Religion and Material Culture: Studying Religion and Religious Elements on the Basis of .... aspects of religion manifest in a material way are its symbols, rituals ...
RELIGION AND MATERIAL CULTURE Studying Religion and Religious Elements on the Basis of Objects, Architecture, and Space Proceedings of an International Conference held at the Centre for Bible and Cultural Memory (BiCuM), University of Copenhagen and the National Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen, May 6-8, 2011 Edited by Lisbeth Bredholt Christensen and Jesper Tae Jensen
© 2017, Brepols Publishers n.v., Turnhout, Belgium.
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D/2017/0095/103 ISBN 978-2-503-56900-0 Printed on acid-free paper.
LIST OF FIGURES
Lisbeth Bredholt Christensen and Jesper Tae Jensen Preface
Lisbeth Bredholt Christensen and Jesper Tae Jensen Introduction
METHODOLOGY Lisbeth Bredholt Christensen Between Mental and Material: Looking for the Origins of Religion in Archaeological Material
Morten Warmind What is a God?
David A. Warburton The Importance of the Origins of Abstraction and Discourse
ARCHAEOLOGY Emmanuel Anati Prehistoric Art and Religion
Marion Benz Making the Invisible Visible: Steps Towards a Ritualized Corporate Identity
Bo Dahl Hermansen Death, Feasting, and Memory Culture at Early Neolithic Shkārat Msaied, Southern Jordan Flemming Kaul The Shape of the Divine Powers in Nordic Bronze Age Mythology Mads Kähler Holst At the Scene of Cosmology Construction: The Religious Effects of Barrow Building in the Nordic Bronze Age Klavs Randsborg Kivig – Kivik: A Bronze Age Collage
TEXT Izaak J. de Hulster Religion, Pictoriality and Materiality: A Hebrew Bible Perspective Trine Bjørnung Hasselbalch Matter and Meaning in the Dead Sea Scrolls: Reading the Genesis Apocryphon as a Palimpsest Lars Östman Language and Materiality: Stolpersteine in Light of Roman Archaic Religion
MAKING THE INVISIBLE VISIBLE: STEPS TOWARDS A RITUALIZED CORPORATE IDENTITY
Introduction Many distinguished scholars have tried to reconstruct changes in early Neolithic religion and ideology in order to explain the transition from foraging to farming.1 Trevor Watkins, citing the works of Jacques Cauvin, Anthony Cohen, and Merlin Donald, even suggested that at the beginning of the Neolithic there was a major step in the evolution of mental capacities for storing information externally by the use of symbolic devices.2 Recent excavations at Göbekli Tepe, Wadi Faynan, and other ritual sites seem to underline the importance of rituals and communality during this transitional period.3 But many attempts to interpret * I am very thankful to Lisbeth Bredholt Christensen and Jesper Tae Jensen for the invitation to the conference and for the opportunity to contribute to this interesting volume. This article represents the version which was handed in September 2011, with only minor revisions where new archaeological data required an up-date. Many thanks are due to Craig Crossen for his thoughtful editing and to Moritz Kinzel and Lee Clare for their invaluable criticism. Large part of the research for this contribution was done during a two-year research project at the University of Freiburg. I am grateful to Marlies Heinz, head of the Department, for her support. I am also indebted to the BadenWürttemberg Stiftung for the financial support of this research project by the Elite-programme for Postdocs. 1 For example Cauvin, Naissance des Divinités – Naissance de l’Agriculture; Hodder, The Domestication of Europe. 2 Watkins, ‘Changing People, Changing Environments’, pp. 106–14 (esp. pp. 110–11). 3 Schmidt, Sie bauten die ersten Tempel; Finlayson and others, ‘Architecture, Sedentism, and Social Complexity at Pre Pottery Neolithic A WF16, Southern Jordan’, www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1017642108; Güler and others, Religion and Material Culture: Studying Religion and Religious Elements on the Basis of Objects, Architecture, and Space, ed. by L. Bredholt Christensen, J. Tae Jensen, Turnhout, 2017 (ASH, 3), pp. 121–167 © FHG DOI 10.1484/M.ASH-EB.5.114430
the mythological content of the symbolic traditions run the risk of projecting modern or rather pre-modern concepts onto early Holocene societies. I hope to avoid this by focusing on two neglected aspects of the symbolic material remains: mediality and the emotions evoked by the symbolism. The title of my contribution, ‘Making the Invisible Visible’, has two meanings. The first is methodological: I will show how we can gain more information from the material culture by focusing on the mediality by which symbols4 were presented in public, and on the emotional reactions these symbols probably brought about. There are basic anthropological patterns that make such interpretations possible despite culturally determined differences. These two features implicit in the material remains will help us understand social and psychological processes not directly observable in the archaeological record. The second is empirical. Here, I will focus on the phenomenon of the increase of symbolic representations during the early Holocene in the Near East and argue that the so-called ‘revolution of symbols’ (Cauvin) was above all a revolution in mediality. With increased sedentarism it became necessary to make a corporate identity5 visible and thereby manifest it in some concrete manner. This does not mean that symbols had not previously existed, but that they had earlier been fixed on bodies, wood, or other perishable materials. Until this time it had not been considered necessary to enhance social commitment by means of a fixed repertoire of symbols engraved for ‘eternity’ on durable objects. ‘New Pre-Pottery Neolithic Sites and Cult Centres in the Urfa Region’, pp. 292–97. 4 The definition of ‘symbol’ varies widely, see e.g. Bader, ‘Was ist eigentlich ein Symbol?’; Wagoner, ‘Introduction’, pp. 1–15 (esp. pp. 13–14). I will use Wagoner’s basic idea of a symbol as something that ‘is used to represent another’, wherein the main aspect of the symbol is person-centred. A symbol can only exist when at least two people have a convergent opinion about its meaning. The characteristics of the represented can, but need not, be inherent in the symbol itself. Anything (persons, objects, actions, space, etc.) can be turned into a symbol. 5 The concept of Neolithic corporate identities was elaborated during a workshop at the 9th ICAANE in 2014, at Basle, see Neolithic Corporate Identities, ed. by Benz and others.
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Definitions If we wish to learn more about how material culture might have triggered the development of religion during the early Neolithic, it is necessary to give some definitions. For conventional reasons I will continue using the terms Pre-Pottery Neolithic A and B, even if it has been shown that the early Holocene cultures of the Middle and Upper Euphrates-Tigris region have their own cultural characteristics. PPNA does not necessarily imply any domestication of plants and animals: in a strict biological sense, the term Neolithic would thus be misleading. But if we understand Neolithisation as a long process of increasing commodification, as has recently been convincingly argued,6 it is possible to retain the terminus Pre-Pottery Neolithic. The second expression requiring a definition is mediality. ‘Media’ is a term reserved in the social sciences for the modern mass media. However, ‘mediality’ concerns not only the characteristics of a medium itself through which information is communicated to a public, but it also includes the relationship of the people to a medium, and the context in which a certain medium can be used.7
Gebel, ‘Commodification and the Formation of Early Neolithic Social Identity. The Issues as Seen from the Southern Jordanian Highlands’, pp. 35–80. 7 The discussion on the influences of different media on the human construction of reality has been going on for more than 2500 years. This everexpanding debate is beyond the scope of the present paper. Most important for our analysis is the often-quoted statement of Marshall McLuhan: ‘medium is the message’ (cited in Sale, ‘Do Media Determine Our Situation? Kittler’s Application of Information Theory to the Humanity’, pp. 136–48, esp. p. 140). Although mediality is only one way in which communication (which includes symbolic behaviour and therefore world making) is influenced, it is clearly visible in the archaeological record. Other important influences on communication, such as discourse networks, are very difficult to reconstruct without written sources and require precise information on who used which media and symbols, and what these symbols meant in different contexts. Such a contextual analysis would be desirable, but the requisite data are not systematically available in the strictly material record of prehistoric Near Eastern communities For an overview and some critiques on communication theory and mediality, see Eliassen, ‘Remarks on the Historicity of the Media Concept’, pp. 119–35; Neumann and Zierold, ‘Media as Ways of Worldmaking’, pp. 103–18.
