Monday, July 29, 2019

The Origins of Language: When, Why and How



The Origins of Language: 
When, Why and How



Abstract:
Although Homo sapiens were anatomically able to talk 150,000 years ago (150 kya), it appears that they did not until about 40 kya when the Upper Paleolithic cultural and symbolic explosion occurred. To date, there has been no satisfactory explanation. This blog-post attempts to provide an answer as to when a fully developed G1 language came into being and the reasons for the emergence of such a language plus the reasons why the later Paleolithic explosion took so long to develop. Specifically, the abilities of the Homo sapiens' prefrontal cortex, the planning involved with various tool-making and other processes, the development of episodic memory, the growing use of spoken words, and a new understanding of time -- all came together about 100 kya. It then took another 60 ky before this new sensibility led to an established belief system which resulted in the Upper Paleolithic cultural explosion.


Why Didn't We Speak Sooner

"Human beings were anatomically ready to speak more than 150 kya but clear evidence that they were doing so does not appear for 100 ky afterward." 

The famous American science journalist, Constance Holden, wrote this and the following about the development of language in her article entitled, No Last Word on Language Origins
https://science.sciencemag.org/content/282/5393/1455.abstract

Fossils show that the raw brain capacity for complex language, along with the necessary mouth and throat anatomy, were probably in place before 150,000 years ago. But most of the behaviors thought to depend on language did not appear until 40,000 years ago--the so-called Upper Paleolithic explosion that is manifested most strikingly in Europe. That was when tools, burials, living sites, and occasional hints of art and personal adornment reveal beings capable of planning and foresight, social organization and mutual assistance, a sense of aesthetics, and a grasp of symbols. "Everybody would accept that by 40,000 years ago, language is everywhere," says Stanford University archaeologist Richard Klein.
Unfortunately, "speech does not fossilize," notes anthropologist John Shea of the State University of New York, Stony Brook...noting that an archaeologist "is like the drunk in the old joke who looks where the light is good" for his lost keys. 
Thus paleoanthropology is a game for philosophers as well as scientists, and there is plenty of room for free play of the romantic imagination.

Read the full article online:
https://web.archive.org/web/20050404112132/http://cas.bellarmine.edu/tietjen/images/anthropology(NoLastWordOnLanguageOrigins.htm

Since I am not a linguist but I minored in Anthropology for my Master's Degree in Communication, I fall, perhaps, into the philosopher category as mentioned above. And since Constance Holden, the author, has given me permission here, I will try my hand at solving this puzzle.


Setting The Stage For Language

I believe five key elements came together about 100 kya that led to the start of a fully developed language. The linguist, Dr. Daniel Everett, has called this hypothetical first language, a G1 language. 

Yet after it was in place 100 kya, I believe it took another 60 ky for the full consequences of this development to occur and for the rich creation of human culture which then led to the Upper Paleolithic explosion 40 kya. 

#1. The Prefrontal Cortex
The concepts in language and an ability to work with processes came about largely due to a unique part of the genus Homo brain, called the prefrontal cortex. This recently discovered area of the brain was critical when it came to planning and cognition.

A full description is best left to scientific sources, so what follows are descriptions from scientific websites.

"This part of the association cortex, which is implicated in higher cognition and affect, is thus disproportionately large in humans relative to other primates."
Stern, Peter. The human prefrontal cortex is special. Science. Science22 Jun 2018 : 1311-1312.
https://science.sciencemag.org/content/360/6395/1311.7

"It’s responsible for planning and decision-making and, according to the new findings, has no equivalent in the monkey brain."
Engelking, Carl. Brain Area For Decision-Making And Planning Is “Uniquely Human.” Discover Magazine. 2014.
http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/d-brief/2014/01/30/brain-area-for-decision-making-and-planning-is-uniquely-human/#.XR8X5utJHgw

"This brain region has been implicated in planning complex cognitive behavior, personality expression, decision making, and moderating social behaviour. The basic activity of this brain region is considered to be orchestration of thoughts and actions in accordance with internal goals."
Prefrontal Cortex. The Science Of Psychotherapy. 2017.
https://www.thescienceofpsychotherapy.com/prefrontal-cortex/

In other words, the conceptions of language and a proficiency for using and then improving and modifying processes was possible due to this unique part of the human brain. However, it took a million years or more for all of the 'prefrontal cortex' abilities to come into play and to be fully utilized.


