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Featured Did religious beliefs trigger the Neolithic Revolution and the birth of civilization?

Discussion in 'Religious Debates' started by Vouthon, Aug 11, 2017.

  1. Vouthon

    Vouthon Contemplation

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    I've been reading about Gobekli Tepe - a 12,000 year old cult complex, the oldest example of monolithic architecture yet discovered - for a number of years now. It should be far more well known since it is a game-changing site for understanding the origins of civilization. Read from the archaeologist's blog:

    The Tepe Telegrams

    A few kilometres northeast of modern Şanlıurfa in south-eastern Turkey, the tell of Göbekli Tepe is situated on the highest point of the otherwise barren Germuş mountain range. Rising 15 metres and with an area of about 9 hectares, the completely man-made mound covers the earliest known monumental cult architecture in the ancient Near East. Constructed by hunter-gatherers right after the end of the last Ice Age, they also intentionally buried it about 10,000 years ago.

    No typical domestic structures have yet been found, leading to the interpretation of Göbekli Tepe as a ritual centre for gathering and feasting. The people creating these megalithic monuments were still highly mobile hunter-foragers and the site’s material culture corroborates this.

    In the centre two colossal pillars, measuring about 5.5 m, are founded in shallow pedestals carved out of the carefully smoothed bedrock. This central pair of pillars is surrounded by a circle formed of similar, but slightly smaller pillars which are connected by stone walls and benches.
    Traditional thought went something like this:


    Hunter gatherers---> farming ------> Settlements, civilization, organised religion (made possible from farming surplus)

    But at Göbekli Tepe it seems to have gone:


    Hunter Gatherers-----> organised religion/cult/spiritual beliefs -----> farming, full settled life and civilization


    ....with the religion bringing more people together on a more permanent basis in one place, such that they needed farming to feed them and indicates a significant shift in worldview from the earlier “cave art” beliefs. In these, Paleolithic people appear to have seen themselves as simply “part” of their natural world, on a similar level to the animals depicted – I suppose a sort of “animistic” religious outlook, if it isn’t anachronistic to say that.

    But with Gobekli Tepe, stylized human figures take centre stage for veneration and ritual focus, towering above the animals that lie beneath and the surrounding landscape. This suggests a shift to a more “anthropocentric” worldview in which humans are believed to be ‘above’ the rest of nature and perhaps able to exert a kind of ‘mastery’ over the wild forces of nature represented by the fearsome beasts, which apparently gave these ancient Neolithic people the impetus to start experimenting for the first time in human history with agriculture.

    It used to be taken for granted by anthropologists in the early 20th century that climactic change at the end of the last Ice Age (the Younger Dryas) led to the invention of agriculture and spurred humans to abandon hunter-gatherer society and embrace full sedentary living, which enabled settlements, civilisation, art and religion to ultimately develop. There were already problems with this theory before GT was discovered in the 1990s, not least that earlier warming periods in human history had not resulted in any great quantum leap for our species out of the Stone Age, indicating that more was at play here.

    Gobekli Tepe pivots this assumption on its head.

    According to Gobekli, it was the urge to worship and exchange knowledge that originally brought human beings together to construct elaborate monolithic structures for ritual use before the invention of agriculture or fully settled life as we know it. Basically, the process of constructing the cultic site of Gobekli made it necessary to find a more consistent found source which probably led to the first domestication of wheat to feed those working on the construction.

    Those researching and excavating the site are of the opinion that it had a cultic, ritual use rooted in the belief system of hunter-gatherers. They aren't saying this without good reason.

    We have no idea if these people had any conception of gods but the architecture in question had a cultic significance for the people who built it and was constructed for ritualized feasting etc. rooted in a belief system/shared religious understanding. If I might quote the researchers again:


    https://www.researchgate.net/public...of_Upper_Mesopotamia_A_View_from_Gobekli_Tepe


    "...Vast evidence for feasting at the site seems to hint at work feasts to accomplish the common, religiously motivated task of constructing these enclosures. Given the significant amount of time, labor, and skilled craftsmanship invested, and as elements of Göbekli Tepe’s material culture can be found around it in a radius of roughly 200 km all over Upper Mesopotamia , it is likely that the site was the cultic center of transegalitarian groups..."

