ArticlePDF Available

Symbols of Power - Symbols of Crisis? A Psycho-Social Approach to Early Neolithic Symbol Systems


Abstract and Figures

The transition from mobile to sedentary lifestyles was one of the most revolutionary processes in human prehistory. Archaeological data of the Near East show an increase in territorial permanence and a concentration of populations in the first farming villages. From a neurobiological perspective it is expected that increasing alienation, decreasing trust and social control and thus an increase in the potential of aggressive behaviour and fear were the major challenges these early sedentary communities had to cope with. In our article we argue that the ubiquitous and canonized symbolic systems, which appear at the same time as the increased sedentism in Northern Mesopotamia, were one of the possible strategies to enhance social commitment within and between these larger communities and to avoid conflict, fission and fighting. Our study is based on three fundamental thesis of neurobiology: 1. First, the human brain needs social environments for its development during childhood. Socialization thus has a lasting impact on cognition, ethics and emotions. Yet, and this is our second point, there are universal feelings, reactions and behaviours which developed during earlier stages of evolution and are basically akin to all humans. 2. The basic feelings, among which fear is unanimously accepted as universal, lead to similar facial expressions and body reactions that allow others to estimate the mood of other people. Neurobiology of the last two decades has shown that emotions are decisive aspects of human decision-making and praxis. 3. Third, the mirror neuron system endows humans with extraordinary capacities for empathy, imitation and learning. When observing another person, in the brain of the observer, the mirror neuron system activates neuronal resonances, which are similar to the ones in the brain of the observed person. On the one hand, these three characteristics make humans outstanding apprentices. But, on the other hand, they can also be influenced in their emotions, decision-making and behaviour through the systematic and ubiquitous use of symbols. The emotional and social impact of symbols is thus an important aspect for the reconstruction of prehistoric social praxis. We therefore focus our study on a media-psychological approach for the interpretation of the early Holocene symbolism. Symbols reveal feelings, past events and social relations. They thus strengthen relationships between people, space and time. We are interested in the media and contexts in which objects were presented, in their propagation and frequency, and in their relationship to their environments. We suggest that the analysis of the medialities of symbolic systems (including rituals as symbols in action and architecture as symbols in space) is highly revealing and point to communities at a liminal stage. In the large, permanent villages traditional expectations of prosocial behaviour and egalitarian ethos could no longer be assumed. There is a great increase of public display, and the “petrification” of ritual behaviour relates to the need to strengthen social networks that were at risk of disintegrating into conflict, violence, or even war. Our systematic study of the figures that are represented - animals, humans, and abstract signs - is beginning to reveal certain associations, a range of stone media, as well as a range of contexts. There is an apparent contradiction between the “petrification” of images, architecture, signs and objects of symbolic value on the one hand, and the observation that communal buildings were deliberately destroyed and obliterated, and decorated stone vases, that had been carefully mended and treasured, were smashed and the broken pieces placed on bodies buried at Körtik Tepe. These images were part of daily life, but the aggressive attitude and the lethal character of some of the depicted animals indicate that fear was stirred, managed, and somehow resolved. We suggest that the new materiality at one level facilitated the propagation of cognitive concepts to a wider public; at the same time it was the means by which emerging elites came to establish a symbolic canon, the right to interpret the symbols, to restrict access to ritual places, and, by erecting monumental communal buildings, to claim dominance (probably as a group) over a territory. Were the Early Holocene communities thus paving the way to dogma and “top-down” ideologies, long before the emergence of strongly hierarchical state societies?
Content may be subject to copyright.
Benz and Bauer
Neolithisation Needs Evolution,
as Evolution needs Neolithisation
Benz and Bauer
Symbols of Power ‑ Symbols of
Crisis? A Psycho‑Social Approach to
Early Neolithic Symbol Systems
What Makes the Neolithic so Special?
Centres of Congregation
On Cultural Niche Construction and Materiality
The Territoriality of Early Neolithic Symbols and Ideocracy
Sütterlin and Eibl-Eibesfeldt
Human Cultural Defense: Means and Monuments of
Ensuring Collective Territory
Stewart (Strathern) and Strathern
Symbols, Language, Ritual, and Scale
Crisis Needs Shamans, as Shamans Need Crisis? Shamans as
Psycho‑Social Professionals in Early Neolithic Symbol Systems
An Entirely New Interaction with the Animal World?
Reply / Epilogue
Extending the Scope of the Neolithic Conversation
Bauer and Benz
Neurobiology Meets Archaeology
New Publications
The Newsletter of Southwest Asian Neolithic Research
Special Topic on The Symbolic Construction of Community
2Neo-Lithics 2/13
Editorial 2
Marion Benz and Joachim Bauer 3
Trevor Watkins
Neolithisation Needs Evolution, as Evolution needs Neolithisation 5
Marion Benz and Joachim Bauer
Symbols of Power ‑ Symbols of Crisis? A Psycho‑Social Approach to
Early Neolithic Symbol Systems 11
Robin I.M. Dunbar
What Makes the Neolithic so Special? 25
Colin Renfrew
Centres of Congregation 30
Bo Dahl Hermansen
On Cultural Niche Construction and Materiality 35
Hans Georg K. Gebel
The Territoriality of Early Neolithic Symbols and Ideocracy 39
Christa Sütterlin and Irenäus Eibl-Eibesfeldt
Human Cultural Defense: Means and Monuments of Ensuring Collective Territory 42
Pamela J. Stewart (Strathern) and Andrew Strathern
Symbols, Language, Ritual, and Scale 49
Ulrike Bohnet
Crisis Needs Shamans, as Shamans Need Crisis?
Shamans as Psycho‑Social Professionals in Early Neolithic Symbol Systems 53
Klaus Theweleit
An Entirely New Interaction with the Animal World? 57
Reply / Epilogue
Trevor Watkins
Extending the Scope of the Neolithic Conversation 61
Joachim Bauer and Marion Benz
Neurobiology Meets Archaeology: The Social Challenges of the Neolithic Processes 65
New Publications 70
Masthead 72
Neo‑Lithics special issues aim to launch fresh thoughts into research dispositions and to indicate needed research
developments or agendas. This issue on The Symbolic Construction of Community aims to explain that – and
exemplify what – we neglect of available Neolithic research potentials when cooperation with evolutionary,
cognitive and neurobiological sciences is not intensied further. Joachim Bauer and Marion Benz were the perfect
tandem and guest editors for this topic, supported by Trevor Watkins and the intellectual inputs to his and Klaus
Schmidt’s Templeton Workshop in Urfa, October 2012.
Conned in our Neolithic foci while trying to survive in the daily struggle created by information avalanches, as
well as various administrative and academic pressure and their developments, we forget that prehistoric research
should be more than a mere effort in history: Don’t we have – beyond l’art pour l’art – the responsibility to become
a partner of life sciences, to translate and make our results available to those disciplines that try to understand
the human being from evolutionary, cognitive and neurobiological perspectives? This special issue of Neo‑Lithics
shares the efforts to open these new doors of archaeological cooperation and transdisciplinarity.
When talking (H.G.K.G.) about this Editorial with one of this issue’s guest editors (Marion Benz), we immediately
addressed the considerable differences we see in the formal and informal ways Neolithic symbolism of the Northern
and Southern Levant is expressed. We found ourselves “translating the Neolithic” when we became tempted to
trace this feature through the two large regions’ history, and to recognize these differences even in their present-day
ideological structures and dispositions. We stopped this brain-storming, but this left us with the question: can such
basic regional differences in psycho-social imprints be excluded for the Neolithic?
Hans Georg K. Gebel & Gary O. Rollefson
Neo-Lithics 2/13 3
When in 2010 Hans Georg K. Gebel, co-editor-in-chief
of Neo‑Lithics, asked us to contribute to a special issue
on Conict and Warfare in the Near Eastern Neolithic,
we didn’t realize that this would be the beginning of a
fascinating cooperation. At that time the focus of our
research was the opposite of warfare: one of us (M.B.)
was dealing with the question of how people created
cooperative structures as mobile bands became seden-
tary; and the other (J.B.) was attempting to understand,
from a neurobiological and psychological perspective,
why humans cooperate (and why they so often don’t).
Given this background, we decided to jointly analyse
how, at the beginning of the Neolithic era, humans
managed to reduce sharing to a circumscribed group
and accepted a certain degree of social inequality. How
did they cope with life in permanent villages, with
its increased potential for aggression and alienation,
without constant conict?
Although we both, for different reasons, were not
then able to contribute to the Conict and Warfare
issue, the above mentioned questions remained much
in our minds. We felt that the impressive gurative art
of northern Mesopotamia was a promising test for our
theories. The suggestion that we guest-edit this Neo‑
Lithics special issue gave us the opportunity to develop
some of our ideas.
Neurobiological research of the two last decades
has prepared the ground for this type of trans-dis-
ciplinary approach by demonstrating the reciprocal
dialectical inuence of the brain’s matrix with envi-
ronment, socialization, and praxis. Consequently only
by considering both culture and biology can we gain a
more holistic, synthetic understanding of the evolution
of social and cognitive dynamics, which are recorded
so fragmentarily, sometimes virtually invisibly, in the
archaeological record. Archaeology must include all
aspects of anthropology – biological, psychological,
social, and cultural – if we wish to cross the threshold
from mere description of material to interpretation and
from subjective phenomenology to an empirical cog-
nitive archaeology in which the focus is upon humans
and their being-in-the-world. Although such a com-
plementary approach has already been established in
palaeoanthropology (e.g., Mithen 1998; Donald 2001;
Gowlett et al. 2012) concerning the advent of modern
homo sapiens or, slightly later, the ‘Big Bang of Art’
of the Upper Palaeolithic, these trans-disciplinary ap-
proaches are all-too-often ignored, or at best just an
‘epilogue’, with regards to the transition to Neolithic
However, there are exceptions. For many years
Trevor Watkins has advocated a neurobiological
evolutionary approach for the understanding of
neolithisation in the Near East. The suggestion by
Hans Georg K. Gebel that Trevor Watkins write a
second keynote was thus an invaluable enrichment
of the present issue. Trevor Watkins’ longue durée
perspective embeds archaeological data into the much
wider process of human evolution, and he suggests
niche theory as a powerful heuristic device. In coopera-
tion with the excavator of Göbekli Tepe, Klaus Schmidt,
he has initiated the project “Our place: our place in the
world”, funded in 2012 by the John Templeton Foun-
dation. The invitation to participate in the kick-off con-
ference of that project in Şanlıurfa and to visit Göbekli
Tepe was an outstanding opportunity for both of us, for
which we are very grateful to the organizers and, of
course, also to the John Templeton Foundation. It gave
us the chance to reconsider some of our previous ideas
and to advance the work on the Neo‑Lithics special
issue, for which Trevor Watkins suggested the title The
Symbolic Construction of Community, which alludes to
an inspiring booklet published in 1985 by the anthro-
pologist Antony P. Cohen. Because of our profound
admiration for this author’s enlightening analyses of
the social aspects of symbols, we greatly appreciated
this proposal. Our goal is to advance further along this
track and promote an evolutionary and media-psycho-
logical approach to the interpretation of early Holocene
We therefore not only reconsider processes similar
to those discussed in the Conict and Warfare issue
– though from the opposite, but complementary, per-
spective of social dynamics and conict management
we also hope to full the call of Lee Clare’s and
Hans Georg K. Gebel’s (2010: 3) introduction for the
enlargement of the community by disciplines hitherto
neglected in Neolithic research. It is a great honour for
us that celebrated scientists from such diverse areas as
psychology, biology, ethnology, ethology, sociology
and archaeology have accepted our invitation to com-
ment on our keynotes. We are very thankful to them for
sharing their ideas with us and for their inspiring com-
ments that have encouraged us to add some thoughts
about the unconventional and unexpected relationship
between archaeology and neurobiology. The different
– for most archaeologists new – perspectives which the
contributions of this issue add to the ongoing discus-
sion have allowed us to explore in a more multi-faceted
way than ever before one of the most fundamental so-
cial changes with which humans have ever had to cope.
In closing, we wish to thank all those excavators
who do not spare any effort to bring all these invalu-
able treasures to light. Without their painstaking work,
it would never have been possible to get even a glimpse
of this exciting but puzzling past which we here are
attempting to see synthetically. Our thanks also go to
Craig Crossen, Lee Clare and Deva Jebb-Albaba for
the thoughtful editing of our texts, and to the ex oriente
team, especially Dörte Rokitta-Krumnow, for her ex-
Marion Benz and Joachim Bauer
Neo-Lithics 2/13
cellent work in the production of this issue. Last but not
least, we cordially thank Hans Georg K. Gebel for his
condence in bestowing upon us the guest-editorship,
for his sympathetic and always encouraging support,
and for knotting strings where hitherto we had not sus-
pected there could be any network. We’ll appreciate
any comments, and we will be happy if some of the
fascination which we have felt, and still feel, for the
topic will be passed on to others and thus inspire fur-
ther exciting discussions.
Clare L. and Gebel H.G.K.
2010 Introduction: Conict and Warfare. Neo‑Lithics 1/10: 3-5.
Donald M.
2001 A mind so rare: the evolution of human consciousness.
New York: Norton.
Gowlett J., Gamble C., and Dunbar R.
2012 Human Evolution and the Archaeology of the Social
Brain. Current Anthropology 53(6): 693-722.
Mithen S.
1998 The prehistory of the mind. A search for the origins of
art, religion and science. London: Phoenix, Orion
Benz and Bauer, Symbols of Power
Neo-Lithics 2/13 11
In this keynote paper we will argue that the symbolic
repertoires of early Neolithic societies in Northern Me-
sopotamia are consistent with communities in a liminal
stage. The ‘eternal’ xing of symbols in stone, as well
as the establishment of visible territorial markers, are
interpreted as signs of communities beginning to free
themselves from nature, from natural mutability (‘do-
mestication of time’), and from nature as sole creator
of communal space (‘domestication of space and of
social behaviour’), though daily life continued to be
dominated by the presence of animals. The increase of
public display and the ‘petrication’ of ritual behav-
iour points to the importance of symbolic devices, and
indirectly to the obvious need for strengthening social
networks, that were in danger of disintegrating into
conict, violence, or even war.
