30 December 2008

What Came First? The Monuments or The Agriculture?

Or, was the Neolithic Revolution, during which agriculture and thus populations exploded, brought about by the need to feed large groups who gathered to build (and later worship and celebrate at) monumental structures? Or was advanced agriculture already taking place which then allowed for the feeding of large groups of builders and later worshipers and celebrants?

This is something that has long puzzled me. It's also been a subject of debate among archaeologists and historians for years. And while this fascinating archaeological dig in Turkey doesn't actually settle the problem it promises of great things to come. For, you see, only about 5% of the entire area has been excavated and it will be many years before everything is uncovered. But what has been uncovered is amazing.

But the location, age and sheer size of Gobekli Tepe have led some to posit a radically different explanation for the change. "The intense cultivation of wild wheat may have first occurred to supply sufficient food to the hunter-gatherers who quarried 7-ton blocks of limestone with flint flakes,"

What is most interesting about the site is that, so far, it looks to have been constructed right smack at the point when the semi-nomads settled into communities. In other words, this site was built by a new breed of men who, unlike everyone before them, began to live in structured communities. This is one of the most important time periods in the history of the human race. Settled communities, brought on by the need to sew, watch over and harvest crops, lead to everything that we think of as civilization: planned cities, organized work forces, writing, mathematics, etc. If not for this radical change the human race might not have even survived!

And, interestingly enough, the sudden change might not have been so sudden and may have taken place for a completely different reason.

For many experts, climate change was behind the transformation. Global temperatures had been warming gradually since the last Ice Age. Between 10,800 and 9,500 b.c., they suddenly plummeted again.

From a pagan perspective I can't help but wonder about the role of early religion within this debate. After all, the ancient monuments weren't just built with simple, pointless partying in mind. Some of them were probably temples dedicated to specific deities and many of them were built to mark solstices, equinoxes and other celestial events. So, what role did that play? Was there a religious revolution which then brought about the agricultural revolution? Did the ancient pagans decide to build big to show veneration for their gods which then brought about the need for more food? After all, if you got several hundred, or even thousands, of people quarrying and transporting huge stones that doesn't leave much time for hunting. If you've got 1000s of man hours devoted to massive earthworks there's not going to be time or energy for the tracking of game.

I guess what it really boils down to is that we may never be certain what brought about the Neolithic Revolution but that, in future decades, the site of Gobekli Tepe in Turkey may contain a lot of revelations. Personally, I think the answer probably lies somewhere in between the various theories. Some people wanted to build big and realized they'd need a lot of food to nourish their workforce while others in another region decided to build big simply because they had plenty of well-fed folks with nothing much to do while the plants grew. I'm not discounting the climate change as catalyst for change theory either. If things got colder it would stand to reason that people might come together to tough it out. After all, communities provide more people to cut and gather firewood. More people crammed into the same building means more body heat. But then, more people means more help with the harvest too. So, who knows?


Cygnus MacLlyr said...

It kind of senses out to me that improvements in tools -- well, first the discovery of agriculture... but that's a given; suddenly, we can grow food. tools improve, allowing bigger crops. thus a need to better predict/ track the seasons. errect monuments to help do so, and certain 'dates' become festive...

I've no proof whatsoever, but the simplicity of linear progression seems logical.

Good food for thought, Lady

Have a great day!


Livia Indica said...

Oh yeah, I've mentioned to advancements in toolmaking in previous posts but I forgot about it this time.

Cygnus MacLlyr said...

yea, and maybe i stressed the importance there over the "discovery" of being able to actually 'raise' food versus gather. i think certainly that must have been the start of the move towards less nomadic ways.
Kinda a sad loss... but you said it well--"civilization" owes its establishment (gads,what Heinlein-esque imagery...) to the "advancement" [wow; any more quotations and i'll needds more r.a.m.!
certainly the larger communities helped specialization evolve: if i sew the best garments and you grow better tomatoes, we can not only focus on our tslents but have closer proxinmity come barter-time.
But i wonder...
guess like everything, has it's good points and bad.
Still, kinda like to have lived in Ayla's day...

Love your site BTW!

more soon


Brian Charles said...

Interesting question raised and, as with all chicken and egg ones, one that - short of inventing time travel - seems impossible to answer in any final way. I would imagine that any academic consensus may well shift from pole to pole. But it is really great to ponder.

I have a possibly frivolous aside. Before I left England I would often visit Avebury. This is an amazingly powerful ceremonial landscape and also a major grain producing area. It is also the centre, every year, of a rash of the most intricate crop circles. I have an open mind on the origin of these, the least likely explanation for me being aliens. However, if as some enthusiasts claim, this is by no means a purely modern phenomenon, then could the original henges have been prompted by the seemingly miraculous appearance of crop circles and an attempt to replicate these signals from the divine? Rather like cargo cults.

I have no idea - never having taken more than an idle interest in cereology. But I love asking questions.

Moonroot said...

I find this fascinating, thanks for giving my brain something to chew on! I'd really love to know a definitive 'truth' about this, but at the same time musing on various 'what ifs' is infinitely more fun.

Livia Indica said...

Brian, I had not made the connection between crop circles and ancient monumental structures! That's very interesting. I will have to do some research on that and maybe blog about it. I, too, don't quite buy the aliens theory but, you're right, it is very fascinating.

Moonroot, You're very welcome, I'm glad others, and their brains, like to chew on some of the same things as mine! I fear we'll never have a definite answer but I guess that's part of the reason it's so interesting. Thanks for your comments!

Cygnus MacLlyr said...

Where you at, m'Lady? Must be a strong post upcoming, or a good rest you're experiencing! ha!

Hope to 'see' ya back soon...


Jenavira said...

That dig looks *awesome,* thank you for pointing it out. (I am woefully unaware of things going on in archaeology, which is sad because I still consider going to graduate school for a degree in it some day...)

Another factor to consider is the fact that the Neolithic Revolution probably happened by accident; it's highly unlikely that someone sat down one day and said, "Okay, now I'm going to start a farm." More likely, hunters & gatherers discovered there were a few places where the foodstuffs they liked best tended to flourish, and they were careful about how they gathered there, basically slowly and inadvertently breeding domesticated crops until there was enough food in one location that they didn't *have* to move around for food anymore. (Which might also have been a trigger for monuments -- hey, this place gives us *all* our food, instead of other places that only give us some of it! Maybe we should give it something back.)

Livia Indica said...

Cygnus, I've been so busy revamping my tattoo blog that I don't have anything in the works for this one. I'll have to get on that soon.

Jenavira, Yes, you're quite right, the neolithic revolution probably did come about by accident. A few things somehow more or less coincided with each other in different regions, were eventually adopted by others and thus: revolution. And I also agree about the way agriculture came about, it very well could have been important farming areas that they wanted to honor with monuments. Thanks for your insightful comments!

Cygnus MacLlyr said...

gonna have to remember this aint yer only post... and stop by the other(s) on occasion!


Livia Indica said...

You mean my only blog? Yep, check out the tattoo blog!