The third term under consideration is much more difficult to define, namely religion. I will not venture to review all the different definitions given by more qualified specialists in religious research but simply focus on some aspects of the recent definition of religion given by Lisbeth Bredholt Christensen, which might be of relevance for the interpretation of Neolithic material remains. She pointed out that: ‘Religion’ […] can be said to consist of a system of symbols, where something is being said in myths and acted out in rituals that pertains to the moral order and cosmological structure of the world, as sanctioned or determined by transcendent powers. […] religion involves an institutional aspect: morals, dogma, hierarchy. Supernatural powers are often gods. They inhabit the ‘other world’. Our knowledge of the supernatural powers and the cosmological system comes primarily from myths and visions from authorities. Communication with powers takes place via rituals. Rituals function symbolically.8
From the point of view of this definition of religion, the only aspects of religion manifest in a material way are its symbols, rituals, authorities/hierarchies, modes of communication, and institutions. All of its other features are invisible or intangible. Another perhaps implicit point (‘dogma’) in this definition is the relation of religion to time: one of the characteristics of communities based on a common ideology is their creation of a foundation myth describing their formation, and prophesying their future prosperity. In such myths, past, present, and future are blurred into one ‘eternity’, giving the sense of stability despite personal and political mutability. This illusion of stability is visualized and enhanced by a fixed code of symbols, rituals, and standards in how to use space.9
Bredholt Christensen, ‘ “Spirituality” and “religion” – Meaning and Origin’, pp. 23–31 (esp. p. 24) (italics by author). 9 Halbwachs pointed to this important aspect of religion (Wetzel, Maurice Halbwachs, p. 82). The creation and (ab-)use of ‘history’ by ideologically based communities would deserve its own book and cannot be elaborated here (see Benz, ‘ “Little Poor Babies” – Creation of History Through Death at the Transition from Foraging to Farming’, pp. 169–82.
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I will therefore begin my analysis by examining the various symbolic and ritual archaeological remains. I will consider three types of symbols: 1. Constructed symbols, here focussing on communal buildings, because the analysis of domestic buildings as symbolic devices is fraught with difficulties 2. Ritual symbols. Rituals are symbols in action. Normally every step of a ritual is fixed, loaded with meaning, and has the purpose of making invisible things visible 3. The displayed symbols used during the beginning of the Holocene
Methodology The analysis of these three types of symbols will not focus on the iconography and meaning of the representations. Many researchers have tried to determine the meaning, or idea, behind a symbol. But when attempting to do so, we risk projecting modern or ancient literary concepts on prehistoric material, especially because written sources are not available to guide us. As research on symbols has shown, there are many hurdles that must be cleared. The idea that the meaning of a symbol depends on its context is, of course, not new.10 But I would like to point out that symbols are also intersubjective: 11 not only does every individual perceive each symbol in a different way – which is in fact one of the strengths of symbols 12 – but symbols principally gain their strength from their effect on people. And this effect can be quite different depending on the context, on the mood, and on who communicates the symbol to whom. Therefore the idea and the meaning, behind our symbolic actions do not only depend on personal perception, cultural conventions, and experiences, but they are also intersubjective. To comprehend
10 For an illustrative discussion on the problems of interpretation of symbols in archaeology, see Gallay, L’Archéologie Demain, pp. 183–200. 11 Gillespie, ‘The Intersubjective Nature of Symbols’, pp. 24–37 (esp. p. 29). 12 Cohen, The Symbolic Construction of Community, p. 55, p. 73.
Fig. 1 Beside context and intersubjectivity, meaning, mediality, and emotions influence the impact of symbolic actions on society. Drawing by the author.
the meaning of a prehistoric symbol is – in my view – therefore very difficult, if not impossible. However, there is a way out of this dilemma. Not only the meaning of a symbol determines its impact on society – mediality and emotions do so as well (Fig. 1). By adding considerations of mediality and the emotions evoked by the symbols to iconographic analyses, we can gain some information on their impact, even if we do not know their actual meaning. According to recent cognitive research, emotions have long been underestimated in cognitive 126
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science.13 Of course, emotions also depend on the context and the relation of subjects; yet, there are some features that will be perceived in a similar way or will have similar effects on most humans. The structural aspects of symbols include the following: 1. Iconic repertoire: the degree of standardization, of abstraction, and of ubiquity/exclusivity 2. Mediality: the scale of the medium, its permanence, the standardization, the material, production efforts and quality, ubiquity and exclusivity and reflexivity (by which I mean the ability and opportunity for people to interfere with the medium) 3. Emotions: the perception of and emotional reactions to the symbols This list could probably be expanded; but for our analysis it will suffice to concentrate on the three points listed above. In the following, I will investigate the material remains of symbolic behaviour in the PPNA and PPNB cultures of the Near East.
Constructed Symbolism As was mentioned above, I will focus on special buildings (Fig. 2) because it is easier for us to perceive the conventionalized world views implicit in such buildings than in domestic architecture, influenced by individual preferences and site requirements.14 13
Salvatore and Venuleo, ‘The Unconscious as Symbol Generator – a Psychodynamic-Semiotic Approach to Meaning-Making’, pp. 59–74. 14 This is not to say that the shape of domestic houses is not often based on ideological concepts. Indeed, in traditional societies domestic houses may represent the cosmic order (Kent, ‘A Crosscultural Study of Segmentation, Architecture and the Use of Space’, pp. 127–52 (esp. p. 128). But the risk that individual styles skew the picture is very high. Thus the number of private houses required for a meaningful statistical analysis concerning the cosmological concept of domestic architecture would have to be very large. Although public and private buildings cannot always be easily differentiated for the early Neolithic in the southern Levant, the architecture of all of the above mentioned buildings clearly differs from typical dwellings.
Fig. 2 Communal or special buildings of Upper Mesopotamia: I. Round ‘polyvalente’, II. Round to oval without room division a. with wooden pillars, b. with stone/ clay pillars, III. Rectangular with pillars. PPNA-Middle PPNB. I 2–IIa 2 and IIb 2 are reproduced at the same scale as I 1. Where possible orientation has been standardized to the north. For figures without a north-arrow, no orientation was given in the original publication. I 1. Mureybet M 47, Syria; I 2–3; IIa 1. Jerf el-Ahmar, EA 7, EA 30, EA 53, Syria. Modified after Stordeur and Ibañez 2008, fig. 26 and Stordeur and others 2000, fig. 5, fig. 9; I. 4. Wadi Tumbaq, EA-6, niveau 4, Syria. After Abbès 2014: fig. 8.2; I. 5. Dja’de, Syria. Schematic redrawing after Coqueugniot 2014: fig. 7; IIa 2. ‘Abr 3. After Yartah 2005, fig. 8.2; IIb 1. Göbekli Tepe, Turkey. Modified after Schmidt 2006, fig. 76; IIb 2. Çayönü, BM1, Turkey. Modified after Schirmer 1990, fig. 11; IIb 3–III 1. Nevalı Çori, Turkey. After Hauptmann 1999, fig. 9); III 2. Göbekli Tepe, Lion-Pillar-Building. Modified after Schmidt 2006, fig. 76; III 3. Çayönü, Flagstone Building, Turkey. Modified after Schirmer 1990, fig. 11.
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Some of the earliest special or (as they have been termed by Danielle Stordeur) communal buildings were excavated at Mureybet15 and Jericho16 in the 1950s and 1960s. The tower and wall of Jericho remain unique in the southern Levant. The same holds true for the large oval placa or building (for the moment it is not clear whether or not the 22 m × 19 m oval structure was covered by a roof) found recently at Wadi Faynan.17 However, the round compartment building of Mureybet is duplicated by two other, nearly identical, round compartment buildings at Jerf el-Ahmar, just about 40 kilometres north of Mureybet; 18 and two exemplars at Wadi Tumbaq 3, in the Bal’as Mountains in central Syria.19 They all have diameters of roughly 6–7.40 m and include several smaller chambers assumed to have been used for storage, though they are almost devoid of material (which makes this interpretation problematic). At Jerf el-Ahmar other special buildings have been excavated, and the chronological sequence shows a development from compartment buildings to buildings with one very large room (Fig. 3).20 The special round building of Dja’de 21 about 20 km north of Jerf el-Ahmar represents a transitional type. Its compartments are separated by impressively painted buttresses but no walls. Buildings of the second type of the more recent transitional phase from the PPNA to the PPNB were found in ‘Abr 3, about 45 kilometres upstream on the Euphrates.22
Stordeur and Ibañez, ‘Stratigraphie et répartition des architectures à Mureybet’, pp. 33–95. 16 Ronen and Adler, ‘The Walls of Jericho Were Magical’, pp. 97–103. 17 Finlayson and others, ‘Architecture, Sedentism, and Social Complexity at Pre-Pottery Neolithic A WF16, Southern Jordan’, p. 2. 18 Stordeur and others, ‘Les bâtiments communautaires de Jerf el-Ahmar et Mureybet’, pp. 29–44. 19 Abbès, ‘Bal’as: un autre scénario de la néolithisation du Proche-Orient’, pp. 17–20, fig. 8. 20 Stordeur, ‘Symboles et imaginaire des premières cultures néolithiques du Proche-Orient (Haute et Moyenne Vallée de l’Euphrate)’, pp. 15–37, fig. 2. 21 Coqueugniot, ‘Dja’de (Syrie) et les représentations symboliques au IXe millénaire cal. BC’, pp. 97–101, fig. 7. 22 Yartah, ‘Les bâtiments communautaires de Tell ‘Abr 3 (PPN A, Syrie)’, pp. 3–9. 15
Fig. 3 Development of communal buildings in relation to domestic architecture, Jerf el-Ahmar, Syria. PPNA. Modified after Stordeur 2003, fig. 2.