Symbols are efcient media for creating, enhancing,
and xing communal identities and for inuencing in-
dividual as well as social behaviour (Cohen 1985). The
possibility of manipulating cognition, memory, and
behaviour by the determination and use of ritual (sym-
bolic activity), of architecture (spatial symbolism), and
of symbols has been demonstrated by neuroscience.
This inuence can either be overt or it can be subli-
minal and subconscious, as in priming1 (Edelson et al.
2011; Doyen et al. 2012). The earliest known intensive
standardization and public demonstration of symbolic
systems in the Near East appeared during the early
Holocene (~ 9650-8300 calBC), and coincided with
increased territorial commitment and the domestication
of plants and animals. For an in-depth understanding of
the socio-ideological changes at the transition from for-
aging to farming it is therefore essential to understand
the characteristics of this symbolic system.
Symbols of Power – Symbols of Crisis?
A Psycho-Social Approach to Early Neolithic Symbol Systems
Marion Benz and Joachim Bauer
Fig. 1 Early Holocene sites of northern Mesopotamia with gurative symbolism and/or T-pillar buildings mentioned in the text (map:
design MB; editor: ArchaeoSupport F. Schreiber).
Neo-Lithics 2/13
In the 1960ies, Robert Braidwood was one of the
rst to emphasize the cultural factors triggering the
adoption of farming. His considerations added aspects
of human creativity and agency to the then-prevalent
focus upon extraneous causes and launched the socio-
religious theories about neolithisation.
In his earlier works, Jacques Cauvin considered so-
cial changes as decisive (1978: 77): ‘[...] For the rst
time, then, some communities avoided their ssion and
found a solution how to cope with the contradictions
which traversed them by discovering new types of social
relationships’ [translation MB]. In his book ‘La nais-
sance des divinités’ (1997), Cauvin extended his thesis
to religious changes. Brian Hayden (1992), following
Barbara Bender (1978), argued that agriculture was
initiated by power-seeking individuals who wanted to
exploit surplus production for ‘empowering feastings’
(Dietler 2006). Since the 1980s theories based on social
and ideological changes thus enriched former environ-
mental determinism, culminating in such inuential
theoretical publications as e.g. Ian Hodder’s ‘Domesti-
cation of Europe’ (1990).
The gurative representations and special buildings
excavated at ‘Ain Ghazal (Rollefson 1986), Çayönü
(Özdoğan 1999), Hallan Çemi (Rosenberg 1999), and
Nevalı Çori (Hauptmann 2011), followed by the dis-
coveries of rich symbolic repertoires at Göbekli Tepe
(Schmidt 2011), Jerf el Ahmar (Stordeur et al. 2000),
‘Abr 3 (Yartah 2010), Tell Qaramel (Mazurowski and
Kanjou 2012), and Körtik Tepe (Özkaya and Coşkun
2011), seemed like ‘empirical proof’ of the socio-ideo-
logical theories.
So far, however, interpretations of the gures have
been based either on retro-projection of historical or
recent meanings, or on semiotic approaches. But text-
analytic methods and structuralism have been criticized
in anthropology and countered by recent iconic theory
(Boyer 1993: 16-19; Boehm 2010: 45-52). Classical ap-
proaches neglect on the one hand mediality and on the
other the ambiguity and intersubjectivity of symbolic
meanings (Cohen 1985). The ways in which symbols
are selected and represented (repertoire, materiality,
attitude), how they are propagated (materiality, stan
dardization, ubiquity), and their adaptation to other con-
texts, are processes which illuminate the organization of
social and ideological systems. Nevertheless as of yet
these processes have not been studied systematically.
We therefore argue for an approach which, rst,
reconstructs the contexts in which these symbols were
used and, second, analyzes the mediality and emotions
inherent in the symbolic systems. Hopefully this will
help us understand the ideological changes within these
societies from their own (‘emic’) perspective. We ac-
cordingly suppose that the gures were more than mere
signs, but symbols or indexes / metaphors (Wagoner
2010: 13-14).²
We consider the following arguments and sugges-
tions a road map to several interconnected ways for
gaining a ‘dense description’ (Geertz) of early Holocene
symbolism. Given the similarity of all human (homo
sapiens sapiens) minds, the advances in social neuro-
sciences can no longer be ignored in the interpretation
of prehistoric imaginary.
Material and Method
The images upon which our arguments are based were
compiled during the SIGN Project (Benz in press) and
the work of both authors. Our approach owes much to
modern ideas of iconicism (Boehm 2010), to theories
of media, and to studies of materiality (Boivin 2008;
Gillespie 2010; Nünning et al. 2010; Wagoner 2010).
In contrast to earlier approaches, which sought for the
symbolic meaning of the gures, our focus is on the
praxis, in which these representations are used and on
their emotional impact.
For example, snakes are ubiquitous symbols during
the early Holocene but their symbolic meaning pro-
bably would have differed from society to society. So
the search for a precise universal meaning is destined to
fail from the start.
We are interested in the media and contexts in which
objects were presented, in their propagation and fre-
quency, and in their relationship to their environments.
Additionally, our emphasis is on essential qualities of
the representations and how they were pictured. Images
turn absence into presence and vice versa, thereby creat-
ing a surplus of sense and of sensation (Boehm 2010:
211). Pictures thus play an important role in socia-
lization and in the documentation and transmission of
knowledge. Picturing an object or scene also suggests
control and mastery over that object or situation – or at
least the desire for control and mastery.
Imagination and emotions, though dependent on
socialization and on personal experience and character,
can be guided in certain directions by pictures. In other
words, the impact of gurative themes is not only deter-
mined by their symbolic meaning, but also by sensations
they evoke and by their materiality (Benz in press). This
allows us to consider the intentions and inuences of
the symbolic repertoire of early Holocene societies in
the absence of written sources.
Our study has two basic theoretical assumptions:
1) There exist anthropological universals which
encourage certain decisions and actions, and make
others less probable. Though human decisions and
actions will never be predictable, recurring patterns
allow the formulation of probabilities concerning
behaviour and emotional reaction.
2) We are convinced that materiality matters in two
special ways:
a) We expect some materials to favour or constrain
certain behaviours; but we do not see agency in
inanimate objects unless humans ascribe agency to
them (Boivin 2008; cf. Knappett 2005).
b) The choice of certain materials can be an indicator
of behaviour, skills, and concepts.
Our approach had theoretical input during the Templeton
Foundation Conference organized by Trevor Watkins
Benz and Bauer, Symbols of Power
Neo-Lithics 2/13 13
and Klaus Schmidt (Watkins 2012), and we hope that it
will continue the discussions of the conference and the
interdisciplinary approach promoted by Trevor Watkins
since many years (e.g. Watkins 2005, 2011).
Because of the uneven distribution of gurative
representations, with the central and southern Levant
relying on different, non-gurative symbolic systems
(Benz in press), we concentrate on the sites mentioned
in Figure 1. This collection does not pretend to be
exhaustive, but tries to compile evidence for an ‘emic’
interpretation of the symbolic system.
The Context
The transition from mobile to sedentary life was a
major challenge for social interaction (e.g. Kuijt 2000;
Gebel 2010a, 2010b). In the archaeological record of
the Near East an increase in settlement size and a con-
centration of settlements near perennial water sources
during the early Holocene can be observed. Ethno-
graphic analogies suggest that a reduction in mobility
may have led to an increase in fertility and a reduction
of birth spacing, if the diet is adequate. Therefore if
groups did not split, an increase in population densi-
ties would be expected (Benz 2000). However, closer
cohabitation not only of humans, but also of humans
with their domesticated animals, might have caused an
increased frequency in diseases and the appearance of
hitherto unknown diseases.
In these larger permanent villages traditional ex-
pectations of prosocial behaviour and egalitarian ethos
could no longer be met (Gebel in press). The enhanced
commitment to territory and the increased population
densities demanded new denitions of sharing. Gener-
alized reciprocity that is, shared access to land and
resources – was reduced to select groups.
Also, in larger groups daily face to face interac-
tions between individuals became less frequent. Since
sharing is not a given fact but a learned behaviour, it
is undermined when social control diminishes. So in
larger communities incidents of individual social apos-
tasy increased (Benz 2000: 124-128, 2010). As a con-
sequence, condence in ‘others’ might well have been
Moreover, increasing labour specialization and dif-
ferentiation might have resulted in the increased pres-
tige and rewarding of individuals with special skills and
knowledge. Possible psychological consequences of
the above described changes can be modelled by ana-
logy with the data of the social neurosciences (Fig. 2;
Bauer 2008, 2011; Krohne 2010).
In a self-reinforcing process, social and material
deprivation (a consequence of the reduction of general-
ized reciprocity) can lead to an increase in aggression
and fear. Fear of hitherto unknown diseases might have
increased the general fear of the ‘other’. Mistrust fos-
ters the projection of the cause of disease, and of other
misfortunes, onto other persons.
These social challenges probably had physical as
well as psychological consequences. For example, dis-
trust inhibits the ow of oxytocin, which promotes the
capacity for empathy, and increases the ow of testos-
terone, which is well-known for enhancing the level of
competitiveness (Domes 2007; Bauer 2011: 188; van
Wingen et al. 2011). The willingness to cooperate then
probably decreased, while the potential for aggression
increased. This mechanism is dialectic, because com-
petitive situations also increase the amount of testoster-
one in male individuals (Mazur and Booth 1999).
The modelled consequences are not forcing, but if
they appeared, new concepts of social interaction had
to be found. The symbolic system of Northern Mesopo-
tamia is one way how this could have been managed.³
increase of
decrease of
observable changes
unforeseen possible
social consequences
group size
new illnesses
social deprivation
social control
Fig. 2 Possible social and
mental consequences of increased
Neo-Lithics 2/13
The Symbolic System
Boyer (1993) has convincingly elaborated three themes
that should be analysed during ethnographic eldwork
to describe religious symbolic systems: 1) cognitive
concepts, 2) adoption of knowledge, 3) ritual action.
A separation of religious and social domains would be
an anachronism for prehistoric concepts, so it is sen-
sible to adopt Boyer’s classication to the whole sym-
bolic system what he advocated for himself (Boyer
1993: 25).
Our description of the symbolic system starts at a
point zero of knowledge as we neither have any in-
formation about the cognitive concepts of these com-
munities, nor on the processes of adoption and trans-
mission. However, a study of the gures which were
represented, their frequency, and their relationships
can help us determine something about their social and
ritual signicance.
An increase in gurative designs can be observed in
Northern Mesopotamia with the advent of the early
Holocene. The most important types of animals are:
1. Animals that are powerful: felines, such as panthers
and lions; canoidea like fox, dogs, and wolves4;
boars; and bulls. A bear might be represented on
the so-called totem pole at Göbekli Tepe (Schmidt
2011: Fig. 35).
2. Poisonous animals like snakes, scorpions, and
3. Animals inhabiting two different environmental
milieus simultaneously:
a) Birds, which are creatures of both the earth and
the air, in the form of ducks, cranes, and eagles or
b) Reptiles, which dwell on the earth and in water,
particularly snakes and lizards but possibly also
turtles / tortoises.
4. Spiders and ying insects.
5. Less frequent are goats and ibex, gazelle, onager
and sheep.
Unique to Körtik Tepe is a representation of a deer
and a stylized design of a creature interpreted as a larva
(Özkaya and Coşkun 2011: Figs. 31-32).
Large animals were most often shown in prole. In
contrast, lizards, scorpions, insects, and spiders were
represented from the top. However there are some ex-
ceptions. For example, a bull at Göbekli Tepe is pic-
tured in prole but with its head en face (e.g. Schmidt
1999: 15). Whereas the top-down perspective for the
small animals seems to be natural, the frontal view of
the bull’s head implies the intention to show both horns.
Moreover, its head is lowered between the shoulders,
as if in preparing to charge.
This aggressive attitude is paralleled by a high relief
of a feline on a stone pillar of Göbekli Tepe (Fig. 3;
Schmidt 2011: Fig. 28). Several sculptures of powerful
animals were originally built into the walls (Schmidt
2008: 30-31). Their heads protruded into the inner
space, thus enhancing the threatening atmosphere of
that area. The aggressiveness of these animals is ex-
pressed by their bared teeth, their powerful paws, and
the long tusks of the boars. The bodies of the lions
and boars are always presented in a forcefully realistic
style. Many of the representations of powerful animals,
and of humans (s. below), are ithyphallic.
By far the most frequently shown poisonous animal
is the snake (Figs. 4-6). A clue to the interpretation of
snakes is given by a stone sculpture from Nevalı Çori
on which a snake is shown crawling up the back of a
human head (Fig. 6). The ominousness of this scene is
obvious, given the poisonous nature of many snakes
of south-eastern Anatolia; but its exact meaning is not
Birds are pictured either abstractly or realistically.
A very common abstract bird design from Tell ‘Abr 3
to Körtik Tepe displays an oval to rectangular body
with outstretched wings and a small beak (Fig. 4.3;
Fig. 3 Relief of a lion or panther, in a crouching position on
pillar P27, Göbekli Tepe, southeastern Turkey. Photo courtesy of
the German Archaeological Institute, Nico Becker.
Benz and Bauer, Symbols of Power
Neo-Lithics 2/13 15
Coşkun et al. 2010: Fig. 7; Özkaya and Coşkun 2011:
Fig. 17). Realistic bird representations were found at
Jerf el Ahmar on a small pebble (Fig. 4.10, Stordeur et
al. 1996), and in two sculptures of raptors with a con-
spicuous beak that were built into a wall and partly pro-
truded into the room (Stordeur 2010: Fig. 15.1). This
emphasis on the beak is repeated on a small gurine
from Göbekli Tepe (Schmidt 2011: Fig. 16) and by the
large bird sitting on top of a human head on a stone pole
discovered at Nevalı Çori (Hauptmann 2011: Fig. 24).
