the common opinion that early script had image characters, but the most important concern is what, in fact, is really depicted in the case of the earliest Uruk signs. This problem could not be solved. Gelb openly states that most texts of Sumerian script have remained unreadable until the present, and Friedrich emphasizes “our still very precarious understanding of the most ancient script documents . . .” (:45).

In contrast to script research in Egyptology, where, based on the hieroglyphs, the conventional idea of the natural prototype could be maintained (Schott, Jensen, :47 ff.), the unsolved questions regarding the prototype of earliest Sumerian script signs have shifted the interest in Sumerology. Thus, early stroke signs are simply classified within the wider concept of cuneiform script, in spite of Gelb’s objection that the term is not useful for the early levels (:66; Friedrich, :42). Schmitt's argument is characteristic: “Sumerian script started like all others with drawings of all kinds of different things” (:241). These “different things” are not identified. Others shift the focus to later phenomena by intensively discussing the influence of Semitic Akkads on the transformation of Sumerian writing (e.g., Schmitt, :248). In the framework of such rather arbitrary focal shifts, the problem of the origins loses its importance within the greater section of the cuneiform type and its nearly 3000 years of history (Friedrich, :43). Furthermore, its relation to language becomes dominant in the later cuneiform script. The cuneiform signs have largely lost their image character due to instrumentally conditioned schematizations and through a mysterious 90-degree rotation of the whole script system. The tectonic axis of the early signs has disappeared. The development from word signs to phonetic script has become important. Friedrich, for instance, distinguishes an exterior and an interior script form and puts this distinction into the foreground (47).

The interpretation of the image in script research, however, remains dependent upon this element of recognizing the prototype, particularly where it can not use etymological retro-construction from later to earlier phases. It should be noted that this retro-constructing method is questionable because of its tendency to primitivize from the position of the evolved. Kienast is exemplaric of this. He thinks that the “oldest attempts in writing” had to “limit themselves on the depicting presentation of concrete objects. Any potential to express abstract ideas” is lacking(47). The sacred Innin-Ishtar sign clearly proves the exact opposite of this.

If Falkenstein's descriptions in his Archaic Texts are represented schematically, two different classifications can be distinguished, as in the following:

A. Exterior characteristics of the signs
    1. Depicting signs...................(few)
        a. clearly depicting
        b. abbreviating
    2. Symbols...........................(many)

B. In regard to relation to language

    1. Language signs...................(primary)
    2. Phonetic signs
    3. Determinative.....................(secondary)
Roughly: The focus is on part B in this systematic presentation. Word signs (B1) are somehow excluded as an unknown dimension. In contrast to this, linguistic relations in the domains B2 and B3 are emphasized. As far as the framework of A is concerned, the exterior characteristics of the signs are dealt with. The result of Falkenstein's research is usually distorted by setting the quantitatively negligible depicting signs (Fig. 19) into the foreground. The enormously large part of those signs that cannot be explained is, infact, withheld. For example, Schmitt (:244) and Friedrich, in particular, present the same signs continuously presented in many other studies and interpreted as showing such objects asking, head, hand, bird, fish,boat, plow and arrow as prototypes of Sumerian stroke signs. Gelb presents more reporting, in general, but holds a similar attitude (:14, :70). Surprisingly, Ekschmitt clearly shows Falkenstein’s three classes, indicating the great quantity of unknown signs, but then falls back into the conventional line by including artificial things (:44, :45). This latter is also valid for Driver, who, besides emphasizing the natural, emphasizes both the boat (Fig. 20) and huts (Fig. 21) (48, 49).

Naturally, this begs the question of whether the class that Falkenstein termed symbols was originally focussed on a natural or an artificial prototype. With this question, we might be at an important point. Can we assume that the large part of the Sumerian stroke signs were depicting something important, not just “all kinds of things stylized”? Do these scratchings represent something that was part of a popular handicraft of the time, or something constructed because, in some way unknown to us today, it was needed or was important? Thus, it could have been something artificial. In view of this, the reedbundle discussed by Andrae (and later by Heinrich) in the constructive context could be an important indicator here. Are these scribbles on clayplates depicting the same type of signs as the ones we know from the city of Uruk, the symbol of the city-deity named Innin-Ishtar?

So far, the present theories of archaeological script research are related to the ancient Near East. It may have become clear that the wide field of script anthropology has its own insider logic that does not necessarily do justice to the objective factual conditions. The discussion moves too much on general levels in regard to script and language. The historical key position of the Uruk signs is submerged. The potential to discuss the questions with Andrae's approach does not enter into the views.

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