The Place That Caused the Neolithic

By James, N. | Antiquity, September 2007 | Go to article overview

The Place That Caused the Neolithic


James, N., Antiquity


Gordon Childe's ideas about conditions in the Near and Middle East directly or indirectly influenced the study of early farming and sedentism the world over. The principle (Childe 1954: 23-4) that social structure and organisation were bent to the demands of technology was familiar, of course, from the Industrial Revolution but, considering the social organisation envisaged, could rapid innovation really have occurred among the gatherer-hunter bands of 10 000 and 12 000 years ago? Compare, by contrast, Peru's North Coast or the Mississippi, where later monuments were built without full dependence on agriculture. The discovery, beside the Euphrates, that sedentism came first made good sense (Moore et al. 2000). Nor, perhaps, were aquatic resources the necessary condition for a monument, as witness the excavations by Klaus Schmidt (2006) at Gobekli Tepe, in the southern part of Turkey's Euphrates drainage, where occupation is dated to 9500-8100 BC. The T-shaped carved pillars that, at the time of writing, Schmidt was still digging provided the Leitmotif for an exhibition which suggested that, far from causing sedentism, agriculture responded to it. The Badisches Landesmuseum, at Karlsruhe Castle, mounted Vor 12.000 Jahren in Anatolien: the altesten Monumente der Menschheit ('12 000 Years Ago in Anatolia: Mankind's Oldest Monuments') from 20 January, this year, to 17 June (see Figure 1).

The gallery was divided in three and each of the parts into two, with the following exhibits and themes: (1.1) full scale reconstruction of one of the settings of pillars--showing ornamentation discovered as recently as autumn 2006--on the terrace that they occupied, accompanied by sculptures found there and a big photograph of the site's long view; (1.2) Cayonu, where Robert Braidwood, Halet Cambel et al. discovered occupation that began earlier and continued much longer; (2.1) the settlement of Nevali Cori, dated 8600-8000 BC, with discoveries of Harald Hauptmann's, including a cast, from his 'archive', of one of the pillars, like Gobekli Tepe's; and related finds from elsewhere in Turkey, including decorated steatite pottery from Kortik Tepe; (2.2) Catal Huyuk, including reconstructions of walls and chambers and information from Ian Hodder's current project; (3.1) the Pottery Neolithic and Chalcolithic of western Anatolia, including Hacdar, and European Turkey; (3.2) the Linearbandkeramik (LBK) culture of Europe. (1.1-3.1) comprised some 400 exhibits, nearly all borrowed from 11 museums in Turkey, not counting the reproductions and casts, and (3.2) comprised about 50 pieces, mostly the museum's own but supplemented from other collections in Germany.

At the end of the exhibition were stated 11 issues, from 'What would have happened had the Neolithic not occurred?' to 'Were there comparable developments elsewhere in the world?' Instruction prevailed over authenticity: three of Gobekli Tepe's pillars were minutely replicated according to laser scans of the originals, which remain in situ; and, along with the reconstructions of Catal Huyuk, there were casts of sculptures, architectural fragments and ornaments, models of Gobekli Tepe, Cayonu, Nevah Cori and Catal Huyuk, photographs of features, monuments and landscapes, and reproductions of iconographic motifs. The CD-ROM accompanying the show was available in the gallery. Specimens of stone and other fabrics were provided for handling and there was a workshop for schools to experiment with stone. The design mitigated the show's size, while the spacing and lighting provided plenty to admire in each part without a sense of busyness. The labels were in German with selected information in French and Turkish. The well illustrated catalogue (Lichter 2007) has 45 detailed and thoughtful articles and notes by experts from around the world (it does not include the LBK exhibits). …

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