Unambiguous representations of vultures appear
during the early Holocene only at Göbekli Tepe (Becker
et al. 2012: Figs. 20, 23). On Pillar 43 one is depicted
over a headless ithyphallic human above an oversized,
long-necked bird, probably a goose or swan. The pillar
is broken, so it is not entirely clear that the man is sitting
on the latter, but he holds his right arm up as if trying
to grasp its neck. The vulture balances a disc on his left
wing, the meaning of which is obscure. That it might
be an isolated head is suggested by another relief in the
same area on which a vulture is said to be associated
with a detached head (Becker et al. 2012: 35).
Another possible representation of a bird is engraved
on a pebble from Tell ’Abr 3 (Fig. 4.4). It is interpreted
by the excavator as a raptor (Yartah 2010: Fig. 9b, pers.
communication) and is associated with two snakes and
dots to the right and left of its head. We will return to
this pebble when discussing human representations and
their associations.
Representations of waterfowl are very common. For
example, on the base of a stone pillar at Göbekli Tepe
are seen a row of ducks (Schmidt 2011: 34).
Abstract Symbols and Plants
Abstract symbols like concentric circles, sometimes
with four to six rays, are ubiquitous over the entire
region. But possible representations of plants are very
rare (e.g. Özkaya and Coşkun 2011: Fig. 18). A sign
interpreted apotropaically as a hand by Ludwig Morenz
(2009) might instead be a plant, given its association
with rows of small dots which might be rain or seeds
(Figs. 4.5; 5.1). A vertical scratch with two diagonal
branches was considered a tree by Morenz and Schmidt
(2009) (Fig. 4.12). The actual occurrence of plant
images would be easy to underestimate because plants
can be so easily abbreviated to abstract signs.
Other abstract signs include chevrons singly re-
peated in vertical rows or aligned, mostly in several
parallel lines, similar to snakes and water. Among the
most puzzling images are the H-signs unique to -
bekli Tepe.
Human gures are seen in a great variety of sizes, from
very small gurines to several-meter-high T-shaped
pillars. The anthropomorphic gurines from Nevalı
Çori include both males and females. Often the small
gurines have been deliberately decapitated (Morsch
The human representations from Göbekli Tepe
are almost all male, with the genitals clearly shown.
The one female representation is a ‘grafti’ from the
younger phase scratched in a rather crude style on the
stone slab of a bench: it is of a naked woman in frontal
view with legs spread (Schmidt 2006: Fig. 28, 2011:
Fig. 15). On the 1.90 m high stone ‘totem pole’ at least
two humans are held by either a predator (feline or bear)
or by a human dressed in a cape of fur with the head of
such a predator (Schmidt 2011: Fig. 35).
The most striking, but abstract, human represen-
tations are the T-pillars of Göbekli, Sefer, Hamzan,
Karahan, and Taşli Tepe (Schmidt 2006; Çelik et al.
2011) and of Nevalı Çori (Hauptmann 2011) (Fig. 1).
Some of these pillars, the so-called Nevalı Çori type,
have arms and some kind of scarf. However their upper
parts – which are supposed to be the heads – are never
pictured as faces. Although these pillars have been in-
terpreted as representations of supernatural beings and
gods (Schmidt 2006: 117; Becker et al. 2012), nothing
unambiguously suggests their sacred or religious char-
acter. The deliberate omission of facial features gives
the pillars the aspect of types or archetypes, akin to
The body of the pillars are often densely crowded
by wild animals and abstract signs. Two central pillars
at Göbekli Tepe have loincloths, implying that they are
males (Becker et al. 2012). Nevalı Çori type pillars
clearly increase in frequency at Göbekli Tepe during the
second phase (Schmidt pers. communication). This syn-
chronizes with the presence of similar pillars at Nevalı
Çori itself and with a decrease in animal depictions on
the pillars. In general the size of the pillars diminishes
during the 9th century calBC.
Some human representations from Körtik Tepe
have features relevant to the discussion that follows.
For example, a human gurine on one stone vessel has
two long antennae or feathers on its head (Özkaya and
Coşkun 2012: 13). The importance of this accessory is
shown by two human representations on another stone
vessel, which – despite the high degree of abstraction
clearly also have these attributes (Özkaya and San
2007: Fig. 18). The exaltation of the head by special
adornments reects the wish to make one’s appearance
more impressive and taller and is often used by sha-
The size of the human representations varies greatly,
but they are often shown in close association with ani-
mals and usually smaller than the animal gures: they
do not yet dominate the animal universe around them.
Though the large pillars of Göbekli Tepe seem to be
an exception insofar as they are taller than the animal
representations, they are densely ‘populated’ by ani-
mals. The architectural accessories of the communal
buildings enveloped the participants of rituals within
a universe of animals. Some of the sculptures seem to
be emerging from the pillars or walls, thus enhancing
Neo-Lithics 2/13
the animals’ presence and their impact upon the space
around them. The emancipation of humans from the na-
tural universe was only at its beginning. It culminated
during the later phase of the aceramic Neolithic in the
natural-sized, free-standing male stone sculpture found
in the city centre of Urfa (Hauptmann 2011, for a more
detailed differentiation of this development s. Stordeur
In conclusion, the discoveries of the last two decades
have veried the increase in human representations at
these sites, which many years ago led Cauvin to suggest
a ‘birth of gods’ here. However, it is far from certain
that the anthropomorphic gures had any religious
The identication of regular associations of symbols
might make it possible to determine cognitive concepts
and the adoption and propagation of conventionalized
expressions of these concepts. Some of the associations
have already been mentioned: the human with the head-
gear is associated with, and usually smaller than, snakes
and scorpions, and between these gures are concen-
tric circles. In light of this recurring association, the
presumed raptor on the above-mentioned pebble from
‘Abr 3 might instead be a human image (Fig. 4.4): the
dots to the left and right of its head, which otherwise
would be difcult to explain, could therefore be abbre-
viated versions of the concentric circles. This standard-
ized association of a human with poisonous animals is
striking. The only scorpion represented at Göbekli Tepe
is associated with a headless human.
Abstract birds with parallel zigzag-lines which pos-
sibly represent water or snakes are another recurring
motif (Coşkun et al. 2010). Some of the associations
of snakes with other animals might give evidence on
the connotation of snakes. On a pebble from ‘Abr 3
(Fig. 4.3) seven birds and two snakes surround a horned
animal. A diagonal line runs through its body, suggest-
ing that it has been killed. Similar associations are re-
presented on pebbles from Jerf el-Ahmar (Fig. 4.10) and
Tell Qaramel (Fig. 5.9), although the style is different
and the horned quadruped is not clearly represented as
dead. On Pillars 1, 30, and 33 at Göbekli Tepe a sheep
and another quadruped are confronted by a group of
snakes and a spider (Peters and Schmidt 2004).
Another recurring theme, very frequent at Körtik
Tepe, is that of concentric circles with horizontal and
four diagonal rays (Coşkun et al. 2010: Fig. 2; Özkaya
2007: 47) (Fig. 7). In some cases antithetical pairs of
horned animals are shown above the horizontal line.
This association is highly standardized. Though some
elements of that theme (in particular the ‘sun-like’
symbol) are represented on very different media – from
large stone slabs at ‘Abr 3, to small pebbles at Tell
Qaramel – the complete pattern is represented exclusively
on globular bowls. Thus this particular relationship of
medium and motive was highly conventionalized.
Studies of mediality focus on the material (the ‘picture
carrier’ of classical iconology) in which motives are
represented, but they also include considerations of
reexivity – the possibility to interfere with the media
propagation, and adaptation. They emphasize con-
cepts of dialectical and processual, triadic relationships
between creator, sign, and receptor (Nünning et al.
2010; Wagoner 2010). Although much information
will remain inaccessible for prehistoric cultures, by
studying these processes we can gain some evidence
for socio-ideological relationships of early Holocene
The most striking difference between the early Holo-
cene and the Epipalaeolithic in iconographic media
is the increased use of stone. This suggests that new
concepts of time, community, and space had been ad-
opted. For example, the small pebbles and the stone
vessels with the symbolic representations found from
Fig. 4 Figurative decoration on pebbles and shaft
straighteners (PPNA-EPPNB), all items are reproduced at the
same scale. 1-5 Tell ʻAbr 3 (Yartah 2004: Fig. 18.3, 2005: Fig.
7.3., 2010: Figs. 9, 9b, 11b), 6-11 Jerf el-Ahmar (Stordeur et al.
1996; Stordeur 2010); 12 Göbekli Tepe (Köksal-Schmidt and
Schmidt 2007: 107, Kat-Nr. 164).
Benz and Bauer, Symbols of Power
Neo-Lithics 2/13 17
Gusir Höyük (Karul 2011) in southern Anatolia to Tell
Qaramel (Mazurowski and Kanjou 2012) in north-
western Syria (Fig. 1) could have carried concepts or
messages between individuals and preserved know-
ledge, social identities, and ideological concepts for
future generations.
Yet this intended preservation seems to have been
ignored in the burial rituals at Körtik Tepe, where the
corpses were completely covered by sherds of stone
vessels and pieces of broken axes (Özkaya and Coşkun
2011: Fig. 12). The destruction of such hard material
required enormous efforts, implying that this was
considered a very important act. Although some stone
vessels were repaired during the time of their use, in-
dicating their high value, they were not preserved over
generations but destroyed for certain dead persons.
Such acts might suggest that certain possessions of the
dead were endowed with a sacred character. The ear-
lier-mentioned broken gurines may point to similar
The megalithic monuments at the hill-top sites in
south-eastern Anatolia and the communal buildings
of Jerf el Ahmar, Djadé, ‘Abr 3, Nevalı Çori, and
Çayönü established rituals in certain extraordinary
landscapes or in special positions on the edge of the
villages (Özdoğan 1999; Stordeur et al. 2000; Yartah
2005; Çelik et al. 2011; Hauptmann 2011; Schmidt
2011). The technological skill and expenditure of
energy required for the erection of these buildings
unambiguously expressed the power of these commu-
nities. By extracting the large stones, engraving this
hard material, and raising the pillars, the community
demonstrated its power.
The act of erecting itself has a high symbolic mean-
ing and expresses self-condence (Boivin 2008: 52;
Voss 2011). The hilltop monuments are solidied com-
munal work that strengthens the corporate identity and
demonstrates its power to others. By the establishment
of space within these buildings, access can be controlled
Fig. 5 Figurative decorations on
pebbles and shaft straighteners from
Tell Qaramel. All items are reproduced
at the same scale. (Mazurowski and
Kanjou 2012; 1= Plate 74,7; 2= Plate
83,6; 3= Plate 74,4; 4= Plate 75,1; 5=
Plate 79,5; 6= Plate 75,3[=70,6]; 7=
Plate 69, 3/5 [according to Mazurowski
2004: Fig.12 Plate 69,3 and 5 belong
to one item]; 8= Plate 70, 3; 9= Plate
70, 2).
Fig. 6 Nevalı Çori, south-eastern Turkey, head with snake;
limestone. Şanlıurfa Müzesi. Early to Middle PPNB. Photo courtesy
of Euphrat-Archiv, Berlin-Heidelberg.
Neo-Lithics 2/13
and regulated. The layout of the communal buildings,
most of which were at least partly dug into the earth,
suggests they were rather dark when in use. Despite
the enormous efforts involved in their construction, the
public buildings at Djadé, Jerf-el Ahmar, Çayönü, and
Göbekli Tepe were later deliberately lled, some after
burning (Özdoğan 1999). Though the precise reasons
for all this are unknown, presumably they were similar
to the reasons for the destruction of the small gurines
at Nevalı Çori and of the grave goods at Körtik Tepe.
Adoption and Propagation
The symbolic repertoire and style display some highly
conventionalized and ubiquitous symbols – particu-
larly snakes and birds, but also felines, scorpions, and
horned quadrupeds. There is such a conventionalized
style that Köksal-Schmidt and Schmidt (2007: 97)
have suggested a ‘book of patterns or models’ from
which the motives were drawn, though there are some
local variations.
These motives can be pictured on different scales,
by different materials, and in different contexts, and
appear in both domestic use on stone vessels and bone
amulets, and in community use on engravings on stone
benches in buildings. These pictures were therefore
part of daily life.
Recurrent associations show that the standardiza-
tion did not involve only the copying of the motives
themselves, but the adoption of the ‘story’ behind
the pictures. Some of the recurrent motives were so
standardized that even the carrier of the pictures were
similar. Some objects might have been imports; but
the adoption of the motives was often a creative incor-
poration into local cultural contexts.
On one hand, the externalization of knowledge
made the propagation of symbols easier and indepen-
dent of individuals, thus giving the possibility to reach
a wider community. On the other hand, the right to
determine the precise meaning and the standardization
of symbols does imply a certain authority. This might
have led to emerging hierarchies (Benz in press).
One of the most remarkable changes in the ‘revolution
of symbols’ is the aggressive attitude of some of the
animals (Schmidt 1999, 2006; Stordeur 2010). In con-
trast to Palaeolithic art6, their mere presence was ob-
viously not considered sufcient to demonstrate these
animals’ strength and power: now their most threat-
ening features were highlighted, especially bared teeth
and horns. And deadly scorpions and snakes became
ubiquitous motives.
Research in neurosciences has shown that there
are basic emotional reactions. Though it is debated
which emotions can be considered as the most basic,
fear is unanimously accepted as genetically xed and
universal to all people (Ekman 1992; Bauer 2011; cf.
Davidson 1992). The interpretation of, and cognitive
reaction to, basic emotions are individually different
and determined to a certain degree by cultural condi-
tioning. Moreover, humans are able to communicate
feelings by gesture and speech. Emotional contagion
can already be observed in babies, and the capability
for empathy develops when the child is able to make
the self-other distinction (Bauer 2005; Rizzolatti and
Sinigaglia 2008).
These observations have two implications for so-
cial commitment: the basic emotional reactions make
it possible to trigger similar reactions in most humans
by certain media; and emotional contagion, empathy,
and communication can meld individual feelings into
a public mood.
Fig. 7 32 stone vessels of that standardized form and motive have been found at Körtik Tepe (Coşkun et al. 2010: Fig. 2a-b).
