Friday, April 4, 2014

The Neolithic Millennia

At the head of this section, I put a postcard of a modern Turkish woman using an Early Neolithic obsidian mirror (a very large piece of obsidian).  Later excavations at Çatal Hüyük by Turkish archaeologists are not yet formally, fully published.

The cultures of the last Ice Age (since we know nothing of the name or language of pre-literate peoples) are called "Old Stone Age" because their stone tools were made by flaking--the earliest technique.  The knives were of flint, for cutting up and skinning animals.  Well flaked flint blades are quite sharp, but they are brittle.  For a very long time, blades continued to be made of flint (or obsidian, where that was available), but the earliest villagers needed in addition a tool that would cut wood, an axe to fell trees.  They invented an axe with a ground edge, of dense, tough stones.  This addition to the tool kit belongs to the first villagers, because to settle in one place they had to clear land for crops.  These cultures are called Neolithic, the New Stone Age, from their new tools, but their new economy, which adds grain production, then animal husbandry, to hunting and gathering, in order to settle in one place year round, generation after generation, is the more important.  It led to population growth and the accumulation of goods and chattels; non-portable objects of art begin to appear.
The earliest Neolithic settlements vary greatly with geography.  Jericho, in the West Bank, had springs of good water and sat at the crossroads of natural trade routes.  We do not automatically think of trade at dates around 8,000 and 7,000 B.C. (Marxists, for example, defined villages as self-subsisting and farm-based), but Jericho, with its protective walls and towers, attests to considerable traffic.  Yet Jericho produced hardly any figurative (representational) art.  The same is true of the very earliest villages in northern Iran.  To show how risky it is to generalize from a few examples, however, consider Çatal Hüyük in southeastern Asia Minor (modern Turkey), where the walls of both dwellings and shrines were painted with figured scenes and colored patterns, and a large variety of distinctly artistic looking figurines and decorated objects were found.  Also, although most pottery belongs to slightly later cultures, there was even very simple pottery (the hallmark of settled living, since it is both heavy and breakable) at Çatal Hüyük, and although the tools were stone, nearby veins of copper led to their melting the pretty metal out of the ore and making beads of it.  Yet Çatal Hüyük is early, c. 6,500 to c. 5,500 B.C.
Even though we know much more about Çatal from the wealth of finds, such as for example a real goddess, enthroned, giving birth, accompanied by leopards, a (presumed) male deity whose shrines feature bull horns and hunting scenes, and a great deal about their astonishing technological abilities, we cannot feel that we really understand their culture.  We have no idea why there are nearly as many shrine rooms as dwelling rooms, for example.  Above all, we do not know how they looked at their art, what it meant to them.  We do not know if there is any continuity between them and later peoples living in the same regions, although the relationship to near-by Hacilar, not much later, is manifest.
At Nea Nikomedia in Northern Greece, a not very different village culture at a date only very slightly later suggests that ideas and the new settled village life style spread more rapidly than we might have supposed possible.