See my most popular blog about the prefrontal cortex, I wrote in 2014: 
Animal Senses Compared to the Human Sense of Time



#2. Processes
Anthropologists do agree that for over a million years the genus Homo used a series of processes to make stone cutting tools such as hand axes. Over time these processes were refined and expanded and new processes were developed. By 100 kya Homo sapiens used a huge variety of processes, some of which we can only guess about because the materials have decayed, such as the treatment of animal skins and the building of houses with branches and leaves. 

“In reality, we know very little. What is conserved in the ground? Stone, bronze, ivory, bone, sometimes pottery. Never wood objects, no fabric or skins. That completely skews our notions about primitive man.”
Pablo Picasso
https://timelineforhomosapiens.com/2013/12/11/picasso-quotes-and-primitive-art/
Excerpted from pages 92-102 of Conversations with Picasso by Brassaï, translated by Jane Marie Todd, published by the University of Chicago Press. ©1999 by the University of Chicago.

While we can only guess at the 'softer' technologies that have left little evidence from the Middle Paleolithic era. Here is what a weaving website had to say.
Weaving (a soft technology): The art of weaving...involves the production of fabric or cloth by interlacing two distinct sets of yarns or threads in a right angle...Early civilization called for temporary shelters to be built, so knowing how to twine, plait, knot and weave materials such as grass, twigs, string and twine together, in order to build walls, roofs, bedding, baskets and doors, was imperative. The idea of interlacing materials together to create a weave was probably inspired by nature; by observing birds’ nests, spider webs and various animal constructions...A distinct fabric impression in an archaeological find (Dolni Vestonice), has led scientists to the conclusion that the discovery of weaving actually took place as early as the Paleolithic era. [ED: My emphasis.]
The History of Weaving. 2014.  https://wildtussah.com/history-weaving-2/

However, scientists can confirm that many of the processes we do know about were quite sophisticated such as the complex and exacting underground heat treatment of silcrete which turned silcrete into a material that was as workable and useful as flint. But like flint, heat-treated silcrete had properties that meant it could be shaped in predictable ways. (See the Afterword.)

I believe that after more than a million years a sense of linear time developed as the skill of working with processes became increasingly complex, precise, sophisticated and varied. It is quite likely that by 100 kya Homo sapiens were using dozens of processes to make various stone tools and weapons, treat animal fur and skins, sew skins together, fabricate clothes from natural fibers, and make shelters, mats, and baskets.


The progression of stone technology during the Paleolithic era
showing the evolution of stone tool processing.
(Left) Acheulian flint chopper, North Somerset, UK; ca. 750 kya.
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:583_three_handaxes_ventral_(FindID_101523).jpg
(Middle) Lower Paleolithic flint stone tool, Egypt; ca.200 kya.
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tool_MET_06-322-21.jpeg
(Right) Bifacial silcrete point; Blombos Cave, South Africa; 71 kya.
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Blombos_point_white.JPG

While understanding a process was limited to particular materials and desired results, all processes involved a sense of time. Each step had to be done in a certain order, for example, and the eventual outcome was dependent on past steps that had been done correctly. Later processes were almost always more complicated and required more precise conditions for specific lengths of time -- such as the precise heat treatment of silcrete to make it more workable. (See the Afterword.)

I believe that over the years, the different orderly steps in a process became the model for time in general but more about this in my next blog.

#3. Memory
While we cannot know the exact memory abilities of Paleolithic people, we do know this. Processes would need to be memorized and then younger members of the tribe would need to learn the processes and memorize the steps. So the teacher would have to be able to remember all the steps, describe them as needed, and then communicate this to an apprentice. Then as time went on the steps became more complicated and more exacting requiring more memory skills. 


"The ability to remember has been linked with the ability to perceive time in the past and has been seen as a crucial threshold for a sense of time." 
Pathman, Thanujeni et al. “Young Children's Memory for the Times of Personal Past Events.” Journal of cognition and development : official journal of the Cognitive Development Society vol. 14,1 (2013): 120-140. doi:10.1080/15248372.2011.641185https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3653335/

NOTE: We do have clear evidence that the memory of some Upper Paleolithic people was remarkable. The painting of a rhino in the Chauvet Cave in France, for example, has been dated to more than 30 kya and the remarkably accurate drawing of a bison in the Cave of Altamira has been dated to about the same period. Both of these paintings were painted from memory as the paintings were created by artists inside deep dark caves


See my popular blog: 
The Genius of Cavemen

By the Upper Paleolithic, Homo sapiens had remarkable memories. This top picture of a bison was painted from memory using multi-color air brush techniques in the dark Cave of Altamira, about 15 kya. The bottom photo is of an actual bison today.

