Cucuteni Culture, The Black Sea. 3500 B.C.E.
About the Cucuteni Culture
by Theresa C. Dintino
At first they came only now and again, a few men arriving on horses from the land of the Northern Steppes, using our village as a stopping point on their journeys. I saw it even then, the lust in their eyes as they looked upon the abundance. They did not stay long. We were hospitable. It was our way. We were also aware of what they had done to villages less fortunate than ours where they had set up permanent camps. Word had spread. From far beyond the steep mountains that separate us from one another, we had heard: what did not get offered, they took. Any resistance was met with devastation and destruction. Inside their beings, the harsh winters had made their home.
We fought back by releasing their horses. We snuck out in the dark when all others were asleep and loosened the knots of twine constricting them. I watched them leave, running into the star-flecked night air; so freshly caught they had not forgotten life in the open plains. I wanted to run away with them.
The men began to stay longer, building stables for the horses. I was determined to know the horse as these men did. Before I had only known horses in their wildness. After repeated and persistent requests, the men allowed me to feed the horses, to clean their stalls, to comb them, until I became accustomed to the close presence of horse. Then the one with the long dark mane asked me to approach her. I rubbed down her warm, pulsing body, relished the feel of sleek muscle under coarse, short hair, recognizing a body that sweat like mine, a body that smelled like mine. When she allowed me to look into her eyes, big, black and wanting, everything changed. My legs ached for her. She permitted me to mount her.
Together we shall ride to freedom, she said.
* * *
Before I left my village I needed to learn the art of metallurgy. We would not be complete on the horse without weapons. I walked to the smelting hut on the small ridge on the outside border of the village and asked my village smith to teach me his craft.
“Only men may learn it,” he said.
“It is women who discovered it,” I said.
“Do you think I do not know that?” he said, pounding hot metal thin with a hammer and shaking his head. It was enormously hot inside this smelting hut. He was sweating. Dirt clung to his bare chest. He put down his hammer, took a piece of cloth from the bench and wiped his face. “I only wish to protect myself from danger,” he said, throwing the cloth back down onto the bench. “They will not tolerate me teaching you.”
“Then don’t tell them.”
He snickered and smiled at me. The smile contained tenderness. “Why is it that you wish to learn?”
“I and some others, we are leaving. This is a skill we shall need, yet none of us possess.”
“Where are you going?”
“I cannot say.”
He looked down at his work, then out the window. “Leaving,” he said. “Leaving is a good idea.”
“Leaving is the only option,” I said.
He looked at me. Sadness covered his face. I began to perspire. He returned his gaze to the window. “Not here,” he said. “You must not be here.”
“I know a place,” he said, approaching me. The metals he worked, mixed with the juices of his body, gave him a strange, metallic smell. “There is a cave,” he whispered, “a cave behind the second hill. It is a small cave with a hole in the side of one of the walls.”
“I know the one.”
“There. Meet me there.”
I looked into his eyes. Fire reflected within them.
“Tomorrow,” he asserted.
“I must go now,” I said. I looked away. “This heat…”
He walked me to the doorway and stood in it, filling it with himself, as he watched me walk away.
* * *
I rode my horse every day. The journeys grew longer, the ride more comfortable. My being enjoyed the rhythm of her walking: her four legs moving, shoulders and spine swaying, moving my body upon her back, myself spread wide upon her. I took pleasure in the heat of her body entering mine, strong neck – thick and erect – before me, melting together as one. I allowed her to go faster. She took me far.
We searched for a place to escape to, together exploring the far reaches of the forests, up into the tall hills where the trees grew so thick there was sometimes no room for us to travel between them. We traveled to the banks of the river, and to the place where Earth spreads herself in vast meadows and fields full of grazing deer and antelope. Though I saw my horse look at the wild ones with momentary longing, she remained loyal to me.
I led women on visits to the new home we had found at the place where the river is a gentle bend. In this mild curve of water, fish were plenty. The adjoining forest was full of edible plants and animals. There was a small natural clearing in which to cultivate a crop. Here Earth would provide for us well. I made a circle of stones around the Mother Spruce in the center of the natural clearing, asking her to welcome us.