[MAP 11] [MG 3]  At the same time, about the ninth millennium (9,000-8,000) B.C., as the Capsian and Maglemosian art was being done in Europe and Africa, in western Asia, in Palestine (in the broader, geographical meaning of the word), which the French call the Levant, that is, in the Near East (Asia Minor, Palestine, and Egypt are the Near East, not the Middle East--and don't be misled by, e.g., CNN, calling Malta, which is part of Europe, "Middle East")--in Palestine, then, we have Jericho, the same place as in the Bible and in the news today, but much earlier, before the Arabic and Hebrew languages existed.  Here, in the 8th and 7th millennia B.C. we find a village, and not merely a village, but with fortification walls.  Why people have fought over Jericho is that this site has deep artesian wells, it's an oasis, and it's on natural trade routes that intersect here from four directions.  To fortify themselves this way they had to have had a reason.  This stone tower, yes, is rough, but massive; compare the man, who may be 5' 8" or 9"; these are real fortifications.  This is the first settlement, on bedrock; no pottery yet, but fortification towers.  As I point out in the syllabus, in Marxist theory, fortifications entail military castes, but, though Marxist theory is sort of interesting, Marx died in 1883, and probably he'd have written differently if he had known about this.
[MG 3, right] [M 210] In the next level of Jericho (Pre-Pottery B) they found some houses.  Underneath their floors, the people had buried the skulls of their dead.  Just the nice, clean skulls, with plaster and red ocher smeared over them and with pebbles, in this case, seashells in the other, inserted for eyes.  Some are more, some less, realistic, but it is obvious that when people take a bare, dry skull and then plaster and paint it and put substitute eyes in it, they're trying to sort of bring it back to flesh and life.  As it is exhibited in the museum, you can see the skull in some places, and how they modelled the once-flesh parts much as forensic sculptors do, or those that made the new "Lucy" and "Neanderthal Couple" for the Museum of Natural History in New York.  It isn't quite so scientific, but they did it sensitively.  This is almost the only figural art that we find at Jericho.  Interesting, because it suggests that then as now, there are some groups that were more literary, others preponderantly musical, some with more great sculptors, others with more painters, perhaps for two reasons: (a) culturally, people's culture tends to favor successful things, once the ball is set rolling, and (b) possibly (we don't know, scientifically) some potential skills are more concentrated in one breeding isolate, other potentialities more concentrated in another--I don't mean whole races, but the kind of difference we see between, say, Florence and Venice in the Italian Renaissance.  In breeding isolates, some potentialities might be intensified both genetically and socially.  But we don't know enough about these aspects of inheritance to be sure.  
N.B.  More recently a whole group of Jericho Pre-Pottery B deceased were found, but in addition to their plastered heads, with obsidian flakes in the eyes, they had been given full figures.  One of them is on permanent (I think) loan in the Louvre, where I took a digital snaphot of it (see above) through glass.  This shows how risky it is to generalize; I mean, saying that they buried only the heads proved to be wrong!

EARLIEST VILLAGES: Examples, Çatal Hüyük and Hacilar

[MG 130, below] [M 232]  All of these shrine rooms have paintings on the walls, paintings in earth colors--colors like yellow ochre and red ochre and black (earth with a lot of manganese in it or from burnt matter); since the colors are mineral colors, they've survived down to the present day.  Before this was excavated we did not anticipate finding wall paintings so early--the earliest ones we had before were from about 3500 BC.  On one wall is represented males hunting stags, but the males are wearing around or across their waist what looks like a spotted cat skin stretched on a kind of wooden frame, with the tail hanging behind.  Notice that they're hunting with bows. This shrine room, furthermore, has bulls' horns embedded in a clay post to make sort of a cult representation of the bull.  It's natural to assume that shrine rooms with bulls are associated with some male deity--I never saw any place or time where hunting and bulls weren't associated with males.  As with the Capsian paintings from eastern Spain and north Africa, the figures here are simple and conceptual--they're not quite so stylized as the east Spanish ones but very nearly so, and indeed Neolithic art generally is conceptual and ideatic: it's not the way you see things, it's the way you think them.  If you compare these with Altamira and Lascaux, you might think art was going "backwards", but that's only if you assume that naturalism is the end product of a long development, which it isn't.  When heuman beings with our brains and our eyes and our muscle coordination want to draw naturalistically, they can, everywhere, and when they don't want 
to, they don't--it's that simple

[MG 130, below] There are other shrine rooms like this one--shrine rooms where you have leopards symmetrically placed with spots on them, a kind of bilateral arrangement like figures on a totem pole, that is, heraldically.  In shrine rooms that have the cats, we get the goddess: there's her belly button, there's her arms, her head is partly broken away, and there's the legs--we don't know what's happening down below, but this is a female figure and since elsewhere in Çatal Hüyük, we find cats associated with a female deity, we can assume that that's what she is.  This figure is unique--it only appears once in level VI and it doesn't occur anywhere else in the stratification.

