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Burned House Horizon (wikipedia.org)
331 points by diodorus 7 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 146 comments



Tangential to this article, but can I just say that this is HN at its best. Random, curious, snippets of learning on topics that I can’t imagine hearing about anywhere else. It’s a pure love of knowledge that leads thousands of people to spend Friday night reading a largely useless Wikipedia entry on house burning just because it’s mystery


> Tangential to this article, but can I just say that this is HN at its best. Random, curious, snippets of learning on topics that I can’t imagine hearing about anywhere else.

The submission, I agree is the best of HN; the comments, however, are the worst.

Tons of 'bikeshedding' comments offering flippant uninformed analyses that belittle established and well-researched theories. By offering 'back of a cocktail napkin' comments like 'I think such and such theory doesn't get enough attention because of my random opinion', or 'I think such and such likely happened, based on me just ruminating about this for a few minutes, versus doing years of research on'; the comments are tacitly disrespecting the work researchers whose specialty this is put into formulating theories.

We HN users need to learn to just say 'we don't know', instead of playing internet experts in every single discipline a given submission is about.


I don't see any "belittling" comments here, except perhaps yours.

People enjoy talking about the stuff they read. Discussion is part of how one learns.

If you don't find value in reading non-expert commentary, then don't read it.


> The real reason must be...

> When something makes little sense it's probably based in religion.

> Maybe nobody thought of it so far.

Plus a good handful of comments that don't acknowledge the countervailing evidence in the Wikipedia article much less evidencing any familiarity with the broader literature. Not gonna quibble about whether "belittling" is the right word, but there's certainly some casual hubris in some of these threads.

Bigger picture: it isn't about enjoying amateur commentary or not. There's arguably been a rise, with the democratization of information access, of poorly-grounded self-confidence about understanding every topic one encounters. This attitude, for example, rejects mask-wearing on the grounds that the virus is too small to be caught by the mask (ignoring that the virus is carried in larger droplets/particles). An intelligent person armed with a factoid sometimes needs a reminder like the comment you replied to.


> "...poorly-grounded self-confidence about understanding every topic one encounters. This attitude, for example, rejects mask-wearing on the grounds that the virus is too small to be caught by the mask..."

deliciously ironic, considering your continued focus on exactly the wrong thing when it comes to mask effectiveness and policy. you're looking at the base of a tree and trying to draw conclusions about the forest by assuming frictionless cylindrical planes.


I didn't say anything about mask-wearing itself - just offering an example of naive but faulty reasoning. You're looking for a fight that I'm not interested in having.


then there's plenty of ways to phrase what you said without insinuation and hubris. or perhaps use a less-fraught example.


> your continued focus on exactly the wrong thing when it comes to mask effectiveness and policy.

What is the right focus? Is this a running discussion between you two?


understanding that the issue, like most issues, is multi-faceted at the very least, but that certainly too much consideration and mindshare has been lost to them due to mediopolitical coercion playing on our fears and anxieties. masks have limited utility in most common situations, beyond the fluid mechanics/dynamics at play. they're primarily only useful when you can't (or won't) distance in close quarters, but they've become a totem for cargo-culting all sorts of inane rituals and behaviors en masse, in the service of various forms of power (as a small but pertinent example, medical professionals' career advancements are based on how well they toe the official narrative). masks might snag a given virus particle in a controlled experiment, but they're not going to stop, or even meaningfully slow, this pandemic despite the mediopolitical rhetoric.


Thanks for the reply.

Cloth masks are spit shields, nothing more. As spit shields, there's good evidence for their effectiveness. I've seen no convincing evidence that they're good for anything else.

> they've become a totem for cargo-culting all sorts of inane rituals and behaviors

I was just in the hospital for a week for an unrelated illness. Every person I encountered there said they had been vaccinated, yet they still insisted on masking everyone, even when it made communication difficult.

I'm a little terrified that this madness won't ever end-- that the bureaucratic fervor for masks, distancing, and various degrees of lockdowns will emerge again in response to bad flu seasons, for example.


i can actually see hospitals being a place where masks have more legitimacy, not specifically for corona, but for the confluence of many transmissible ailments accumulating there.

but with corona, while it's not undeniably confirmed yet, it's quite likely that vaccines dramatically shorten the window of infectiousness, allowing most of the vaccinated to stop wearing masks after a short window (~couple days, iirc). yet, the general recommendation remains that they be worn by the vaccinated public indefinitely. the cdc apparently is now literally doubling-down by recommending two masks be worn by everyone, completely ignoring the human social dynamics that overwhelm the assumed threat model implicit with masks.

if masks--or lockdowns for that matter--were dramatically effective, we'd see it in all the data we've fervently collected and analyzed over the past year. at best, we've found weak correlations all around (i.e., marginal effects), that suffer from unspecificity, because it's hard to unambiguously isolate independent variables from confounding ones in real world epidemiological data.


No; as far as I can tell, they're just trolling.


I've developed an obsessive fascination with the social and political aspects of masks. I think very little of our masking behavior is related to actual scientific evidence, on either side of the debate. Many people feel like wearing a mask and cleaning surfaces obsessively is the obvious response to a disease of any sort, even though the evidence overwhelmingly says that COVID is not effectively spread on surfaces, or outside of confined spaces with people sharing breathing air for extended periods of time.

On the other side there are people who associate masks with the political left, and would be so humiliated to appear cowed by "liberal" authority figures, that they'd refuse to wear a mask even if they were convinced of the medical risk.