Further east, near the modern town of Şanliurfa, the monumental hill-top constructions of Göbekli Tepe,23 to which we will refer later, give important clues for our analysis. On typological grounds the special buildings of Nevalı Çori, despite their rectangular shape, can be seen as the successors of Göbekli Tepe.24 The oldest phase of the ‘Skull Building’ at Çayönü resembles the round construction of Göbekli, although instead of the large stone pillars, buttresses subdivide the wall. The ‘Flagstone Building’ is similar to the later ‘Lion-Pillar’ Building of Göbekli and the communal building of Nevalı Çori.25 Most of these special buildings have in common that they lay on the edge of their settlement. There may have been some space between these structures and the normal dwellings, but the distance was not great. The only exception so far seems to be the early phase of Göbekli Tepe. Its dominating position on a hilltop without access to water makes it a rather exceptional site, seemingly a territorial symbol of power and/or spiritual authority. But already during the later phase the Lion-Pillar Building – which is similar to the large round construction, but square and smaller – is surrounded by many smaller buildings. Interpretation 23 24 25
Schmidt, Sie bauten die ersten Tempel. Hauptmann, ‘Nevalı Çori’, pp. 99–110. Özdoğan, ‘Çayönü’, pp. 35–63 (esp. pp. 41–54).
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of these smaller buildings has to await the final publication, but they might have been normal dwellings. It has been proven that in Jerf el-Ahmar the communal buildings outlasted the other structures and were still round when other structures became rectangular. This means that there was a fixed plan, a regional building tradition, reserved for this kind of building.26 Access to these buildings could easily have been controlled and restricted to a limited number of people. Their interiors must have been quite dark because most of them were dug into the ground or the flank of a hill. Again, Göbekli Tepe might be an exception, because it is uncertain, whether or not, it was covered. The plan of these buildings was standardized in any given region, but there were differences between regions. Even Göbekli Tepe was not unique: at least five other sites in this region seem to have had architectural elements similar to, though smaller than, its T-shaped pillars.27
Ritual Symbolism The most striking ritual of the early Holocene is skull burial. I will therefore focus my analysis on this specific subject.28 The practice of detaching skulls from the dead and reburying them in groups or singly existed from the Natufian to the PPNB. According to our present information, this burial tradition began in the Levant and spread south to the far southern Levant and north to southeast Anatolia. It was later practised also in central Anatolia, but that region and period is outside the scope of my analysis.29
26 A similar observation for the Upper Tigris region has already been made by Özdoğan, ‘Çayönü’, p. 47. 27 Most of these sites have not been explored archaeologically, except for Nevalı Çori. Thus, it is not clear whether they were located near a village or whether they were isolotated on hill tops, see Güler and others, ‘New Pre-Pottery Neolithic Sites and Cult Centres in the Urfa Region’, pp. 292–97. 28 A detailed description of these burials has been published elsewhere, so it will be sufficient here simply to summarize the main points (Benz, ‘Beyond Death – the Construction of Social Identities at the Transition from Foraging to Farming’, pp. 249–76). 29 Kodas, ‘Contexte Architectural des Crânes Surmodelés’, pp. 13–19.
Fig. 4 Group of plastered skulls associated with the skeleton of a newborn, Aswad, Syria. PPNB. Photo courtesy of the Fouille franco-syrienne de Tell Aswad. Co-directed by Danielle Stordeur and Bassam Jamous. Mission El Kowm-Mureybet du Ministère des Affaires étrangères France. Photo by Laurent Dugué.
During the middle PPNB the old tradition of skull burial was elaborated by the plastering of the skulls (Fig. 4). Plastered skulls have been found exclusively in the Levant and nowhere in upper Mesopotamia. Because of the striking reality of the plastered faces, skull burials have been excavated and recorded in great detail. Thus we know much more about these burials than about normal burial practices. The skulls were separated from the rest of the bodies sometime after interment. Some of them were then painted and/or plastered. Some were also decorated with collagen, to which perishable organic materials probably had been fixed. After a period of display, the skulls were reburied singly 132
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or in caches of two or more. Grouping by age and sex was common, but groups of different sexes and ages are also recorded. Most of the plastered skulls are from young adults. Analyses of ancient a-DNA so far have failed to confirm familial relationships within the skull groups.30 For our analysis the important point is that these skulls were venerated and even after their reburying remained a community focus.31 In some cases an association of skull burials with skeletons of babies or small children has been observed.32 It might be that the reburying of a skull was the occasion for an infant sacrifice; but it seems more plausible that the death of a beloved child was one possible reason for the reburial of the skulls or that the child was placed above these skulls long after in order to demonstrate a relationship. In any case a trans-generational ‘affiliation’ – which could be independent of blood relationship – was intentionally affirmed. This veneration of special persons was a more common practice in the Levant than in upper Mesopotamia, and the plastering of the skulls was a quite conventionalized ritual over the large region from the southern Dead Sea to the Damascus Basin.
Representations of Symbols Finally, I will describe some of the wealth of symbols used during the PPNA and early PPNB. The decorated shaft-straighteners and pebbles from the Levant and the Upper Euphrates provide good examples of the symbolic repertoire. In Upper Mesopotamia they are quite standardized in size and shape (Figs 5–6), but in the Levant none of the published pebbles and shaft straighteners has naturalistic decorations 30 A familial relationship due to an epigenetic morphological skull marker has been suggested by Röhrer-Ertl, Die Neolithische Revolution im Vorderen Orient, p. 244, but the a-DNA is so badly preserved that no systematic analysis could be done (Bonogofsky and Malhi. ‘Sex-based DNA Analysis of 8,500 Year Old “Ancestor” Skulls from the Levant’). 31 Stordeur and Khawam, ‘Les crânes surmodelés de Tell Aswad (PPNB, Syrie). Premier regard sur l’ensemble, premières réflexions’, pp. 5–32. 32 Benz, ‘ “Little Poor Babies” – Creation of History through Death at the Transition from Foraging to Farming’.
Fig. 5 Figurative decoration of shaft-straighteners and pebbles from Upper Mesopotamia. PPNA-EPPNB. All items are reproduced at the same scale. 1. ‘Abr 3. After Yartah 2004, fig. 18.3; 2. After Yartah 2005, fig. 7.3; 3. Göbekli Tepe. After Köksal-Schmidt and Schmidt 2007, p. 107; 4.-9. Jerf el-Ahmar. After Akkermans and Schwartz 2003, fig. 3.18.
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Fig. 6 Decorated pebbles and shaft-straighteners, Tell Q aramel, Syria. PPNA. All items are reproduced at the same scale. 1.–2. After Mazurowski and Yartah 2001, fig. 11; 3.–4. After Mazurowski 2004, fig. 10; 5.–6. After Mazurowski and Yartah 2001, figs 10.630, 10.636; 7. After Mazurowski 2003, fig. 12; 8. After Mazurowski and Yartah 2001, fig. 10.638; 9. After Mazurowski 2002, p. 328.
but only geometric patterns (Fig. 7); 33 however, naturalistic images on pebbles and shaft straighteners from the Middle and Upper Euphrates-Tigris region are very common. As I will show, the latter are based on a collective repertoire common from the Middle Euphrates to South-Eastern Anatolia. 33 Some decorations interpreted as representations of faces might instead be parts of geometric patterns (Noy, ‘Art and Decoration of the Natufian at Nahal Oren’, pp. 557–68, esp. p. 563, fig. 4.5). Pebbles decorated with geometric shapes have also been found in Upper Mesopotamia, e.g. at Mureybet, Çayönü, Cafer Höyük, and Tell Q aramel (Cauvin, ‘Le Néolithique de Cafer Höyük’, pp. 123–33, fig. 2; Cauvin and others, ‘The Pre-Pottery Site of Cafer Höyük’, pp. 114, fig. 32; Akkermans and Schwartz, The Archaeology of Syria, fig. 18.3; Mazurowski, ‘Tell Q aramel Excavations, 2003’, pp. 355–70, fig. 11). Some of the pebbles with figurative decorations from Tell Q aramel have been found in a secondary Bronze Age context and are therefore of uncertain date. Except for one, they are not considered in this study (Mazurowski and Jamous, ‘Tell Q aramel. Excavations 2000’, pp. 327–41, esp. pp. 338–41, figs 7–8).
