The Neolithic witnessed some of the most profound transformations in human history: the inception and spread of agriculture and animal husbandry, permanent settlement in solid houses, growing populations around fixed locales, long-distance trade in raw material such as obsidian, craft specialization in lithic production, the beginnings cf simple metallurgy, the use cf pyrotechnology in the making of plaster and the production of ceramics, simple methods of marking ownership of objects and goods, and the construction of structures for sacred rituals. To be sure these—and no doubt many more invisible but equally significant developments—took place over a span of several thousand years, with variable emphases from region to region. Nevertheless, it is not too much to say that the foundations of what we consider to be basic attributes of our civilization were established during the Neolithic. This first touch of familiarity encourages us to seek analogs in prehistory for some of the intangibles of human life. "Social configu-rations''is one of these. What can we say about the ways Neolithic societies

FRANK HOLE • Department of Anthropology, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut 06520-8277,

Life in Neolithic Farming Communities: Social Organization, Identity, and Differentiation, edited by Ian Kuijt. Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, New York, 2000.

were organized? Can we apply uniformitarian ideas such that the past merges seamlessly with the present? Few would affirm such a notion, yet implicitly we all base our interpretations on combinations of our experiences, ethnographic examples, and more abstract theories about the ways people and societies behave that are derived from the modern world.

Although there is grave danger in imposing our realities on the past, as a start we may consider inequalities or, as expressed more mundanely, differences. The mother's milk of archaeology is difference. Change and variability are operational aspects of difference, and these, rather than unvarying similarity, excite our imagination. In this chapter I question the relationship between two kinds of differences, size of site and special architectural units. This inquiry questions whether large sites are tangible expression of regional importance—that such sites are "centers" affecting social relations within their sphere of influence (Rollefson 1987; Kuijt 1994). The corollary is that small settlements are relatively insignificant and unlikely to have been the residence of regional leaders or the locale of important activities. One need only look at the modern world to find countless examples where relative size is a reliable indication of relative importance: hence, the uniformitarian approach makes eminent sense. However, since the obvious sometimes proves to be wrong, I merely ask whether there are clear indications that the largest sites differ in substantial ways from the smallest settlements during the PPNB.

A fair amount of theory implies that to buffer inherent conflict when people live together in large numbers, there must be organizing principles and customs, usually considered to be manifest in principals and institutions (Wright 1984; Flannery 1995). What problems might arise? In any community, bickering, bullying, thieving and a nearly unending host of similar issues might arise. More serious from a structural point of view would be attempts by individuals or groups to accumulate power and authority and become unequal. Whereas in small, ephemeral communities the aggrieved often merely remove themselves and migrate to a friendlier community, this is not as tenable when one has agricultural fields and stores. In such cases, the first resort is usually to the family and its extensions, and the aggrieved may or may not find an effective solution in these parleys, particularly if the offenses take place solely within the familial setting. Heads of households may try to resolve disputes between their groups, but this relies on personal persuasion, which lacks effective long-term sanctions. Feuds that may last generations keep tension alive. In most preurban (even prestate) communities there is unlikely to have been any formally constituted "police" to keep order and punish transgressors; rather action normally would be taken by ad hoc groups of affected relatives.

Even in communities where individuals and families have essential autonomy, there are group norms and customs that regulate behavior. These are ordinarily as unquestioned as the local dialect is to its speakers. Such customs may include reciprocal obligations, burial practices, and rites of passage that the family and community go through. Kuijt has described how an egalitarian ethos might have been promulgated and maintained through group burial rituals (Kuijt 1996). Other customs that might serve to solidify the community might relate to planting ceremonies, occasions for sacrifice, harvest festivals, etc. Insofar as these are archaeologically visible through ritual paraphernalia or other tangible remains, they would tend to tie sites within regions together in a network of "similar cultural practices."