    And again:

    https://tepetelegrams.wordpress.com


    "...While these surrounding pillars often are decorated with depictions of animals like foxes, aurochs, birds, snakes, and spiders, the central pair in particular illustrates the anthropomorphic character of the T-pillars. They clearly display arms depicted in relief on the pillars’ shafts, with hands brought together above the abdomen, pointing to the middle of the waist. Belts and loincloths underline this impression and emphasize the human-like appearance of these pillars.

    Their larger-than-life and highly abstracted representation is intentionally chosen and not owed to deficient craftsmanship, as other finds like the much more naturalistic animal and human sculptures clearly demonstrate. This suggests that whatever the larger-than-life T-pillars are meant to depict and embody is on a different level than the life-sized sculptures in the iconography of Göbekli Tepe and the Neolithic in Upper Mesopotamia.

    Furthermore, these objects are not restricted to Göbekli Tepe and the few other sites with T-shaped pillars in its closer vicinity, but are known from places up to 200 km around the site. A spiritual concept seems to have linked these sites to each other, suggesting a larger cultic community among PPN mobile groups in Upper Mesopotamia, tied in a network of communication and exchange.

    In this scenario, the early appearance of monumental religious architecture motivating work feasts to draw as many hands as possible for the execution of complex, collective tasks is changing our understanding of one of the key moments in human history: the emergence of agriculture and animal husbandry – and the onset of food production and the Neolithic way of live..."


    (Continued....)
     
    #1 Vouthon, Aug 11, 2017
    Last edited: Aug 11, 2017
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  2. Kemosloby

    Kemosloby Well-Known Member
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    Did you see any signs that said Bar or Miller Lite?
     
  3. Vouthon

    Vouthon Contemplation

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    See this article by Oliver Dietrich, Manfred Heun, Jens Notroff, Klaus Schmidt and Martin Zarnkow:

    The role of cult and feasting in the emergence of Neolithic communities. New evidence from Gobekli Tepe, south-eastern Turkey. - Free Online Library


    "... Gobekli Tepe: a PPN cultic centre

    The tell of Gobekli Tepe on the Germus¸ range has an outstanding role, not as a settlement,but as a hill sanctuary (Schmidt 2001, 2006, 2010)...

    When the floor level was finally reached in 2009, both central pillars were revealed as complete, with a breathtaking height of about 5.5m. The forms of hands and fingers were soon visible, carved on both pillars, and just below the hands were decorated belts and a loincloth hanging down (Figures 7 & 8). These abstracted, impersonal, but clearly anthropomorphic, T-shaped beings clearly belong to another, transcendent sphere...

    Emerging new concepts: the ritual community of Gobekli Tepe

    Since neither domesticated plants nor animals are known from the site, it is clear that the people who erected this monumental sanctuary were still hunter-gatherers, but far more organised than researchers dared to think 20 years ago. The first time a cult building with T-shaped pillars, comparable to those of layer II of Gobekli Tepe, was uncovered was at Nevall Cori, a settlement site now flooded due to the construction of the Ataturk barrage (Hauptmann 1993). In its immediate vicinity there are three more sites with T-shaped stones visible on the surface (Sefer Tepe, Karahan Tepe and Hamzan Tepe), but no excavations have been carried out there so far. These places form a group of sites belonging to one cult, but their community was not confined to these sites...

    This explosion of images, with few forerunners in Palaeolithic art, offers a view of a symbolic world, which had commonalities shared among the residents of PPN sites in Upper Mesopotamia. They are part of a system of symbolic communication that preceded writing as an essential method of storing cultural knowledge (Watkins 2004, 2010; Morenz & Schmidt 2009). These people must have had a highly complicated mythology, including a capacity for abstraction. Following these ideas, we now have more evidence that Cauvin (1994) was right in his belief that the social systems changed before, not as a result of, the shift to farming.

    This complex symbolic system continued for millennia. A prerequisite for its long life must have been an extensive network of supra-regional contacts sustained on a regular basis (Watkins 2008, 2010)...The character of Gobekli Tepe makes it clear that these feasts had a strong cultic significance...

