The Birth of Civilization
Once upon a time, roughly 15000 years ago near the end of the last glacial period, a group of hunter-gatherers from Danube basin arrived in the area of current-day Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. They were welcomed with great amount of love from the local population, quite literally, as the common descendants of both groups marked the history with what we know today as Natufian culture.
You may ask why are these people so significant, and the answer is simple.
We still don’t know if Natufians were the ones who invented agriculture, but as far as the archaeological evidence goes, they were the first ones who baked pita-like bread, brew beer, or domesticated the dog. They were also the first to sculpt a couple having sex. This transition to sedentary life also marked a shift in social behavior, marked by “dramatic increase in the number of dead recovered in comparison to any preceding cultural period” and “unprecedented fluorescence of symbolic activity” as the remarkable findings in grave of Natufian shamaness attest.
Ancient Sorcerer's "Wake" Was First Feast for the Dead?
Some 12,000 years ago in a small sunlit cave in northern Israel, mourners finished the last of the roasted tortoise…
“The grave was constructed and specifically arranged for a petite, elderly, and disabled woman, who was accompanied by exceptional grave offerings. The grave goods comprised 50 complete tortoise shells and select body-parts of a wild boar, an eagle, a cow, a leopard, and two martens, as well as a complete human foot,” writes Leore Grosman, Natalie D. Munro, and Anna Belfer-Cohen, and although they add that “to date there are nearly no indications of institutionalized social stratification and most researchers have assumed that the Natufians maintained an egalitarian social system, typical of most past and present hunting-gathering societies,” it’s clear that shamans, witch doctors, or priests enjoyed quite a remarkable level of respect among their peers.
Even though the global warm period reverted during the following 2500 years back to rather chilling conditions, research suggests a steady increase in overall temperature in region of Israel, which may explain why Natufians were able to keep and expand their lifestyle for several millenia, well into the Holocene (geological period we live in) when the ice age ended for good, and conditions allowed a year-long stay in one area, thus eliminating the need for seasonal migration, which led to the rise of first permanent settlements in human history.
Thus, it should not come as a surprise that it were the direct descendants of Natufians who are associated with Neolithic revolution, and who, ca. 10–12 millenia ago, during the last stage of stone age, build settlements in Mureybet in Syria, Gesher in Israel, and later also Jericho in Jordan Valley, or Göbekli Tepe and Çatalhöyük in curent-day Turkey.
Among the sites mentioned, last three hold a special place.
Jericho, due to mentions in Tanakh or Old Testament, is especially well known particularly for its huge wall and tower. However, to bring things into perspective and more closer to reality it’s necessary to state that to date no one is certain what was the purpose of those structures.
Some assume that it was the first fortification we know of, however no signs of warfare were found. Some assume that the wall served as a protection from flood, but again no evidence exists. However, if we consider that it had a ritual purpose as some researchers suggest, it could correlate with existence of Göbekli Tepe (see below) and also emergence of similar structures, known as roundels, that were built during a short period of ca. 200 years few millenia later (ca. 5000 BC) in Central Europe (one of target regions of export of agriculture, see picture below) and which predate European megalithic structures like Stonehenge by ca. 2000 years.
Another strong argument toward a ritual significance of the wall of Jericho is its tower, as some research suggests that it could have been built to mark the longest day of the year. Which brings me to Jericho’s contemporary, Göbekli Tepe — the world’s oldest known megalithic structure and a site most probably build solely for social and ritual purpose.
What the wall and tower of Jericho (if we assume their purpose was socio-ritual), Göbekli Tepe, and the much later roundels have in common are their roughly circular shape, and that they served as a calendar as well as a place for tribe celebrations. In case of Jericho the whole settlement was inside the structure, roundels were built at the center of a settlement, and at Göbekli Tepe there are houses that seem to be accommodation facilities for pilgrims built around central altar-like structure.
The last of the three significant pre-pottery neolithic sites is Çatalhöyük. It is younger then the two previous ones (dated ca. 7100 BC), but what is remarkable, is that it “has strong evidence of an egalitarian society, as no houses with distinctive features (belonging to royalty or religious hierarchy, for example) have been found so far,” and “The most recent investigations also reveal little social distinction based on gender, with men and women receiving equivalent nutrition and seeming to have equal social status, as typically found in Paleolithic cultures.” (source)
So, here we are at the beginning of Holocene (9500–7000 BC), the temperatures and air moisture are steadily rising, and the Levant region is still one green lush paradise. People tend to their common fields and herds of animals. Sometimes they go on a hunt or collect berries and mushrooms in the forest. They build simple but comfy houses, and because their livelihood depends on seasons now more then ever, under the guidance of their highly respected shamans, they build huge monumental calendars. Yet, they still live in egalitarian societies, exactly as their ancestors did, with everyone contributing and getting equal share in food, work, and technology. The human population sees its first significant boom during the history, and settlements of few hundred, slowly begin to turn into proto-cities of few thousand. The agricultural revolution has started and slowly (1.0–0.6 km/year) but steadily spreads across the globe.