I think I'm coming to the conclusion that the majority of mask adherence and refusal isn't rational, but rather religious, in the sense that it's shaped by beliefs that are immune to evidence.


This seems like a more general problem with the Internet or even of people (and in particular men of a more technical and nerdy persuasion, in my own experience).

The majority have nothing of value to say, so will post nothing. The only ones who can realistically offer comments on this article are experts and those who will offer "back of a cocktail napkin" comments (as you put it), and the latter group is so much larger than the former.


Agreed, I wasn't going to comment on this post because this is something I've never heard of before. There's no point for me to add a comment like "I don't know the reason behind this" because that adds no value to the discussion. Actually discussing ideas whether or not they are researched for years or not adds value to the discussion, because then you can actually discuss where those ideas are wrong or where they could be right.


The point is that any idea you could come up with in 5 minutes has probably been done to death by researchers who actually focus on the topic so no, you're not contributing anything.

But it's beside the point because HN isn't there to add anything to actual research, nor is it going to. It's for people to discuss random interesting Internet things, it's for entertainment. But there does seem to be a nerd contingent that can't accept that it's entertainment and have to believe its some kind of intellectual pursuit.


Exactly, I'm not claiming to be contributing anything to the research, but contributing to the discussion of the research.


which is great, as long as you're not deluding yourself into thinking that researchers would benefit at all from reading HN discussions of their work. Some people seem to think that they would.


>the comments are tacitly disrespecting the work researchers whose specialty this is put into formulating theories.

So? Besides flippant comments (who don't matter anyway), this can also produce valuable new developments.

People who establish new theories and findings about X aren't often the same people who have well examined and respect the old theories on X.

To quote Max Planck (and similar to Kuhn's idea of the same process): "a new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it."


They do matter because they decrease signal:noise, lower the quality of conversation, and reinforce a troubling assumption that expertise brings nothing to the table.


We are not here to do science though, and while completely unsubstantiated ideas are frowned upon, it's okay to do some mind exercise and share theories with others. It's fun to read, fun to write, and well above the populist karma-stunts.


If you’d like more, the Wikipedia community on Reddit regularly shares neat articles like this one.


I just want to chime in, because I collect (good) Wikipedia articles and their respective discussions posted on HN:

https://www.mostdiscussed.com/


I read the whole thing. I love learning new things like this.


The “domicide” theory reminds me of how Japan historically treated architecture. Because of frequent tsunamis, earthquakes and other natural disasters, plus the influence of Shinto and Zen Buddhism, a preference for impermanence developed. Hence even many “historic” buildings are actually rebuilt from scratch every so often. The essence of the building is not seen to be in its pure material form, but rather its overall concept. An interesting response to the Theseus Paradox, for sure.

The Ise Shrine is a good example:

The shrine buildings at Naikū and Gekū, as well as the Uji Bridge, are rebuilt every 20 years as a part of the Shinto belief of the death and renewal of nature and the impermanence of all things and as a way of passing building techniques from one generation to the next. The twenty-year renewal process is called the Shikinen Sengū. Although the goal of Sengū is to get the shrine built within the 20-year period, there have been some instances, especially because of war, where the shrine building process is postponed or delayed.[16] The original physical purpose of the Sengu process is unknown. However, it is believed that it serves to maintain the longevity of the shrine, or possibly as a gesture to the deity enclosed within the shrine. Historically, this cyclical reconstruction has been practiced for many years in various shrines throughout Japan, meaning that it is not a process exclusive to Ise. The entire reconstruction process takes more or less 17 years, with the initial years focusing on project organization and general planning, and the last 8 years focusing on the physical construction of the shrine.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ise_Grand_Shrine

I can’t find any links on the concept in general but here is a somewhat related one:

https://edition.cnn.com/style/article/how-japan-makes-houses...


Been there, essentially they have two shrine sites side-by-side, with one being in-use while the other is being rebuilt. This was in 2006, so there's a good chance that if I never visit again, I'll be looking at the "new" building rather than the "old". However, the "new" building will have been the newest incarnation of the one that was there before I was born.

On another note, it's funny that this comes up a day after the Wandavision finale.


Green-blue deployments of buildings


Much of Eastern religion/philosophy is based in metaphysical idealism compared to western materialism which is why the specific arrangement of materials of a building is not treated as being important compared to the conceptual existence of the building. The ship of theseus is whatever he uses to cross the water; the planks it's made of are of no relevance. "ship" is just a designation of use.


Wiki lists Agression as a theory, but what about defense? In the town I live in some houses were mandatory to be built in just wood so they could be easily brunt down when they where under siege. It’s now heritage and there’s a street full of wooden houses here that tourists love (and actually so do I). It gave the aggressor no place to hide and shelter while the cannons from the city made light work of removing the threat. It’s called “vuurlinie huisjes”, or: line of fire houses. I guess it may have a double meaning: a line where all houses had to be burned as nothing could not be in the line of fire of the canons, under siege.

I guess if it was done as early as 6000 BC then canons are out of the question, but it could still be a quick way to deny an aggressor shelter? That would explain why there are no corpses found in the houses.


It would be compatible with the food, etc. still found in the houses, if it was a "scorched earth" type defense then you want to leave the aggressor nothing that they could use, so anything you cannot carry would get burned. That would require rather large-scale warfare to be common, though, and it doesn't sound like they think that was the case yet.

