October 14: Cigdem, Ankara

Cigdem is an archeologist ~ her focus is Neolithic culture.  She refers to this as “the Neolithic process,”  – – – — not “the Neolithic period.”  Several persons we’ve talked with have a sense of history as continual process.  A most significant reminder to me – and, I suspect, many of you as well ! ! !

She says archeologists generally consider this period as coming at the end of the last ice age when various parts of the earth became more hospitable for humans.  These were hunter-gatherer societies that moved around, often in a fairly small geographic area, gradually becoming more sedentary around a site and using the resources of that area.  The reasons for this are not only economic, but also symbolic – rituals for a successful hunt, perhaps.  The time frame – 10,000 BC; in the Dead Sea area, probably 14,000-13,000 BC.  By around 6000 BC settlements were depending on agriculture.

We were particularly interested in the Catal Huyuk site near Konya, Turkey which were planning to visit.  By around 7000 BC sedentary groups were common in this area – and some of them were very large – as many as 1500 people at one site.  These settlements were sometimes maintained at one site for several thousand years.  When a house was no longer livable, a new house was built immediately on top of it.

The social organization Cigdem described was most interesting.  There was hierarchy, she told us, but not central authority.  Status was based on such things as one’s family, age, skill, gender – probably male.  The ritual specialist was one of the most important.  Such a person could organize a ceremony for the hunt, for example and at the end of the hunt that person’s influence ended.  That is, when a person was a leader for one purpose that leadership did not extend to broad, long term influence or control.

I find this quite fascinating in light of current thinking of complexity theory – – that day by day, moment by moment we are continually creating our reality.  And Fritjof Capra’s lucid description of form and process – what stays the same (that is, changes at a much slower pace) gives shape to that which is continually changing.  It seems that what gave shape to these Neolithic cultures was a basic family organization, and wisdom was transmitted generation to generation.  At Catal Huyuk, for example, people literally lived with their ancestors. The dead were buried beneath the floors of the homes.

These houses were not merely places of shelter.  They were the place where one belonged.  Cigdem says there did not seem to be a concept of “owning property,” but a very strong sense of belonging.  So these houses were where people lived with the past, birthed new generations, acknowledged significant ceremonies – such as coming of age and marriage.  There is strong investment in the family group.

There are no significant differences in the burial sites that would suggest males or females were considered more important.  There seemed to be relatively egalitarian access to resources.  There was no “chief.”   Nevertheless – some persons and some families came to be more favored as having rights to administer, to make decisions that influenced all.

The theory proposed by James Mellaart (who first discovered this site, 1965) that the presence of figurines such as those at Catal Huyuk, the absence of objects of war, etc. suggested Goddess worship – seems to be largely discounted by current archeologists.

SO, the questions live on:

  • How is it that some people would accept other people’s power and authority over them?
  • How is it that women become subordinate to men?

Gerda Lerner, social historian, researches this general topic in extensive detail and eloquently describes her exploration and conclusions in her two volumes,

The Creation of Patriarchy (1987) and The Creation of Feminine Consciousness (1994).  We will explore her work in a later post.

For now may we simply revel in the incredible human history of which we are a part.  May we glean wisdom from it – and contribute wisdom to it.