For most of daily living it is unlikely that there arose a need for "regulation" or "control" to be exercised outside the immediate community. It is hard to imagine how any community in the PPNB could exert "control" over another because resources, despite their potential depletion, were still widely available, given the size of local populations. On the other hand, control of a resource, such as high-quality flint for making naviform cores, might engender trade possibilities. We should imagine that people living within walking proximity had regular intercourse through marriage and exchange of locally available goods. While the agricultural fields immediately adjacent to the villages were probably held exclusively, pasture lands were no doubt part of the great "commons," available to all. Hence, herds and herders would come in frequent contact.Autonomy in subsistence among scattered villages fostered equality and did not necessarily lead to social exclusion. One might imagine occasions when perhaps thousands of people gathered for important ceremonies or events such as summer solstice. If they did, there is no apparent archaeological evidence. On the other hand, there is abundant evidence that people did gather in small groups in nondomestic structures. Just what rites they carried out or what politics they engineered in them cannot be known, yet their ubiquity suggests that they played a central role in the workings of PPNB society. The fact that a single such structure seems to have been present at any given time in many sites suggests that only some members of each community actually participated in the rites or discussions.

I consider several such structures as well as the sites in which they occur, asking the general questions: Does size of site bear any relationship to the kind or size of structure? Do these structures have to do with "central-ity" and "hierarchy," or are they components of all communiities that share customs and rites?


One striking fact of the archaeology of the Early Neolithic in the Near East (known as the PPNB) is that there are a number of very large sites—sites that are anomalously large in the context of what came before and after, and in the broader contemporary picture. Most archaeologists would argue that size and specific function go naturally hand in hand, and a whole literature on the implications of size hierarchies follows from this assumption. For example, Ian Kuijt has made a case for a settlement hierarchy in the PPNA (10,300-9,600 bp) of the southern Levant where site sizes range from 0.1 to 2.5 ha, implying, perhaps, a range from a family camp to a settlement of a few hundred people (Kuijt 1994).Jericho is regarded as the largest such site,but its actual extent in the PPNA cannot be determined and no other site is larger than 1.5 ha. One of these, Netiv Hagdud is estimated to have had some 200 small round structures occupied simultaneously (Bar-Yosef and Belfer-Cohen 1991). Based on such evidence Kuijt suggests that "ritual and community leaders" who coordinated activities among settlements from their bases in the large sites had already emerged during the PPNA.

Using similar reasoning, Gary Rollefson sees as many as four "centers" in the PPNB, namely the largest sites in each region that "served as focal points for the development of local innovations and as centers for the diffusion of new concepts and techniques" (Rollefson 1987:31).Rollefson bases his ideas of centrality more on sheer size of site than on other criteria, although some cf these sites have yielded portrait skulls and abundant exotic materials. He also points to subtle differences in local styles as perhaps indicative of regional groups, with these large sites as their foci, but the evidence is far from compelling when we consider the confounding problems of determining contemporaneity and site size and that only small samples of each site have been recovered.

In later times a community of 2.5 ha would qualify merely as a small village, but these things are relative. An incautious application of the site size approach would lead one to expect that the smaller settlements would lack the special features of the large ones, despite abundant ethnographic evidence that even very small communities may hold the kinds of special structures that commonly imply specialization and social complexity (Kramer 1994). Archaeology of the PPNB seems to support ethnography, for there are some very large sites that have yielded no evidence for special activities, as well as very small sites that have.

There are many reasons why a site may have been large or may appear to have been large. It may have been (a) a political, economic, or religious center or (b) in a locally rich environment. In either case the site actually may have had a large population. However, a site may merely appear to have been large because (a) of sequential use so that small settlements accumulating horizontally appear to have the same "archaeological" age; (b) dwellings may be widely spaced, but artifacts cover the entire area, thus giving a false impression of size; (c) structures that may have been used for other than domestic purposes take up a large amount of the space; (d) a large site may represent merely a seasonal agglomeration of many normally smaller units. Clearly each of these situations might lead to different correlates in the sphere of social relations.

On a broad historical scale, Ronald Fletcher focuses on "three great transformations in settlement form and organization . . . the development of sedentary communities, the initial formation of urban settlements and the Industrial Revolution" (Fletcher 1987:65). At eachnewstage the largest settlements increased by a factor of100. We are not concerned here with that level of growth, but we can identify another stage within that sequence — the 3,000 years from the time of initial sedentary communities to the later PPNB—that is, just prior to the use of ceramics. During this time, nearly all settlements remain a hectare or less, but the largest ones are 8-12 ha, and there are few to no sites of intermediate size. Thus, the largest sites in the Near East are some ten times the size of the typical small site.

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