Of course, another possibility was disease. They didn't know why the disease was happening, so they burned everything except the people. It may even have worked sometimes, depending on the disease. I'm probably only thinking of this because I'm reading it in the middle of a pandemic, though.


They mention the theory of disease in the Wikipedia article but dismiss it on grounds that the fires were so destructive it seems illogical they were used as a cure.

> Fumigation: Another theory posits that the fires were used for sanitary reasons to smoke or fumigate a building, in order to get rid of pests, disease, insects, and/or witches. However, the evidence does not support this viewpoint. All of the structures within these settlements were completely burned and destroyed. Because the damage from the fire was almost total for the entire settlement, it would be illogical if fumigation was the only intent.[2][3]


> All of the structures within these settlements were completely burned and destroyed

This is only a paradox is the burning was meant to rid the structures of something while remaining usable - something specific to fumigation.

Maybe the structures, and some of their contents, needed to be destroyed due to some unknown contaminating negative (black magic/spirits, insects/pests, disease) - maybe even the whole settlement?


I think of fumigation as meaning "get rid of pests", as opposed to getting rid of a disease (although obviously the two could be related). But given the fact that they probably didn't have a great understanding of how disease happened, I wouldn't bet too much on our intuition regarding their intuition, in any case.


The article lists: “pests, disease, insects, and/or witches”. So I think they’ve considered that already.


Not exactly “defense”, but we saw something similar happening in the resent Armenia-Azerbaijan war. After they finally reached a ceasefire and many ethnic Armenians were forced to abandon their homes in the Nagorno-Karabakh region as a part of the peace deal. Many former residents burned their houses before they left. The reason they gave in interviews was they would rather see their house burned then to fathom the idea that their “enemies” would move into them.


Btw, a journalist who spoke to locals said some of the Armenians left the houses intact because they remembered moving into houses left from Azerbaijanis the last time around.


(Also others just didn't think it right to burn a nice house. The house did nothing wrong.)


This is just a scorched earth policy.


No, scorched earth policy is top down, systematic destruction of the strategic assets in an area to deny their use to an enemy, either to make the logistics of invasion more difficult (Russia during Napolean's winter expedy), to punish the inhabitants (Sherman's March during the US Civil War) or destroy the assets that made invasion worth it (burning oil fields, or Taiwan's bombs under TSMC).

This is just angry folks not want their family homes occupied by a national enemy. If we were seeing scorched earth, there'd be widespread destruction of roads, the power grid, any industrial facilities, and probably chemical posioning of any agricultural land


What does burning down your buildings every so often achieve? It ensures the skills of building are passed down from generation to generation, that the people remain well practiced in those skills, creates the conditions for the iterative improvement of those practices, and enforces a detachment from the results of the practice of building in favor of an attachment to the practice itself, the latter of which seems like a much more valuable asset to possess, considering the life-expectancy of these buildings. What does fire do on a symbolic level? It hardens, cleanses, purifies, and refines. Perhaps they did this every time the leadership changed, so the success or failure of the tribe or settlement under the new leader/chieftain could not be blamed on nor attributed to the previous one. A clean slate for each administration, so to speak.

On another note, if these structures are essentially what the guy from the neolithic technology youtube channel gets up to, then maybe they just did it for fun. Guy looks like he's having the time of his life playing in the mud.


> What does burning down your buildings every so often achieve? It ensures the skills of building are passed down from generation to generation, that the people remain well practiced in those skills

This is unconvincing. In most cultures, most of the time, people manage to pass down building skills without destroying everything they've built before.


In Japan there was a tradition of rebuilding every 20 years for the exact reason of transmitting building methods to the next generation.


Do you have a source for that? Everything I can find on Japanese 20-year re-building cadence is due to religion.

I'm struggling to see any sense in the 20-year cadence cliff-edge for typical knowledge transfer.


Another comment here referenced the Ise Grand Shrine [0], so that is what I bet the OP is referring to. I pose this, religion isn't only about spiritual beliefs, it encompasses rituals, culture, and history. Knowledge transfer is a major part of continuing a religious culture, whether it be through studying of scripts or preaching. So, just because it is religious based doesn't exclude it from also being about transferring of knowledge.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ise_Grand_Shrine


The link provided shows that it is due to the religious belief of rebirth, the tradesmen themselves practice their skills continually, so the theory still doesn't map for me. Moreso if we apply Occam's razor: there's no evidence the Japanese practice is for skill transfer yet it's being used to promote that premise for something else.


Religion is just a specific way of encoding useful lessons into oral/written tradition. So it could well be that keeping the trade alive was the original reason but it became a religious doctrine so as not to be violated.


This is a seemingly compelling explanation, but I see no reason why it would actually be true.

It seems to me like it treats people as lacking the degree of intelligence and foresight needed to figure out that it's a good idea to pass building techniques along. As if back in the day people were only capable of understanding things if they were framed in a religious or supernatural way.

I just don't think people a couple of thousand years ago were so cognitively different from us. Not to mention that there's still overwhelming evidence of knowledge being passed down for non-religious purposes throughout history.


> It seems to me like it treats people as lacking the degree of intelligence and foresight needed to figure out that it's a good idea to pass building techniques along. As if back in the day people were only capable of understanding things if they were framed in a religious or supernatural way.

I think this speaks to your own prejudice against religion based on how Christianity is treated in the US. Religion isn't predominantly about supernaturality, it's about what works. Supernatural explanations of why it works almost don't matter, if it works.