Fig. 7 Geometrically decorated shaft-straighteners and pebbles, the Levant. Natufian to Late PPNB. All items are reproduced at the same scale unless otherwise stated. 1. Netiv Hagdud. After Ofer Bar-Yosef and Avi Gopher 1997, fig. 5.18; 2. Zahrat Adh-Dhra’ 2, limestone. After Edwards and others 2002, fig. 5; 3. Nahal Oren. After Noy 1999, fig. 2.5; 4. Ghuwayr I. After Simmons and Muhammed Najjar 2003, fig. 8; 5.–6. Shkârat Msaied, steatite, objects 51201 and 51304. After Harpelund 2011, drawing 16; 7.–8. Basta, steatite. After Gebel and others 2004, figs 14.4, 14.6; 9.–10. Ramad R 66.131, basalt, R 65.252, limestone. After Contenson 2000, figs 89.1, 92.4; 11. Aswad Ad 71.115, limestone. After Conentson 1995, fig. 111.
The Variety of Threatening Animals and Abstract Symbols During the PPNA snakes become a ubiquitous symbol represented on a variety of media, including pebbles at Jerf el-Ahmar, Tell ‘Abr 3, and Tell Q aramel and stone vessels at Körtik Tepe.34 They are shown crawling up the pillars of Göbekli and Karahan Tepe, on a totem pole of Göbekli,35 and on the back of the Stordeur, ‘Symboles et imaginaire des premières cultures néolithiques du Proche-Orient (Haute et Moyenne Vallée de l’Euphrate), p. 28; Mazurowski and Yartah, ‘Tell Q aramel. Excavations, 2001’, pp. 295–307, esp. p. 305; Özkaya, ‘Excavations at Körtik Tepe. A New Pre-Pottery Neolithic A Site in Southeastern Anatolia’, pp. 3–8, fig. 8; Coşkun and others, ‘Living by the Water – Boon and Bane for the People of Körtik Tepe’, pp. 59–71. 35 Schmidt, Sie bauten die ersten Tempel, p. 91, p. 96; Köksal-Schmidt and 34
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Fig. 8 Nevalı Çori, southeastern Turkey, Head with snake; limestone. Şanlıurfa Müzesi. Early to Middle PPNB. Photo courtesy of Euphrat-Archiv, Berlin-Heidelberg.
head of a near-human-size figure at Nevalı Çori (Fig. 8).36 Vultures, lions/panthers, foxes, and scorpions belong to this animal repertoire as well, and are again represented on a variety of media.37 Less common but present are aurochs (mostly in the very abstract form of the bucranium), sheep, and goat/gazelle/ibex. Schmidt, ‘The Göbekli Tepe “Totem Pole”. A First Discussion of an Autumn 2010 Discovery (PPN, Southeastern Turkey)’, pp. 74–76, esp. pp. 74–75. 36 Hauptmann, ‘The Urfa Region’, pp. 65–86, esp. p. 75, fig. 10. 37 For a possible interpretation of this figurative repertoire, see Benz and Bauer, ‘On Scorpions, Birds, and Snakes – Evidence for Shamanism in Northern Mesopotamia during the Early Holocene’, pp. 1–15.
A circular, ‘sun-like’ sign is common too, appearing on pebbles at Tell Q aramel west of the Euphrates, on two large stone slabs at Tell ‘Abr 3 on the Euphrates,38 and on stone vessels at Körtik Tepe39 (Fig. 9). It should not be automatically assumed to be a solar or lunar sign: it might also represent something like a settlement or a waterhole (and thus perhaps be a symbol for life) with paths leading to it.
Fig. 9 ‘Sun-like’ symbols on different media. Early to late PPNA. 1. ‘Abr 3. After Yartah 2004, fig. 14.1; 2. Tell Q aramel. After Mazurowski and Jamous 2000, fig. 7; 3. Körtik Tepe. After Coşkun and others 2010, fig. 2a.
Thus, there is a shared tradition of symbols throughout northern Mesopotamia during the early Holocene. During the Epipalaeolithic, naturalistic representations had been rare, small,
38 Yartah, ‘Tell ‘Abr 3, un village du néolithique précéramique (PPNA) sur le Moyen Euphrate. Première approche’, pp. 141–58, fig. 14. 39 Coşkun and others, ‘Living by the Water – Boon and Bane for the People of Körtik Tepe’, fig. 2.
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individualistic, and almost exclusively of animals.40 But in the early Holocene a great variety of representations/of symbols appears, displayed on everything from very tiny scrapings to very large, labour-intensive, stone reliefs. Some of the stone reliefs of Göbekli Tepe and Jerf el-Ahmar are exceptional.41 They are carved in such a three-dimensional way that they seem to come out of the pillar, thus enhancing their presence and dominance of the space created around them. The panther or lion crawling downwards on Pillar P27 of Göbekli Tepe is lurking, its head sunken between the shoulders, baring its teeth as if about to jump on its victim (Fig. 10). The degree of abstraction is highly variable: some of the snakes are depicted with heads, eyes, and a forked tongue or ‘antennae’; 42 others are simply a zig-zag line with a stylized triangle for the head. The position of some zig-zags within a standardized combination of signs on stone vessels from Körtik Tepe implies that they, too, represent snakes (Fig. 9.2). Some abstract symbols are used at some sites so frequently that they have been suggested to represent the first ‘hieroglyphs’.43 Most animals are either represented in a threatening attitude, such as the boars and the lions/panthers of Göbekli Tepe, or they are intrinsically dangerous creatures like scorpions or snakes.44 This makes a strong contrast to the Epipalaeolithic figurines, which represent mostly game animals. Finally, I will consider the representations of humans. A small clay female figurine from Mureybet suggested to Cauvin the ‘birth of the gods’ before the advent of the Neolithic. There are
Cauvin, Naissance des Divinités – Naissance de l’Agriculture, p. 38; Noy, ‘Art and Decoration of the Natufian at Nahal Oren’, pp. 564–67. 41 Schmidt, Sie bauten die ersten Tempel, figs 25–26, fig. 86; Hauptmann, ‘Urfa Region’, figs 27, 29, 31; Schmidt, ‘Animals and a Headless Man at Göbekli Tepe’, pp. 38–40, figs 1a–1b; Stordeur, ‘Symboles et imaginaire des premières cultures néolithiques du Proche-Orient (Haute et Moyenne Vallée de l’Euphrate)’, fig. 7.3. 42 Stordeur, ‘Symboles et imaginaire des premières cultures néolithiques du Proche-Orient (Haute et Moyenne Vallée de l’Euphrate)’, p. 28. 43 Schmidt, Sie bauten die ersten Tempel, pp. 221–26. 44 Stordeur, ‘Symboles et imaginaire des premières cultures néolithiques du Proche-Orient (Haute et Moyenne Vallée de l’Euphrate)’, pp. 22–30; Schmidt, Sie bauten die ersten Tempel, p. 235. 40
Fig. 10 Relief of a lion or panther, in a crouching position on pillar P27, Göbekli Tepe, southeastern Turkey. Late PPNA/Early PPNB. Photo courtesy of the German Archaeological Institute, Nico Becker.