[M 227] But we do have figurines, like these.  In your prints, you don't have the one enthroned on cats and giving birth to something (a cat?), but I talk about it in the syllabus, and I'm showing it for the idea.  Here you have a female figure with all of the sexual parts very much emphasized seated on a lion-head throne or maybe lions, back-to-back, are the throne--at any rate on either side of her. We also get a female figure holding her breasts; this could just be the idea of fertility, but in this context where you have so much evidence of story-telling religion, it is probably a real goddess.  Gods and goddesses that had mythology with them and therefore were represented consistently with certain types of animals or seated on a certain type of throne are not just fertility fetishes, as the "Venus of Willendorf" may be.
[M 227, left] Let's go to a nearby site just for a moment; this site is just a little bit later.  The earliest levels there at Hacilar begin at about 5600, about the same time as Çatal Hüyük ends.  It is about the same distance as from Baton Rouge to New Orleans.  At Hacilar they found figurines like the one on your Print and this figurine, a female deity seated on a cat throne (maybe the whole cat makes the throne) and she is suckling or at least embracing a baby cat.  That's why the excavator James Mellaart thought that the goddess found at Çatal was giving birth to a baby cat.  Also at Hacilar you have painted pottery, for the middle of the sixth millennium is already the beginning of advanced Neolithic, of which the rule-of-thumb hallmark is painted pottery or the equivalent (some societies made engraved pottery) rather than the very crude pottery at Çatal.  So it seems that as far back as 6,000 or 5,600 BC in Asia Minor you have a female deity associated with big cats.  It's interesting, though you can't prove any connection, that in the sixth millennium BC a female deity was associated with big cats, because the main goddess of Asia Minor during the Greek and Roman period, thousands of years later, is Kybele, and she rides on a lion--we don't know if it's continuous or not.
[M 232, lower] There was a volcano about 60 miles north of Çatal.  On one wall is a unique painting.  It's easier to see it in a drawing, because that wall was not in particularly good condition, but the copy was made meticulously.  It looks like a picture of the town, with all of its entrances from the top, and the volcano erupting in the near distance.  I grew up in northern California, where my great-grandparents had a lumber mill, in the gold rush days, at the foot of Mt. Lassen, an active volcano, and the Native Americans of that region believed that the gods lived in the volcano.  That's another group of people, a long way away, but some people in the South Pacific, too, believe there are gods living in the volcanoes.  So perhaps there was a cult related to the volcano (and perhaps that was why they drew a picture of the volcano erupting on a shrine wall).  This is the first picture in the whole of humanity that shows a real place.  It isn't exactly a landscape, because it isn't a picture of how it looks or about how we feel about the view, but it certainly is a picture of a real place, and that's quite remarkable.  Nobody would have guessed that anything remotely like this would be found in a settlement of about 6,000 BC.+

[The goddess with the cat, shared with Hacilar]  The people at Çatal, these people who grew wheat and barley, used stone tools (they made only beads of copper) evince very high technical skills; they worked with shells and pretty stones; the remarkable thing is that some of their beads have holes in them as fine as a modern sewing needle, and we don't know how they made a hole that narrow through a stone bead.  As for stone tools, they continue, of course, to use flint or obsidian for knives (the polished tools, which are a hallmark of Neolithic, are for chopping; for cutting you need something sharp).  Here's a beautifully flaked blade with a very delicately retouched edge and a bone handle which is designed like a coiled-up snake--quite pretty.  As a weapon, a dagger, this would not be very effective--it's too fragile, so it's almost certainly a ceremonial or dress knife.  That's just to give you an idea of the wealth of material that was found here.

ADVANCED VILLAGES in Egypt & the Middle East
Now the cultural world becomes far more complicated.
All of these cultures, over a wide area, have a new kind of art: painted pottery.  They begin to appear in the years around 6,000 B.C.  One of the earliest sites, c. 5,500 B.C., is Hacilar in Asia Minor (Turkey), not very far from Çatal Hüyük and closely related to it in the main lines of the culture; it is different in having painted pottery.  Although we cannot study all of them in this course, there are painted pottery cultures, also, all across Bulgaria, Rumania, and Yugoslavia; we shall look at a few examples from Rumania and Greece.  These Late Neolithic villages are well established communities, with evidence of developed agriculture and animal husbandry (always remembering that they still have no metal plows or other metal tools).  Doubtless, population was increasing everywhere that village life was established; daughter villages and the search for new lands to cultivate meant that settlements were less widely scattered, and ideas, artistic as well as technological, evidently spread much more rapidly than ever before.
Even so, these villages are still largely self-contained; so far as we can tell, they do not engage in long range trade in any organized way.  Therefore, certain industries that later were organized for trade exclusively by the males in a community, such as pottery making itself and weaving, in Late Neolithic communities may have been in the hands of either males or females, according to the particular customs of each village.  Most of the earliest painted-pottery patterns look as if they had originated in basket-weaving, which on a world-wide basis is a woman's occupation.  The most that we can assert, however, lacking direct information, is that North and South American pottery in many cases has been women's art.
Since archaeology by itself never tells us who people were, what language they spoke, we have to name the art styles of these pre-literate village cultures after the place names where each either was first found or where we believe the center of the culture to have been.  Thus, for example, we say "the Hacilar culture", because near the modern Turkish town of Hacilar is where it was first excavated.  The same is true of the following names; the list gives the principal painted-pottery styles, region by region, and, where more than one is listed (as for Egypt and Mesopotamia), the earlier one is listed first.
Iran: Susa A (5th millennium B.C.)
Mesopotamia: Hassuna, Samarra (6th. millennium B.C.), Tell Halaf (5th millennium), Ubaid (4th millennium)
Asia Minor: Hacilar (6th millennium)
Egypt: Badarian, Amratian, Gerzean
Greece: Sesklo (6th to 5th millennia), Dhimini (5th to 4th millennia)
Rumania: Cernavoda
China: Yang Shao, Ch'ing-lien-kang, Lung Shan
It took longer for advanced Neolithic to reach the far west of Europe; many Neolithic sites in western Europe are characterized by Megalithic tombs and religious centers; one of the latest, certainly the grandest, of the Megalithic religious centers is Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain in southern England; because this reached its final form in the second millennium B.C., it will be studied with Bronze Age societies with which it had limited contact.  Still,although the people who completed it were contemporary with Bronze Age nations in the Near East and Mediterranean and imported a certain amount of metal objects from the Mediterranean, their economy and society were still advanced Neolithic; the point is, Neolithic is not a period or a date but a technological stage; in the cradle of civilization, all of the Neolithic cultures are of nearly the same date; elsewhere, especially in the Americas, and especially where getting agriculture started was far more difficult or a far less obviously desirable option, the dates of cultures similar to the above can be quite recent.