Let me give an example. Christian morality seems to be to largely be about stabilising society. "Turn the other cheek" prevents cycles of revenge, for example. Does it matter if that's the case because you understand cycles of revenge and how they lead to more harm than the original offence, or because your priest told you that's the right thing to do? It would be ideal if everyone just understood these precepts from logic, but I don't see any structures for disseminating logical behaviour to the broad masses today either.

People thousands of years ago are the same people as us. I see plenty of truth in religion and I see plenty of falsehood in modern, supposedly "rational" modalities. I don't think the balance of how clear-thinking we are has changed at all.


I actually didn't mean to be dismissive of religion. It's just that in general I don't think you need religious or any other indirect justifications for the pretty straight-forward idea that it's good to pass building techniques along.

> Christian morality seems to be to largely be about stabilising society. "Turn the other cheek" prevents cycles of revenge, for example.

Again, I think you might be mistaking the effect for the cause. While it may be true that applying the lessons of the Sermon on the Mount might lead to social stability, I don't think that's what Jesus intended exactly. I don't think he was doing social engineering, rather that he was really trying to convey his ideas of what a right and moral life would be. The fact that leading good lives as individuals leads to better societies is a fortunate corollary, not the main purpose.

Incidentally, if you think about it honestly, it's quite clear that Christianity didn't actually lead to particularly nice societies, once it became the politically dominant religion.

For the record I also need to mention I'm not American and was raised Christian (although I don't consider myself one anymore).


> Again, I think you might be mistaking the effect for the cause. While it may be true that applying the lessons of the Sermon on the Mount might lead to social stability, I don't think that's what Jesus intended exactly. I don't think he was doing social engineering, rather that he was really trying to convey his ideas of what a right and moral life would be. The fact that leading good lives as individuals leads to better societies is a fortunate corollary, not the main purpose.

Then what is the purpose of leading a good life? In my mind, morality is precisely in order to stabilise society. I know we don't talk about it in those terms, but then we never really talk about the purpose behind good and evil. It's just "doing this is good, doing this is bad".

> Incidentally, if you think about it honestly, it's quite clear that Christianity didn't actually lead to particularly nice societies, once it became the politically dominant religion.

Compared to what? Today? Possibly not no (though I think we fail to acknowledge how much we lost in our transition to secularity), but compared to what came before Christianity was pretty great, as I understand. To be honest I lay a lot of the historical nastiness of Christianity at the feet of the Church rather than the teachings of Christ too, after all power does corrupt.

> For the record I also need to mention I'm not American and was raised Christian (although I don't consider myself one anymore).

I'm not either. But I do see nerd-culture (or tech-culture or whatever) as being broadly very dismissive of the value of religion, and generally having no understanding of it either. Funnily enough I was raised Atheist but am now a somewhat-practicing Buddhist.


> Then what is the purpose of leading a good life? In my mind, morality is precisely in order to stabilise society.

The way I see it morality is an intrinsic human ability. This is not to say that all people are moral, but that all people, if they develop in a normal, stable environment, will naturally develop a certain morality that is actually not that different from one person to another. In this view morality doesn't really need to be taught and enforced by authority. Leading a good life is therefore the natural thing that people do.

> we fail to acknowledge how much we lost in our transition to secularity

I tend to agree, although for me what was lost with secularization is not so much morality, but important social institutions that fostered collaboration, charity, mutual understanding. Even when it's not lost, religion can be deeply perverted by the modern capitalist society - something like prosperity theology is an abomination to me.

> compared to what came before Christianity was pretty great

I recommend The Darkening Age[1] for a sense of just how destructive early Christianity was.

> I do see nerd-culture (or tech-culture or whatever) as being broadly very dismissive of the value of religion, and generally having no understanding of it either

Here I also tend to agree, particularly when the dismissal of religion is tied in with scientism and perhaps even classism.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Darkening_Age


> The way I see it morality is an intrinsic human ability. This is not to say that all people are moral, but that all people, if they develop in a normal, stable environment, will naturally develop a certain morality that is actually not that different from one person to another. In this view morality doesn't really need to be taught and enforced by authority. Leading a good life is therefore the natural thing that people do.

I actually strongly disagree with this. I think there are some moral values (obvious ones being like "don't murder your family/friends") (but then why would you, they are of practical value to most people) but if you look at, for example the Old Testament there's tons of murdering of other groups being approved by God. So clearly, moral values can change over time. Even across cultures you can see behaviours that one culture finds deeply offensive and the other is the norm. The stoning of women in the Middle East comes to mind. I believe this moral core of right/wrong is extremely cultural, not innately human.

> I tend to agree, although for me what was lost with secularization is not so much morality, but important social institutions that fostered collaboration, charity, mutual understanding. Even when it's not lost, religion can be deeply perverted by the modern capitalist society - something like prosperity theology is an abomination to me.

I think a central morality is something we've lost. So we're getting moral drift where cultural norms splinter into different factions of morality. Clearly, for example, cancel culture is not in line with redemption morality, which is a deeply Christian ideal.

Prosperity theology is messed up though. America's weird in how it seems to have adopted capitalism as a replacement or supplement to culture in some areas, rather than as a separate social concept.

> I recommend The Darkening Age[1] for a sense of just how destructive early Christianity was.

I mean we all know that the Church in the Middle Ages was oppressive, I don't disagree with you there. Establishments seem to swing between good and bad.