#4. Early Words
Words must have taken a while to develop and most anthropologists would agree. However, the point of the earliest beginnings has become a heated argument. Dr. Daniel Everett has suggested that its earliest and limited beginnings may have occurred at least a million years earlier than previously thought with Homo erectus. Homo erectus was capable of making sounds, but not with the wide and varied flexibility of Homo sapiens and the complex grammar of modern languages. But, in any case, it seems likely that long before there was a fully developed language, there was a time period when words were evolving and shared verbal communication was developing.

#5. Linear Time 
The last and most recent critical element was a sense of time. During the Lower Paleolithic era, an understanding of time by Homo sapiens began to diverge from the animal sense of time, i.e., animal time which was living in the moment and responding to cyclical changes such as sunrise and sunset or changes in the seasons. 
Homo sapiens were the first species (and still the only species) to understand 'when' in time -- when in the past, when in the near present and when in the future. No other animal has this capacity according to the following study.
People can time-travel cognitively because they can remember events having occurred at particular times in the past (episodic memory) [ED: e.g., the sense of when] and because they can anticipate new events occurring at particular times in the future. The ability to assign points in time to events arises from the human development of a sense of time. [In this paper] the hypothesis is advanced that animals are cognitively stuck in time; that is, they have no sense of time and thus have no episodic memory or ability to anticipate long-range future events. Research on animals’ abilities to detect time of day, track short time intervals, remember the order of a sequence of events, and anticipate future events are considered, and it is concluded that the stuck-in-time hypothesis is largely supported by the current evidence.
Roberts, William. Are Animals Stuck in Time? 
Psychological Bulletin 2002, Vol. 128, No. 3, 473–489.  American Psychological Association. 2002.  https://www.msu.edu/course/psy/962/snapshot.afs/Roberts%20(2002)%20-%20Are%20animals%20stuck%20in%20time_epidodic%20memory.pdf

In the modern world, we take time for granted what with watches and clocks everywhere and even time stamps on receipts, but to early humans, linear time was quite magical, mysterious and fearsome.


"It must have required enormous effort for man to overcome
his natural tendency to live like the animals in a continual present."
Gerald James Whitrow.
Time in History: Views of Time from Prehistory to the Present Day. 
Oxford, UK, Oxford University Press. 1988

For a language to be considered fully developed a basic vocabulary that could express time concepts was essential. So during the same period that an early fully developed language was born, time concepts also came into being.


"Time reference is a universal property of language..."
Jacqueline Lecarme, Ph.D., Linguistics

The basic and universal time words, known as Semantic Primitives, as listed by the Natural Semantic Metalanguage originated by Anna Wierzbicka, suggests the essential words and concepts that the earliest languages may have used. She chose these words because they can be translated into any known language and are understood in all languages.
What Is NSM? 
https://intranet.secure.griffith.edu.au/schools-departments/natural-semantic-metalanguage/what-is-nsm

UNIVERSAL WORDS FOR TIME IN ALL LANGUAGES: 
when/time, now, before, after, a long time, a short time, for some time, moment



A Fully Developed Language By 100 Kya

Recent archaeological evidence now points to the start of a fully developed language at about 100 kya. 

This is the date of the oldest undisputed Homo sapiens burial and also the date of a 'paint kit' which was probably used for ceremonial purposes but in any case, was carefully put together with considerable forethought. 

100 kya – The oldest known ritual burial of modern humans was at Qafzeh in Israel. It was a double burial of what is thought to be a mother and child. The bones have been stained with red ochre. 
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paleolithic_religion

Also 100 kya – 
The first confirmed burial also coincides with the first confirmed paint kit found at the archaeological site of Blombos Cave in South Africa. This find indicates the beginning of symbolic thought either as body paint or paintings.
The hoard includes red and yellow pigments, shell containers, and the grinding cobbles and bone spatulas to work up a paste - everything an ancient artist might need in their workshop.
"There is a view that this behaviour is linked with complex language. So, it may indicate these people were communicating in a fully modern way,' said Prof. Chris Stringer from London's Natural History Museum.
Amos, Jonathan. Ancient 'Paint Factory' Unearthed. BBC News. 2011.
https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-15257259
 Middle Paleolithic shells with drilled holes. It is assumed these were early beads.