    A rich repertoire of PPN dancing scenes (Garfinkel 2003) sheds some light on the nature of early Neolithic feasts. One of the most remarkable examples is the sherd of a limestone bowl from Nevali Cori (Figure 13) depicting two persons with raised arms (Hauptmann 1999: fig. 16). Between them, a turtle-like being is joining the dance, maybe reflecting the altered state of consciousness of the dancers (McGovern 2009: 80). The cemetery of Kortik Tepe, where numerous stone vessels were broken at the gravesite also suggests feasting with an ecstatic aspect.

    In concordance with Hayden's thoughts, it seems obvious that repetitive feasts of the amplitude implied at Gobekli Tepe must have placed stress on the economic production of hunter-gatherer groups. Maybe in response to the demand, new food sources and processing techniques were explored. In this scenario, religious beliefs and practices may have been a key factor in the adoption of intensive cultivation and the transition to agriculture..."

    Farming, which was only discovered after Gobekli Tepe, is very distinctive from earlier harvesting of wild crops. It was actually humanity's first experiment in genetic modification: involving "farmers" deliberately selecting and growing rare mutant varieties of wheat that didn't release their seeds, meaning every single grain could be threshed and caught.

    Some very smart Neolithic humans, for the first time in a place approximately 20 km from Gobekli Tepe, realised they could plant crops with these mutant properties in certain propitious locations and thereby shield them from competition with the older, wild variety. And this, gradually over a long, long stretch of time in tandem with animal domestication, led to big changes in human lifestyle and ultimately spawned civilization.

    When Gobekli Tepe was first constructed, the evidence from the oldest layer indicates that the builders had eaten nothing but wild, uncultivated cereals. They weren't yet farmers. Yet they were the ones who first domesticated wheat to have a better, more reliable food source for the temple-builders trudging up the mountain carrying their huge carved limestones for whatever sacred rituals they were involved in at this cultic centre for "hunter-gatherer" pilgrims stretching over a wide radius.

    By the end of Gobekli Tepe's existence when it was back-filled, the people had effectively started down the path of agriculture, leading to fully settled living (i.e. in villages, towns, cities) and making civilization possible.

    So I ask: did religious beliefs actually bring humanity out of the Stone Age and lead to our greatest ever scientific innovation, leading in turn to civilization itself?
     
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  4. Vouthon

    Vouthon Contemplation

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    Oddly enough, they drank beer as part of their religious rituals:

    For the large amount of quarrying, stone-carving and construction work required to build a monumental sanctuary like Gosbekli Tepe, there had to be a means of bringing together groups from different areas and organising communal work. An answer on how this was achieved lies in the widespread evidence for extensive feasting, including the consumption of--most likely alcoholic--beverages, in the PPN archaeological record.


    Out for a beer at the dawn of agriculture


    Out for a beer at the dawn of agriculture

    Recently, further chemical analyses were conducted by M. Zarnkow (Technical University of Munich, Weihenstephan) on six large limestone vessels from Göbekli Tepe. These (barrel/trough-shaped) vessels, with capacities of up to 160 litres, were found in-situ in PPNB contexts at the site. Already during excavations it was noted that some vessels carried grey-black adhesions. A first set of analyses made on these substances returned partly positive for calcium oxalate, which develops in the course of the soaking, mashing and fermenting of grain. Although these intriguing results are only preliminary, they provide initial indications for the brewing of beer at Göbekli Tepe, thus provoking renewed discussions relating to the production and consumption of alcoholic beverages at this early time. Further, they are particularly significant in light of results from genetic analyses, undertaken by a team from the Norwegian University of Life Sciences in Oslo, which have suggested that the earliest domestication of grain occurred in the vicinity of the Karacadağ, i.e. very near to Göbekli Tepe (Heun et al. 1997 [external link]). Once again, we must ask whether the production of alcohol and the domestication of grain are interrelated. Finally, the aforementioned insights also provoke new questions relating to the use and consumption of alcohol at Göbekli Tepe, which may have been in the context of religiously motivated feasts and celebrations. Not surprisingly, such events are well attested in the ethnographic literature as a means of attracting and motivating large groups of people to undertake communal work and projects (Dietler and Herbich 1995).
     