> Here I also tend to agree, particularly when the dismissal of religion is tied in with scientism and perhaps even classism.

Yeah scientism gets my goat. HN being one of the worst culprits. I hated it before I adopted idealist metaphysics but now it's even worse because I'm more aware of the limits of both the idealised and in-reality scientific process than ever.

Americans don't talk about classism. Which is rather strange as they're very excited to talk about any other kind of -ism, some of which are deeply entwined with classism.


I could see the opposite of that possibly arising, e.g. doing something irrational like creating a training event every 2 decades, due to belief - but the inverse makes no sense to me, what's the advantage to a society to renewing skills at 20 year cliff-edges vs. continual development? Makes less sense still in the context of Japanese kingdoms, the kingdom choosing to continually propagate skills would win.


Because skills aren't always generalisable. For the Ido shine, for example, there's a specific building skillset they use for building temples. New temples aren't built often enough to keep those skills sharp.

> training

Training doesn't impart skills unless the theoretical knowledge is actually used. What better way to use it than to build a temple?


Wouldn’t natural population growth and decay of current structures be enough demand to ensure building skills remain sharp?


I believe that in the modern world, specialization is more common, where ancient skills might have been more generalized.

So comparing to the modern world, I know of one relative in the industry of building homes, but even that person has never "built" their own home, and none of my relatives have bought a newly built home. In other words, in our family the skill of building home is very barely there. We'd likely have to hire out. If, instead, when my parents bought the house I grew up in from my great grandparents, they'd torn it down and built a new one, then the skill would have only skipped one generation, but continue to be exercised within our family.


Imagine if computer engineers have a religion of burning down and rebuilding the entire computer architecture every 20 years, hardware and software, from scratch. Everything will be cleaner, and the problem raised by Jonathan Blow [0] can be addressed too (it's basically: modern system has low understandably & maintainability, everything is extremely complex, and only a few people in the world can understand systems at each low-level component, it only takes a moderate social disruption for the entire digital civilization to collapse").

[0] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=25788317


There is an interesting discussion going on in the recent Microsoft Exchange hack thread about firm's periodically rebuilding their IT infrastructures to protect against malware that shows some convergent thinking that might interest you: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=26367534

I like your idea. What do you think would be the first step to getting there?

I have a client in the controls systems space, a systems integrator that helps municipalities update the systems that keep the water running, and one concern that occurred to me while investigating their business requirements is how the systems they work on are becoming less and less able to recover from certain attacks as the components that make them work become purely digital and electronically controlled. Perhaps we should begin engraving the contents of wikipedia on clay tablets, just in case.


The area around the black sea is super interesting for archaeology of early history (10000BCE - 2000BCE) imo, since it is quite understudied in comparison to the usual suspects in Mesopotamia and Egypt. Western Europeans also tend to forget about it. I have a feeling that there are many low-hanging fruit to be discovered which will fundamentally change the way we think about the significance of the area a lot.

Take for example these (short) excerpts from an archaeological paper [0] from 2018 that discusses the farming strategy of large cities in the area from around 4000BCE. It seems to support the idea (again, my unscientific gut feel) that the spreading of agriculture from what we would today call the "Middle-East" to Europe happened by means of replacing people instead of people adopting new strategies (settling the so-called "pots or people" debate [1]).

[0] https://indo-european.eu/2018/07/cereal-cultivation-and-proc...

[1] https://youtu.be/JTY9K1Q_Sbg?t=290 (apart from the specific timestamp, it's a fantastic talk about the origin and genetic makeup of Europeans in general)


Stanislav Drobyshevsky finally nicely explained for me how no one actually lived in caves but people lived and migrated on plains, from Central Europe all the way to Siberia: https://youtu.be/IihGveExaqU (English subtitles aren't great but they are there). They also took their hunting practices with them to where locals previously hunted different animals.


This archaeological horizon is especially interesting as it is connected to the first occurrence of proto-writing (Vinca script), Advanced Metallurgy (first daggers, Varna gold burial) and the later corded ware horizon which is now almost established to be the homeland of speakers of Proto Indo European (The linguistic descendants of which are 70% of all living people today, 46% natively.)


none of that meets the strong scientific definitiins. It's doubtful if Vinca symbols recorded language by the definition of linguistics or were just graphics of another kind. Corded wear would post-date PIE, which homeland ist still hypothetic, and even Bell Beakers, but they are connected to Indo-European expansions. I never heard about the Varna Gold burial so, who knows, might be the information is wrong, too.


The real reason must be something so stupid that no one ever considered. Something like there was a comet in the sky every 75 years and they burned the settlement to scare it away.


IMHO, it used as protection against diseases transferred via bugs, rodents, which then converted to ritual.

AFAIK, it still practiced: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3613126/Travellers-...


I think so too; great example by the way.

It's either that or religion.


Ukrainians, descendants of that culture, have a proverb "Happiness is a neighbor's house burning". Which is not far away from everyday vibes and the way of life overall. So we may have way simpler explanation here.


Shame we don't have an analogous saying in Poland (or do we?) but we definitely share the sensibility.


Would it be far-fetched to postulate that the sentiment and phrase could be traced to this practice, passed down continuously?


Hey, we already have two bold dots here, so linear regression, you know


What does that mean exactly?


The God once said to a Pole:

- You can ask me anything you want. I will grant it to you but give your neighbour twice as much.

to which the Pole answered:

- Please, God, gouge one of my eyes.


self mutilation is said to have been practiced by priests of certain obscure cultures like the old prussians and other slavs. They also cremated their dead.