The five key elements 'jelled together' when they reached a critical point about 100 kya. 
"The similarity of cognitive processes and cortical networks involved in speech and tool use suggests that these behaviours are best seen as special cases in the more general domain of complex, goal-oriented action. This is exactly what would be predicted by hypotheses that posit specific co-evolutionary relationships between language and tool use..."  
Stout, Dietrich, and Thierry Chaminade. “Stone tools, language and the brain in human evolution.” Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological sciences vol. 367,1585 (2012): 75-87. doi:10.1098/rstb.2011.0099 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3223784/

These findings satisfy many of the criteria outlined by Constance Holden's article,  No Last Word on Language Origins, quoted at the beginning of this blog-post. She wrote that anthropologists believe that a full language first happened when there was evidence of, "tools, burials, living sites, and occasional hints of art and personal adornment reveal[ing] beings capable of planning and foresight..."

But this still leaves the nagging question of why the 'Upper Paleolithic explosion' did not happen for another 60,000 years.





Why Was There A 60,000 Year Gap
Between The Start Of A Fully Developed Language
And The Upper Paleolithic Cultural Explosion?


Making the switch from living in the moment to living with a sense of time was a momentous change. A person would realize that their death was inevitable along with that of their mate and their children, for example. They could now imagine that terrible events which had occurred in the past might be repeated in the future -- such as floods, disease, invasions, fires, starvation, earthquakes and volcanoes. And along with this new understanding of time came the new emotions of worry and hope. While a belief in time as a linear continuum gave humans great power, it also gave them great anxiety. Cultures would have to find ways to cope with these fears which were usually dealt with through religious rituals -- or, we might say, religious processes.


This ornament (left) is one of two at the entrance gate (right) for the 200 year-old Oudewater Reformed Cemetery in Holland. This cast-iron funerary art expresses the universal angst and dread about linear time and the inevitability of death. This fear was as true then as it was to Paleolithic Homo sapiens 100 kya. The hour glass in the middle is a symbol for the passage of time and the wings represent "time flies" or in Latin "tempus fugit." 

For Paleolithic peoples, this new sense of time was a 'brave new world.' It must have been a bit like Alice in Wonderland. It signaled the beginnings of consciousness, for example, and probably belief systems that involved animism, totemism, and magic.  

It is very important to not see these beliefs as 'primitive' or backward, but instead to see them as functional for the people at the time and for the environment they lived in. A hunter-gatherer way of life had entirely different demands from neolithic farming which was entirely different from a complex civilization.

As Jacques Cauvin has said, religion came first before technological advances. He suggested that a belief system had to be in place before the building of civilizations, for example, because a culture first needed to reflect the beliefs of the people. The belief system came first and was fundamental because it gave the culture its raison d'etre.


See my blog about Cauvin's ideas
The Mystery of Gobekli Tepe: The World's Oldest Temple

In other words, rather than religion reflecting and emerging from the new technology and way of life, as previously thought, religion came first. The culture and the technology instead reflected the religious beliefs that were already in place. However, it is likely that once cultures and civilizations were established, they, in turn, modified the existing religion. 

So the reason for the Paleolithic 'language and culture gap' was that Paleolithic people had to become comfortable with their belief system before they could create symbols, art, tools and social activities that reflected that their beliefs.

I would suggest that when linear time, in general, had become part of the human way of life, the Paleolithic system of processes was extended to religion. Religious rituals were derived from an understanding of processes, and so became processes themselves. They were designed to bring favorable outcomes in the future and to retain favor with natural and supernatural forces. And once these religious processes were in place, the stage was set for the Upper Paleolithic explosion.

Then once a belief system was in place and people finally felt comfortable with their newly expanded understanding of time, they used the tremendous power that it gave them to plan, to organize, and to build, which led to the Upper Paleolithic cultural explosion and then to farming and eventually to civilization.


_________________________
AFTERWORD


Examples Of Two Advanced Processes 
That Were Being Used Before
The Upper Paleolithic Cultural Explosion


Here are two examples of processes which occurred during this gap. They show how sophisticated the Paleolithic technology had become yet these were done during the time before the Upper Paleolithic explosion of creativity. It seems very likely that language must have developed by this time in order to execute these processes and to instruct others in the procedures. In my next blog, I will go into more detail about how an understanding of time and an understanding of processes were closely related.