I taught other women to ride – those of us who were planning to leave. We worked in secret, not to be noticed. The young girls learned quickly, forming a fast relationship with the horse. One at a time, during the night, we stole horses. If they thought some of the women left, they would not care. If they knew we had taken horses, they would come after us for sure.
* * *
“The first thing you must learn,” the smith said to me when I met him at the cave, “is how to remove the metals from the places in which they are found.”
He had cleaned himself. His hair was tied back into a long mane of deep browns and auburns. In the morning light, I noticed specks of green in the browns of his eyes. The heat, Fire, was still there upon him, pulsing in waves from his body, revealing itself in the deep creases that lined his dark face. He was dressed in clean trousers and a soft wool blouse. He carried a large leather bag.
“We shall walk together to the places where Mountain gives forth.”
“We need not walk,” I said. “I ride.”
“I have seen you ride,” he said. “I, however, do not ride.”
“You shall ride behind me.”
I helped him onto the back of my horse. He held me tight around the waist. I turned to face him. He hid not his fear. “It is all right,” I said. “She is a good horse.”
I put my hand upon his that held me around my center. We rode slowly. His hand, warm within mine, began to relax, my womb melting to molten liquid beneath the heat.
We arrived at the place between two hills where Mountain offers herself in rich streams of minerals. He set his bag down and extracted a long pick. I watched as he inserted his tool into Mountain, as she gave herself to him in rich dark copper. At other places, he showed me how to determine which rocks contained precious minerals, to chip away at the hard wall of stone, forming workable clumps that we would smelt, freeing the copper hidden within them.
“Now you,” he said, handing me his tools, heavy and foreign.
What he had made look easy was extremely difficult for me. I struggled and became frustrated.
“It is hard work,” he said, “but you shall become accustomed to it. Your hands are strong. They match your will. That is all you really need.”
He took me to a streambed. He taught me how to pan and dredge for tin. “The tin is hard to come by,” he said. Feet within Water, he stooped and brought a pile of black dirt into a clay bowl. The bowl had small holes in the bottom of it to allow Water to spill back through it. He sifted through the remaining dirt, extracting large clumps of hardened black rock. “Sometimes,” he said, “I use arsenic to harden the bronze. I am not going to show you that way. I want you to use tin to harden your bronze.”
Back at the cave he taught me how to build a womb-oven for smelting deep into Earth. “The hole,” he said, making a small opening in the back of the bottom of the oven, “there must be an opening. Through the opening will be released the slag. The copper will be left within.”
He stacked within the small womb-oven layers of charcoal and the pieces of ore we had mined. Then he called upon Fire and covered the womb-oven. With his foot pushing on a small leather pump inserted into the side of the womb-oven, he fanned and fanned the flames. He stoked Fire until it became so hot he removed his shirt and the stone released the copper in a gush of steaming hot liquid.
This he then took and reheated, purifying it more. Some he took in a warm, semi hardened state and hammered into a form. Others he cast, pouring a steaming white liquid mixture of copper and tin together to form bronze.
“I used to work only with copper,” he said, “but these new men, they have a taste for bronze.”
I watched him moving quickly from fire to floor with a heated heap of copper to pound with his hammer. I watched his face, serious and focused, his lips pouting as he worked. I watched his hands, skilled and quick with the hot metal, his arms quivering from the stress of the work.
In the extreme heat, combined with the intense effort it was taking me to learn this skill – something I was not naturally inclined toward – I began to lose my will.
He could have let me. He could have let me sit there watching him, allowed me to melt into another piece of workable material for him to form into any shape he wished. He could have let it happen. I was not aware until it was too late. But he didn’t. He saw what was happening. He would not allow it.
He began to force me to work. “It is only certain people,” he said, “who can tolerate such heat without melting. You must stand tall, strong to the heat, Sadie. You must not allow it to reduce you.”