Pretty ambivalent, IMHO, if house burning could be punishment shrugged off as a very humbling tribute. I think it is very very unlikely that stuff like castration or even just flagalation had started out as a voluntary practice.

So, yeah. The way I know a similar joke in German: The two of you get two wishes and a lashing. What will it be? The first said, a pot of gold and please grease my back so it doesn't hurt so much. The other replied: Gimme the other dudes gold and bind him to my back.

Plenty of variation on that one and I probably misremember it as well.


Essentially the same thing as Schadenfreude.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schadenfreude


Shadenfreude is amusement at small misshaps though.

Someone stubbing a toe, dropping something or not winning at a contest after bragging.

I've never seen it used for something serious in germany.


So imagine your annoyingly successful neighbour suddenly loses everything in a stock market crash because he was margin leveraged to the eyeballs.


I think the article understates the case for fumigation.

> Because the damage from the fire was almost total for the entire settlement, it would be illogical if fumigation was the only intent

What? If you had pests that were bad enough to warrant burning food stores, why take a risk on the other buildings?


And fumigation should really be broken into two separate categories: fumigation for pests, and fumigation for infectious disease. They are very different, as infectious diseases cannot be seen: in a world where no one knows about microbes and viruses, people will do peculiar things based on their theory of disease. History provides many examples of people doing odd things to prevent plagues and disease, many of which are far stranger (and less effective) than "cleanse the buildings with fire".


"burn the witch!"

Happy belated internatiinal women's day by the way


I think the implied logic is that if you're worried about pests destroying your supplies, it's a pretty crazy move to decide the way to fix the destruction of your supplies by, well, burning the supplies of your entire settlement to the ground.

Regardless, I agree the logic is incomplete as stated. It's entirely possible if there was an easy way to replenish supplies (e.g. conducting such a burning right before harvest time or ample hunting/gathering grounds nearby) that such an approach would make sense.


If you had maggots living in your grain, would it be possible to save parts of the grain with primitive tech? Would it be possible to guarantee that the pest didn’t move from one side of the village to the other.

Maybe they thought the old houses were C and the new ones would be Rust and this was the migration path :)


> Maybe they thought the old houses were C and the new ones would be Rust

Or, maybe the old houses were JavaScript and the new ones would be JavaScript.


Do you mean EcmaScript?

Also, if it was JS they wouldn’t have houses. Everything would be stored in matchboxes.


Why is that crazy? Between eggs and pests "diffusing" into adjacent buildings only to "diffuse" back after a sweep, I can completely understand why a town would opt for the nuclear option after a few failed attempts to get rid of an infestation.


Because without a ready-at-hand large-scale method of restocking (which granted is a very real possibility that such a dismissal of the fumigation theory seems to overlook, see e.g. my comment about harvest time) this is tantamount to suicide.

The difficulty required to sustain the caloric needs of a town and rebuild after complete destruction of food stores and shelter is immense, especially with only the help of pre-Bronze Age technology.


So if you overlook the probable reason why it wasn't suicide, it was suicide? Come on, that's not convincing.


I probably agree with you more than is coming across, but I do think it useful to steelman the fumigation argument.

Burning down entire villages for fumigation even if you have a ready harvest is an extremely risk endeavor. It's no longer outright suicide, but you're still going to cause no shortage of hardship and potentially at least some lost lives.

This is coupled with the fact that pests and parasites were a pretty constant fact of ancient life and so finding, e.g. bed bugs, was kind of just something people dealt with.

Voluntarily and periodically razing entire towns for what amounts to sterilization is practically unheard of outside of the Burned House Horizon. Consider that even during various plague/Black Death breakouts, when disease was thought to be caused by various miasmas rather than infectious agents spread from person to person, and individual homes and personal property was readily burned, towns still were not being wholesale burned to the ground. That is even something as bad as a pestilence that could potentially kill half or more of your entire town's population still didn't warrant utter destruction of the town.

It's not suicide. But only just.


The period between burnings is cited as 75 years. Why would you clean from pests once in a century? It is better correlated with a lifespan of a human* which might suggest that they've considered a house to have the same lifespan.

* the average lifespan was much shorter but it includes children mortality and once above the age of five a human had a good chance to reach retirement.


It could be both. At one point a pest had moved into a settlement that caused them to decide to burn it all down and start over. They then decided to periodically do this in order to prevent the pest from ever being able to come back. Over the years the need for this had gone away but the practice remained and took on a ritualistic meaning more so than a practical one. And as these things go, the original meaning was lost. To me, this seems like the intuitive explanation.


Maybe it was structural for buildings - termites...


There is a debate that so called Anasazi people of the American southwest either ritually burned and abandoned their Kivas (ceremonial building) or that the burning is evidence of warfare.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kiva

https://www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/hh/36/hh36c-2.h...

https://spot.colorado.edu/~laursen/southwest/chaco/chacoMain...


The correct term today is ancestral puebloan. Anasazi basically means "ancestral/ancient enemies" in Navajo.

Anyway, that debate (to the extent it existed as a general thing) has been resolved. It's both. Violence, including burnings, is archaeologically well attested at numerous sites. Likewise, ritual destruction is both archeologically and culturally well-supported. There's debate about many particular sites, but even many of the smaller debates like man-corn aren't subjects of serious disagreement anymore.