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other, approximately contemporary, figurines from elsewhere in the Levant, but their sex is not always clear and some of them were probably male.45 Although it is not obvious whether these human figures represent gods or simply powerful persons, Cauvin is correct that there was an increase in human representation. Some human figures were made already during the early phases of Göbekli Tepe: a headless human depicted on a stone pillar is possibly a symbol of death, and a 1.90 m-high totem pole of stone shows at least two humans threatened by either a predator (feline or bear) or a human dressed in a cape of fur with the head of such a predator – variations on the threatening-animal theme depicted elsewhere at the site.46 At Jerf el-Ahmar a headless human corpse is carried by a bird with a large beak, probably a vulture.47 Some – if not all – of the pillars also depict humans or humanoid creatures (supernatural beings?).48 The pillars with arms, fingers, and sometimes a scarf are called the ‘Nevalı Çori type’ because they were first discovered at that site. From the initial phase at Göbekli Tepe three pillars exist of this type, all of them in Round C, and two of them at its centre. These pillars are surrounded by an army of dangerous animals. From the later phase, at least 9 of 53 pillars have arms; and many fragments of other pillars with arms were found, though not in situ.49 In addition many small figurines as well as miniature pillars have been found. During the PPNB at Nevalı Çori, the size of the representations of humans increase to near-human size, but many small human figurines also exist.50 At Göbekli Tepe a 30 cm tall woman, probably giving birth, was scratched into one of the stone 45 Benz, Die Neolithisierung im Vorderen Orient. Theorien, archäologische Daten und ein ethnologisches Modell, pp. 90–96. 46 Schmidt, ‘Animals and a Headless Man at Göbekli Tepe’, pp. 39–40; Köksal-Schmidt and Schmidt, ‘The Göbekli Tepe “Totem Pole”. A First Discussion of an Autumn 2010 Discovery (PPN, Southeastern Turkey)’, pp. 74–75. 47 Stordeur, ‘Symboles et imaginaire des premières cultures néolithiques du Proche-Orient (Haute et Moyenne Vallée de l’Euphrate)’, p. 30. 48 Morenz and Schmidt, ‘Große Reliefpfeiler und kleine Zeichentäfelchen – Ein frühneolithisches Zeichensystem in Obermesopotamien’, pp. 13–31. 49 Schmidt (personal communication). 50 Hauptmann, ‘Urfa Region’, pp. 75–76, figs 10–19; Morsch, ‘Magic Figurines? Some Remarks About the Clay Objects of Nevalı Çori’, pp. 149–58.
slabs of a bank in the Lion-Pillar Building.51 A near-human-size figure of a man was found many years ago in the centre of Urfa.52 It is similar to the discoveries at Nevalı Çori and Göbekli Tepe and may therefore be dated to the early Neolithic, too. Summing up, there is throughout the area a common repertoire of symbols, with some local variations. For example, many birds are represented at Göbekli Tepe, while deer and some images that might be larvae are unique to Körtik Tepe.53 Every site has its own style, but within each style there seem to have existed firm rules of design. Köksal-Schmidt and Schmidt remark regarding Göbekli Tepe ‘[…], so gibt es doch viele Wiederholungen, die in ihrer Gleichartigkeit wie einem Musterbuch entnommen oder wie nach Schablone gearbeitet erscheinen.’54 ‘[…] there are many repetitions, which in their similarity seem to have been taken from a pattern book or drawn from a stencil.’
In contrast to the Epipalaeolithic ones, Neolithic symbols are integrated into compositions that are perhaps whole narratives. The high degree of abstraction of some signs underlines the existence of conventions for their interpretation and hints at a network of collective cultural memory. It is striking that in the Levant geometric patterns dominate the iconographic repertoire, whereas in Upper Mesopotamia a great variety of naturalistic figures appears. Especially relevant for our purposes is the fact that the mediality of these symbols changes from perishable materials to stone and clay, and in size from small to monumental, thus increasing both temporal durability and spatial extent. This holds true not only for the special buildings and the symbolic engravings and reliefs in stone, but also for the secondary skull burials, which should possibly link 51
Schmidt, Sie bauten die ersten Tempel, pp. 238–39. Schmidt, Sie bauten die ersten Tempel, p. 199, pp. 201–03. 53 Özkaya and San, ‘Körtik Tepe: Bulgular Işığında Külturel Doku Üzerine Ilk Gözlemler’, pp. 21–36, fig. 19. 54 Köksal-Schmidt and Schmidt, ‘Perlen, Steingefäße, Zeichentäfelchen – Handwerkliche Spezialisierung und steinzeitliches Symbolsystem’, pp. 97–109, esp. p. 97. 52
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generations and thus create a sense of personal relationship over an extended time. Labour investment in the creation of collective symbols increased dramatically in the Near East, during the early Holocene and, at least in the case of the monumental buildings of Göbekli Tepe, community effort became necessary. The emotional effects of the figurative representations clearly show that the increase of human representations was only a second step. At first, during the early Holocene, the representations of animals became threatening and dangerous. Men were surrounded by animals. It has also been shown that personal relations probably played a more important role in the Levant than in Upper Mesopotamia, where territorial commitment was demonstrated by large cult centres like Göbekli, Karahan, Hamzan, and Sefer Tepe.55 Only in a second step humans emancipated themselves from their natural environment.
Discussion Two fundamental changes can be observed in the symbolic material remains of the early Holocene: The first is a change in mediality, especially regarding the materials used in buildings, burials, and figurative representations. Whereas mobile hunter-gatherers had probably used natural sacred places, now buildings for ritual or political assemblies were planned and built of stone and clay. The buildings were placed either at the edge of the village, or on an eminence, as Göbekli Tepe. Access to the new communal buildings could be controlled or restricted. Thus, they became a symbol of the power of a circumscribed group. Membership of this group may have been defined by territorial, familial, or other criteria, which are difficult to determine without any written sources.56 Once the architecture had been fixed it fostered conventionalized behaviour by those who wanted to belong to the 55 Benz, ‘Beyond Death – the Construction of Social Identities at the Transition from Foraging to Farming’, pp. 262–70. 56 Alt and others, ‘Earliest Evidence for Social Endogamy in the 9,000-YearOld-Population of Basta, Jordan’.
community and practice its rituals.57 Every ritual follows a conventionalized choreography, yet, changes are easier in contexts without fixed space because built space reduces flexibility.58 Similarly, burial rituals have a fixed sequence of behaviour, material equipment, and investments in the burial itself. The burial rituals of the PPNA were deeply rooted in the traditions of the Epipalaeolithic, but during the Pre-Pottery Neolithic there was an increase in secondary collective burials (e.g. in Abu Hureyra 59) and in detached skulls reburied in groups. This trend culminated during the middle PPNB in the displaying and reburial of single or groups of plastered skulls.60 Thus, the reburial of skulls was nothing new; but the plastering attempted to preserve the social status quo beyond death. The exhibition of skulls probably aimed at a communal veneration. This veneration of selected individuals, the ritualized treatment of the plastered skulls, and the communal efforts to perpetrate the special status of these individuals even after death also hint at the existence of at least some authorities. Thus in the Levant, collective memory was not guided by collectively fixed symbols but by relations among people. This does not necessarily mean that the plastered skulls were intended to perpetuate the memory of specific individuals; the purpose might also have been to exalt the memory of an anonymous collective of ancestors. And even after reburying, there seems to have been intentional efforts to perpetuate memory.61 For example, on the PPNB site of Tell Aswad Danielle Stordeur and her colleagues proved that the place where the skulls were reburied must 57
I will not argue that architecture imposes a certain kind of behaviour. As the change of use of many churches proves, form does not entirely dictate content: churches may become music halls or museums, even if nothing is changed on their facade. However, their architecture favours large assemblies, access to the building can be controlled, and, if the architecture is closed, people can be excluded from participating in – and even from watching – the rituals. On the other hand, a structure of small rooms, which cannot be used for communal rituals will never become a temple or a town hall. 58 Watkins, ‘Architecture as “Theatres of Memory” in the Neolithic of Southwest Asia’, pp. 97–106. 59 Molleson, ‘The People of Abu Hureyra’, pp. 301–24. 60 Benz, ‘Beyond Death – the Construction of Social Identities at the Transition from Foraging to Farming’. 61 See Kuijt, ‘The Regeneration of Life. Neolithic Structure of Symbolic Remembering and Forgetting’, pp. 171–97.