He pushed me, every time I was exposed to the heat, presenting me with chore after chore. “You must learn this,” he said, leading me out of the cave when I was overwhelmed, to take in a breath of coolness, to harden me back into shape. “You cannot go out into that world without this skill.”
He stopped working and watched me pound clumsily against softened metal, pour liquid rock into a cast I had made, my arms moving involuntarily in staggered, jerking movements under the weight.
“It is the heat,” he said, “the heat which transforms. Fire which alters. Only with Fire may we change things.” He took a cloth from the belt around his waist and wiped my damp face with it. “You possess this element within you,” he said. “It is good. You will need it. You must be careful, however, because you are made of Fire, so you are especially vulnerable to it.”
I looked at him, he who had pulled me out of the flames, yet left me intact. “Why do you do this for me?”
“I do not do it for you. I do it for us, our people. Our village. Do you think I like these barbarians?”
“What will you do?”
“I have not yet decided.”
* * *
As a girl I was schooled in the art of clay baking. My mother was a potter, as had been her mother before her, and she passed that teaching to me. It was the mothers before them who first discovered metals hidden within clay, shiny flecks cooked to smoothness in their fiery womb-ovens. It was those mothers who refined the craft of softening hardened rock into thick liquid which could then be pounded into shape, into strong, sharp tools, sharper than anything we had known.
Before they came, before I came to know the horse, I spent my time working soft warm clay into rounded, open wombs. I sat, satisfied, humming songs to myself as I created patterns of swirling whirls and spirals – eggs electric with life – onto rounded female hips. Before they came, I worked beside my mother, our fingers sinking into deep clay, in the workshop below the temple where I would go often to offer myself to Her, Great Womb, Mother of All.
When the new men came, the calm within me grew wild and restless. I began to create only horses: clay horses running, sleeping, standing. I painted horses on vessels, women riding horses, women with weapons. I stopped going to the pottery shed altogether.
“Why do you not come and do the work you were chosen for, the work the village needs you to perform?” my mother said to me one day upon meeting me on the path to the stable.
“I have a different job now, mother,” I said, avoiding her eyes, for I knew that I had abandoned her. “I am busy with other things.”
“It is an insult to turn your back on the gift of work She gives to you,” she said, lowering her tone.
“Mother,” I said, whispering at the utterance of words such as these, “I no longer find Her in the work with the clay. Not as I once did. I now find Her in the wind that rushes through my hair as I ride the wildest of horses, in the heat between my legs as we gallop, by the river’s gentle bend and the tall tree encircled with stones. I must go to the place where She leads me, Mother. I must follow Her call.”
She eyed me suspiciously. “I know,” she said, “that you are planning to leave.”
“You must know that it is no longer safe here. Please, Mother, you must come with us.”
Her lips were pursed but Water stained her eyes that looked toward the village. “I wish to see this tree,” she said, “this place by the river’s bend.”
I took her hands into mine. “First,” I said, “I must teach you to ride.”
* * *
My skills improved. Alone, I mined for minerals, built Fire, transformed stone into liquid heat, pounded soft metal into a hardened, sharp-edged sword.
“You no longer need me,” he said to me one day and smiled. It was a crooked smile, its right side higher. A smile I had come to look forward to.
“How can I ever thank you?” I asked, touching the edge of the blade I had only just formed.
He came and stood before me so that his chest touched the cloth of my dress. “Take me with you,” he said into my face, in a voice so innocent, so full of need and longing that it took my breath away.
“I cannot,” I said. There was a galloping in my chest. “It has been agreed. Only women. I assumed you understood that.”
“I thought by now you would see that I am not one of them.”
“Surely, I know that,” I said, touching his chest with my hands. “I am so grateful to you. There is so much that you have done for us. More than I ever could have expected.” I sighed, collapsing a little. Then I remembered the burning in the women’s eyes when they talked about the new men. These strange and different men, at whose hands so many of them had already suffered, still bearing the bruises they had acquired when they were forced to share themselves against their will. How could I explain to him the torment this was having on us as women? The distrust that now permeated every encounter with men?