Those Kivas are really interesting. We visited one of the sites in New Mexico at Bandolier National Monument. Very cool how they carved all the houses into the cliffs.

Most interesting fact that stuck with me was they ground all their grains using rocks that were too soft, so bits of rock would get in all their food, quickly removing all the enamel from their teeth and rotting them away. I can’t imagine how painful that must have been. Surviving meant the children had to chew all the food for the adults and spit it out for them to eat.


If you enjoyed those cliff houses, you might like Cappadocia in Turkey which has a lot of similar dwellings, and even an underground town of sorts. A few of the areas you can explore more freely than at Bandolier.

https://www.google.com/search?q=cappadocia&safe=off&source=l...



That's true, but what connects Bandolier and Cappadocia are that they are carved out of a softer material which was created as a thick layer of volcanic ash. Visiting both, you notice similarities.

More for your list, that I visited back in the 1990s, are the Yungang Grottoes in Northern China: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yungang_Grottoes


NZ Māori in the South Island, who relied more on aruhe[1] - the rhizome of the bracken fern - than the North Island population, also showed higher rates of dental wear from the fibrous rhizome. Ditto populations with a diet rich in shellfish - they often contain remnants of sand.

(The N.I. Māori could grow kumara (sweet potato), but the growing area of kumara in South Island was limited to the east coast from Banks Peninsula northwards).

[1]: https://teara.govt.nz/en/photograph/20258/aruhe


I don't remember if it was these people or some other Native American group that practiced burning of their buildings. I'm thinking it might be another group as my vague recollection of what I encountered (I cannot remember where) was that it was something that took place in the Mississippi River area.


It could be a way to neutralise the smell of a settlement, imagine long toothed hyenas visiting periodically your huts by night...

It is possible that a strong smell accrues over that time period and burning everything down is the only way they knew how to do this. Notice that the Jewish practice of putting lamb blood on your house door frame seems familiar here (albeit practically opposite).


I think it is much simpler like diseases, or pests like flees, rodents or ants they could not eradicate in any other way?


One theory I didn’t see listed but maybe I missed it is migration and scorched earth. If a settlement had exhausted Hunter gatherer resources in an area they would move to another. However leaving structures behind would offer easy options to would be invaders for shelter which is after all a human need. So possibly they would burn the settlement as it could not be transported.


The "demolition" argument notes that "the archeological record shows that houses were rebuilt directly on top of the pre-existing foundations of the destroyed buildings." Presumably this wouldn't be so if the inhabitants were migrating away from an area. (Though I guess a new tribe could have come in and built on the same foundations.)


The reason why a settlement was built in that place could still be valid a few years after the burn, such as proximity to water sources or useful materials.


It’s not clear but it sounds like they didn’t just build the settlements there but that each house would be rebuilt exactly where the old one was. If that’s the case, it would be really strange if it was built by different people or at different times.


Yeah foundations maybe or as another poster said it was still viable and likely enviable.


Migration doesn't square with the fact that valuable objects were found entombed in the burnt houses.


That’s true.


They would presumably do the same thing at the next area, as they move on, so you’d have multiple patches where this occurred, presumably with an offset-but-similar lifecycle at each location, as they rotated between viable lands


The region was beyond the hunter-gatherer age for a few thousand years when the practice started. The Balkans are a few months lazy travel by foot from Zagros.

Agriculture exhaust would've been viable theory if the houses weren't built immediately on the same place.


This practice endured from 6500 to 2000 BC. We’re closer to the last (known) such fire than the last fire was to the first. Amazing that this was happening for so long and we know so little about it.


Can't help but wonder what else in human history has been lost to antiquity. And I wonder if in 4000 years much of this cultures written works would exist in a recoverable form to explain the artifacts left behind.


I’m almost certain this culture would have been illiterate. Writing was only just being invented in mesopotamia in the 4th millennium bce, and I’m pretty sure it only took root in larger administrative units while the Burned House Horizon region seems to be a relative backwater at the time. Moreover, it tended to be used for administration—how much grain do we have stored, how much have we given away and to whom, etc.


Where do you put 4000 years of data? Imagine indexing / searching that. If all data can’t be kept, who will get to decide what is important? It’s a really interesting topic


This is what librarians (used to?) do. Decide what is important, and which works are the best ones to save. Then organize it all.

The current mode of "save everything forever" collapses unless you have tools to find the needles in the haystacks.


This reads very non-wikipedia. It is argumentative. Stating positions, and for half of the positions flat out claiming "the evidence does not support this".

Neutral language would be to list raised objections, but instead there are direct claims and arguments. It feels very much like it is written with an academic agenda. I feel wikipedia usually is a lot better at requiring a Neutral presentation.


Edit it


Missing the obvious answer: dragons.


I don’t know why more people aren’t talking about this. It’s the clearest explanation.


I had an opportunity to tour Romania, and was very surprised at how unique it is there. Fore example: The houses have eyes, small false windows installed on their tin roofs, to watch their neighbors. Jealousy is rampant, and the charming Romanian folk-saying was “Let my neighbor’s goat die.” Romanians are very proud of their Roman heritage, and also their active Gypsy culture.

This is an interesting Wikipedia article. I think this area of the world and is history is generally very interesting and unique. We’re lucky today that is no longer behind The Iron Curtain and is worth a visit by and brave adventurers.


