New light on Neolithic revolution in south-west Asia

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by Trevor Watkins
published on 18 December 2012

Shortly after his retirement from a distinguished career in the Department of Archaeology at Edinburgh, the author gave the Rhind Lectures for 2009, bringing together his thoughts about the Neolithic revolution, and comparing Childe’s ideas with today’s. These lectures, summarised here, announced the modern vision to a wide audience. It is a reversal of the old: Epipalaeolithic people came together in the first large, permanent communities, to form extensive settlements which only later needed to be fed by farming.

Gobekli Tepe Temple

Gordon Childe’s famous notion of a Neolithic revolution saw the switch from hunting to herding and from gathering to cultivation as the pivotal agent of change. It was a model subsequently followed by many scholars. Today the imperative is different: not economic but cultural and cognitive. Already from about 23 000 years ago, we see groups of hunter-gatherers in parts of south-west Asia begin to transform their settlement and subsistence strategies and develop large, permanently co-residential communities well before the beginning of agriculture. This new form of social life implies that the cognitive and cultural faculties of Homo sapiens had become capable of managing cultural systems through external symbolic storage, or monumentality, an essential instrument of social complexity.

Antiquity, Vol.84 (2010)



Written by , linked by Jan van der Crabben, published 18 December 2012. Source URL: http://antiquity.ac.uk/ant/084/0621/ant0840621.pdf.

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