The Heat Treatment Of Silcrete For Stone Tools
Approx 70 kya for the advanced process

About 130 kya Paleolithic people learned to heat treat certain kinds of locally available stones. Instead of needing to use flint, for example, they, in a sense, made their own "artificial flint" by treating silcrete so that it had flint-like properties, which made it an excellent material for tools and arrows. The heat treatment made the stone harder, less prone to fracturing and easier to shape. Over perhaps 60 ky into the Middle Paleolithic era (the time before the Upper Paleolithic explosion), this technique became quite sophisticated.
Beginning with an above-ground method of placing stones in a pile of embers, it evolved into a well crafted controlled method that used "underground heating in an earth-oven like fire-pit. (sciencedaily.com -- see reference next)" This is a good example of the evolution of a Paleolithic process and the increasing complexity, precision, and sophistication that was achieved.
The "silcrete heat treatment...may provide the first direct evidence of the intentional and extensive use of fire applied to a whole lithic chain of production...This heating process marks the emergence of fire engineering as a response to a variety of needs that largely transcend hominin basic subsistence requirements."  
University of Bergen. "Early humans used innovative heating techniques to make stone blades." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 October 2016. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/10/161020092107.htm.
71  kya silcrete stone tools


Stolarczyk, Regine; Schmidt, Patrick. Is early silcrete heat treatment a new behavioural proxy in the Middle Stone Age? 2018.
https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0204705

Bicho, Nuno, Editor. Early Evidence for the Extensive Heat Treatment of Silcrete in the Howiesons Poort at Klipdrift Shelter (Layer PBD, 65 ka), South Africa. 2016.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5070848/

Schmidt,Patrick; Sanchez, Océane; Kind, Claus-Joachim. Stone heat treatment in the Early Mesolithic of southwestern Germany: Interpretation and identification. 2017.
https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0188576#sec001


Detailed Example
Of A Late Middle Paleolithic Process For
The Construction Of A Bow And Arrows

About 60 kya
Using archaeological finds and ethnological parallels, the two researchers reconstructed the steps needed to make a bow and arrows. These are complimentary tools -- separate, but developed interdependently. The bow is the controlling element, while the arrows can be used more flexibly and are interchangeable. About 2.5 million years ago, humans first used tools to make other tools then to make tools assembled from different parts to make a unit with particular qualities, such as wooden spears with stone spearheads (ca. 200,000-300,000 years ago.) The bow and arrow and other complementary tool sets made it possible for prehistoric humans to greatly increase the flexibility of their reactions.
There are many basic complementary tool sets: needle and thread, fishing rod and line, hammer and chisel. The bow and arrow are a particularly complex example. The reconstruction of the technique shows that no less than ten different tools are needed to manufacture a simple bow and arrows with foreshafts. It takes 22 raw materials and three semi-finished goods (binding materials, multi-component glue) and five production phases to make a bow, and further steps to make the arrows to go with it. The study was able to show a high level of complexity in the use of tools at an early stage in the history of Homo sapiens.
Universitaet Tübingen. "Complex thinking behind the bow and arrow." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 25 June 2012.   www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120625064620.htm




Saturday, May 11, 2019

The Mystery of Gobekli Tepe: The World's Oldest Temple

THE WORLD'S OLDEST TEMPLE:
THE MYSTERY OF GOBEKLI TEPE


How A New Understanding Of Time 
Gave Birth To The Gods

Time is fundamental. Like food or shelter, it one of the critical elements of every person, every civilization, every period in history. BUT the human use and understanding of time are not the same from era to era. It is this difference that has been ignored but which is crucial. 

I believe that early Homo sapiens, for example, who were hunter-gatherers and nomadic, had a present, immediate, 'now' oriented sense of time -- one which we would have a hard time understanding. 

Daniel Everett who wrote How Language Began has studied the hunter-gatherer nomadic Amazonian tribe, the Piraha. It seems that their culture is very old. He believes they speak a more basic, perhaps earlier language and live a more basic existence than most people on the Earth. Everything they do is based in the here and now. Their working understanding of time involves about a day or two in the past and a day or two into the future. Time exists but within a narrow window. As a result, they do not have a religion or creation myths and they are not afraid of death. Everything is now.

If the Piraha are a model for earlier and primary concepts of time, then the next stages that followed must have been quite disturbing. Because this is when the experience of time began to change toward our modern view -- our view that time is a long continuum with a past, present, and future. This was a seismic shift. And this shift was so fundamental, I believe it may have led to the emergence of religion. 


The Birth Of Gods 
Came Before The Birth Of Cities

This transition to a new view of time may have been played out in southern Turkey 11,000 years ago. 