This is an example of why one should not post claims about a country after merely "touring" it, because tourists visiting any country typically get only a vague and often mistaken sense of the local culture and history. First of all, Romanians are not “very proud of their active Gypsy culture”: the Roma minority are largely despised by the rest of Romania’s population. Secondly, Romanian pride in their Roman heritage is largely a consequence of 19th-century trends upon the rediscovery of the roots of the Romanian language, and the dacomania and francophilia that bloomed then; that pride is not something that was actually preserved down the last two millennia.

And when it comes to traditional architecture in Romania, it should be noted that the homes that are among the most celebrated today for their traditional craftsmanship are those built by the Transylvanian Saxons, i.e. neither Romanians nor Roma. I only mention this because I have seen tourists visit places in Romania and talk about Romanian this and Romanian that, when Romania is a multiethnic country and what they saw many have actually been by one of the other ethnicities.


God finally answers the prayers of a dude but says to him: “I will grant you three wishes but will give your neighbor twice what you receive”. “Alright”, man says, “I want a big house”. “Sure”, God replies, “the neighbor will get a house twice as large”. “I want five chests full of gold money”. “Done, the neighbor gets ten of them”. Man says, “Now, pluck out one of my eyes”.


> Romanians are very proud of their [...] active Gypsy culture.

As a Romanian, I regret to inform you that a lot of Romanians really don't like gipsies. This has always been the case, unfortunately.


You should probably visit a museum that has lot of different houses from different places, trying to conclude something from some houses you seen from the street is probably impossible.

Houses in my village and region do not use metal and don't have windows, and windows on the roof is a good idea because you get a lot of light in the attic, it is a lot of effort to go in the attic to spy on someone if you can do it from a window from a regular wall anyway.


> Romanians are very proud of their Roman heritage, and also their active Gypsy culture.

The Romanians I've known (personally) are always careful to draw a hard and firm distinction between Romanians and Romany (the so-called "gypsies"). Far from being proud of it, they are quite angry when they get confused.


There is one theory missing. What about a sacrifice? Child sacrifice was quite common in the area (Moloch) and it was repeated in a lot of cultures. Maybe people decided that a child is a bit too much, but they still wanted to please the gods, so the give the second most valuable thing.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Child_sacrifice


>In their experiment, Bankoff and Winter constructed a model of a partially dilapidated Neolithic house, and then set it on fire in a way that would replicate how an accidental fire would have perhaps started from an untended cooking-hearth fire.

Just a thought from an armchair-anthropologist here.

Perhaps a chemical reaction transpired over the course of the typical duration of a Neolithic house before it burned?

Unless they built it and waited a few decades before burning it down... it's not the same thing.

Another idea is that perhaps more dung was used than we imagine?

In which case if the building was mostly made of fuel and less clay I could see it building up enough heat to vitrify the clay.


This is the first time I've heard the idea of using dung as a building material. Do you have a link to some information about it?

Mud walls often contain grass or other fibrous plants. Dung decomposes and crumbles. I expect that dung in walls will rot the plant fibers.



Excellent. Thank you.


Programmer hypothesis: it's the neolithic equivalent of the Big Rewrite. But, as Joel Spolsky could have told them, it doesn't really work.


Youtuber Stefan Milo has an excellent video on the neolithic life in this region (with a mentions of the burning of houses):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Pnv3jelAO4

I can’t recommend his channel enough. His narrative of how normal people lived in the ancient times is really interesting.


Clearly this is the Nightfall phenomenon predicted by Isaac Asimov. The burnings must line up with total solar eclipses.


When something makes little sense it's probably based in religion.

Some kind of ritual to ward off something.

Good crop year, bad crop year, etc.


Reminds me of the story of the Helvetii burning their own villages before they emigrated in what would eventually lead the Gallic Wars. Seems like this might've been a customary thing when a large group migrated out of an area to keep the group from being tempted to turn back.


Quema tus barcos


The got tired of making 20 trips to Home Depot to repair a leaky sink.

But seriously, I think it's primarily fumigation, war, and probably expanding families. Without large lodges, smaller structures were probably rebuilt or remodeled as families grew.


You don't burn down your village because the jones' first son just married a girl. You help the jones family to build an extra room.


It could be that as locations aged, better sites (for any number of practical reasons ... crops, grazing, water, disease) were found. Once moved away from, the old site might seem welcoming to unwanted neighbors.



My first thought was that people burnt the house to clean out parasites and bad smells. Second thought was firing the mud bricks. Third thought was some sort of aggression.


One way to figure it out is to go live there in a hut for a few years. Maybe nobody thought of it so far.


for example Vikings were burning their leaders and prominent warriors together with a boat, so one can imagine how the house may similarly serve as a funeral pyre for a family/village elder - they do mention human remains found in some cases. That would make especial sense if the building's lifetime was on the order of those 60-80 years, say due to the climate which was more wet in that area during that period. And fire would be a great way to demolish and disinfect the place as well as probably affect the ground in some advantageous ways (say deep dry the ground for foundation like purposes and kill off the bacteria/fungus/etc (and termites or whatever was in their place back then) up to some depth in the ground, and the resulting layer of ash and ceramic-ized clay serving as a kind of barrier) before building again - a settlement was found for example with 13 such layers.


The article says that human remains are absent in most cases


if any remains left after such a big fire it'd be expected to be taken care in some way before rebuilding.


Maybe it was bedbug remediation.


I have that on vinyl.


Perhaps it was all of the above: Accidents, war, etc...




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