Expanding “culture”

As we move now from prehistoric sites to protohistoric cities, what I find most interesting is how quickly cultures grow as their “network” of neighboring societies grows. In Lascaux and in Morbihan, it seemed that there was a sense of uniformity in the culture, and that the same culture slowly developed over a long period of time. In Lattara however, we find a host of burgeoning cities developing out of the central town-port Lattara, which brought many cultures and cities from all around the Mediterranean into contact with one another. The exchange of material goods and intangible cultures rapidly changes civilization in the south of France, following the Mediterranean settlement of Marseilles and the Etruscan settlement of Lattara. While this interaction which southern France would have with Mediterranean culture certainly served as a catalyst for development in Lattes, the region would grow organically into its own culture indigenous to the marshy area of southern France in Lattara. The streets and squares of Lattara show a combination of Gallic influence and Mediterranean influence in the oldest structures. Not only is this seen in the original fifth century BCE Etruscan houses, but it is also seen in the gradual development of the rampart.

The rampart shows different levels of influence throughout the history of its construction. In the sixth century BCE, the “archaic rampart” shows Etruscan influence contemporary with the Etruscan trading posts and earliest homes built on the site. But as it was built up over the centuries, features from other port-town in the south of France began to appear here as well. At the same time, the basic layout of the settlement exhibits two features common to Gallic towns, such as Martigues and Nages II. That is, a concentric layout, and also an elongated layout. Both of these features are achieved in Lattara in its triangular shape, which allows for three main streets that structure a concentric, but elongated layout. But again, we find Mediterranean influence in the “complex” housing structures in Lattes, which differ from the late Bronze and early Iron Age huts that had dominated domestic architecture. These new homes were made of more permanent materials, such as stone, wood and earth. The centrality of the domestic housing spaces and the more permanent structure of those spaces indicates somewhat of a shift from the prehistoric cultures in Lascaux and Morbihan, where the most effort was put not in the domestic constructions, but in the sacred ones. Lattes is a port town, and a melting pot of cultures. But it is not a city structured around a temple or tomb; the town is a monument to the everyday human life, with some evidence of magical or ritualistic practice, which is more in service to the practicing magician than a monument of praise to a transcendental reality.

We see a very different image of culture in Lattes than we had seen in Lascaux or Morbihan – one in which it seems that the sacred has been run out by the pressures of everyday life. Thus, Lattes does represent a kind of “cultural expansion” in southern France. But in what direction is the culture expanding here?


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