The recently discovered ancient site, Gobekli Tepe, is the oldest known religious site in the world. It is located in the hills near the source of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. "Radiocarbon dating as well as comparative, stylistical analysis indicate that it is the oldest religious site yet discovered anywhere." It is twice as old as the oldest Egyptian pyramid having been built 6,000 years earlier.
Quotation from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G%C3%B6bekli_Tepe


Gobekli Tepe: One of two hundred columns, weighing up to ten tons, that were made with stone tools about 10,000 years ago by nomadic hunter-gatherers.
One of two hundred columns, weighing up to ten tons, that were made with stone tools about 10,000 years ago by nomadic hunter-gatherers. Notice the precise crafting of the column and the carved figure that is part of the column.

Gobekli Tepe is an extensive site with carefully crafted huge stone pillars weighing up to ten tons that were made by hunter-gatherers using only stone tools. These people came together at various times during the year to work on the site and for ceremonies. Created by Pre-Neolithic people, its discovery has completely changed ideas about the development of civilization and religion and the transition from a nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyle of early humans to the sedentary lifestyle of Neolithic farmers. Before Gobekli Tepe it was assumed that Neolithic people created villages and farms; then from this culture, religion and large cities and civilizations evolved and emerged. 

But the discovery of Gobekli Tepe has turned this idea on its ear. Klaus Schmidt, who spent most of his life excavating Gobekli Tepe said, "First came the temple, then the city." 


An overview of the Gobekli Tepe excavation site.
An overview of the Gobekli Tepe excavation site.
Only a very small percentage has been uncovered.
"Gobekli Tepe appears to signal the beginning of new beliefs, which principal archeologist Klaus Schmidt thought were probably Shamanistic, but which also needed the structure of a religious complex to express these beliefs. It perhaps signals a transitional point between Shamanism and a later mythology of gods and goddesses."  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G%C3%B6bekli_Tepe

About Shamanism:  According to most anthropologists the first religious beliefs were a shamanistic type of religion in which the Shaman could communicate with the Otherworld. The Otherworld was a spiritual timeless world or a world that existed on a very different time plane. The Shaman usually went into a trance and then acted as an intermediary between the Otherworld and the people in his tribe. 
Before the discovery of Gobekli Tepe, the French archaeologist Jacques Cauvin wrote a revolutionary book. He believed that the Neolithic/agricultural Revolution happened not because people needed to survive, but rather because there was a "Revolution of Symbols" which changed how human beings related to nature. He believed that the modern concept of gods and God occurred at this time. In 1994 when he proposed this in his book, The Birth of the Gods and the Origins of Agriculture, it was a radical idea.


"French archaeologist Jacques Cauvin believed this change in consciousness was a 'revolution of symbols,' a conceptual shift that allowed humans to imagine gods—supernatural beings resembling humans—that existed in a universe beyond the physical world. Schmidt sees Gobekli Tepe as evidence for Cauvin's theory. 'The animals were guardians to the spirit world,' he says. 'The reliefs on the T-shaped pillars illustrate that other world.' "
Gobekli Tepe "suggests that the human impulse to gather for sacred rituals arose as humans shifted from seeing themselves as part of the natural world to seeking mastery over it."  Mann, Charles. The Birth of Religion. National Geographic Magazine, June 2011, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2011/06/gobeki-tepe/

The thought that "...humans shifted from seeing themselves as part of the natural world to seeking mastery over it" highlights the idea that at this point, humans no longer believed they were part of the animal and natural world but in a new and superior realm. Humans had power because they could do a number of things which animals could not do, such as speak a language -- which distinguished humans from the natural world. But humans also acquired a concept of time along with an ability to manage time. This was an ability which animals did not have and which gave humans mastery over the natural world because humans could plan and predict and also shape their own environment. And concepts of time have always been part of every language. 


Time reference is a universal property of language...
Jacqueline Lecarme, Ph.D., Linguistics

Then in the same year that Cauvin's book came out, Gobekli Tepe was found. The site had been buried for ten thousand years. But because it was buried, it was well preserved and the quality of the workmanship was superb. Nevertheless, the people who built this complex were not yet at the Neolithic point of development. They had not even started to make pottery, for example, or farm crops. The site appeared to be a religious gathering place that was used regularly by hunter-gatherers who did not live there. Klaus Schmidt said it was a "cathedral on a hill." 

Looking At This Transition 
From A Time Perspective

While Cauvin and Schmidt look at this from a religious perspective, I instead want to look at this huge Pre-Neolithic hunter-gatherer 'cathedral' from a human-sense-of-time point of view. I believe that there was something even more fundamental than religion at play here -- that it was a changing concept of time which caused a major shift in the belief system and it was this shift that later led to myths and gods.

