In the current era, change seems never-ending and relentless. Technology that was new yesterday is obsolete tomorrow. We embrace and welcome change. It can be easy, therefore, to assume that this attitude was always the case: where there was an obvious improvement available, it would be taken up immediately and without question. It is easy to experiment when you have no lack of resources; a catastrophic failure in the experiment will not mean starvation for you and your village. To reject a way of life that has served your family for generations innumerable would be a great leap, and there was no mass media to tell you to do it.

I can’t help but think then, that although the Neolithic ‘package’ spread throughout Europe, the uptake of farming in individual cases would have taken some crisis event to provoke the change, if you view the issue in purely economic terms. It may be that the initial forays into agriculture were special ritual crops for special purposes – a low-risk test of the crazy new ideas. If the gods smiled favourably on these offerings, perhaps the idea had some merit after all. These special crops may only have required periodic effort and so did not require that the farmer become fixed in one area. The well-understood pattern of foraging and hunting could continue, with the episodic return to the crop as part of the seasonal nomadism.

I view this experimentation with the growing of crops is part of the overall package of increased interaction with the land and soil. It probably started gradually and cautiously: a few shallow pits dug with trepidation and hastily filled with offerings, but then progressed to ever more bold statements about their relationship with, and power over, the land.

For me, the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition is this change in attitude towards the earth: the growing confidence with which man interacts with and shapes the very land he lives on. I view farming as the natural result of a growing affinity for the soil, rather than as an economic tool. The act of settling and binding yourself to a particular area can only performed with the confidence that the soil is understood and your place on it defined and negotiated.

Pottery is a natural extension of this relationship; one of the series of transactions that defines the connection between man and his environment. Extracting clay (and flint and other subterranean resources) from the earth is the reward, and the balance, for the offerings placed into the earth.

This increasing confidence and understanding of the nature of soil culminated in the vision and daring to construct large and expressive monuments, and to force a design of their own creation upon the landscape.

Written on November 11th, 2010 , Musings Tags: ,

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Notes from a field