Benz and Bauer, Symbols of Power
Neo-Lithics 2/13 19
Our study of the context and mediality of early Holo-
cene symbolism has shown several important features
which imply certain behaviours and throw light onto
social and ritual practises within these societies.
1. First of all there was a petrication of symbols
(codication of ritual scripts and symbols) as well
as of space (by monumental architecture). Similar
symbolic systems were pictured on objects of bone.
2. There was a basic standardization of symbolic
systems from north-western Syria to extreme south-
eastern Turkey with some variations in local style.
3. The animals featured are either dangerous, deadly,
and / or powerful species, or creatures inhabiting
two different environments of the biosphere.
4. The selection and style of the represented animals
created a threatening atmosphere in the generally
dark buildings, an atmosphere probably enhanced
by ickering res.
5. Human representations are present from the
beginning of the Holocene and increase during the
9th millennium BC. Except for the monumental
T-pillars of Göbekli Tepe, these representations
do not dominate the animals, but show them in
a close relationship. But even the T-pillars are
densely populated by a variety of wild animals.
Male gender is emphasized at its extreme at Göbekli
Tepe (Hodder and Meskell 2011); but at other sites
gender seems to be more equalized.
The rich symbolic repertoire is a solidication and
documentation of knowledge concerning the environ-
ment, and above all about animals. Although the act
of picturing implies mastery of the thing pictured, the
pictures themselves show humans in close relationship
to animals. As the selection of animals does not reect
the importance of prey (Peters and van den Driesch
1999; Özkaya et al. 2011), symbolic values seem to be
inherent. The symbols were not only represented in the
special buildings, but on different media. Their display
in stone made them a durable publication – in the literal
sense – of knowledge and understanding.
The new materiality not only facilitated the propa-
gation of cognitive concepts to a wider public, it gave
some elites the opportunity to establish a symbolic
canon, to claim the right to interpret the symbols, to
restrict access to ritual places, and, by erecting monu-
mental communal buildings, to claim dominance (pro-
bably as a group) over a territory. Time-binding media
were thus combined with space-binding ones (Boivin
2008: 142).
The newly-prevalent medium of stone reduced the
possibility for interference with the medium. Whereas
hunter-gatherers have (ritual) gatherings at special na-
tural places, and their rituals have a certain script, the
establishment of a xed repertoire of symbols made
social and ritual behaviour less exible: changing the
established order became more difcult. This implies
the authority of those who were allowed to determine
the concepts.
The basis for that authority remains unknown, but
there must have been some special competences or
skills that merited special consideration (see below). So,
in contrast to the southern Levant (Gebel in press.), in
Northern Mesopotamia, territoriality and commitment
to permanent circumscribed social entities preceded the
establishment of a production economy.
Given the possibility for conditioning behaviour and
emotions through a well-established canon of symbols,
and having in mind that emotions inuence our deci-
sions and behaviours considerably (Damásio 1994;
Ackermann et al. 2012), this ascribed power should not
be underestimated.
The prevalence of threatening animals was chosen to
enhance the power and competence of dominant agents
by publically demonstrating a danger, which had to be
overcome collectively (thus reinforcing cooperation and
loyalty) and by the suggested ‘need’ of potent agents as
protectors (thus accepting hierarchies). The emphasize
on male gender might be explained by a rise of com-
petitive contexts, in which male individuals react with
increased testosterone levels and are more prone to do-
minant behaviour than women (Mazur and Booth 1999;
van Wingen et al. 2011).
Many aspects of the new symbolic systems un-
derscore the liminal character of these communities:
• The impersonality of the T-pillars and their spatial
organization in a circle suggest collective social
concepts. However the two central pillars might have
symbolized two exceptional persons, possibly with
special cognitive capacities or skills.
• Local adaptations of interregional themes and site
specic features demonstrate the independence of
local groups.
• Though hording had become accepted, the Potlatch-
like, deliberate destruction of symbol objects was a
regular practise. Similarly, the deliberate ‘burial’ of
communal buildings demonstrates an annihilation of
the intention to create ‘eternal’ traditions. In contrast
to institutionalized ideologies, cultural memory had
not (so far?) become a dictum for the present and
These seemingly contradictory behaviours point to
societies in transition, in which the claim of (male) elites
to set socio-religious practices and socialization had to
be reinforced by the intense use of symbolic media. Hu-
mans were still in close relationship with animals and
emancipation of nature was only at its beginnings. Sev-
eral practices, such as the destruction of objects and the
two main types of animals, as alter-ego spirits (animals
of power) and as supporting spirits (animals inhabiting
different ecological spheres), and the garments of human
representations point to shamanistic concepts (Stutley
2003; Basilow 2004; Kasten 2009; Müller-Ebeling and
Rätsch 2011). Similarly, the evocation of dangers and
of a threating atmosphere is a characteristic feature of
shamanistic practices (Zinser 1991). In a social environ-
ment of mistrust and new illnesses, the ability to cure
and to avert misfortune was a strong argument for au-
thority, but new illnesses and decreasing close personal
Neo-Lithics 2/13
relationships also meant a challenge for shamans whose
authority relies solely on the acceptance by the audience
(Basilow 2004: 26). The picturing of threatening ani-
mals can thus be interpreted in two ways:
a) An evocation of potential threats to increase the in-
uence of the shaman.
b) An effort to convince the community that the shaman’s
skills, powers, and natural and supernatural connec-
tions were strong enough to protect the community.
However, the xation of symbols and space, the
monumentality, and the time transcending concept do
not match with shamanistic exible and situational be-
haviour, but anticipate concepts of hierarchic social and
religious institutions.
With the climatic stabilization of the early Holocene and
the proliferation of a rich ora and fauna, sedentarisation
accelerated. Villages and communal hilltop buildings
structured the landscape. Life in circumscribed com-
munities of increased population densities enhanced the
potential for aggression (Gebel 2010b, in press) and,
according to our theoretical model, the fear of ‘strang-
ers’ and of ‘strange environments’. Traditional social
norms, like generalized reciprocity, and open access to
resources and land, no longer worked and were threat-
ened by emerging elites.
We suggest that the increase in and the ‘petrica-
tion’ of symbolic systems were symptomatic of a crisis
in traditional social and probably shamanistic values
(Schmidt 2006: 256). Direct personal relationships
became more difcult. The public display of symbols
and new forms of rituals became necessary to convince
group members to accept new rules and to strengthen
corporate identities (Watkins 2005). The imagery of
Göbekli Tepe implies that male agents were accepted
to set social behaviours and ritual scripts. Fear and
danger, whether real or imagined, were monopolized
by these individuals and publicly displayed to make
group members perceive a need for strong leadership
and thereby accept emerging social differentiations.
Though shamans were good candidates as an emerging
elite, successful hunters or political leaders (or groups)
might also have gained in power (Guenther 2010).
With the standardization of a symbolic system, na-
tural learning was more and more replaced by cultural
learning: those who were not socialized in a particular
symbolic system, or refused to accept it, were probably
excluded. We thus turn evolutionary cognitive theories
upside down: not a change of cognitive capacities made
the externalization of symbols possible but social de-
velopments demanded new forms of communication,
socialization, and teaching (cf. Watkins 2010), which
then inuenced human behaviour and cognition. The
plasticity of the cerebral functions (Bauer 2008) allowed
new capacities to be activated; but others, essential for
survival in exible and uid hunter-gatherer communi-
ties, probably diminished.
In conclusion we again refer to the early Cauvin
(1978: 77): Agriculture was above all a domestication of
the human species. Once communities had accepted the
new rules of social commitment, aggressive symbols de-
clined in use (Stordeur 2010). This decrease was already
evident in the decreasing size of the T-pillars during the
9th millennium BC. In large Neolithic villages like Aşıklı
(Özbaşaran 2012) the new system had been successfully
adopted and a new socio-psychological balance found.
We have painted the picture with a rather large brush:
a more micro morphologic analysis is necessary to de-
termine the form of the rituals – Boyer’s third heuristic
category – held at sites like Göbekli Tepe (Dietrich et
al. 2012). The emotional effects suggested here have to
be considered in more detail, including experiments on
sensory and audio-visual perception. Only then will it
be possible to compare the prehistoric record with such
sophisticated ritual models deduced from ethnographic
studies and presented by Harvey Whitehouse at the
Templeton Foundation Conference. Detailed studies of
the symbolism and chronology of each site will help us
understand similarities and differences more clearly.
1 Priming means that ‘an upstream stimulus – not realized – results
in an implicit memory consolidation which, in consequence may
inuence downstream behaviour considerably’ (Elger publ.
communication 27.7.2012). Further studies, especially on the
effect of bodily and audio-visual perception, are necessary for
better understanding the effects of priming.
² The differentiation of these heuristic categories has its strength
in modern societies. Yet, for the study of prehistoric societies, they
are of little analytical value, as an index in one social context might
gain an additional function as a symbol in another community.
³ Other media were possibly used in the Levant to enhance social
commitment. Though in Jericho (Kenyon 1959) and in Wadi
Faynan 16 (Finlayson et al. 2011) large communal constructions
have been found, the public demonstration of social commitment
focused on trans-generational social relationships, namely the
exposition, plastering, and reburial of skulls (Benz 2012).
4 Schmidt (2006: 124) pointed to the difculty to distinguish between
foxes, dogs, wolves, and jackals in gurative representations at
Göbekli Tepe. We have therefore used the undifferentiated Latin
term canoidea.
5 A possible human gure with ‘high headgear’ has been found in
the lling of a building at Göbekli Tepe (published without scale)
(Schmidt 1999: 12).
6 For a more detailed comparison with Upper Palaeolithic cave art
see Christensen (2010).
Benz and Bauer, Symbols of Power
Neo-Lithics 2/13 21
Marion Benz
Department of Near Eastern Archaeology
University of Freiburg
Joachim Bauer
Department of Psychosomatic Medicine and
Freiburg University Medical School
Ackermann S., Spalek K., Rasch B., Gschwind L., Coynel D.,
Fastenrath M., Papassotiropoulos A., and de Quervain D.J.-F.
2012 Testosterone levels in healthy men are related
to amygdala reactivity and memory performance.
Psychoneuroendocrinology 32: 1417-1424.
Basilow W.N.
2004 Sibirische Schamanen – Auserwählte der Geister.
Berlin: Reinhold Schletzer.
Bauer J.
2005 Warum ich fühle was du fühlst – Intuitive
Kommunikation und das Geheimnis der
Spiegelneurone. Hamburg: Hoffmann und Campe.
2008 Das kooperative Gen: Abschied vom Darwinismus.
Hamburg: Hoffmann und Campe.
2011 Schmerzgrenze. Vom Ursprung alltäglicher und
globaler Gewalt. Munich: Karl Blessing.
Becker N., Dietrich O., Götzelt T., Köksal-Schmidt Ç., Notroff J.,
and Schmidt K.
2012 Materialien zur Deutung der zentralen Pfeilerpaare
des Göbekli Tepe und weiterer Orte des
obermesopotamischen Frühneolithikums. Zeitschrift
für Orient‑Archäologie 5: 14-43.
Bender B.
1978 Gatherer-Hunter to Farmer: a Social Perspective. World
Archaeology 10: 204-222.
Benz M.
2000 Die Neolithisierung im Vorderen Orient. Theorien,
archäologische Daten und ein ethnologisches Modell.
Studies in Early Near Eastern Production, Subsistence,
and Environment 7. Berlin: ex oriente.
2010 The Principle of Sharing – An Introduction. In:
M. Benz (ed.), The Principle of Sharing. Segregation
and Construction of Social Identities at the Transition
from Foraging to Farming. Studies in Early Near
Eastern Production, Subsistence, and Environment 14:
1-18. Berlin: ex oriente.
2012 Little poor babies’ – Creation of History through
Death at the Transition from Foraging to Farming.
In: T.L. Kienlin and A. Zimmermann (eds.), Beyond
Elites. Alternatives to Hierarchical System in Modelling
Social Formations: 169-182. Bonn: Rudolf Habelt.
in press Making the Invisible Visible - Steps towards a
Ritualized Corporate Identity. In: L.B. Christensen
and J.T. Jensen (eds.), Religion and Material Culture:
Dening Religion, Religious Elements and Cultural
Memory on the Basis of Objects, Architecture and
Space. Turnhout: Brepols.
Boehm G.
2010³ Wie Bilder Sinn erzeugen. Die Macht des Zeigens.
Berlin: University Press.
Boivin N.
2008 Material Cultures, Material Minds. The Impact of
Things on Human Thought, Society, and Evolution.
Cambridge [etc.]: Cambridge University Press.
Boyer P.
1993 Cognitive Aspects of Religious Symbolism. Cambridge
[etc.]: Cambridge University Press.
Cauvin J.
1978 Les premiers villages de Syrie‑Palestine du IXème au
VIIème millénaire avant J.C. Lyon: Maison de l’Orient.
1997 Naissance des Divinités – Naissance de lʼAgriculture.
Paris: CNRS Editions (Paperback).
Çelik B., Güler M., and Güler G.
2011 A New Pre-Pottery Neolithic Settlement in
Southeastern Turkey: Taşlı Tepe. Anatolia 37: 228-236.
Christensen L.B.
2010 From ‘spirituality’ to ‘religion’ – ways of sharing
knowledge of the ‘Other World’. In: M. Benz (ed.), The
Principle of Sharing. Segregation and Construction of
Social Identities at the Transition from Foraging to
Farming. Studies in Early Near Eastern Production,
Subsistence, and Environment 14: 81-90. Berlin: ex oriente.
Cohen A.P.
1985 The Symbolic Construction of Community. Chichester:
Ellis Horwood.
Coşkun A., Benz M., Erdal Y.S., Koruyucu M.M., Deckers K.,
Riehl S., Siebert A., Alt K.W., and Özkaya V.
2010 Living by the Water – Boon and Bane for the People of
Körtik Tepe. Neo‑Lithics 2/10: 15-26.
Damásio A.R.
1994 Descartes’ Irrtum – Fühlen, Denken und das
menschliche Gehirn. Munich: List.