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have been visible as a small elevation, and some later inhumations were clearly positioned in relation to the skulls.62 At other sites, e.g. Ramad and Jericho, the skulls were often reburied in relation to architectural features, which were probably visible.63 Some of the isolated skulls were reburied inside the houses, others were reburied in open, probably public, spaces. Also, the time invested in burial practices and permanence was increased by the plastering of the skulls. At only a few sites of the Middle and Upper Euphrates-Tigris – such as Körtik Tepe,64 Halula,65 Dja’de,66 Abu Hureyra,67 Nevalı उori,68 and उayönü 69 – a sufficient number of burials have been excavated to conduct a reliable analysis of burial traditions in that region, and most of these sites await a detailed, final publication of their burials. For the moment, we can only notice that although the tradition of skull burials existed there too, a regionwide tradition of skull-plastering did not.70 And in contrast to the Levant, every site had its own particular burial traditions. An interesting trend can be observed in the Euphrates-Tigris region concerning the mediality of the figurative representations. Besides painted pictures, which probably existed long before the Neolithic, during the a-ceramic Neolithic, many representations are worked in stone, either incised or in high relief. In contrast Stordeur and Khawam, ‘Les crânes surmodelés de Tell Aswad (PPNB, Syrie). Premier regard sur l’ensemble, premières réflexions’, pp. 5–32. 63 Benz, ‘Beyond Death – the Construction of Social Identities at the Transition from Foraging to Farming’, pp. 254–61, p. 265. It should be noted that many skull burials were excavated in the 1950s to 1980s, without clear descriptions of the surrounding deposits. Thus, a more precise documentation of the context might prove, that the observations made at Tell Aswad are the rule rather than the exception. 64 Özkaya, ‘Excavations at Körtik Tepe. A New Pre-Pottery Neolithic A Site in Southeastern Anatolia’, p. 5. 65 Guerrero and others, ‘Seated Memory’, pp. 379–91. 66 Coqueugniot, ‘Dja’de el Mughara (Ja’det al-Moghara)’, pp. 65–70. 67 Molleson, ‘The people of Abu Hureyra’, pp. 301–24. 68 Hauptmann, ‘Urfa Region’, pp. 70–74. 69 Özdoğan, ‘Çayönü’, pp. 35–63. 70 This does not mean that the methods of plastering were identical everywhere in the Levant (Goren and others, ‘The Technology of Skull Modelling in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB)’, pp. 671–90), but simply that the ritual of skull-plastering was a common practice in the region from the southern Dead Sea region to Damascus Basin. 62
to paintings, which can be simply painted over, it is difficult to erase a relief. Klaus Schmidt observed a small number of alterations and erasures on the pillars of Göbekli Tepe,71 but in most cases carved stones in ritual places were made for ‘eternity’. Changes could be made only through deliberate destruction, as happened to many of the communal buildings, or abandonment.72 Collective memory was thus fixed in stone and could be erased only by intentional, time-consuming, effort. The past became a created medium actively influencing the present and the future, unless it was intentionally erased or destroyed. Yet to do so demanded a high degree of self-confidence: fixing symbolic traditions in stone fosters conservative thinking by making change difficult. This establishment of a fixed repertoire of symbols on stone had important effects on the behaviour of the people. In the same manner that architecture influences the perception of a landscape and the behaviour of people, a fixed collective symbolic repertoire influences the behaviour and the memory of people. The fixing of symbolism on stone and the plastering of the dead restricted the flexible and reflexive use of symbolic actions and dictated more ritualized and standardized social interactions.73 Recent neurobiological studies show that memory can be guided and even falsified by representations of collectively accepted memory.74 This means that by collective repetition and public demonstration of some distinctive symbols and topics, the perception and the focus of people can be influenced and channelled in certain directions. Control over the representation of symbols is thus one of the most important means of creating corporate identity. 71 Schmidt, Sie bauten die ersten Tempel, p. 125, p. 141, p. 184; Morenz and Schmidt, ‘Große Reliefpfeiler und kleine Zeichentäfelchen – Ein frühneolithisches Zeichensystem in Obermesopotamien’, p. 22. 72 Özdoğan, ‘Çayönü’, p. 47, p. 52; Yartah, ‘Tell ‘Abr 3, un village du néolithique précéramique (PPNA) sur le Moyen Euphrate. Première approche’, p. 142; Rollefson, ‘Ritual and Social Structure at Neolithic ’Ain Ghazal’, pp. 165–90, esp. p. 179. 73 Interestingly, this trend is also mirrowed in other accessories: the use of semi-precious stones for jewellery increased and other stone objects were recylced for jewellry; see Alarashi, ‘Epipalaeolithic and Neolithic Personal Adornments from Syria (12th–7th Millennium BC)’, pp. 46–47. 74 Edelson and others, ‘Following the Crowd’, pp. 108–11.
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But this is only one aspect of the observed change in mediality. As has been shown above, the same symbols or signs were represented on very different media: large stone pillars, stone vessels and plates, and even small bone amulets. The presence of the same motives on several media and in many different places not only increased their influence on the collective memory, but also implied a large communicative network and a fixed basic common sense. The high degree of abstraction of some symbols underlines this. Within this network every group developed its own unique figures. A third aspect concerning the new mediality should not be forgotten: investment of time and work. Not only was permanence increased but also the investment of time and work in symbolic behaviour. This was especially true for the large stone pillars of Göbekli Tepe; but the plastered skulls and the elaborate decorated stone vessels of the Upper Euphrates-Tigris region were also labour-intensive objects. Investment in something enhances one’s relationship to it; and if this work is done collectively, it also enhances collective relationships and memory. Collective activities in common symbolism enhance collective cultural memory.75
Power and Fear – Emotional Aspects The second change concerns the emotions evoked by the representations. Most of the animals depicted at ‘PPNA-’sites in the Middle and Upper Euphrates-Tigris region are frightening and display power, especially male power, with sharp teeth, wide opened mouths, erect penises, or aggressive poses. Some of them, such as scorpions and snakes, are intrinsically lethal. Details of interpretation of such animals can differ from one culture to another: snakes, for example, were sometimes associated with reincarnation or with the cycle of death and life.76 But in general, these creatures are always viewed as dangerous, threatening aniThe importance of symbols for the collective memory has already been emphasized by Maurice Halbwachs, see Wetzel, Maurice Halbwachs, pp. 76–77. 76 Bader, ‘Was ist eigentlich ein Symbol?’, pp. 18–19. 75
mals, especially if one thinks about the ‘highly venomous vipers from the Urfa region’.77 Whereas in the Palaeolithic, wild animals for hunting and pregnant/well-fed women (perhaps originally symbols of fertility and reproduction) were pictured, in the Holocene we see, besides carnivores and hunted wild animals such as boars, small animals like snakes, spiders, or scorpions – all bound to the ground. These animals did not appear in the repertoire of Palaeolithic huntergatherers but are nearly ubiquitous in the early Holocene cultures of the Euphrates and Tigris region. Even if these representations were actually not frightening (anymore), there may have been emotional reactions because once in human history such encounters, e.g. with a poisonous snake, were frightening.78 Even the mere picture of a lion rearing up with wide-open jaws can create a sense of respect or a certain amount of fear. By contrast, the presence of a lion cub, with its round eyes and small mouth, causes in most people a warm sense of affection. None of these figurative themes has been found so far in the symbolic repertoire of the PPNA communities in the Levant. Figurative representations there are mostly restricted to three-dimensional clay, plaster, or stone figurines. This is of importance when it comes to the different ways in which corporate identity and collective memory were created in the Euphrates-Tigris region and in the Levant – a topic I have discussed elsewhere.79
The Process of Sedentarization as Seen from the Perspectives of Neurobiology and Social Science The advent of the Holocene is characterized by a concentration of sites, especially near permanent water sources, and an increase
77 Peters and Schmidt, ‘Animals in the Symbolic World of Pre-Pottery Neolithic Göbekli Tepe, South-eastern Turkey’, pp. 179–204, esp. p. 183. 78 Andreas Mühlberger cited in Kraft, ‘Der Angst auf den Fersen’, pp. 33–38, esp. p. 34. 79 Benz, ‘Beyond Death – the Construction of Social Identities at the Transition from Foraging to Farming’.
