A belated Happy 10226!

It’s the Year 10226 for believers of Maausk, the Estonian native religion.

Obviously I’m a little behindhand in offering greetings, since their New Year began on December 25. We’re already a couple of weeks into the calendar. But what’s a few weeks, compared to more than ten millennia?

For the puzzled, who are doubtless wondering what kooky event this dating system memorializes, the answer is simple: it’s the birth of Estonia. And this is not Estonia as we know it today, a remarkably flat country with many forests. Back then it was a remarkably flat country most likely covered with a lot of mud and dying seaweed.

Billingen Catastrophe

It appears that 10,226 marks the number of years since the land now called Estonia appeared from the receding waters of the Baltic Sea due to what is known as the “Billingen catastrophe.”  This is when the waters of an ancient ice lake, known formally as the late Baltic Glacial Reservoir, penetrated an area near Mt. Billingen in what is now Sweden, to meet the Atlantic Ocean. It drained a heck of a lot of water from the Baltic, leaving behind new coastlines, islands and territories.

This was not a long, slow process. Research into sediment deposits makes it possible to date the event rather precisely. In 8213 BCE (Before Common Era), evidence indicates that water levels in the Baltic sea dropped about 30 meters in a single year, revealing – ta-da! – Estonia. Here is a more technical description of the event.

“The Baltic Sea, with its unique brackish water, is a result of meltwater from the Weichsel glaciation combining with saltwater from the North Sea when the straits between Sweden and Denmark opened. Initially, when the ice began melting about 10,300 ybp, seawater filled the isostatically depressed area, a temporary marine incursion that geologists dub the Yoldia Sea. Then as post-glacial isostatic rebound lifted the region about 9500 ybp, the deepest basin of the Baltic became a freshwater lake, in palaeological contexts referred to as Ancylus lake, which is identifiable in the freshwater fauna found in sediment cores. The lake was filled by glacial runoff, but as worldwide sea level continued rising, saltwater again breached the sill about 8000 ybp, forming a marine Vittoria Sea which was followed by another freshwater phase before the present brackish marine system was established.

“At its present state of development, the marine life of the Baltic Sea is less than about 4000 years old,” Drs Thulin and Andrushaitis remarked when reviewing these sequences in 2003.

“Overlaying ice had exerted pressure on the earth’s surface. As a result of melting ice, the land has continued to rise yearly in Scandinavia, mostly in northern Sweden and Finland where the land is rising at a rate of as much as 8-9 mm per year, or 1 meters in 100 years. This is important for archeologists since a village that was coastal in the Nordic Stone Age now is inland.”

Link to this website is http://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=127303

My note: ybp means years before present (time).

Whew. Got all that? I’m not clear on why they need to create so many different lake names. And the term catastrophe is a presumption, not necessarily a fact.

“This retreat (of the waters) is so sudden, and probably has such a profound effect on the early inhabitants of the Baltic area, that it is known as the Billingen Catastrophe,” says the unnamed author of a History Files website section on Eastern Europe.

Link: http://www.historyfiles.co.uk/KingListsEurope/EasternPrussia.htm

Was it really a catastrophe?

Catastrophe? Are they sure about that? Did they ask anybody who was there? Maybe folks stood there open-mouthed, staring until someone said, “Wow, new beaches! Last one in is a rotten… aieeeee…that’s cold!

Maybe some of those prehistoric hunter-gatherers looked around at all the mess and decided that this brand-new territory would make a dandy new homeland, if only it were cleaned up a smidgen. All the hunters (men) suddenly remembered an urgent appointment with a herd of elk, and took off running as if pursued by demons. This, as usual, left the gatherers (women) to gather up their prehistoric brooms and dustpans, shoo the kids out from underfoot, and begin the massive, unsung struggle to tidy up. That struggle continues, 10226 years later.