Davidson R.J.
1992 Prolegmenon to the Structure of Emotion: Gleanings
from Neuropsychology. Cognition and Emotion 6(3-4):
Neo-Lithics 2/13
Dietler M.
2006 Feasting und kommensale Politik in der Eisenzeit
Europas. Theoretische Reexionen und empirische
Fallstudien. Ethnographisch‑Archäologische
Zeitschrift 47(4): 541-568.
Dietrich O., Heun M., Notroff J., Schmidt K., and Zarnkow M.
2012 The Role of Cult and Feasting in the Emergence of
Neolithic Communities. New Evidence from Göbekli
Tepe, south-eastern Turkey. Antiquity 86: 674-695.
Domes G., Heinrichs M., Michel A., Berger C., and Herpertz S.C.
2007 Oxytocin Improves ‘Mind-Reading’ in Humans.
Biological Psychiatry 61(6): 731-733.
Doyen S., Klein O., Pichon C.-L., and Cleeremans A.
2012 Behavioral priming: It’s all in the mind, but whose
mind? PLoS ONE 7(1): e29081. doi:10.1371/journal.
Edelson M., Sharot T., Dolan R.J., and Duda Y.
2011 Following the crowd: brain substrates of long-term
memory conformity. Science 333(6038): 108-111.
Ekm an P.
1992 An argument for basic emotions. Cognition and
Emotions 6(3-4): 169-200.
Elger C.
2012 Public communication given at the DLDwomen
Conference: ‘About Priming, Sex, and Empathy’.
27.7.12 .
Accessed: 2.4.2013.
Finlayson B., Mithen S.J., Najjar M., Smith S., Maričević D.,
Pankhurst N., and Yeomans L.
2011 Architecture, sedentism, and social complexity at Pre-
Pottery Neolithic A WF16, Southern Jordan.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,
USA. Early Edition. www.pna /cgi/doi/10.1073/
Gebel H.G.K.
2010a Commodication and the Formation of Early Neolithic
Social Identity. The Issues as Seen from the Southern
Jordanian Highlands. In: M. Benz (ed.), The Principle
of Sharing. Segregation and Construction of Social
Identities at the Transition from Foraging to Farming.
Studies in Early Near Eastern Production, Subsistence,
and Environment 14: 35-80. Berlin: ex oriente.
2010b Conict and Conict Mitigation. Neo‑Lithics 1/10: 32-35.
in press Territoriality in Early Near Eastern Sedentism.
In: M. Reindel et al. (eds.), Sedentism: Worldwide
Research Perspectives for the Shift of Human Societies
from Mobile to Settled Ways of Life. Proceedings of the
Research Cluster 1 Workshop, 23rd‑24th October, 2008.
Berlin: German Archaeological Institute. Pre-published
Gillespie A.
2010 The Intersubjective Nature of Symbols. In: B. Wagoner
(ed.), Symbolic Transformation. The Mind in Movement
Through Culture and Society: 24-37. London, New
York: Rout ledge.
Guenther M.
2010 Sharing among the San. Today, Yesterday and in the
Past. In: M. Benz (ed.), The Principle of Sharing.
Segregation and Construction of Social Identities at
the Transition from Foraging to Farming. Studies in
Early Near Eastern Production, Subsistence, and
Environment 14: 105-136. Berlin: ex oriente.
Hauptmann H.
2011 The Urfa Region. In: M. Özdoğan, N. Başgelen, and P.
Kuniholm (eds.), Neolithic in Turkey. New Excavations
& New Research: 85-138. Istanbul: Archaeology & Art
Hayden B.
1992 Contrasting Expectations in Theories of Domestication.
In: A.B. Gebauer and T.D. Price (eds.), Transitions to
Agriculture in Prehistory: 11-19. Madison (W.I.S):
Prehistory Press.
Hodder I.
1990 The Domestication of Europe. Oxford [etc.]: Basil
Hodder I. and Meskell L.
2011 A Curious and Sometimes a Trie Macabre Artistry:
Some Aspects of Symbolism in Neolithic Turkey.
Current Anthropology 52(2): 235-263.
Karul N.
2011 Gusir Höyük. In: M. Özdoğan, N. Başgelen, and
P. Kuniholm (eds.), Neolithic in Turkey. New
Excavations & New Research: 89-127. Istanbul:
Archaeology & Art Publications.
Kasten E. (ed.)
2009 Schamanen Sibiriens. Magier, Mittler, Heiler. Berlin:
Dietrich Reimer.
Kenyon J.D.
1959 Earliest Jericho. Antiquity 33: 5-9.
Knappett C.
2005 Thinking Through Material Culture. An
Interdisciplinary Perspective. Philadelphia: PENN
University of Pennsylvania Press.
Köksal-Schmidt Ç. and Schmidt K.
2007 Perlen, Steingefäße, Zeichentäfelchen – Handwerkliche
Spezialisierung und steinzeitliches Symbolsystem. In:
Badisches Landesmuseum Karlsruhe (ed.), Vor 12 000
Jahren in Anatolien – Die ältesten Monumente der
Menschheit: 97-109. Stuttgart: Theiss.
Benz and Bauer, Symbols of Power
Neo-Lithics 2/13 23
Kroh ne H.W.
2010 Psychologie der Angst. Ein Lehrbuch. Stuttgart: W.
Kuijt I. (ed.)
2000 Life in Neolithic Farming Communities. Social
Organization, Identity, and Differentiation. New York
[etc.]: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers.
Mazur A. and Booth A.
1999 The Biosociology of Testosterone in Men. In: D.D. Franks
and T.S. Smith (eds.), Mind, Brain, and Society: Toward
a Neurosociology of Emotion. Social Perspectives on
Emotion 5: 311-338. Stanford: JAI Press Inc.
Mazurowski R.F.
2004 Tell Qaramel. Excavations 2003. Polish Archaeology in
the Mediterranean 15: 355-370.
Mazurowski R.F. and Kanjou Y. (eds.)
2012 Tell Qaramel 1999‑2007. Protoneolithic and Early
Pre‑Pottery Neolithic Settlement in Northern Syria.
Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology
Excavation Series 2. Warsaw: University of Warsaw.
Morenz L.D.
2009 12.000 Jahre alte Texte? Zeichen zur kulturellen
Bewältigung von Furcht. Zeitschrift für Semiotik
31(1-2): 115-132.
Morenz L.D. and Schmidt K.
2009 Große Reliefpfeiler und kleine Zeichentäfelchen – Ein
frühneolithisches Zeichensystem in Obermeso-
potamien. In: P. Andrássy, J. Budka, and F. Kammerzell
(eds.), Non‑Textual Marking Systems, Writing and Pseudo
Script from Prehistory to Modern Times. Lingua
Aegyptia – Studia Monographica 8: 13-31. Göttingen:
Seminar für Ägyptologie und Koptologie.
Morsch M.G.F.
2002 Magic Figurines? Some Remarks about the Clay
Objects of Nevalı Çori. In: H.G.K. Gebel, B.D.
Hermansen, and C. Hoffman Jensen (eds.), Magic
Practices and Rituals in the Near Eastern Neolithic.
Studies in Early Near Eastern Production, Subsistence,
and Environment 8: 145-173. Berlin: ex oriente.
Müller-Ebeling C. and Rätsch C.
2011 Tiere der Schamanen. Krafttier, Totem und
Tierverbündete. Aarau, Munich: AT Verlag.
Nünning V., Nünning A., and Neumann B. (eds.)
2010 Cultural Ways of Worldmaking. Media and Narratives.
Berlin, New York: Walter de Gruyter.
Özbaşaran M.
2012 Aşıklı. In: M. Özdoğan, N. Başgelen, and P. Kuniholm
(eds.), Neolithic in Turkey. New Excavations & New
Research: 135-158. Istanbul: Archaeology & Art
Özdoğan A.
1999 Çayönü. In: M. Özdoğan and N. Başgelen. Neolithic
in Turkey. Cradle of Civilization: 35-63. Istanbul:
Arkeoloji ve Sanat Yayinları.
Özkaya V.
2007 Körtik Tepe 2005. Yılı Kazısı. Kazı Sonuçları
Top l antı 28(1): 29-50.
Özkaya V. and Coşkun A.
2011 Körtik Tepe. In: M. Özdoğan, N. Başgelen, and
P. Kuniholm (eds.), Neolithic in Turkey. New
Excavations & New Research: 89-127. Istanbul:
Archaeology & Art Publications.
2012 Körtik Tepe. Aktüel Arkeoloji May-June: 88-94.
Özkaya V., Coşkun A., Benz M., Erdal Y.S., Levent A., and Şahin F.S.
2011 Körtik Tepe 2010 Yılı Kazısı. Kazi Şonucları Toplantısı
33(1): 315-338.
Özkaya V. and San O.
2007 Körtik Tepe: Bulgular Işığında Külturel Doku Üzerine
Ilk Gözlemler. In: M. Özdoğan and N. Başgelen (eds.),
Türkiye ʻde Neolitik Dönem. Yeni kazılar, yeni
bulgular: 21-36. Istanbul: Arkeoloji ve Sanat Yayınları.
Peters J. and Schmidt K.
2004 Animals in the Symbolic World of Pre-Pottery Neolithic
Göbekli Tepe, South-eastern Turkey: a Preliminary
Assessment. Anthropozoologica 39(1): 179-204.
Peters J. and van den Driesch A.
1999 Vorläuger Bericht über die archäozoologischen
Untersuchungen am Göbekli Tepe und Gürcütepe bei
Urfa, Türkei. Istanbuler Mitteilungen 49: 23-40.
Rizzolatti G. and Sinigaglia C.
2008 Empathie und Spiegelneurone: Die biologische Basis
des Mitgefühls. Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp.
Rollefson G.
1986 Ain Ghazal 1983-1985. Archiv für Orientforschung 33:
Rosenberg M.
1999 Hallan Çemi. In: M. Özdoğan and N. Başgelen (eds.),
Neolithic in Turkey. The Cradle of Civilization. New
Discoveries: 25-33. Istanbul: Arkeoloji ve Sanat
Schmidt K.
1999 Frühe Tier- und Menschenbilder vom Göbekli Tepe.
Istanbuler Mitteilungen 49: 5-21.
2006 Sie bauten die ersten Tempel. Munich: C.H. Beck.
2008 Göbekli Tepe – Enclosure C. Neo‑Lithics 2/08: 27-32.
2011 Göbekli Tepe. In: M. Özdoğan, N. Başgelen, and
P. Kuniholm (eds.), Neolithic in Turkey. New
Excavations & New Research: 41-83. Istanbul:
Archaeology & Art Publications.
Neo-Lithics 2/13
Stordeur D.
2010 Domestication of plants and animals, domestication
of symbols? In: D. Bolder and L.C. Maguire (eds.), The
Development of Pre‑state Communities in the Ancient
Near‑East. Studies in Honour of Edgar Peltenburg:
123-130. Oxford: Oxbow Books.
Stordeur D., Brenet M., Der Aprahamian G., and Roux J.-C.
2000 Les bâtiments communautaires de Jerf el Ahmar et
Mureybet. Horizon PPNA. Syrie. Paléorient 26(1): 29-44.
Stordeur D., Jammous B., Helmer D., and Willcox G.
1996 Jerf el Ahmar: a New Mureybetian Site (PPNA) on the
Middle Euphrates. Neo‑Lithics 2/96: 1-2.
Stutley M.
2003 Shamanism. A Concise Introduction. London, New
York: Rout ledge.
Van Wingen G.A., Ossewaarde L., Bäckström T., Hermans E.J.,
and Fernández G.
2011 Gonadal hormone regulation of the emotion circuitry
in humans. Neuroscience 191: 38-45.
Voss T.
2011 Göbekli Tepe In: S. Hesse, T. Voss, and M. Zech (eds.),
Göbekli Tepe und der Prozess der Sesshaftwerdung:
115-158. Kassel: Bildungswerk Beruf und Umwelt.
Wagoner B.
2010 Introduction: What Is a Symbol. In: B. Wagoner (ed.),
Symbolic Transformation. The Mind in Movement through
Culture and Society: 1-15. London, New York: Routledge.
Wat kins T.
2005 Ritual Centers for Socio-Cultural Networks. Neo‑
Lithics 2/05: 47-49.
2010 Changing People, Changing Environments: How
Hunter-Gatherers Became Communities that
Changed the World. In: B. Finlayson and
G. Warren (eds.), Landscapes in Transition:
Understanding Hunter‑Gatherer and Farming
Landscapes in the Early Holocene of Europe and
the Levant. Levant Supplementary Series 8: 104-
112. Oxford, Oakville: CBRL and Oxbow Books.
2011 Opening the Door, Pointing the Way. Paléorient
37(1): 29-38.
2012 Our Place: Our Place in the World: Workshop in
Urfa Initiates a Three-Year Research Project
on Göbekli Tepe and Contemporary Settlements
in the Region. Neo‑Lithics 1/12: 43-46.
Yart ah T.
2004 Tell ʻAbr 3, un village du néolithique précéramique
(PPNA) sur le Moyen Euphrate. Première approche.
Paléorient 30(2): 141-158.
2005 Les bâtiments communautaires de Tell ʻAbr 3 (PPN A,
Syrie). Neo‑Lithics 1/05: 3-9.
2010 New Data on Symbols of Early Farmers (in Arabic).
Al‑Adyat Magazine Fall-Winter: 26-42.
Zinser H.