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in average site size.80 In these villages communal structures were very common,81 and at the same time the mediality and emotional content of the symbols changed. Fear, power, and permanence are expressed in the symbolic repertoire of the early Holocene in the Euphrates and Tigris region. From a psychological point of view, the changes in mediality and emotional commitment at the beginning of the Holocene are striking. In the following I will interpret these changes in the light of recent research in the social sciences and neurobiology. Both the fear of relative deprivation and its actual condition are two motors of our motivations and behaviour.82 Whether or not we experience actual social or material deprivation, if our situation is at odds with our expectations, we normally try to change it. Therefore, what matters is not the actual situation, but our perception of it. Expectations are created by personal experience, by past events, or by comparison with the situation of others. Consider, for example, a wealthy person born into a rich family and educated in an exclusive prep school. For such an individual, wealth is ‘normal’ and if he would lose it he would feel hardship and he might be afraid of being excluded from his peer-group. Presumably he will do all he can to avoid this. By contrast, an individual who never had true wealth would probably not feel deprived unless brought into close social contact with wealthy people. It would then depend on the social system whether or not this relatively poor individual would be shunned by his new associates or socially accepted and treated with respect. Hardly less important than material deprivation is social deprivation. By constitution, humans are not able to live without the cooperation of other people. Many studies show that social deprivation has fundamental biological and social consequences for our lives, from the first glimpse of light (probably even before Benz, Die Neolithisierung im Vorderen Orient, pp. 68–69. Finlayson and others, ‘Architecture, Sedentism, and Social Complexity at Pre-Pottery Neolithic A WF16, Southern Jordan’; Yartah, ‘Les bâtiments communautaires de Tell ‘Abr 3 (PPN A, Syrie)’; Stordeur and others, ‘Les bâtiments communautaires de Jerf el Ahmar et Mureybet, Horizon PPNA. Syrie’; Schmidt, Sie bauten die ersten Tempel. 82 Giddens, Sociology, p. 628. 80
birth) until the days before death. Babies lacking someone upon whom they can rely will have difficulties forming long-lasting social relationships later in life. This is not only a psychological effect but it changes the physiology of our brain.83 It is well known, that people who experience social deprivation, who are being bullied, or excluded from their peer groups, will react with fear or aggressiveness. A loss of confidence, for example because of increased anonymity or misbehaviour, leads to a decrease in our capacity for empathy. The physiological effects are very illuminating: confidence promotes the flow of oxytocin, a hormone that enhances the capability for empathy, whereas distrust inhibits the flow of oxytocin and increases the flow of testosterone, which is well-known for enhancing the level of aggression.84 If we properly understand the social consequences of sedentarization and increased population density (Fig. 11), we may be able to interpret the symbols in a more fundamental way. Immediate, probably unintended, consequences of sedentarization may (inner grey ring) include: 1. An increase in illnesses, and the rise of new illnesses resulting from the increase in population density. This would have increased the fear of the unknown, since the real cause of illnesses was unknown 2. Anonymity would have increased because of the increase in population and settlement area. In consequence, fear of social isolation, and aggressive behaviour due to depersonalisation might have increased 85 83
Bauer, Prinzip Menschlichkeit. Warum wir von Natur aus kooperieren. Although several studies demonstrate that the administration of oxytocin enhances abilities in affective ‘mindreading’ in both sexes, sexual dimorphism in reactions to social stimuli have to be expected. Whereas an attenuating effect of oxytocin on the amygdala activity has been observed for men, further research is needed to determine the reactions of women, who seem to react with an increased amygdala activity when presented with fearful faces (Domes and others, ‘Oxytocin Improves “Mind-Reading” in Humans’, pp. 731–33; Domes and others, ‘Effects of Intranasal Oxytocin on Emotional Face Processing in Women’, pp. 83–93, esp. p. 84, pp. 92–93; Bauer, Schmerzgrenze. Vom Ursprung alltäglicher und globaler Gewalt, p. 188). 85 Bauer, Schmerzgrenze. Vom Ursprung alltäglicher und globaler Gewalt, p. 176, pp. 187–88. 84
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Fig. 11 Possible social and mental consequences of increased sedentarism. Drawing by the author.
3. A reduction in birth spacing within sedentary hunter-gatherer societies has been observed in ethnography.86 If this was also the case for prehistoric hunter-gatherers who became sedentary, it may have resulted in a decrease of the intensity and duration of infant care.87 If babies cannot establish a confidential relationship to other persons, a decrease in neurological capacities to establish permanent social relations may be the consequence.88 This may have led to an increase of anxious,
Benz, Die Neolithisierung im Vorderen Orient, pp. 111–14. This effect does not depend on the total number of children in families, it depends on the number of children delivered within a short period of time, and it may also occur with an increased workload of the adults responsible for infant care. For example, a social organisation of extended families may have absorbed this effect. 88 Bauer, Prinzip Menschlichkeit. Warum wir von Natur aus kooperieren, pp. 36–37, p. 80. 87
aggressive, and impulsive behaviour.89 The consequence would be an increase in fissional tendencies and an increase in the number of people searching for social acceptance: such people are vulnerable to religious and political manipulation90 4. Misconduct against the local mores became easier as social control decreased in larger groups91 These basic changes may have led to important social challenges with interdependent emotional reactions: 1. Sharing, which is a basic, culturally trained behaviour in small mobile groups of hunter-gatherers,92 was no longer possible with everybody, and was probably restricted to a smaller group within larger communities.93 The decrease of social control and the increase of anonymity made it easier to cheat. The social networks/risk management was threatened, hence the fear of social deprivation and material deprivation increased for some persons/groups living in less favourable conditions 2. The ability of sedentary hunter-gatherers to store goods resulted in the decline of the moral of sharing and made it possible to establish social inequality permanently. Yet, when material inequality is allowed to develop independent of personal merit, this inequality will be experienced as unfair. Humans have an innate sense of justice. If this sense is not satisfied, feelings of aggression will arise. The process of commodification 94 – the assignment of values not only to material goods, but also to services, landscapes, etc. by convention – increased this trend. Both, the sense of injus-
89 Bauer, Schmerzgrenze. Vom Ursprung alltäglicher und globaler Gewalt, p. 86, pp. 119–20. 90 Krohne, Psychologie der Angst. Ein Lehrbuch, p. 366. 91 Benz, Die Neolithisierung im Vorderen Orient, pp, 127–28. 92 Property and Equality – Ritualisation, Sharing, Egalitarianism, ed. by Widlok and Tadesse; Guenther, ‘Sharing among the San, Today, Yesterday, and in the Past’, pp. 105–36. 93 Benz, ‘The Principle of Sharing – An Introduction’, pp. 1–18. 94 Gebel, ‘Commodification and the Formation of Early Neolithic Social Identity. The Issues as Seen from the Southern Jordanian Highlands’, pp. 44–45.
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tice and the denial of certain commodities, probably resulted in increased aggression 3. Confidence decreased, with behavioural and biological consequences,95 and the fear of the ‘other’ increased 96 Fear, aggression, and a sense of deprivation would have made the new system unbearable for those living under it, unless new morals and social systems absorbed the aggressiveness. It should be emphasized that the above listed consequences are hypothetical considerations, not established facts. Every effect may have been counteracted by new social and moral rules.97 But even if traditional moral and social systems, like the ‘principle of sharing’, would still have survived increased population density and increased territorial commitment would probably have led to conflicts, frustration, as well as other, major social problems. However, the material remains suggest that the use of a conventionalized repertoire of symbols and ritual practices helped ameliorate the social stress resulting from an increased population density.