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  5. Polymath257

    Polymath257 Well-Known Member
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    Yes, of course the domestication of grain and the production of alcohol are related. The point is that the production of alcohol and the production of bread are closely related: all three activities are tied together. Remember that alcohol production at this time and bread production were almost identical: fermentation from yeast along with grain produces both.

    I do have issues with identifying Gokekli Tepe as the earliest shrine. It seems that many of the European cave paintings were in situations that were ritualized and were, effectively, shrines. And those were long before any type of agriculture.

    This in NO way undermines how interesting Gobekli Tepe is, by the way. I agree it should be much more commonly known.
     
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  6. beenherebeforeagain

    beenherebeforeagain Rogue Animist
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    Very cool stuff, thanks for sharing.
     
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  7. A Greased Scotsman

    A Greased Scotsman THIS is a sword. And it's bigger than yours!

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    Beer is one of those things I'd really love to go back and watch getting made for the very first time in human existence. Same with bread and getting honey out of a beehive. I mean, who sat down and thought up these things? It's fascinating.

    To answer the OP, I think evidence is mounting that the date for humans engaging in agriculture could be pushed back around 30,000-35,000 years. Apparently it started at the equator in tropical rainforests!
     
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  8. Vouthon

    Vouthon Contemplation

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    Great points, informative!

    The key distinction with GT is that it is the world's first example of ritual architecture.

    Also, see:

    There is a noticeable change in art and the depiction of humans and animals from Paleolithic and Neolithic, which is discussed as expression of a changing mindset due to the new, i.e. Neolithic, way of living.

    The focus shifts from the depiction of large animals and only rarely humans to an emphasis of human beings – significantly larger (life- and more than life-sized) anthropomorphic depictions as those T-pillars at Göbekli Tape (which also show attributed animals in form of reliefs).

    I would highly recommend a look into Jacques Cauvin’s “Birth Gods and Origins Agriculture” (New Studies in Archaeology, Cambridge University Press 2008)

     
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  9. Polymath257

    Polymath257 Well-Known Member
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    That seems a bit of a stretch to me. As I pointed out, the European cave paintings seem to have a ritualistic component, but they didn't lead to civilization. More controversial is the suggestion of religious feelings in Neanderthals.

    I guess it is possible to make the case that a religious belief in the specialty of humans might have been involved here, but that would be a much harder thing to prove. Exactly why did people congregate in Anatolia and not in France? Perhaps the abundance of wild grain in Anatolia?
     
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  10. Vouthon

    Vouthon Contemplation

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    I should point out though: the archaeologists from the Plank Institute, whose work is discussed in that article, were not suggesting that farming began as far back in the tropics as tens of thousands of years ago (as the author initially but erroneously assumed, before correcting herself at the bottom).

    Adapting forests by burning and cultivating plants 45,000 years ago is not the same thing as farming, which was a far more revolutionary or rather profoundly transformative discovery in human history.

    At the time of Gobekli Tepe and indeed centuries prior to it in the Epipaleolithic, as evidenced by the Natufian culture of Jericho which existed from circa. 12,500 - 9,500, humans in the Levant were living a semi-sedentary life before agriculture and evidence suggests they may have started to cultivate rye, which they harvested using bone scythes. Even this wasn't farming. It was "hunter-gardening" of a sort since the Natufians and their immediate successors were neither agriculturalists nor fully sedentary but still very much hunter-gatherers.

    Farming, which was only discovered after Gobekli Tepe, is very distinctive from this earlier harvesting of wild crops. It was actually humanity's first experiment in genetic modification: involving "farmers" deliberately selecting and growing rare mutant varieties of wheat that didn't release their seeds, meaning every single grain could be threshed and caught. Some very smart Neolithic humans, for the first time in a place approximately 20 km from Gobekli Tepe, realised they could plant crops with these mutant properties in certain propitious locations and thereby shield them from competition with the older, wild variety. And this, gradually over a long, long stretch of time in tandem with animal domestication, led to big changes in human lifestyle and ultimately spawned civilization.

    When Gobekli Tepe was first constructed, the evidence from the oldest layer indicates that the builders had eaten nothing but wild, uncultivated cereals. They weren't yet farmers. It makes sense to think that they were the ones who first domesticated wheat to have a better, more reliable food source for the temple-builders trudging up the mountain carrying their huge carved limestones for whatever sacred rituals they were involved in at this cultic centre for "hunter-gatherer" pilgrims stretching over a wide radius.

