|Updated 27 December 2003|
|The Social Impact of the Earliest Villages|
This is just a brief outline of some of the more important points to remember from the readings and the lecture.
Living in settled communities is a recent phenomenon in the human career. After more than a million years of living mainly in insubstantial open-air camps, and occasionally in caves, only after about 20,000 years ago, in some parts of the world, did people begin to be less nomadic and to construct more permanent settlements consisting usually of groups of huts or pit-houses. By about 10,000 years ago, even quite large villages with more than 1000 well built houses occurred in some regions, notably parts of Southwest Asia, and particularly in Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Israel. Villages appeared a short while later in large portions of the world, including Europe, Africa, South and East Asia, and Central America.
|Villages and the Neolithic Revolution|
Over the last 50 years, archaeologists have spent a lot of time investigating the origins and early development of plant and animal domestication and agricultural economy, the so-called Food-Producing Revolution.
Although this revolution took place in the context of village settlements, much fewer archaeologists have given thought to the reasons hunter-gatherers settled down into villages, how this might have contributed to the origins of food production, or how this revolution of sedentarization may have changed the social and ideological, as well as economic, circumstances of people in most parts of the world.
One of the interesting things about this is that we now know that the establishment of fairly permanent villages precedes the earliest known agriculture and animal domestication (with exception of domestic dog) by up to several thousand years, and may have been a precondition for it. In some regions, such as the Northwest Coast of North America, fairly large and complex villages of specialized hunter-gatherers occurred right up to modern times.
It is not particularly obvious why people settled down in this way, beginning a trend that would eventually become the dominant type of settlement in most of the world. It cannot simply be because people needed shelter from the elements, because they managed for more than a million years to get by quite nicely with only very simple shelters, or with caves, or with no architectural structure at all.
Purpose of the Course
The purpose of this course, however, is not to explore the origins of village life, but rather to survey a number of ways that archaeologists can exploit the record of "built environments" - the walls, floors, hearths, storage facilities, and other features that make up village and town settlements, and the things found in these features - to learn something about the social, political and ideological changes that occurred in different regions over the course of the last several thousand years. In particular, the course will emphasize ways that we can analyse and interpret the spatial relationships between spaces in the built environment as a way towards understanding the social relationships among the people who inhabited it.
Archaeologists used to say, "No one ever excavated a kinship system," but it turns out that there are still ways we can attempt to understand some aspects of prehistoric social systems. In fact, the existence of a "built environment" happens to make it much easier for us to do this as long as we are willing to make a few assumptions about what that environment represents. Most of the classes in this course will concentrate on different ways that archaeologists have used the houses and other architectural or spatial evidence from village sites to infer the nature of, and changes in, prehistoric social organizations. This is of particular interest in regions where some social groups went on to develop institutionalized inequality - ranked and stratified societies, state societies, and even slavery - often but not always with economies based on food production. One class will also deal with ideological aspects of houses and settlements.
|Open Societies and Domesticated Societies|
It is somewhat surprising that more archaeologists have not brought attention to the revolutionary changes that must be associated with the beginnings of settled life. As Peter Wilson points out in his book, The Domestication of the Human Species, there appear to be quite a number of very fundamental differences between the social, psychological, and ideological characteristics of what he calls "domesticated" societies and what he calls "open societies," nomadic hunter-gatherers who live in small bands with fairly fluid membership and only temporary camps with fairly flimsy architecture, if any at all. Note that by "domesticated" he means living in houses, from the Latin domus, and not anything to do with plant or animal husbandry.
Keep in mind that "Open Societies" live pretty much in full view of each other's activities while "Domesticated Societies" have built environments.
Try to think of differences you would expect between these two types of society, or what might happen when you begin to impose walls in space, or begin to tie people to a particular place, rather than letting them roam over a large territory.
Ingold, Tim (2000). Building, dwelling, living: How animals and people make themselves at home in the world. Pp. 172-188 in The Perception of the Environment: Essays in Livelihood, Dwelling and Skill. Routledge, London.
Wilson, Peter (1988). The Domestication of the Human Species.
Last Update 27 December 2003
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