“I cannot allow it,” I said, looking at him. “In spite of my feelings for you.”
“You cannot leave me here, Sadie,” he said. He held my face within his hands. I allowed him to kiss me. His warm mouth encompassed mine; a furnace deep with leaping flames. I felt myself surrendering within, the “yes” beginning to form within me. I felt the opening that wanted to happen, to let him in, to merge together into something other, something new. But the “no.” I needed the “no.” The “no” was what sparked Fire, what fanned the flames. “I cannot,” I said, breaking away from him, from his strong, confident embrace.
“Sadie, please,” he said.
“I cannot,” I said, backing away from him. “Don’t you see,” I repeated. “I cannot.”
“No, I don’t see,” he said.
“I cannot feel this way about you. This opening, this spreading of my being that wants to happen. I cannot allow it. It will ruin everything.”
“Nothing has to change,” he said.
“But everything will,” I said, pounding my fists against my chest. “Inside. Inside. I need, more than anything this cool, hard shell I have grown.”
* * *
Finally, the warm season arrived. We left one by one, early in the morning, before the sun returned, each carrying as many supplies as we could upon our backs. I was the last to leave. As the morning light began to filter in and mix with the darkness, creating shadows where there were not normally shadows, bringing noise into the stillness, I walked away from our village and, except for one long, lingering gaze toward the smith house, I never looked back.
All through that season we worked, using every bit of light to make ourselves suitable shelters and clothing enough to pass the coming winter. We tended our crops with an over-attentive eye. Hoeing, weeding, watering. We built winter shelter for our horses. We traveled deep into the forest together, exploring the area, staking our escape routes and hiding places to use when the protective leaves left us.
At harvest we rejoiced in our first crop of grain by gathering together to roll and form it into first breads. We celebrated in the main room where there were two large womb-ovens. The room became hot with all of us in it and Fire transforming grain into bread.
I looked around the room, full of excitement over what we had accomplished, the women we were becoming – and I was filled with a longing tall and long-reaching. For only then did I realize that She is not only in the wheat we pound into grain, in the grain we mix into dough, She is the process – the fiery act that turns goopy dough into warm, velvet bread. She is transformation. The One Who Changes Things.
I exited the shrine, released puffs of hot slag from within myself into the cool night air. I looked up at the stars, burning fires transforming them even as I looked at them. At the same time, the cool dampness of rotting earth was everywhere around me. I fell to my knees to ask forgiveness for all I had said “no” to.
* * *
The first winter was long, but we survived. Never had we been so happy to see the snows recede, the birds begin to return. Outside, during the day, I noticed a small pillar of billowing smoke at the place beyond the hollow in the river. I knew of no settlement there. As soon as the mud dried, I went to explore. There, inside a small hut he had built for himself, did I find him alone, smelting.
The heat within was, once again, shocking. But this time I welcomed it. I welcomed him. I think I may have even smiled when I said, “How did you find us?”
“They know where you are. I heard them speaking,” he said, calmly pouring liquid metal into the mold of a long sword. “They do not care,” he added, when he had finished pouring it. He stood and faced me. “They have the village. Many of our people have left, most retreating to caves in high hills. All is calm there now. The ones who remain are there because that is the choice they made.”
“Do they know about the horses?”
“I suspect so.”
“What about you? How is it that you came to leave?”
“They cast me out,” he said, looking at the door through which I had come. “I am ill.”
“Something in the work,” he said, “something in the metals has made me ill.”
“You require healing. There is a healer in our new village,” I offered.
“It is too late.”
“Too late?” I said. “How do you know? You do not appear ill.”
“I am greatly weakened. Some days,” He stopped his words and walked over to me. “I am glad you came, Sadie,” he said.
I could not look at him. I looked down upon the sword he had only just poured. “It is magnificent,” I said.
“Do you like it? It is for you,” he whispered into my ear.