From the point of view of the development of the human-sense-of-time, it is probable that these hunter-gatherers had begun to acquire a new sense of time, a sense of time that was not immediate like the Amazonian Piraha but that had a past, present, and future. But they had not yet developed agriculture or a Neolithic sedentary lifestyle. This new sense of time as a continuum would have had profound spiritual implications. For one thing, it meant that people could now envision their own death which must have been frightening. And since they knew that time now had a past, they needed explanations for the creation of the world. 


winged hourglasse, grave
Known as "winged hourglasses," variations of this symbol were common in cemeteries for hundreds of years in Europe and North America. The wings come from the Roman expression "tempus fugit" or "time flies" and the hourglass is a symbol for the limited time of a person's life. So an understanding of time also resulted in a fear of death and religious warnings about the transience of life.

How do we know that these people had a sophisticated understanding of time? Simple. Although they lived in various places in the vicinity of the 'temple' (Schmidt estimates a radius of 100 miles), they were able to communicate and coordinate their activities. This required a shared and accurate method for keeping time -- otherwise, they would not have been able to work together and create this huge complex and these precisely crafted ten ton stone columns using stone tools. 

"The planning and building of such a site as Göbekli Tepe would have required a degree of organization and resources hitherto unknown in hunter-gatherer societies..." "In the absence of houses or domestic buildings of any sort in the area, Schmidt sees Göbekli Tepe as akin to a pilgrimage destination which attracted worshipers from as far away as a hundred miles. "  Haughton, Brian. Gobekli Tepe - the World's First Temple?  https://www.ancient.eu/article/234/gobekli-tepe---the-worlds-first-temple/

My point is simple. A developing sense of continuous time would have preceded religion and then this new understanding of time would have led to religion. This new sense of time was the fundamental primary force that caused religion to come into being.

Then later, and soon after, the Neolithic culture in this part of the world could have emerged -- which it did a few hundred years later. The Neolithic way of life required and depended on a sense of time for a number of reasons. First people needed to understand the yearly solar cycle because that determined the growing season. Second farming required in-depth knowledge of when to prepare the ground, when to plant and when to harvest. In addition, tools needed to be made in anticipation of needed work, grain needed to be stored and seeds needed to be saved for the following year's crops. 


fertile crescent, circa 7500 BC
"Area of the fertile crescent, circa 7500 BC, with main sites. Göbekli Tepe is one of the important sites of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period. The area of Mesopotamia proper was not yet settled by humans."
"The region has been called the "cradle of civilization", because it is where settled farming first began to emerge as people started the process of clearance and modification of natural vegetation in order to grow newly domesticated plants as crops. Early human civilizations such as Sumer flourished as a result. Technological advances in the region include the development of writing, glass, the wheel, agriculture, and the use of irrigation."
"Investigations of other sites surrounding Göbekli Tepe have revealed a prehistoric village just 20 miles away where evidence of the world's oldest domesticated strains of wheat has been recovered. According to radio carbon dates agriculture developed in the area around 10,500 years ago, just a few hundred years after the construction of Göbekli Tepe. Other sites in the region show evidence for the domestication of sheep, cattle, pigs, and animals 1,000 years after Göbekli Tepe’s monuments were erected. All this evidence suggests that the area around Göbekli Tepe was at the forefront of the agricultural revolution."  Brian Haughton, Gobekli Tepe - the World's First Temple?https://www.ancient.eu/article/234/gobekli-tepe---the-worlds-first-temple/

"Paradoxically, Göbekli Tepe appeared to be both a harbinger of the civilized world that was to come and the last, greatest emblem of a nomadic past that was already disappearing. " Mann, Charles. The Birth of Religion. National Geographic Magazine, June 2011, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2011/06/gobeki-tepe/
When hunter-gatherers reached the stage indicated by Gobekli Tepe, they had become fully aware of the past and fearful of their future. Humans now understood that everything had a past and came from the past. They also understood about the future -- that it was uncertain and that events which had happened in the past, such as floods, earthquakes, diseases, crop failures, and invasions, could happen again. This understanding about the past and future (a kind of linear timeline) eventually led to creation myths which explained where the world came from and a mythology of gods and goddesses who might be influenced by human rituals to assure a satisfactory future.

Then at some later point, when agriculture and the Neolithic Revolution had taken hold, time and religion became closely intertwined.

In the first book of the Bible, (a sacred text for Jews, Christians, and Muslims) in Genesis 1:14, (Common English Bible):
God said, "Let there be lights [ED: i.e., stars] in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night. They will mark events, sacred seasons, days, and years."  