Two millenia passed, and the average temperature in Levant continued to rise. The air humidity went down, and what was once a paradise was slowly turning into a desert. Around 5000 BC, the original model of egalitarian societies was still booming all around the wrold, as can be documented also by excavations at Vinča-Belo Brdo, a settlement at the right bank of Danube, 14 km downstream from current-day Belgrade. However, according to the most widely accepted theory, at the same time Proto-Indo-Europeans started to migrate from their Urheimat in Pontic-Caspian steppe, bringing their culture with them.
What You Believe Is What You Get
Spirituality and religion as shaping factors of human society
And it was not just “another” culture. What Proto-Indo-Europeans introduced to the world, for better or worse, was non-dual understanding of existence and consciousness. And let’s not forget that it was also them who introduced Cannabis to “ancient Assyrians, […] Scythians, Thracians and Dacians, whose shamans (the kapnobatai — “those who walk on smoke/clouds”) burned cannabis flowers to induce trance.” Certainly not a coincidence.
Another one thousand years have passed, and the already densely populated areas in ever drier Levant started to witness another social model emerging — centralization and the birth of elites.
No one knows for sure, but it was most probably due to more and more frequent droughts and subsequent famines why a system of food redistribution was introduced — centered around monumental buildings and priestly class as can be seen in sites like Arslantepe.
As Marcella Frangipane of Rome University writes, alongside “common mudbrick houses of rather small dimensions consisting of one to three rooms [excavations] brought to light imposing large buildings with mudbrick walls over 1–1.20 m thick, covered with white plaster and often displaying paintings on the walls, belonging to several successive levels” which suggest “that like the superimposed buildings in the same zone, it was a residence for the élites [dating back to 3800–3400 BC]. Close by these residences […] excavations recently revealed a large and monumental tripartite ceremonial building […] where meals must have been distributed in a ritual context, as evidenced from the presence of a large number of mass-produced bowls.” Frangipane then continues, that “The presence of cretulae [seals] and bowls in large quantities suggests that redistribution practices were performed in this ceremonial environment in connection with an initial process of centralizing goods and labor, which developed fully at Arslantepe at the end of the fourth millennium B.C.E.”
And you can find an almost identical, although much larger, society few hundred miles to the east, in Uruk, the mother of civilization, the ancient city of Nimrod, Gilgamesh, and Ishtar, with its holy storehouse Eanna, and many other marvels. Everything dating back to the time when Biblical Abraham allegedly lived in the neighboring city of Ur, before he departed to Canaan.
But while Arslantepe got destroyed in ca. 3000 BC by massive fire in what seems as a violent revolt, Sumerian cities were spared such fate. Most probably due to their more elaborate accounting and judiciary system based on writing (cuneiform), that was preserved in the form of clay tablets to this very day (beer for work O_o), but also due to a pretty organized military. Well, and maybe their elites were just lucky to find a proper balance between carrot and stick.
As a side note, it’s worth noting that Frangipane also unearthed at Arslantepe nine swords dating back to 3300 BC, which makes them the oldest known swords in the world. To see what was the advantage of copper tools vs. stone ones, and how useful those Arslantepe copper swords could be, please watch the following videos.
Now, it should be pretty easy to see how we got where we are today.
Probably because of an environmental crisis an egalitarian society delegated power over resource redistribution to the most respected members of their tribe, i.e. shamans. In the beginning it may have worked, but opportunity makes a thief and “enlightenment” can go wrong (one of many symptoms of “inclomplete” self-realization is a false notion of being a sole personified god, as can be seen even today in the throngs of self-proclaimed Messiahs), thus shamans established themselves as heavenly ordained caste that has the power to judge who is worthy of what amount of food.
And this system obviously stuck even after the famine was gone. Maybe due to dumb force of habit, maybe because of abuse of faith and propaganda as the priests tried to solidify their power (by giving advantage to warriors who would protect them). Who knows.
To be honest, it’s the first time I made the effort to summarize the early history of civilization for myself, so its hard for me to draw any definitive conclusions. However, seeing it all outlined like that, I have a feeling that a lot of things start to make perfect sense. It’s just too early for me to put them into words, I guess.
So, if you connect some dots, don’t hesitate to leave a comment.