    So, the point being, farming and agriculture amounts to a very "specific" way of life. By the end of Gobekli Tepe's existence when it was back-filled, the people had effectively started down the path of agriculture i.e. domestication of cereals.
     
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  11. A Greased Scotsman

    A Greased Scotsman THIS is a sword. And it's bigger than yours!

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    You type really fast.
     
  12. Vouthon

    Vouthon Contemplation

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    Haha, I'm not a robot I assure you! I actually wrote something about this above and quoted the relevant parts again along with some extra points specific to your post.
     
  13. Polymath257

    Polymath257 Well-Known Member
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    Now, that is an interesting shift. The cave paintings are often regarded as a type of totem to teach and ritualize the practice of hunting, paying homage to the spirits of the animals.

    From the Wikipedia article, there seems to be new (2017) evidence of a cult of the skull operating at Gobekli Tepe. if so, that suggests a form of ancestor worship, which would explain the anthropomorphic forms.

    In any case, a very fascinating site!
     
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  14. A Greased Scotsman

    A Greased Scotsman THIS is a sword. And it's bigger than yours!

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    You could've convinced me you could type all that out at something like a million words a second :tearsofjoy:
     
  15. Polymath257

    Polymath257 Well-Known Member
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    It might be interesting to compare Gobekli Tepe to, for example, the slightly later Nevali Cori and the fascinating Catal Huyuk.

    In this sequence, we go from a ritualized architecture for worship (maybe?) to a sedentary society with very elaborate rituals and imagery (the bull horns at Catal Huyuk always remind me of the much, much later Cretan civilization). It is notable (well, to me at least), that one of the drawings at Gobekli Tepe is of a bull with very prominent horns.
     
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  16. Vouthon

    Vouthon Contemplation

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    Yes, indeed!

    Carved human skull fragments with engravings and drilled holes have been uncovered from the PPNA site of Gobekli Tepe, hinting at a ritualized use of human remains at that cultic centre. I put a thread up on this back in June...

    The World's Oldest Known Temple Was Home to a ‘Skull Cult’ 12,000 years ago

    .....although I must apologise for that particular article's description of GT as a temple. I use the more archaeologically precise term "cult complex".

    One probably shouldn't use the word "temple" if we are being scientifically precise, not least since it would be anachronistic to do so for prehistory - given that we have no idea if these people had any conception of gods - but I don't see it as a bad way of helping laymen understand that the architecture in question had a cultic significance for the people who built it and was constructed for ritualized feasting etc. rooted in a belief system/shared religious understanding.

    The researchers involved in that particular study suggested it was either ancestor worship or ritualized branding of particular individuals i.e. negative funerary rites.

    If the latter, it makes me wonder if we might be seeing tentative evidence for Rene Girard's "scapegoat mechanism" at play here in both cases: that is, mimetic (imitative desire) spiralling out of control and peace only being restored at the expense of some poor sod "branded" as a scapegoat for the crisis based upon some distinguishing features who is then killed/"sacrificed" and then, just as Girard predicted, "venerated" as something sacred via ritualized markings; since the scapegoat was not only deemed to have caused the original crisis but to have brought peace back as well - hence being posthumously invested with a primitive "holy" significance (if I might use the term). And then rituals arise surrounding the cultural memory of this scapegoated "sacred" person etc.

    I might be way off base with this speculation but it did occur to me when reading this. Interestingly enough, the archaeologists working on GT have a paper about to be published on the possible applicability of Girardian theory to the site. It should be interesting to read whatever conclusion they come to.
     
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  17. beenherebeforeagain

    beenherebeforeagain Rogue Animist
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    I'd like to offer--without a shred of evidence I could cite just offhand--the observation that the increasing population density made possible by hunter-gardening and other developments would lead to a need to coordinate activities of large groups...As far as I can recall, the population of humans started growing slowly following the end of the Ice Age, but picked up speed as they over millennia mastered various crops, animals, and building and maintaining permanent physical structures and other basic technologies.

    Personally, I like the idea that beer was one of the main 'civilizers'...
     