1991 Zur Faszination des Schamanismus. In: M. Kuper
(ed.), Hungrige Geister und rastlose Seelen. Texte zur
Schamanismusforschung: 17-26. Berlin: Dietrich
Bauer and Benz, Neurobiology Meets Archaeology
Neo-Lithics 2/13 65
The aim of this special issue questions which of
the many possibilities available can best be used
to understand the symbolic cultural remains from
northern Mesopotamia at the time of the ‘Neolithic
Revolution’. Despite having slightly differing foci, the
inspiring texts contained herein recognise there is some
common ground to be shared amongst (see Watkins’
keynote and the comments of Bohnet, Dunbar, Gebel,
Hermansen, Renfrew, Stewart and Strathern, Sütterlin
and Eibl-Eibesfeldt, Theweleit, all this issue). One
central aspect emphasised unanimously by several
authors (Benz and Bauer, Dunbar, Gebel, Stewart
and Strathern, this issue) concerns the reasonable
supposition that the transition to a new sedentary
lifestyle, with herding and cultivation, proved to be
a fundamental challenge. Their hypothesis is that
these challenges were caused by social and cognitive
stressors. These stressors were the consequence of a
regional increase in population density that, in turn,
had possibly caused resource shortages. According
to these considerations, the process of neolithisation
appears as an attempt to master social and cognitive
stressors, to counteract the centrifugal dynamics
of social disintegration and to secure the survival
of human communities under new and difcult
In his comment, Robin I.M. Dunbar (this issue)
advocates the convincing hypothesis that parallel
to the neolithisation explicit social structures were
emerging, which were secured by disciplining
‘top-down’ mechanisms meant to ensure social
cohesion despite new living conditions (i.e. increased
population densities and the therefore necessary
production of food). According to Dunbar, ‘top down’
structures had replaced ‘endorphin-based’ forms of
communality. We share this point of view because of
neurobiological observations from roughly the past
15 years showing that humans are endowed with a
‘social brain’; meaning, human beings primarily aim
at social community and cooperation (Insel 2003;
Bauer 2008a, 2008b, 2013a). A sufcient amount of
experienced social acceptance has been shown to be a
decisive trigger for the activation of neurobiological
systems of motivation – and therewith the release
of messenger substances, above all dopamine,
engendering a feeling of vitality. To avoid social
disintegration and destructive aggression (caused
by an increase of population densities and resource
deciencies, Bauer 2013a) was probably the central
task and challenge for early Neolithic communities
(Gebel 2010).
Neolithisation as a Coping Strategy for Social
The authors of this issue are not only in agreement
concerning the assumption that our Neolithic ancestors
had to face fundamental social challenges, but also
in considering how early human cultures mastered
these challenges at the beginning of sedentism. They
describe three general lines of development, which
probably evolved simultaneously and should – at least
in our view – be considered equally important. At rst,
it seems that it was necessary to master and secure
living together through social structures and order. It
is only through such a common order that it was pos-
sible to enforce shared values, norms and mechanisms
of cooperation. These elements were meant to persist
under the new conditions of living together in larger
communities, when face-to-face relationships with
everybody were no longer possible (Dunbar, Stewart
and Strathern, Sütterlin and Eibl-Eibesfeldt, Theweleit,
Watkins, this issue).
Social order is not an end in itself; it serves a so-
cially relevant purpose. Thereby, a second aspect
comes into play – the evolution of sedentary lifestyles
became paralleled by the development of several new
technologies (Dunbar, Stewart and Strathern, Thewe-
leit, Watkins, this issue). Above all, these technologies
concerned farming and herding, but probably also new
methods of preparation, production and perhaps even
the preservation of food (e.g. baking bread, making
honey or producing alcoholic beverages) (Dietrich et
al. 2012). New technology in these elds correlate with
implicit and explicit knowledge, which could be trans-
ferred horizontally but were almost always imparted
vertically, to descendants (i.e. they had to be taught). A
secure transmission of knowledge requires ordered so-
cial structures and procedures, and perhaps also rituals
(including initiation rituals). It thus becomes clear that
both the rst aspect (social structures and order) and
the second one (transmission of implicit and explicit
knowledge) are closely correlated.
A third aspect arises from the former two – the de-
velopment of a common cultural identity, of a ‘shared
system of thinking’, of a phenomenon which several
authors of this issue refer to as ‘distributed mind’ or
‘extended mind’ (Hermansen, Renfrew, Stewart and
Strathern, Watkins, this issue). People who live to-
gether in lasting or even permanent social systems do
not only share numerous implicit daily routines and
activities, but also explicit knowledge and – as a result
of both – concepts about life as a whole (i.e. anthropo-
Neurobiology Meets Archaeology:
The Social Challenges of the Neolithic Processes
Joachim Bauer and Marion Benz
Reply / Epilogue
Neo-Lithics 2/13
logical concepts and also initial cosmological ideas).
It can be assumed that such a shared identity (respec-
tively, such an ‘extended mind’) was manifested in
the material record by engrained symbols, imagery
and buildings. However, these material manifestations
were not only the expression of a shared social identity
but also served in the identication of afliates or of
non-afliates – of oneself, but also of strangers (Benz
and Bauer, this issue). With the beginning of the early
Holocene, for the rst time, these identity-generating
symbols were xed endurably in stone as well as on
other materials (i.e. bones and probably textiles too) ac-
cording to a canonised repertoire. They were on public
display, omnipresent from tiny amulets to monumental
pillars. Transferring these observations to social iden-
tities means individual autonomy and exibility were
subjected to collective identities – at least in public
discourse. It also implies, perhaps more importantly,
that it was possible to communicate these identities
independent of persons, time and space. This is one of
the decisive criteria to maintaining groups with more
than 150 members (Gowlett et al. 2012: 697).
The Process of Neolithisation in an Evolutionary
Perspective: Biological Systems as Agents of
The integration of neolithisation into a higher-level
evolutionary context, as suggested by Trevor Watkins
(this issue), is a fascinating idea. The term ‘niche con-
struction’, which he describes, means biological actors
(i.e. living organisms) are not only passively subjected
to their environments (to which they have to adapt), but
that they themselves – unintentionally or intentionally
actively engage with each of their environments. In
this way, they inuence the environmental factors that
are critical to their own tness and, ultimately, deter-
mine their chances to resist the pressure of selection
and to reproduce successfully. The impact of living ac-
tors on their environments is certainly not a negligible
epi-phenomenon of evolution, as it is shown by the
oxygen enrichment of Earth’s atmosphere – at rst by
oxygen-producing bacteria and later on by vegetation
(Bauer 2010). Living systems are not only passively
affected but are also always actors of the evolution.
This is a description that, it is interesting to note, also
seems to apply to the – as termed by Dunbar – ‘units
of selection’ (i.e. the genome, rather than the single
gene) (McClintock 1983; Bauer 2010; Shapiro 2011;
Attwater and Holliger 2012). Several observations in-
dicate that genomes are able to react to the impact of
serious stressors with a remodelling of their own struc-
tures (Bauer 2010).
In Watkins’ description of the development of an
evolutionary ‘niche’, he cites its creation by the co-
ordinated communal action of Neolithic humans. As
a consequence of this ‘niche construction’ during the
Neolithic period, the human species, through advanc-
ing the process of civilisation, began to inuence the
conditions of their own survival in a hitherto unknown
way. The new selection conditions, altered by human-
kind, were not only the consequence of this socially
coordinated collective action but, moreover, meant the
newly created social structures, in turn, only favoured
those sub-populations of the human species, which
were (or are) willing to subordinate themselves to the
explicit social (‘top-down’) structures. In this manner,
an evolved unprecedented form of social cooperation
was practised. Whether the thorough distinction, ad-
vocated by Dunbar (this issue), of ‘group selection’
(from which he distances himself) and ‘group level
selection’ (favoured by him) is substantiated is a matter
of ongoing scientic debate (Bauer 2010; Nowak et al.
2010; Nowak 2012; Wilson 2013).
A Neurobiological Format for Socially Shared
Schemata of Experience and Behaviour: The
Mirror Neuron System
From a neurobiological perspective, there is another
interesting point that is worth elaborating on here. In
his lucid keynote (this issue), Trevor Watkins justly
highlighted the neuronal plasticity of the human brain.
The traditional model of a unidirectional causal chain
from the genes to the function of cells and organs, and
on to human behaviour has been proven inadequate. In
fact, the multifaceted relationship of genes and human
experience and behaviour is bi-directional. Genes are
not autistic actors but their activities are constantly re-
gulated by signals, which not only result from the way
we move, act or feed ourselves but, above all, from the
social experiences we are faced with (of course, we can
contribute to shaping the social environments we live
in) (Bauer 2013b). Against this background it becomes
clear why the social conditions we live in truly and
demonstrably mould the morphological ne tuning of
our brains, a phenomenon called ‘neuronal plasticity’
(Eisenberg 1995; Bauer 2013b).
As mentioned above, the process of the ‘Neolithic
Revolution’ is characterised by social and technological
changes. The new implicit and explicit knowledge,
linked with the development of new technologies and
concepts, had to be transmitted (i.e. taught) if they
should not sink into oblivion. The massive bias from
implicit to explicit learning processes in favour of the
latter, as it exists until today, is probably not present
at the onset of the Neolithic. At the earliest, it could
only be developed with the invention of writing and,
pervasively, only after the invention of printing. At the
beginning of the Neolithic, implicit knowledge was
overwhelmingly selected to be taught (e.g. the hand-
ling of plants, animals or food). The transmission was
based, above all and as originally formulated by Albert
Bandura (1977), on ‘observational learning’, completed
by ‘imitative learning’. Experiments indicate (Buccino
et al. 2004) the neuronal basis for both processes, ‘ob-
servational learning’ and ‘imitative learning’, is the
mirror neuron system, which was only discovered at
Bauer and Benz, Neurobiology Meets Archaeology
Neo-Lithics 2/13 67
the end of the last century (Rizzolatti and Craighero
2004; Bauer 2005; Rizzolatti and Sinigaglia 2008).
Initially discovered in the brains of macaques, the
existence of mirror neurons in the human brain has
today been proven beyond any doubt (Hutchison et al.
1999; Mukamel et al. 2010). In the brain of a person
observing an action, mirror neurons produce a neuronal
simulation of that observed action. In the brain of the
observer at the moment of the observation, not only are
the motor aspects of the observed action simulated but
so are all somato-sensory and emotional aspects, which
are related to all human action. There is good reason to
assume that intuitive, or unconsciously initiated, imita-
tions as well as the facilitation of activities, which are
both caused by the observation, have their neurobio-
logical basis in the mirror neuron system. According
to our hypothesis, the mirror neuron system is more
than just the container for the neuronal programmes of
the socially shared procedures within a social commu-
nity. The mirror neuron system, in reality, could quite
possibly be the carrier of the socially shared neuronal
programmes, which constitute a socially shared mean-
ingful space and, thus, the initially mentioned ‘ex-
tended mind’ or ‘distributed mind’.1
The Neolithic Transformation: Is There a
Testosterone Factor and Which Role Does the
Shaman Play?
An aspect paid little heed to by our colleagues – apart
from Christa Sütterlin and Irenäus Eibl-Eibesfeldt’s
contribution (this issue) – concerns the question of
how far back in the archaeological record of Upper
Mesopotamia must one go before the initial stages of
gender role differentiation can be discerned. This ques-
tion arises in view of the striking and manifest display
of male genitals in human and animal representations,
and the implicitly documented ‘testosterone bias’ in
the communal buildings of Göbekli Tepe. Unless fu-
ture excavations will prove the contrary, Göbekli Tepe
probably was not a permanently inhabited site. Instead,
it was possibly some form of a central meeting place
within a regional catchment area of several settlements
(see Renfrew, this issue). If this assumption holds true,
it would favour the suggestion that Göbekli Tepe might
have been a ‘centre of congregation’ (Renfrew, this
issue) for men from several surrounding settlements.
Finally, it is striking that within the buildings of Göbekli
Tepe, until now, only representations of animals were
found. No plants, at least not in a gurative style, were
The culmination of these ndings arouses even more
questions. Were the communal buildings a place where
young men passed through initiation rites? Are con-
siderations completely aberrant that interpret features
of the buildings as indicating males may have begun
determining the newly created ‘top-down’ structures at
the beginning of the Neolithic? (see also Benz 2010).
In turn, this leads us to ask: Who was then able to accu-
mulate power and prestige so that he/she (or a group of
people) became capable of commanding others to build
monumental architecture, produce canonised vases or
accept dogma, or even ‘ideocratic’ structures (Gebel,
this issue)?
In our keynote paper, presented herein, we argued
that possibly the fear – or at least the awe – evoking
style and monumentality of the Göbekli Tepe buildings
was the intention of a community in a liminal stage.
This juncture was where the power of traditional ex-
ible ideologies was aking and the credence in the
shaman was to be re-established. Ulrike Bohnet and
Bo D. Hermansen (this issue) doubt that these symbols
were initiated by power-seeking shamans. We agree,
in so far as we do not think shamans enlarged their
power to other spheres such as economy or politics.
Yet, the shamans’ role as mediators in times of crisis,
in bringing order into disorder (Strathern and Stewart
2013) and in territorial (spatial as well as ideological)
defence (Stewart and Strathern, this issue) would be
worth reconsidering in detail. This is particularly true
because the genital-showing practises might also be
interpreted, according to Christa Sütterlin and Irenäus
Eibl-Eibesfeldt (this issue), as signs of territorial de-
fence. Systematic analyses of the role of the shaman in
transitional times throughout the ethnographic record
would allow future researchers invaluable insights.
The symbolic systems of the early Holocene leave
little doubt that shamanistic rituals played an important
role. However, they also display a hitherto unknown
canonisation. Whether the symbolic synchronisation
can be considered evidence for an ‘ideocratic’ system,
as argued by Gebel (this issue), needs further consider-
ation. Nevertheless, it certainly was in strong contrast
with the exible and individualistic ideologies of sha-
There is one nal, but no less important, aspect
worth mentioning because it does not align with a
shamanistic worldview, which is based on animistic,
relational conceptions of the environment (Bird-David
2012). In elaborating on this feature, Klaus Theweleit
(this issue) argues that the Neolithic (he especially re-
fers to the domestication of animals) led to a different
conception of the world; or what Pamela J. Stewart and
Andrew J. Strathern (this issue) formulated so convin-
cingly as ‘a different appropriation of nature and materi-
ality in the service of social complexity and hierarchy’.
Instead of a holistic animistic approach, humans started
to ‘separate’ (domestication), to ‘sequence’ (breeding)
and to ‘conceptualise’ (dogma) (Theweleit, this issue).
