The Advent Of Divinities

The pre-Natufian food gatherers of the Near East lived, as do all animal species, in an environment of plants and animals that they exploited but did not think to modify in any economically significant way. At the very most they varied their acquisition strategies according to the seasons, often moving from place to place to follow and exploit this or that edible species. This is why the first sedentary Natufian villages were established in rich environmental zones permitting a diversified (broad spectrum) economy where food resources were seasonably available in the same area.

Thanks to the painted caves ofthe "Franco-Cantabrian" region we know that during the Upper Paleolithic animals were not only prey for the hunters but already a "spectacle" subject to being reproduced in works of art (Leroi-Gourhan 1965). It is generally agreed that these caves were sanctuaries and that the profusion of animals represented on their walls were not drawn by accident, but form structured symbolic wholes with cognitive and religious meaning and value. According to the region, certain species are represented more frequently than others: for example, horses and bison in southwest France and lions and rhinoceros in southeast France (Chauvet et al. 1995). Importantly, these are almost always arranged in a way that is collective and "horizontal"—that is, to say no individual animal that could represent a divinity ever stands out in these groups. This is clearly deliberate, since it would have been very easy in these spatially composed cave paintings to have emphasized one or another individual animal over others if it had a truly dominant religious value.

One wonders (Delporte 1979) whether the female figurines of the Upper Paleolithic, sometimes called "Aurignacian Venues,"could have foreshadowed the future Neolithic goddess. Leroi-Gourhan and Delporte have pointed out how much the deformation of these figures (the distention of the hips and breasts) emphasizes that which is least specifically human in the idea of fecundity, whereas the extremities and, particularly, the head, are usually atrophied. One thinks more of a simple symbol of fecundity than a truly divine personage. The only exception is perhaps the clay relief in the cave of Laussel that represents a woman holding a horn in her hands. This figure of a woman with an aurochs horn suggests some mythical figure, perhaps the germ of a female divinity, already associazed with the evocation of an ox. One may consider in any case that in the whole of the Upper Paleolithic a symbolic classification of the natural world was well established but that it was very probably a world without gods.

In contrast, excavations at Catal Hoyuk have unquestionably documented the existence by 9,000 bp of a sort of divine couple with a female dominance. Although the information available is less forthcoming, it is tempting to push back its emergence to the Khiamian culture at about 10,000 bp when the first representations of women and (on the Euphrates) of bulls appeared and began to dominate assemblages. In fact this patterning may outline the actual mental transformation that provided the initial impetus to the Neolithic revolution. The appearance of divinities indicates a new distinction in the religious imagination between a High and a Low, between a perfect divine power, experienced henceforth as removed from ordinary man, and this man himself, who consciously feels himself to be a finite and imperfect creature. This new tension puts an end to an equilibrium, which is not at all an ecological balance between population and resources as seen from processual archaeology, but an entirely psychic one: a harmonious insertion of humanity in a natural world that had yet to be transformed or manipulated.

On the cognitive level the perception of the sacred would have taken on a hierarchical form, with the goddess as the keystone of the system. This is, however, in the realm of the religious, where theoretical representations of the world are inseparable from specific emotional attitudes and from a specific active dynamic. Belief in divinities is often associated on the icono-graphic level with the theme ofthe "orant," that is, a human figure in a state of prayer, arms raised. In the Near East this iconographic theme was not to be formally depicted until the Bronze Age on Mesopotamian seals. Else where, for example on the decorated shelters of the Saharan region (so-called phase of the "Roundheads"), it is explicit from the beginning of the Neolithic. The intimate tension represented by prayer is obviously evidence cf a certain existential dissatisfaction that could have emerged at the same time as the Neolithic. Moreover, I argue that there is a probable correlation between this uneasiness and a compensating new dynamism in the face of the material world, attested by the beginning of food production. In this intellectual context the original invention of agriculture and herding is not a reaction to a necessity for food, but resulted from a new perception of humans toward nature, toward themselves, and to the role they played in this relationship. It must not b e forgotten that the Neolithic revolution brought not only a new conception of the world but also the beginning of its transformation by humans with all the novel behavior and activitiesthat resulted from this conception. "Religion," as is the case generally in traditional societies, is cognitive and dynamic, in that it explains the cosmos but at the same time manages psychic tensions and releases energies. This profound mental unity between symbolic construction, emotion, and action is a familiar notion to the psychoanalyst today when dealing with the individual. Perhaps it would be appropriate not to be stopped here by Popper'sviews, for whom psychoanalysis is not truly scientific, and to extend this approach as a sort of collective paleopsychoanalysis. Given that the goal of archaeology is to reconstruct human history as a whole and not only its economic and social practices, it is necessary to use all methods availableto us, whether or not they are "scientific"according to one or another school cf thought. In this respect, then, there is an indisputable contribution from contextual archaeology to which we will return later.

We should not forget, however, that the "mentalist" model presented here in relation to the Khiamian and the PPNA still rests upon limited data, especially given the relative scarceness of PPNA villages excavated compared to those that preceded and followed them. In particular the actual "divine"nature of female and bull representations remains problematic, as we have seen, until the seventh millennium, even though their evolution was certainly moving in this direction. It remains possible that their transformation from "dominant symbols" into real representations of divinities was progressive, as the simultaneous emergence f "agriculture" itself occurred in successive stages, the details of which are far from clear. What is important is that the two transformations occurred side by side, at least according to the information we have, while the transformation of symbolic data appears to have begun earlier than the new economy.

It is also possible, given the demonstrated delay of the morphological proof of "domestication," that incipient cultivation occurred during the Khiamian in a form still imperceptible to us. As it was not yet an "agricul tural economy" in which cultivated plants were treated as an essential food source, there may not have been the quantity of materials found at settlements such as Mureybet IIIB. Thus, the first experiments could have es-capedus completely. Similarto Isaac's ideas (1962) ofa "religious" origin of animal domestication, we can model that the first agricultural experiments were contemporary to the revolution of symbols, expressing simultaneously in the praxis, as a sort of "ritual," the mental transformations of human communities in the Levant.

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