Langurs and early iron age trade in the Arabian sea

Earlier today, I tweeted a link to a New Scientist report that a monkey in a Minoan wall painting from Thera had been identified as possibly a Grey langur from the Indus valley, a couple of thousand kilometres from Thera in the Mediterranean.

The Indus valley civilization was of course roughly contemporary with not only Minoan Crete but also the rise of Babylon as a great power, which traded widely with other cities over the fertile crescent, including Ugarit on the Mediterranean coast among others.

Ugarit is important, as we have found Mycenean pottery there, which provides definitive evidence of links to bronze age Greece and by implication Minoan Crete.

We also have found Minoan style wall paintings in bronze age buildings in what is now Israel and Palestine, suggesting that Minoan fresco painters may also have been peripatetic.

Importantly, archaeological work in the UAE and Oman is revealing that the Gulf littoral was occupied by thriving bronze age settlement where people mined for copper.

Copper, being an ingredient of bronze, would of course been traded on, both up and down the Gulf.

The result of this is that we can posit a trading network linking the Indus Valley and the Mediterranean in bronze age times.

So, bronze age Greece would have had access to resources from India, in much the same way as lapis lazuli reached Egypt from Afghanistan.

So, while it’s possible that someone from Minoan Crete did visit the Indus valley and see langurs, it’s equally possible that they only got as far as Ugarit or perhaps Babylon and saw captive langurs.

John Masefield in his poem Cargoes may have been more right than he realised, even if the reality was probably some battered coastal dhow making its way up the Gulf from port to port rather than a stately quinquereme –

Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir,
Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,
With a cargo of ivory,
And apes and peacocks,
Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.

About dgm

Former IT professional, previously a digital archiving and repository person, ex research psychologist, blogger, twitterer, and amateur classical medieval and nineteenth century historian ...
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