Who were those early settlers? I’m not sure if they were the ancestors of the Estonian people or not. The oldest known evidence of human settlement in that part of the world dates back to 9000 BCE, or 11,000 years ago, give or take a few hundred years. So people were living in the region well before the so-called catastrophe. Some authorities claim that those people were of Indo-European origin, reindeer-hunting ancestors of the Prussians, Latvians and Lithuanians who eventually settled parts of the southern and eastern Baltic coast. Others insist that the ancestors of the Finns and Estonians, or possibly the ancestors of the Saami (Lapps) people, were the first inhabitants.

Strange new land

How weird and wonderful to think of people witnessing the then-inexplicable appearance of thousands of kilometers of land in so short a time. It sounds like something from a fairytale. One wonders whether those early witnesses told and retold the story for many generations.

It reminds me of the well-known stories of Atlantis, and the Arthurian tales of the lost land of Lyonesse, which according to legend sank off the Cornish coast of England. One wonders what happened to the lands off the Atlantic Ocean that were affected by that sudden onrush of water from the Baltic region. Did some coastal settlements disappear under the rising water? Was that the basis for the legend of Lyonesse?

At any rate, those Estonians who practice Maausk in the present day have adopted the year of the Billingen event and the subsequent rising of Estonia as the beginning of their chronology. The native believers call this year “the birth of the land.” Estonia, they say, has been inhabited for about 10,000 years. They consider Maarahvas (Earth folk or Earth people) and their religion just as old as the land itself.

Link: http://www.maavald.ee/eng/uudised.html?rubriik=50&id=293&op=lugu

It must be pointed out that my translations of Maausk and Maarahvas as Earth religion and Earth people are not wholly accurate, since the word maa in Estonian has many meanings. Ahto Kaasik, scribe for the Maavalla community, explains it far better than I possibly can, on the Maavald website.

“When Maausulised (followers of Maausk) are told that Maausk is not a religion they generally agree, adding that Maausk is something much more than a religion. Maausk is our vernacular, our songs, our customs, our beliefs, our archetypes and culture. Maausk is thousands of years old, a tradition that binds us to our land,” Kaasik writes.

“To understand Maausk better it is essential to understand that the word maa in Estonian has many meanings and connotations. Maa can mean Earth, mother Earth, ground, land (as opposed to sea), cultivated land, earth (as soil), also country (state), country (as rural, opposed to the city) or finally as a suffix in the name of an Estonian county. But foremost maa denotes the land or country of indigenous Estonians. Thus Estonian’s have called themselves maarahvas, their country Maavald and their traditional nature-worship Maausk.”

Link: http://www.maavald.ee/eng/uudised.html?rubriik=50&id=363&op=lugu

It’s an incredible story, another one of those cool things about Estonia that we never learned in Estonian school. But now you know.

One wonders how many other peoples of the world are able to point directly to a geological event in the far past and say that this was the year when their land was created?

And now the cherries…

This morning, after yesterday’s rainstorm, the cherry trees have come into their own.

Two days ago they were gray branches on gray trunks, but now they are mists of palest pink, proudly decorating the streets of Gaithersburg.

This is cherryblossom country. The century-old Japanese cherries down at DC’s Tidal Basin are a famous sight, worth seeing by day and magical in the moonlight. But those famous blossoms receive mobs of visitors, and it can be a hassle to get there.

The early Yoshino cherries on Professional Drive in Gaithersburg, and the ones at the Asbury Methodist retirement community, and scattered along streets around town, are gorgeous enough for me, without the attendant crowds and traffic.

One of the loveliest displays of blooming cherry trees that I’ve ever enjoyed was in Branch Brook Park in Newark, NJ. Years ago my Estonian-American friend Kati invited me and several others to a chilly picnic in the park when the trees were in full bloom. We shivered in our winter coats, but it was breathtaking to sit among the flowering beauty.

Even our redbuds are bursting forth, I noticed today. They are relatives of our common peas and beans and clovers, members of the legume family.

Redbuds are so vivid and surprising to see in the faintly greening woodlands. Personally, I like to think of them as the kisses of the Goddess on the awakening land.

And the cherry blossoms are Her dreams made manifest.