Important constituents of what has also been desig-
nated as ‘reductionism’, segmentation and sequencing
have since become a basic premise of western cultures.
This is not to deny that animistic perspectives still exist
in all societies (Albers and Franke 2012). Nonetheless,
their relative importance has shifted. The exible has
been replaced by dogma, and the wild by the domestic.
At least at that point, the shaman’s sphere of communi-
cation with spirits of animate objects and for bringing
order into the relationships with these spirits probably
Reply / Epilogue
Neo-Lithics 2/13
had to be shifted to other domains. Or should we see
the monumentalisation and increasing public display of
likely traditional symbols as evidence for the preser-
vation of something that was at risk of vanishing? Did
the shaman play the role of a rst ‘conservator’, thus
offering space for innovation by granting stability and
security in the sphere of familiar traditions?
Segmentation has also dominated neurobiological
research for a long time with the concept of the human
brain functioning in a modularised way, as if it were a
Swiss knife (for a summary see Mithen 1998). But it is
simply the complex uidity and interplay of cerebral
modules and the dialectical relationship of external
stimuli and internal neurobiological mechanisms that
characterise the brain of homo sapiens (Mithen 1998;
Donald 2001; Bauer 2013b). That neurobiology and
archaeology are now able to meet is due to the re-syn-
thesis of modularised brain functions that previously
were analysed in a reductionistic way. This re-synthesis
demonstrates that the brain is far more capable than to
only picture and segment its environment photographi-
cally, acoustically and in its three-dimensional form.
The decisive step, which was completed in the social
neurosciences (Rule et al. 2013), was to understand
that the brain (above all, the human one) can perform
neuronal resonances. This means it is capable of recon-
structing mental states that were, or are thought to be,
in the brains of others. This ability allows for changes
in perspectives and empathy. Through these fresh ap-
proaches the pathway is open for a new dimension of
scientic analyses of a multifaceted and fascinating
cooperation (Watkins 2011). Nevertheless, combining
these new neurobiological approaches with culture-
specic, contextual analyses of ethnographic and pre-
historic data remains a major challenge.
1 Vittorio Gallese (2003) speaks about an ‘S-identity’ transported
by the mirror neuron system.
Joachim Bauer
Department of Psychosomatic Medicine and
Freiburg University Medical School
Marion Benz
Department of Near Eastern Archaeology
University of Freiburg
Albers I. and Franke A. (eds.)
2012² Animismus. Revisionen der Moderne. Zürich:
Attwater J. and Holliger P.
2012 Origins of Life: The Cooperative Gene. Nature.
doi:10.1038/nat u re11635.
Bandura A.
1977 Social Learning Theory. Facsimile Reproduction.
Oxford: Prentice-Hall.
Bauer J.
2005 Warum ich fühle was du fühlst – Intuitive
Kommunikation und das Geheimnis der
Spiegelneurone. Hamburg: Hoffmann und Campe.
2008a Die Entdeckung des ‚Social Brain‘. Der Mensch
aus neurobiologischer Sicht. In: D. Ganten, V.
Gerhardt, J.-C. Heilinger, and J. Nida-Rümeling (eds.),
Was ist der Mensch: 24-27. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.
2008b Prinzip Menschlichkeit. Warum wir von Natur aus
kooperieren. Munich: Wilhelm Heyne.
2010 Das kooperative Gen. Evolution als kreativer Prozess.
Munich: Wilhelm Heyne.
2013a Schmerzgrenze. Vom Ursprung alltäglicher und
globaler Gewalt. Munich: Wilhelm Heyne.
2013b Das Gedächtnis des Körpers. Wie Beziehungen und
Lebensstile unsere Gene steuern. Munich: Piper.
Benz M.
2010 Beyond death - the construction of social identities at
the transition from foraging to farming. In: M. Benz
(ed.), The Principle of Sharing. Segregation and
Construction of Social Identities at the Transition from
Foraging to Farming. Studies in Early Near Eastern
Production, Subsistence, and Environment 14: 249-276.
Berlin: ex oriente.
Bird-David N.
2012² ‚Animismus‘ revisited: Personenkonzept, Umwelt und
relationale Epistemologie. In: I. Albers and A. Franke
(eds.), Animismus. Revisionen der Moderne: 19-47.
Zürich: diaphanes.
Buccino G., Vogt S., Ritzl A., Fink G.R., Zilles K., Freund H.-J.,
and Rizzolatti G.
2004 Neural circuits underlying imitation learning of hand
actions: an event-related fMRI study. Neuron 42(2):
Dietrich O., Heun M., Notroff J., Schmidt K., and Zarnkow M.
2012 The Role of Cult and Feasting in the Emergence of
Neolithic Communities. New Evidence from Göbekli
Tepe, south-eastern Turkey. Antiquity 86: 674-695.
Bauer and Benz, Neurobiology Meets Archaeology
Neo-Lithics 2/13 69
Nowak M.A.
2012 Super cooperators: altruism, evolution, and why we
need each other to succeed. New York: Free Press.
Nowak M.A., Tarnita C.E., and Wilson E.O.
2010 The evolution of eusociality. Nature 466: 1057-1062.
Rizzolatti G. and Craighero L.
2004 The mirror-neuron system. Annual Review of
Neuroscience 27: 169-192.
Rizzolatti G. and Sinigaglia C.
2008 Mirrors in the brain. How our minds share action,
emotions, and experiences. Oxford: Oxford University
Rule N.O., Freeman J.B., and Ambady N.
2013 Culture in social neuroscience: A review. Social
Neuroscience 8(1): 3-10.
Shapiro J.
2011 Evolution: A view from the 21st Century. Upper Saddle
River (N.J.): Financial Times Press Science.
Strathern A.J. and Stewart P.J.
2013 Dark and Light Shamanisms: Themes of Conict,
Ambivalence and Healing. In: D. Riboli and D. Torri
(eds.), Shamanism and Violence: 11-24. Surrey,
Burlington (V.T.): Ashgate.
Watkins T.
2011 Opening the Door, Pointing the Way. Paléorient 37(1):
Wilson E.O.
2013 The Social Conquest of Earth. London: Norton.
Donald M.
2001 A mind so rare: the evolution of human consciousness.
New York: Norton.
Eisenberg L.
1995 The Social Construction of the Human Brain.
American Journal of Psychiatry 152: 1563-1575.
Gal lese V.
2003 The Roots of Empathy: The Shared Manifold
Hypothesis and the Neural Basis of Intersubjectivity.
Psychopathology 36: 171-180.
Gebel H.G.K.
2010 Conict and Conict Mitigation. Neo‑Lithics 1/10:
Gowlett J., Gamble C., and Dunbar R.I.M.
2012 Human Evolution and the Archaeology of the Social
Brain. Current Anthropology 53(6): 693-722.
Hutchison W.H., Davis K.D., Lozano A.M., Tasker R.R., and
Dostrovsk y J.O.
1999 Pain-related neurons in the human cingulate cortex.
Nature Neuroscience 2(5): 403-405.
Insel T.
2003 Is social attachment an addictive disorder? Physiology
& Behavior 79: 351-357.
McClintock B.
1983 Nobel Lecture.
html (last access: 4.1.14).
Mithen S.
1998 The prehistory of the mind. A search for the origins of
art, religion and science. London: Phoenix, Orion
Mukamel R., Ekstrom A.D., Kaplan J., Iacoboni M., and Fried I.
2010 Single-Neuron Responses in Humans during Execution
and Observation of Actions. Current Biology 20: 750-
... The pillars themselves feature mostly animal reliefs (with some human and abstract symbols). Considerable attention and analysis of this imagery (see Benz & Bauer, 2013, 2015Henley, 2018;Mithen, 2003;Morenz, 2014;Morenz & Schmidt, 2009;Schmidt, 2006Schmidt, /2012Schmidt, , 2011 suggests that while some of it was likely apotropaic, that it may also be the oldest known semasiographic proto-writings. ...
... In broad strokes, a general hypothesis is that the imagery featured on the stone pillars at Göbekli Tepe, as well as that carefully reproduced in miniature, served to link a large enough community to accomplish construction of the site (Watkins, 2005(Watkins, , 2010(Watkins, , 2013. These symbols may then represent the type of iconography associated with the maintenance of social norms or even doctrinal religious practices (Benz & Bauer, 2013, 2015Dietrich et al., 2020;Henley, 2018). Even if what was done at the site was not religious in the modern sensefor as Schmidt (2006Schmidt ( /2012Dietrich, Notroff & Schmidt, 2017) observes its possible use could have been as a memorial for encoding beliefs, traditions, or history; as an educational center for transmitting funereal or hunting rituals and practices; or as a place for social initiation, indoctrination, or exchange within a larger community context -still supports the idea that some of the imagery was intended to transmit a "story." ...
... For example, as a consequence of SIT there is a clear ingroup bias and as such a real potential for overt discriminatory behavior in intergroup contexts (see Balliet, Wu, & De Dreu, 2014 for a recent meta-analysis). This then could form the foundation for the sort of cohesioncoercion dynamic that many (e.g., Belfer-Cohen & Goring-Morris, 2005;Benz & Bauer, 2013;Dietrich et al., 2017;Kuijt, 2011;Morsch, 2016;Norenzayan, 2013;Schmidt, 2005) believe must have been associated with the site. ...
Göbekli Tepe is an archaeological site that has challenged much prior thought on human history with respect to our Neolithic revolution from animistic, egalitarian, hunter-gatherers to settled, socially stratified, and religious peoples. In the present paper we review the structures and possible purposes of Göbekli Tepe, summarize past considerations of the connection between psychological concepts and matters found thereat, and then introduce social identity theory as an apt theoretical perspective from which to best understand the peoples who constructed and utilized the site. Throughout we show that social-cognitive processes and concepts have merit in interpreting the advent and utility of Göbekli Tepe, suggesting then a greater use for psychology within the framework of cognitive archaeology.
... Therefore, symbols and related ritual practices must have assumed a relatively important role during these radical changes. In turn, icons displaying animal, human and other natural forms can be considered as forms of representation that incorporate social value and meaning for Neolithic communities (Benz and Bauer 2013). ...
... Before delving or speculating on the meaning behind attributing this necklace to the deceased child, it is worth to contemplate its aesthetic qualities (Fig 23). In the context of research developing social [83], semantic [84], psychologic and neurological [85,86] approaches to understand the symbolic contents materialized by figurines, engravings, paintings or body ornaments, acknowledging the aesthetic tastes, beauty, radiance, or charm of creations might sound subjective and superficial. However, one should bear in mind that it is through the endless possibilities of material transformation that humans have developed genuine artistic abilities. ...
Full-text available
In 2018, a well-constructed cist-type grave was discovered at Ba`ja, a Neolithic village (7,400-6,800 BCE) in Southern Jordan. Underneath multiple grave layers, an 8-year-old child was buried in a fetal position. Over 2,500 beads were found on the chest and neck, along with a double perforated stone pendant and a delicately engraved mother-of-pearl ring discovered among the concentration of beads. The first was found behind the neck, and the second on the chest. The meticulous documentation of the bead distribution indicated that the assemblage was a composite ornament that had gradually collapsed, partly due to the burying position. Our aim was to challenge time degradation and to reimagine the initial composition in order to best explore the significance of this symbolic category of material culture, not as mere group of beads, but as an ornamental creation with further aesthetic, artisanal and socioeconomic implications. The reconstruction results exceeded our expectations as it revealed an imposing multi-row necklace of complex structure and attractive design. Through multiple lines of evidence, we suggest that the necklace was created at Ba`ja, although significant parts of beads were made from exotic shells and stones, including fossil amber, an unprecedented material never attested before for this period. The retrieval of such an ornament from life and its attribution to a young dead child highlights the significant social status of this individual. Beyond the symbolic functions related to identity, the necklace is believed to have played a key role in performing the inhumation rituals, understood as a public event gathering families, relatives, and people from other villages. In this sense, the necklace is not seen as belonging completely to the realm of death but rather to the world of the living, materializing a collective memory and shared moments of emotions and social cohesion.
... Concerning the hitherto widely neglected integration of social neurosciences in prehistoric/ archaeological research (except when related to primatology and cognitive research for the Lower Palaeolithic). While some approaches and topics of social neurosciences and cognitive archaeology began to establish and influence Neolithic research (e.g., Bauer and Benz 2013;Benz and Bauer 2013;Henley et al. 2020), almost no such research can be traced back for prehistoric and historical neuroscientific perspectives on thanatological topics. ...
Full-text available
This contribution advocates for a holistic understanding of prehistoric sepulchral evidence and proposes an epistemically grounded transdisciplinarity for the thanatological approaches proposed here. These approaches have been inferred from the diversified evidence of the intra- and extramural burials and burial contexts of Basta and Ba`ja (Late and Final Pre-Pottery Neolithic B of southern Jordan, second half of the 8th millennium BC), representing the LPPNB Transjordanian Megasite Phenomenon. Based on this empirical evidence and the emic perspectives of the Household and Death in Ba`ja project, five sets of theses are presented for the socio-neurobiological, ethological, and ontological factors ruling the complex system of the LPPNB deathlore, including its rituality and symbolism. Following this, the theoretical and metatheoretical elements and frameworks of a future LPPNB thanatology are explained through examples from the two sites.
... The methodology used in such instances relies heavily on building analogies starting from historic and ethnographic data and the conclusion is that the snake usually embodies beneficial principles such as healing, regeneration, fertility, and wisdom. In opposition to these interpretations, the efforts that try to consider the existence of a symmetric relationship between the human being and the snake (Benz, Bauer 2013;Borić 2013;Gifford, Antonello 2015) are building a rather disquieting range of meanings for serpent's representations, focusing on the danger it conveys, but usually have a speculative character and lack a strong theoretical and methodological background. However, this line of inquiry corroborated with the advances made in the field of neurosciences since the '80, make a re-evaluation of Mundkur's biological approach a promising path to follow. ...