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  18. Vouthon

    Vouthon Contemplation

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    Again fantastic points!

    I also find it worthy of note that a millennium or so after GT, at the settlement site of Catalhoyuk (where the people are now farmers), the special purpose "cult" buildings seem to no longer exist.

    Here domestic dwellings appear to have served as the site of the skull cult as opposed to public buildings that aren’t used for living in, as with GT and Nevali Cori , (although its interesting that the “headless man” symbol seems to have persisted down the years and outlived the transition to a fully agricultural, sedentary life).

    Were the cult buildings I guess, a “hunter-gatherer” peculiarity that served no purpose in an agricultural setting?

    GT was not a domestic building but a communal, special-purpose facility like the smaller-scale 'replica' in the contemporaneous settlement of Nevali Cori, which is clearly distinguished from the surrounding domestic dwellings - none of which have, for instance, the abstracted and faceless but anthropomorphic T-shaped pillars seen in NC's special "shrine" building and on a larger scale at GT.

    The best name for it would be "special communal cult building" but this doesn't have quite the same ring to it or hook as "temple".

    Also, your point about the bull symbol has been flagged up by the archaeologists as being of significance. It was brought up on a national geographic documentary about GT and interpreted as the offshoot of the religious world view which led to the construction of GT and persisted for millennia after it in the region, stressing man's "mastery" over the beasts that justified or propelled the domestication of animals.

    Fascinating theories.
     
    #18 Vouthon, Aug 11, 2017
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  19. sunrise123

    sunrise123 Darkness will pass. Dawn is almost here.
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    As a general comment, I love information like that that shines a lot to our distant ancestors. The findings appear to illustrate that the sense that there was more to reality than the purely material had been a feature of humanity for a very long time. Whether these beliefs "triggered" civilization or, as it were, walked side-by-side with the development of civilization may be something we never know.
     
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  20. Sunstone

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    Absolutely fascinating! Thank you so much for posting this, Vouthon! You're my hero for at least the next 24 hours! :D

    About the possible link between religion and civilization: It's my understanding that some, but not all, religions readily lend themselves to performing at least two functions highly conducive to furthering complex, relatively fixed hierarchical societies (a.k.a "civilizations").

    First, they provide a means of uniting relatively large, possibly diverse, groups of people into a psychological whole. Humans seem to have something of a "tribal instinct", and instinct to see the world as "our tribe and everyone else", or "in-group/out-groups". Back when we lived in relatively small groups, who belonged in which camp was a simple matter. You personally knew the members of your group, and hence knew who belonged to your group and who did not. But a problem arises when your group becomes too large for you to know everyone. The problem can be solved to at least some great extent in a few ways, and some religions provide one of those ways. For example: "We might come from all sorts of places, backgrounds, races, etc, but we're all Christians here." That is, religions can allow individuals to self-identify even with people they have very little else in common with other than their shared religion, thus helping to bring about some form of social unity, and that function of religion would seem to be very valuable in bringing together the relatively large groups necessary for civilizations.

    Second, religions can provide a means of legitimatizing the social order and ruling elite. Basically, "He's the king and you're the fisherman because that's the way our god, Enki, wants it." Naturally, this possible function of religion promotes not just societal unity, but more importantly, political unity, allowing for an elite to organize the people for sustained, coordinated action -- such as might be advantageous for building a cult center, a temple, or a city; defending or expanding a territory; distributing resources such as surplus foods, etc. etc. In addition to promoting sustained, coordinated action, the function of legitimatizing the social order promotes political stability, without which civilization is nearly impossible.

    Now I've long been of the opinion that there is a strong positive (but not absolute) correlation between early civilizations and religions that lend themselves to supporting those two functions. For instance, I think you can see support for the second function in the Sumerian kinglist: "When kingship from heaven was lowered, the kingship was in Eridu." That passage and others seems to me to amount to a religious legitimization of the role of kings.

    So those are some of my insufferable thoughts on at least two ways that at least some religions can be seen as helping to bring about civilization. You could add to that other ways, such as the advantage of religions that promote a shared morality, etc.

    Just thought I'd toss all of that out in an effort to flesh out your thesis that religions might have triggered civilization.
     
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