“For me?” I said, surprised.
He put his arms around me. “You will soon need it,” he said. “There are more coming, ones who make these look meek.” His hand moved up my back, touching gently the base of my neck. My body shook within his embrace. I leaned into his shoulder. “I am sorry,” I whispered. “I should have let you come when you asked. I should never have said “no” to you.”
“No,” he said, lifting my face up to look at him. “Only women. I understood. You had a commitment to the others. I knew. It was unfair of me to ask. Why, if I were a woman…”
I put my hand up to his mouth to silence him, “No,” I said. “It was unfair. I was unfair to your kindness. Now I must suffer losing you.”
“I am not yet gone.”
* * *
Every morning there were offerings of sword tips, axes, daggers, bits and harness links. Every day there were offerings from him. First, he left one of each by the Mother Spruce, then piles and filled buckets by the entrance to the new village.
“Promise me you will not smelt,” he said. We were at the place in the tall hills where the mountain gives forth, collecting copper. We had stopped working and were sitting on the crest of the hill, looking down at the river below. “Do not poison yourself in the way I have poisoned myself. I will make you more, all that you need before I go.”
“It is the arsenic,” I said. “The healer told me. The arsenic you are using to harden the bronze. It is this which makes you ill.”
At first there was no movement, just a still silence that echoed everywhere, sending pangs of sharp ache through me. Then he shook his head, slammed his fist against the ground. “I should have known,” he said, “I suspected. I coughed every time that I warmed it. But they needed more and the tin is so hard to find.” He looked at me, hope in his face, “Is there anything?”
I shook my head. “You were right,” I said. “There is no recovery.”
He stood and twirled slightly, looked down at me in dazed confusion. I stood to help him. “No,” he said, shaking my hand off him. He fled, running down the steep incline frantically, dangerously fast. I stumbled behind him but could not keep up. When I reached the bottom, I saw him, slamming his pickaxe against the wall of hidden copper in furious repetition. I did not approach him. I stayed out of sight, allowing him privacy, until he collapsed down onto the ground and leaned his back against the wall of stone in exhaustion. It was then that I came to sit next to him.
He touched his fingers gently to my cheek which was flushed red with heat. He leaned forward slightly. “I suppose,” he said, looking away from me. “I kept using the arsenic, though I suspected. I suppose,” he struggled, “I suppose I didn’t care.”
* * *
At the stream I pan for tin. I hold my colander down in the shallow section where Water often leaves deposits. I bring up smooth sand, pebbles. Water falls back upon herself in soft music. I lean against the mossy bank behind me, my fingers panning through the gravel.
Water runs clean and constant in front of me. I listen as she winds her way down the hill, passing over rocks and steep embankments. She continues. In spite of what she passes though, she flows.
* * *
“Put it on for me, let me see,” he said. He was sitting on his bed. He had been sweating and shaking with fever. It was happening like this now. I wrapped him within his blankets, fixed him a cup of hot tea. He sat smiling and sipping at it.
I put it on, the armor he had made me, the shield, the helmet. He had decorated it with an intricate design of small sword tips. He had made it out of gold. I stroked the design with my fingertips.
He smiled, then his face filled with concern. “It is very dangerous,” he said, “to become one of them.”
“I am not one of them. I shall never be one of them,” I said, but I crumpled down onto the bed beside him. Already we were feeling the need to move again, our village no longer safe.
“Remember when,” he said, looking beyond me, “remember when we were young? The smell of Mother, the taste of field berries in the warm season? Remember not knowing all this?” he asked.
I looked at him, at his face. The memory had covered it with innocence.
I removed my amour, my helmet. I set my weapon aside. “I remember,” I said, taking him into my arms, “men who walked tall. Women who felt safe. I remember,” I said. “I remember.”
* * *
I buried him beside the smelting hut with the tall sword he had made me, women riders galloping across the hilt.
I removed all the arsenic and smelted without it, the way he had taught me. All that I made, I took to the place of Earth he was now becoming to show him how well I had learned.
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