Full-text available
Lynn et al., (2019) accused fellow scientists of misrepresenting free-roaming cats (Felis catus) by framing them as a global threat to biodiversity, rather than a localised threat to specific ecosystems. These authors asserted that the narrative created a ‘moral panic’ over free-roaming cats, which is escalated by emotive journalistic pieces read by audiences around the world. To test this empirically, I performed a thematic discourse analysis of user comments responding to five news articles, a magazine, and a YouTube video related to the topic of freeroaming cats. The discourses examined flow between conservationists, the media, and the public, and reflect the confused and convoluted ways in which people think about cats. Here I discuss how well the data fits the moral panic theory. I analyse how labels such as ‘feral’ serve to ‘other’ cats, rendering them objects of distain and creating ‘folk devils’ that are deemed more killable than beloved companion animals of the same species.
... The transition from foraging to farming in Southwest Asia involved changes in all aspects of human life, including economy, mobility, technology and ideology. The latter is most evident in the emergence of mortuary practices involving cranial removal during the 15th-13th millennium BP (Baird et al. 2013;, and the fluorescence of architecture and art in the northern Levant and Upper Tigris Basis during the 12th millennium BP (Benz and Bauer 2013;Dietrich et al. 2012). Shamanism has been cited as a form of religious practice that might underlie such developments (Benz and Bauer 2015;Grosman et al. 2008;Kolankaya-Bostanci 2014). ...
Full-text available
Shamanism is a pervasive form of ritual practice documented within hunter-gathering and farming societies throughout the world, and continuing within some present-day urban communities. Despite exhibiting considerable variation, shamanism has several recurrent features, notably the role of the shaman as a mediator between the spirit and human worlds. Shamanism has been cited to explain aspects of the Epipalaeolithic and Neolithic archaeological records in Southwest Asia and Anatolia. Building on that work, this contribution explores whether shamanism might account for intriguing finds from the early Neolithic settlement of WF16 in southern Jordan, notably a large quantity of bird bones, zoomorphic artefacts and architectural features. A range of interpretations for the evidence are considered with shamanism emerging as the most compelling, suggesting that shamanic thought and practice pervaded daily life at WF16. The paper concludes by proposing that shamanism played a key role in the Early Holocene transition from hunting and gathering to farming in Southwest Asia, as it provided a means for coping with the uncertainty arising from climate and economic change.
... The definitions of what constitutes the essence of 'The Neolithic' are rapidly changing, and opinions vary (e.g. Gopher, 2017, 2020;Arranz-Otaegui et al., 2018;Baird et al., 2018;Bar-Yosef, 2007Belfer-Cohen and Bar-Yosef, 2000;Belfer-Cohen and Goring-Morris, 2011;Benz, 2010;Benz and Bauer, 2013;Benz et al., 2017;Bodet, 2019;Cauvin, 2000;Cohen, 1977;Finlayson and Makarewicz, 2020;Flannery, 2002;Gebel, 2010Gebel, , 2017Gopher, 2020;Belfer-Cohen, 2014, 2016; replaced by a PPNA hamlet, the structures of which are virtually identical to those observed in Late/ Final Natufian sites, e.g. at Eynan/Ein Mallaha (Haklay and Gopher, 2015;Noy, 1989Noy, , 1993Samuelian, 2019;Steklis and Yisraely, 1963;Valla, 2008). It is of interest to note that in the plateaus east of the Rift valley there is a continuity of Natufian occupations with architecture, rich cultural material remains and burials unto the PPNA, e.g. the sites of Shubayqa 1 and 6 (Richter, 2017a(Richter, , 2017bRichter et al., 2016Richter et al., , 2017. ...
Networking during the early stages of the Levantine Neolithic appears to have been encouraged by increasing demands for exotics, i.e. non-local commodities. The actual exchange of merchandise stimulated also transmission of knowledge, i.e. innovations. Together these were instrumental in affecting the social fabric of society. It appears that specific geographic settings as well as large-scale communal edifices played a pivotal role in sustaining and promoting Neolithic networking.
Türkiye’nin güneydoğusunda, Şanlıurfa’nın 15 km kuzeydoğusunda bulunan Göbekli Tepe, konum olarak avcı-toplayıcılıktan tarıma geçiş sürecinin yaşandığı bölgenin tam ortasında kalır. Bu alan, çakmaktaşı işleyicileri ve silah imal edenler tarafından inşa edilmiş ve radyo karbon analizleri neticesinde de en az 1400 yıllık bir süre boyunca kullanıldığı tespit edilmiştir. Göbekli Tepe’nin bölgedeki büyük bir alana yayılan kültün veya ortak bir inanç anlayışının en büyük temsilcisi olduğu değerlendirilmektedir. Bu bağlamda; Dicle Vadisi’nde Batman, Hasankeyf, Suriye’nin kuzeyinde de Fırat Vadisi’nde yer alan yerleşimlerde de benzeri semboller görülmüştür. Dolayısıyla, bu durumun sadece tek bir yerleşime özgü olmadığı, benzer niteliklere sahip yapıların Neolitik Dönemin ilk aşamalarına tarihlenen birçok yerleşmede de olması nedeniyle Göbekli Tepe’yi, 120 km’lik bir alandan fazlasına yayılan bir kültürel ve sosyal ağ üzerindeki toplulukların bir araya geldiği “merkezi alan” olarak düşünebiliriz. Bu çalışmada Göbekli Tepe’yi kapsayan araştırmalar ve bilim adamlarının görüşleri yukarıda bahsi geçen eksende değerlendirilmiş olup, eldeki veriler ışığında “tapınak”, “toplumdaki organizasyon ve işbirliği”, “semboller” gibi Göbekli Tepe’ye ilişkin çalışmalarda konu başlıkları üzerine fikirler öne sürülmüştür. Alanı keşfeden Klaus Schmidt’in konu ile ilgili tezleri ve kazı raporları yeni fikirler için çıkış noktalarını oluşturmakta ve ilerisi için düşünceleri zenginleştiren analizler sunmaktadır. Bunların yanı sıra, konuyla ilgilenen diğer arkeolog, tarihçi ve din bilimcilerin görüşleri de değerlendirilmiştir.
Full-text available
Stone is often regarded as the ideal medium for the long-term preservation of knowledge, as it is resistant to change. Early to middle Pre-Pottery Neolithic Göbekli Tepe in southeastern Turkey has repeatedly been treated as a prime example for such external memorial storage in durable stone. The present paper challenges this view. A close examination of pillars and their reliefs in Building F reveals the fluid character of imagery with repeated and frequent phases of erasure and re-making. It is argued that it is not the durability of stone that made it suitable for the preservation of ‘cultural memory’, but the possibility to re-shape the image carriers continuously over a long period of time, which resulted in processes of transmission, learning and memorization.
Full-text available
Growing reliance on animal and plant domestication in the Near East and beyond during the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB) (the ninth to eighth millennium BC) has often been associated with a "revolutionary" social transformation from mobility toward more sedentary lifestyles. We are able to yield nuanced insights into the process of the Neolithization in the Near East based on a bioarchaeological approach integrating isotopic and archaeogenetic analyses on the bone remains recovered from Nevalı Çori, a site occupied from the early PPNB in Turkey where some of the earliest evidence of animal and plant domestication emerged, and from Ba'ja, a typical late PPNB site in Jordan. In addition, we present the archaeological sequence of Nevalı Çori together with newly generated radiocarbon dates. Our results are based on strontium (87Sr/86Sr), carbon, and oxygen (δ18O and δ13Ccarb) isotopic analyses conducted on 28 human and 29 animal individuals from the site of Nevalı Çori. 87Sr/86Sr results indicate mobility and connection with the contemporaneous surrounding sites during the earlier PPNB prior to an apparent decline in this mobility at a time of growing reliance on domesticates. Genome-wide data from six human individuals from Nevalı Çori and Ba'ja demonstrate a diverse gene pool at Nevalı Çori that supports connectedness within the Fertile Crescent during the earlier phases of Neolithization and evidence of consanguineous union in the PPNB Ba'ja and the Iron Age Nevalı Çori.
Full-text available
Naissance des divinites, Naissance de l’agriculture (1994) a reflete la pensee orignale et aboutie de Jacques Cauvin sur la nature premiere de la neolithisation. Cet ouvrage influence toujours la pensee et les travaux d’un grand nombre, mais son impact a ete limite parce qu’il a laisse deux questions majeures en suspens. Mes propres recherches se sont fondees sur deux questions : Cauvin a decrit sa «revolution des symboles » comme etant « psycho-culturelle » mais il s’est peu exprime sur sa nature cognitive et culturelle et il a repete la question que R. Braidwood avait posee en defi , comprendre pourquoi les chasseurs-cueilleurs se sont tournes vers l’agriculture a ce moment precis et pas plus tot. Je me suis applique dans ma recherche a contribuer a la comprehension des implications cognitives et culturelles de l’emploi de systemes de representation symbolique sous une forme materielle ; et a integrer l’emergence de savoirs cognitifs dans le contexte de la theorie de l’evolution de la communication culturelle. Toutefois, nous avons peu progresse sur le chemin que Cauvin a trace. Malgre des avancees rapides et passionnantes dans les theories relatives a l’esprit humain et a l’evolution cognitive des savoirs sociaux et de la communication, la collaboration pluri-disciplinaire avec les archeologues a replace le centre de la question au Paleolithique superieur. Le Neolithique a ete ignore ou considere seulement comme la consequence de la « revolution humaine » qui se serait accomplie il y a plus de 30 000 ans. Afin de progresser, il nous faut mettre en place de nouvelles collaborations multi-disciplinaires, tournees vers les aspects culturels cognitifs et symboliques du Neolithique.
Full-text available
The picture of human evolution has been transformed by new evidence in recent years, but contributing disciplines seem to have difficulty in sharing knowledge on a common basis. The disciplines producing primary data in paleoanthropology scarcely reach out to a broader picture and are often bypassed by writers in other disciplines. Archaeology is encouraged by its material evidence to project a view that “what you see is what there was”: by definition, there can be only a late flowering of human abilities. Yet there is a vital alternative paleontological record of the early hominins that gives us important information about their brains and suggests that brains become large and complex far earlier than that late material complexity might imply. How, then, to account for the large brains acting far back in time? Evolutionary psychology, in the form of the social brain hypothesis, claims that these large brains were concerned with managing a far-reaching social life. In becoming human, those brains did not merely become larger, but of necessity they took on new socialized perspectives, a domestication of emotional capacities allowing greater insights and collaboration. We argue that there is at least a 2-million-year social record that must be made part of mainstream interpretation.
Full-text available
Comparison of two Turkish Neolithic sites with rich symbolism, Çatalhöyük and Göbekli, suggests widespread and long-lasting themes in the early settled communities of the region. Three major symbolic themes are identified. The first concerns an overall concern with the penis, human and animal, that allows us to speak of a phallocentrism in contrast to the widely held assumption that the early agriculturalists in the Middle East emphasized the female form, fertility, and fecundity. The second theme concerns wild and dangerous animals, even in sites with domesticated plants and animals, and particularly the hard and pointed parts of wild animals, such as talons, claws, horns, and tusks. We interpret this evidence in relation to providing food for large-scale consumption and the passing down of objects that memorialize such events within specific houses. The third theme is that piercing and manipulating the flesh were associated with obtaining and passing down human and animal skulls. The removal of human heads was also associated with symbolism involving raptors. Overall, we see a set of themes, including maleness, wild and dangerous animals, headlessness, and birds, all linked by history making and the manipulation of the body.
Material culture surrounds us and yet is habitually overlooked. So integral is it to our everyday lives that we take it for granted. This attitude has also afflicted the academic analysis of material culture, although this is now beginning to change, with material culture recently emerging as a topic in its own right within the social sciences. Carl Knappett seeks to contribute to this emergent field by adopting a wide-ranging interdisciplinary approach that is rooted in archaeology and integrates anthropology, sociology, art history, semiotics, psychology, and cognitive science. His thesis is that humans both act and think through material culture; ways of knowing and ways of doing are ingrained within even the most mundane of objects. This requires that we adopt a relational perspective on material artifacts and human agents, as a means of characterizing their complex interdependencies. In order to illustrate the networks of meaning that result, Knappett discusses examples ranging from prehistoric Aegean ceramics to Zande hunting nets and contemporary art. Thinking Through Material Culture argues that, although material culture forms the bedrock of archaeology, the discipline has barely begun to address how fundamental artifacts are to human cognition and perception. This idea of codependency among mind, action, and matter opens the way for a novel and dynamic approach to all of material culture, both past and present. © 2005 by University of Pennsylvania Press. All rights reserved.
Award-winning science writer Steven Mithen explores how an understanding of our ancestors and their development can illuminate our brains and behaviour today How do our minds work? When did language and religious beliefs first emerge? Why was there a cultural explosion of art and creativity with the arrival of modern humans? This ground-breaking book brings the insight of archaeology to our understanding of the development and history of the human mind, combining them with ideas from evolutionary psychology in a brilliant and provocative synthesis.
Emotions and actions are powerfully contagious; when we see someone laugh, cry, show disgust, or experience pain, in some sense, we share that emotion. When we see someone in distress, we share that distress. When we see a great actor, musician or sportsperson perform at the peak of their abilities, it can feel like we are experiencing just something of what they are experiencing. Yet only recently, with the discover of mirror neurons, has it become clear just how this powerful sharing of experience is realised within the human brain. This book provides, for the first time, a systematic overview of mirror neurons, written by the man who first discovered them. In the early 1990's Giacomo Rizzolatti and his co-workers at the University of Parma discovered that some neurons had a surprising property. They responded not only when a subject performed a given action, but also when the subject observed someone else performing that same action. These results had a deep impact on cognitive neuroscience, leading the neuroscientist vs Ramachandran to predict that 'mirror neurons would do for psychology what DNA did for biology'. The unexpected properties of these neurons have not only attracted the attention of neuroscientists. Many sociologists, anthropologists, and even artists have been fascinated by mirror neurons. The director and playwright Peter Brook stated that mirror neurons throw new light on the mysterious link that is created each time actors take the stage and face their audience - the sight of a great actor performing activates in the brain of the observer the very same areas that are active in the performer - including both their actions and their emotions.