First Egypt (not that the pots are earlier there)

[M 25]  The earliest Neolithic pottery in Egyptis of an intresting kind.  The pots are fired in an open fire, upside down with their tops buried in the ashes, which means that oxygen doesn't get to the top of the pot and so the ash blackens it, too, and it makes the top of the pot shiny and fairly waterproof.  The bottom of the pot stays red.  This kind of pottery was first found at a place called Tell el Badari, so we call it Badarian; then there was a kind of pottery, Amratian, that was found at Tell Amra that apparently began somewhat later, in the 5th millennium, and this is pottery painted red and decorated with white paint.  The color images are not exactly the same pots, but that doesn't matter because what we're learning is a kind of pottery and not a particular example.  "Amratian" is red pottery with white lines on it, but why shouldn't I bring you the most delightful one I know, the one with a hippopotamus on it.  Egypt, of course, is in NE Africa.  We'll see hippopotami repeatedly in Egyptian art.  It's quite obvious that this pottery, which was used daily, was meant to be charming, was made for people to look at.  When we get down to the fourth millennium, around 3,500 B.C., we find pottery decorated with highly schematic but elaborately composed scenes of decidedly Egyptian character: pictures of Nile boats, with standards on them and people or animals on the opposite shore.  The pottery is a sort of buff color with brownish-red paint.  This kind of pottery is called Gerzean, and it continues down to the beginning of Dynastic Egypt towards the end of the 4th millennium BCE.[M 30] 

 It is in association with this kind of pottery, and at the same date of about 3,500 B.C., that at a site called, in Greek, Hierakonpolis, we have what was, until the excavation of Çatal Hüyük, the world's earliest wall painting, but it's 2,500 years later than the wall painting at Çatal VI--about 3,500 instead of 6,000 B.C.  The wall painting resembles the Gerzean pot but gives a lot more detail.  Although the figures are very small, you have three Nile boats with cabins on them, the same as on the Gerzean vase, and people on the shore, plus some mountain goats.  Below, the seated figures look like women with small looms in their lap, then you have males fighting.  One of them has a shield made of an animal skin.  The circular design with animals might be (judging from the way Egyptians represent space in later Egyptian art) a picture of animals in a corral.  Their feet are in the circle to show that they're standing in the corral and they are flattened radially so that you can see them.  This is a conceptual way, not a visual way, of showing animals in a corral.  It is not a bad attempt to do perspective--it's not perspective at all.  When a 5-year-old does these conceptual things that don't look like what he's looking at, it's evidence of reading readiness.  You can almost say that these societies are getting ready to express themselves in written signs.  At lower left in the painting, finally, is a very strange image: a male figure with two long-tailed cats (presumably, therefore, lions), heraldically placed on either side of him.  That reminds us of pictures in southern Mesopotamia of the Sumerian hero Gilgamesh fighting with wild beasts.  The reason this composition is so curious here is that, while the corral image is consistent with later Egyptian art, this image with the heraldic symmetry is NOT consistent with later Egyptian art.  Later Egyptian art usually avoids bilateral symmetry; it's typical instead of Mesopotamian art.  For this reason, and others, we wonder whether there was contact between Egypt and Mesopotamia at this time

