This week: The Neolithic

Wild bull horns arranged around a burial platform in a house in the Neolithic settlement at Çatalhöyük. Image: Wikimedia Commons/Nicotta

If the past is a foreign country – as the novelist L.P. Hartley famously suggested in the opening line to The Go-Between (1953) – then prehistory is surely a whole other world entirely.

With little physical evidence often to guide us, and with no contemporary accounts to instruct us in what actually took place, it can be particularly hard to gauge the impact on individuals of even the most important events to have occurred before the advent of the written word.

In the case of the Neolithic Revolution – also known as the Agricultural Revolution – we can say with some certainty, for instance, that from about 12,000 years ago, our ancestors started to transition away from the hunter-gatherer lifestyle, and to organise themselves instead into more settled societies based on farming. But how this seismic shift in human behaviour affected those actually living at the time has been interpreted in a variety of ways by archaeologists, anthropologists and other experts.

To many, the Neolithic Revolution was a great leap forward – towards a better, safer, more comfortable world. To others, however – including the historian Yuval Noah Harari in his best-selling Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (2014) – it was ‘history’s biggest fraud’, the disastrous moment at which the door was opened to many of the ills that plague our society today, from poor diet and working conditions to cruel forms of hierarchy and a lack of human connections.

This week on The Past, we look more closely at the facts on the ground, to see what a long-running set of investigations at key early sites in southern Turkey can tell us about how the arrival of the Neolithic impacted on those living in the region. In the latest issue of Current World Archaeology magazine, Douglas Baird, Ian Hodder, and Michele Massa reveal that scientific analyses are shedding astonishing new light on ancient lives amid Anatolia’s Konya Plain.

Elsewhere this week on The Past, we have also been delving into the archives for more about the Neolithic in Turkey: we reported on the important early monuments of Göbekli Tepe, now a UNESCO World Heritage site; we learned what 3D modelling has revealed about the celebrated Neolithic settlement at Çatalhöyük; and we looked at life in the nearby village of Boncuklu, where domesticated crops were present as long as 10,000 years ago.

And finally, if all that simply whets your appetite, don’t forget to have a go at our latest Quiz, which this week is also themed around the Neolithic. Good luck, and we hope you enjoy The Past!

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