Making the Invisible Visible How does all this relate to the increased use of symbols, the increase in fear-evoking images, and the establishment of a common symbolic repertoire during the early Holocene? 1. A general feeling of fear and uncertainty because of the loss of social relations might be the reason for the increase of threatening animals in the symbolic repertoire. As elaborated elsewhere, the transition from a weak to a strong commitment to a place was not possible without the reduction of the principle of sharing to include only a small, circumscribed group.98 This meant the loss of secure social bonds and material equality 95
Bauer, Schmerzgrenze. Vom Ursprung alltäglicher und globaler Gewalt,
Lacan cited in Widmer, ‘Angst und Furcht’, pp. 18–22. For evidence of conflict mitigation in early Neolithic communities, see Gebel, ‘Conflict and Conflict Mitigation in Early Near Eastern Sedentism. Reflections’, pp. 32–35, esp. p. 34. 98 Benz, Die Neolithisierung im Vorderen Orient, pp. 122–32. 96 97
for some people. The threatening attitude of some depicted animals, like e.g. the boars, might be explained by the damage they can cause in the fields or to the herds of incipient farmers. In the same vein, the representations of snakes and scorpions might be explained by a changed focus of former hunter-gatherers to farmers working the earth. Yet, the threatening gestures of many of the animals cannot be explained solely by this. The represented animals – be it their threatening gestures or their death-bringing nature – might be interpreted as symbols for a different type of fear: transfer of fear and guilt is a common psychological phenomenon.99 The darkness in some of the communal buildings may have increased the aggressive and threatening appearance of the animals. Fear not only makes people aggressive, but insecure people look for acceptance and assistance from more dominant people; therefore they will more easily and willingly accept the authority and control of such individuals.100 Maybe the hunters and gatherers of the Early Neolithic tried to liberate themselves from these fears by the depiction of dangerous animals, thus demonstrating their power over them. These representations of threatening animals fit well with the increasingly numerous representations of humans, because in a dangerous situation fearful people concentrate more on themselves and their reactions, as they search for solutions to the problems confronting them.101 On the other hand, powerful agencies might have realized the role of fear in human motivations and intentionally used the threatening animals to create a climate of fear in order to enhance the need felt by the group for the assistance of that person or clique. This scenario seems less probable in a world of huntergatherers and shamans, in which the personal dominance of one person outside his/her personal range and skills is unimaginable. Such political reasoning has only been proven for social systems
Krohne, Psychologie der Angst. Ein Lehrbuch, pp. 200–01. Krohne, Psychologie der Angst. Ein Lehrbuch, pp. 365–67. 101 Krohne, Psychologie der Angst. Ein Lehrbuch, pp. 343–44. 100
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with already established inequalities.102 Nevertheless, it cannot be excluded for early Holocene communities that an ambience of fear was intentionally created for political reasons. Anthony Cohen has noted that the use of symbols, regardless of type, is enhanced if communities perceive a threat to their socio-political or geophysical order in times of fundamental change.103 2. The above mentioned social consequences of increasing site permanence and population density carry a high potential for dissatisfaction and aggression. This aggression and the resulting tendency for social groups to fission can only be avoided through cultural means. Even if deep feelings of aggression arise, our rationality, which is guided by moral and social conventions, can keep us from reacting on the basis of those feelings.104 If new moral and social systems were applied to influence emotional reactions, negative emotions could be at least partly diminished. People in the Neolithic saw themselves challenged by the new living conditions and had to prevent aggressive behaviour. I therefore argue that they had to find new moral and social systems and that the increase of symbols – the search for a common imagery to make communication in larger networks possible and meaningful – can be explained as a first step in creating permanent commitment and in accepting social and material inequalities. Once the symbolic repertoire (architectural, ritual, and figurative) had been fixed, people had to accept these codes in order not to be ostracised from communication and social networks. Watkins attributes the increase of symbols to enhanced cognitive capacities.105 Yet, the flexible social structures of modern hunter-gatherers106 rather suggest that symbolic devices only became necessary when sedentary life was adopted. Only then did
102 103 104
See e.g. Assmann, ‘Altägyptische Ängste’, pp. 59–73, esp. p. 68. Cohen, The Symbolic Construction of Community, pp. 99–109. Bauer, Schmerzgrenze. Vom Ursprung alltäglicher und globaler Gewalt,
Watkins, ‘Changing People, Changing Environments’, pp. 110–11. For example, see Guenther, ‘Sharing among the San, Today, Yesterday, and in the Past’, p. 127. 105 106
it become necessary to find social media for increased mediation and group commitment. I suggest that prehistoric hunter-gatherers in transition to a Neolithic way of life decided to demonstrate their social commitment to others and fix their communal commitment for ‘eternity’ in order to prevent their communities from breaking up. Above all, fear and possibly the exploitation of this fear by some potent individuals, be it shamans, priests or other mediators, became a topic of public discourse. Therefore, it is not important to our understanding of them whether the threatening animals were depicted in order to demonstrate the danger itself or rather the overcoming of the dangers, whether the animals represented (apotropaic) symbols of/against an invisible danger (illness, death, demons), or rather a demonstration of human dominance over these dangerous animals. What is important is that people experienced a collective fear (whether real or not) that had to be overcome collectively. The ethologist Tomasello has pointed out that ‘the best way to motivate people to collaborate and to think like a group is to identify an enemy’107 and we may add that the successful collective victory over such a danger/enemy is an even stronger argument for an increased commitment to a group or even for the acceptance of social hierarchies.
Conclusion Returning to the question of the visible and the invisible, I have argued that we can learn more about the religious and spiritual aspects of prehistoric life if we do not limit ourselves to the content of symbolic behaviour – in which I include constructed, ritual, and representational symbolism – but instead also consider mediality and the emotions evoked by the symbols. Anthropological and neurobiological theories help us interpret and better understand two fundamental changes at the beginning of the Holocene: the change in mediality from a rather flexible use of symbols to a fixed repertoire in stone, plaster and clay; and the change in symbols from emotionally rather neutral (or not 107
Tomasello and others, Why We Cooperate, p. 100.
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openly aggressive) symbols to symbols that represent power and/ or evoke fear. Whether this fear was caused by social instability or was intentionally created or enhanced by self-interested individuals or power-blocs in the community, remains an interesting but academic question. In any case, a powerful individual or more probably a group of individuals108 could have used the socially fragile situation to their own advantage by exploiting the fear of the other group members and their sense of the need for strong leadership respectively.109 In an interdependent process, sedentarization created new morals and social values. In a sedentary community, the potential of aggression was enhanced. Yet, as long as no cooperative workloads were necessary to guarantee survival, spontaneous fission was not problematic. However, with increased social differentiation and/or incipient farming, dependence on other group members increased. Additionally, as population density increases, generalized reciprocity must be limited to a certain group of people. It thus became necessary to create media, which enhanced the corporate identity of a circumscribed group, in order to avoid uncontrolled fissions. Social instability and resulting fears probably favoured the acceptance of some kind of authority. By the creation and expression of a fixed repertoire of symbols, these fears could be made visible and extended from a personal psychological problem to a collective external one. The corporate identity could thus be enhanced above the level of ‘intimate’ or ‘effective cooperation’.110 108 Benz, ‘Beyond Death – the Construction of Social Identities at the Transition from Foraging to Farming’, pp. 269–70; Rollefson, ‘Blood Loss’, pp. 183–202. 109 Krohne, Psychologie der Angst. Ein Lehrbuch, p. 379. 110 Watkins, ‘Changing People, Changing Environments’, p. 111; Krämer, ‘Einige Überlegungen zur “verkörperten” und “reflexiven” Angst’, pp. 25–34, esp. p. 29. There is no need to posit an increase in brain capacity to explain the increase in the use of symbols. The danger of circular reasoning in such an evolutionistic argument is obvious: archaeological data are used for the reconstruction of the development of social capacities of homo sapiens sapiens, and then archaeologists use the hypotheses of neurobiologists to explain the changes in archaeological data. There is an on-going discussion especially concerning the appearance of art between 40,000–30,000 (For example Gamble and others, ‘The Social Brain and the Shape of the Palaeolithic’, pp. 115–35). The new social challenges caused by permanent cohabitation required new mental capacities. Our brain and our genes are not immutable, and thus in a dialectical process
In the Levant, collective memory relied basically on personal relationships, whereas in the Middle and Upper Euphrates-Tigris region collective commitment was expressed through a fixed symbolism in architecture and figurative art. Although without any written sources we will not be able to prove that any particular image represents a deity (Warmind, this volume), the material remains from the earliest Holocene suggest that the new mediality linked to fear paved the way to the rise of powerful authorities with the exclusive power to create and interpret symbols, memory, and moral codes, which of course is the base of religious institutions.111 Collective memory became a dictum. The sedentary hunters and gatherers of the early Holocene thus paved the way to religion through the acceptance of standardization and authority, and by making the invisible visible and even tangible.
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Abstract Ever since Robert Braidwood coined his phrase ‘culture was not ready’, mental, religious, and social factors have often been emphasized as the conditions necessary for the adoption of farming. Well-known authorities like Jacques Cauvin,112 Ian Hodder,113 and Brian Hayden114 suggested that religious and socio-ideological changes prompted the domestication of plants and animals, and tried to reconstruct the content of early Neolithic religion and ideology. But their conclusions were based upon a projection of much later conditions back into early Holocene societies and are thus highly speculative. I will argue that the mediality of, and the emotions evoked by, the symbolism of the early Holocene societies can tell us much about those societies’ mental conditions. In the Middle and Upper Euphrates and Tigris regions at the beginning of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A, a fairly standardized repertoire of architectural and figurative symbols appears. In the southern Levant, the elaborate plastered skull burials point to large networks of communication from the southern Dead Sea to the Damascus Basin. An increase in the permanence of symbolism and its public display, as well as an increased investment of labour and time in symbolic activities (architecture, rituals, figurative art) can be observed. On the basis of new anthropological and neurobiological research, I will argue that this increased use of symbolism not only created a corporate identity above the group level, but it was also a first step toward the institutionalisation of moral and social codes, and toward authority, domination, and ultimately religion.
Cauvin, Naissance des Divinités – Naissance de l’Agriculture. Hodder, The Domestication of Europe. 114 Hayden, ‘Contrasting Expectations in Theories of Domestication’, pp. 11–19. 113