In Greek mythology, Prometheus, whose name in Greek means forethought and who Greek mythology considers the father of mankind, also taught mankind how to tell time from the stars. 


Prometheus creating man from dirt, helped by Athena.
Prometheus creating man from dirt, helped by Athena.

Prometheus said, "Listen to the miseries that beset mankind -- how they were witless before and I made them have sense and endowed them with reason... [They] managed everything without judgment, until I taught them to discern the risings of the stars and their settings, which are difficult to distinguish." [ED: i.e., how to tell time and the timing of the seasons by the stars]
This quote is from the ancient Greek play
Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus, 5th Century BCE  (trans. Weir Smyth)
http://www.theoi.com/Titan/TitanPrometheus.html

The stars, the Zodiac, and the moon were giant clocks that humans learned to read. Most groups of people also thought of the heavens as the realm of the gods, gods who were removed and distant but who controlled events on Earth. They believed this because the stars always remained the same year after year and signaled the precise time of the year's cycle. While there might be storms, floods, forest fires and earthquakes on Earth, the stars were always the same, pure and untouched. This untouchable domain that the sun, moon, and planets inhabited was considered the spirit world. And the wandering planets were often considered gods and goddesses. 


This 4,000-year-old relief, known as the Burney Relief, came from the Babylonian civilization.  The figure is probably the goddess Ishtar who was associated with the planet Venus and was known as the "Queen of Heaven."
This 4,000-year-old relief, known as the Burney Relief, came from the Babylonian civilization.
The figure is probably the goddess Ishtar who was associated with the planet Venus and was known as the "Queen of Heaven." 

Telling time via the stars and believing that the spirit world and the gods were in the Heavens was common when complex civilizations developed after Gobekli Tepe. 

Gobekli Tepe also foreshadowed the Neolithic obsession with megaliths. Its 200 megaliths that weigh as much as ten tons are the oldest known megaliths. Later, megaliths would be central to Neolithic cultures and their rituals.
"Experts now believe that megaliths stood at the very heart of ritual practice for the networks of communities scattered across western Europe later in the new Stone Age, or Neolithic period, that had begun around 10,000 B.C. Their function was both earthly and celestial: a focus for rites concerning the movement of the heavenly bodies across the skies, a memorial to the community’s ancestors, and an awe-inspiring site to cement local loyalty and solidarity...The incorporation of astronomical alignments suggests that neolithic ceremonies were closely bound with the changing seasons. These cycles were critical to agrarian communities, whose leaders would benefit from this essential knowledge."  Gantley, Michael J. Europe’s Mighty Megaliths "Rock" the Winter Solstice. National Geographic, December 21, 2017,  https://www.nationalgeographic.com/archaeology-and-history/magazine/2017/11-12/history-europe-megaliths-solstice/


Stonehenge
Stonehenge is the most famous group of megaliths, but Gobekli Tepe is about twice as old and built by a much earlier people who were nomadic hunter-gatherers. Megalithic 'temples' were widespread and a common construction of Neolithic cultures for 5,000 years after Gobekli Tepe.


Conclusion

My point is simple. I believe a new understanding of time led to an increase in power for human beings just before the Neolithic Revolution. This happened when humans were still hunter-gatherers and nomadic. We know these people had an advanced sense of time because of their ability to coordinate their activities and to build the complex Gobekli Tepe site for more than 1000 years. This new sense of continuous time with a past, present, and future helped people in their struggle to survive and eventually led to agriculture and the Neolithic Revolution but it also was unsettling. 

As a result, gods, goddesses, and religions emerged after this stage. Humans learned to tell time by looking at the heavens where they also believed their gods dwelled. So an understanding of time and a belief in religion were closely related from the beginning. This also led to the telling of creation myths, plus rituals, rites, prayers, and supplications that people hoped would influence the gods and assure a bountiful future.

"I think what we are learning is that civilization is a product of the human mind."
Klaus Schmidt



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See My Blogs
About The Development Of The Human-Sense-Of-Time 
From The Earliest Homo Sapiens To The Modern Day

Animal Senses Compared to the Human Sense of Time

Patterns & Memory

Dan Everett's How Language Began & Human Time Keeping

Toward a Comprehensive Hypothesis About the Development of Language and the Human-Sense-Of-Time Based in Part on Daniel Everett's 'How Language Began'

An Expanded Hypothesis About the Human-Experience-Of-Time

And Also:
The Birth Of Gods In The Neolithic
A Response to the Ideas of Jacques Cauvin