[M 190] In Iraq (Mesopotamia), painted Neolithic pottery began early.  In the sixth millennium, a distinctive painted pottery was made named for Samarra, a site which was famous later for its Islamic architecture, but this pottery comes from the earliest levels, just above bedrock.  Besides this vessel made to resemble a human, with eyes of clay pellets, slit, like coffee beans (in many languages, we use the parts of the human body to refer to the parts of pots: mouth, neck, shoulder, handles, belly, foot), the makers of Samarra ware made bowls with animals, highly schematic, radiating from the center (note the rivets used to mend it, showing that pots were valuable, not throwaways).  The date is still ca. 5,500 or so.
            Down around 4,500 B.C.,
ware; the slide is the fanciest kind of Halaf ware, polychrome, flowers, and white X's on black squares; also decorated on the outside; the one on the Print is more typical.  Halaf ware is found widespread from North Syria in the west, across northern Iraq, and over into Iran.
            In the mountains and in southern
, the flat part, Elam, at Susa you find these beautiful beakers; the Louvre in Paris has a whole roomful of them (Susa was a French excavation).  On the beakers, around rim, are birds like 1/8 notes in music, and on body mountain goats, highly abstracted, and maybe the diapered triangles are mountains, and maybe, even, the big circle is a sun.  Not certain.  The Susa beakers are contemporary with Halaf pottery.
For these it is important to review the geography of the Middle East; study your maps, and find these sites, and relate them to modern geography.  Just Google/Search every place name!
Sometimes, when societies get richer, arts in less expensive materials get worse; when you get down to ca. 3,500 B.C., the same date as the Gerzean pottery in Egypt, in Mesopotamia you have Ubaid pottery.  Here, in Iraq, by this time you have big towns, with big temples, and the people, we think, are the same as the Sumerians, who are known certainly to have been here by ca. 3,100, because it is they, then, who invented writing and thus are known by their language group.  But Ubaid pottery is by no means so beautiful as the earlier potteries.  Now artisans also worked copper and stone, and perhaps the best work went to those materials.

  In Greece, we shall study only the latest Neolithic, ca. 3,500, called Sasklo and Dhimini ware from sites in Thessaly (north-central Greece).  The bowl is decorated inside and out.  Like all of the above, it is made by hand, like Navaho pottery, for example, and since it antedates heavy trading and occupational specialization, it is possible that, as in the Americas, most of what we've been looking at was made by the females, as the weaving in simple economies almost always is and often the pottery, too.  Home craft.  No one can say that females made most of Neolithic pottery, but the idea is plausible.  On the Dhimini bowls, again, notice that all the patterns are similar to what you get in basket work.  Some scholars think early pottery patterns derive from weaving, including basketry.  If you've ever done weaving, or knit argyle socks, you know that color changes need to be done on the diagonal in order not to weaken the fabric.  This Dhimini ware, combining curves and steps and parallel lines is wonderfully decorative.
[M 226]  In Rumania, and throughout the Balkans, wonderful advanced Neolithic art has been found, but we shall look only at pieces from Cernavoda in Rumania, in the 5th millennium.  These are remarkable figurines, designed fully in space, not flat and frontal.  Like the figures from Hacilar, and others from Old World Neolithic cultures, they do have stylized heads and very small feet and hands, but they are beautifully designed.  The painted pottery through this whole region may be related to Dhimini pottery.
[O 86]  Let's go to another great river valley, finally, just to remind ourselves that we're in one world, to the Huang Ho, the Yellow River, of northern China.  About 4,500 B.C., painted pottery began; this unusual one from Ban-po has a little figure on it that may be a human face, or an insect; we're not sure which, but it's very unusual and extremely neatly drawn.  About 2,500 B.C. another tradition produces a grey pottery, beautifully made, unpainted, in distinctive shapes--this one resembles a yam.  The gray pottery is thin and well fired; the forms are interesting, too, because when they begin working in bronze they use some of the same shapes, so these are the basis for some of the vessels of Bronze Age China.
Advanced village art occurs all over the world; we just used China to remind us of that fact, and because China is one of the great cradles of civilization.

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