Thursday, July 11, 2013

Gather the Bones, XVIII: God Speed the Plow! Grame Barker on the Origins of Agriculture

In the summer heat, raise a pint and toast the plow, turning up dark earth and the white bones of ancient battles.

Not so much with the summer heat:


Some context:

Here's the Google Maps screenshot of Enon, Ohio, home to "Ohio's second largest conical Indian burial mound." I've left the advertising layer on and pulled back far enough for you to see just how close the mound is to Brandie's Hair & Tanning Salon, which judging from the website, is a great deal classier than the name would immediately suggest. While our slightly creeping peek-over-the-backyard-fence view of Enon might suggest that it is just another of semi-rural North America's half-finished communities, in fact it boasts a corporate headquarters, a healthy median income, virtually no poor people, and a 96.6% White population. (The largest minority is Asian, at 1.4%.)

The "back yard" comment is a call-back to my post on Gnadenhutten. Enon is organised around the Dayton-Springfield Road, renamed Main Street as it passes through town one block northwest of the Mound, which is surrounded by a ring road (and a no-trespassing fence, as we've seen) that is connected to East Main by, amongst other, Green Valley Drive and Countryside Drive. If there's some slight, American Gods-level sense of religious dread and fascination coming off the mound, it is not without reason. As far as archaeology can tell, it is Adena-era, thus more than two-thousand years old. Adena is a precursor to the Hopewell Horizon, allowing us to infer (the mound has never been excavated) that it is a built-up structure composed of layers of "secondary burials," in which human remains recovered from other processes are housed in "mortuary structures" that were then set on fire before being buried with a level of carefully-selected soil. At 28 feet high and 110 feet in diameter, that's a great many "secondary burials"  over a very long time.

One last thing about this whole "aura of superstitious dread." The story of the Gnadenhutten massacre is that the Pennsylvania militia penned 96 Moravian Indians into a hall on an edge of the property, killed them by first stunning them with blows to the head and then scalping them, and then set fire to the hall. At a later date, a mound of earth was erected over the remains. To quote Wikipedia's summary of the formal archaeological report on the excavation of the northwest mound at Aztalan State Park, Wisconsin, which was probably erected around around 1300AD:

The northwestern mound, used for formal burial, was also built in three stages. A special structure, approximately 4 metres (13 ft) by 2 metres (6.6 ft), with its long axis towards the northeast/southwest, was built on the west side of the mound. Its doorway was in its southwest corner, and the structure was covered with a mixture of clay, willow branches, and grass. The floor was covered with a mat of what may have been cattails. The bodies of ten people were placed side by side on this, with their heads toward the doorway. The bones of another person were bundled together with cord and placed near them. Once this construction was complete, and the bodies were inside, the building was burned.

It seems tolerably likely that ritual murder by blunt trauma to the head accompanied with scalping is not just a common Neolithic practice that shows up well osteologically. It is a ritually significant form of murder for Eastern Woodland Indians in the peri-contact phases of the Southern Ceremonial Complex and subsequent  "the rise of local traditions." The Gnadenhutten massacre, notwithstanding being committed by ostensibly Euro-American militiamen, is a call back to a form of publicly enacted violence that we see in its "pristine" form at places such as Aztalan. 

Now, I am not saying that the Enon Mound conceals a prehistoric massacre. On the contrary, I am suggesting that the modern enactments, both at Aztalan, Wisconsin and Gnadenhutten were reappropriations of older practices that, while probably not all sunshine and rainbows, were also probably not acts of ostentatious public violence.  Adena monuments could, and, in the case of Eron, are used as signifiers of community by subsequent populations. So what better a way to reframe reality and create a new community than by appropriating this technique of immanentising the idea of community, with a salutary dose of public violence to render it unquestionable?  Creating new "conical burial mounds" was a method of ideological fashioning, in other words, and invites us to think about fixed versus migratory lifestyles and the relationship between human and settlement hierarchies.

Which is a long way of getting to my point in today's posting, which is not in my 'ostensibly Euro-American' throwaway phrase, for a change, but rather a book report on "Books that I like because I thought they were good:" Graeme Barker's The Agricultural Revolution in Prehistory: Why Did Foragers Become Farmers? Short answer: for ideological reasons, in some defensible version of the Marxian sense.  If you want a longer answer that tries to get more seriously scholarly by bringing in a few more points of view, stick around after the cut. 

Graeme Barker, one of the pre-eminent figures of modern British landscape archaeology, perhaps best known through its popularisations by Francis Pryor, has been Disney Professor of Archaeology at Oxford since 2005. Notwithstanding the inadvertent hilarity of the title, the Disney Professor is supposed to make a splash. (One review announced that the reviewer did not think that anyone should be made a professor until they had written a big book, and this was not only a big book, but one worthy of a Disney Professor.)* 

Even higher praise comes from Claudia Chang's featured Amazon review suggests that "the careful reader" can learn a great deal from this book. That sounds to me like academic-talk for "I'd like to dance on his academic grave, but the book is fine." Which,perversely, I take to be higher praise than the first review. (Dr. Chang works on the Iron Age agricultural transition in Inner Eurasia.)  

So. Ahem. Book report time, then. 

The question you're going to open with is, what happened with this whole Agricultural Revolution in Prehistory thing? The great thing about the obligatory introductory historiographic chapter is that if you're a practical person, in the grip of old ideas, you're probably going to find your answer in the first twenty pages or so, as long as you can ignore the "but" at the end. 

In Barker's version of the historiography of the Agricultural Revolution, we start with the classic stadial theory, in which history passes through social evolutionary stages leading from hunter-gatherer to pastoralist to farmer. Leaving aside this blog's preoccupation with refuting the idea that the pastoralist is an obsolete stage in human history, and, for that matter, one that comes before agriculture, Barker misses an opportunity to comment on stadial theories by beginning with Victorian writers. In fact, stadial theory goes back to the Ancients, and while the Ancients were terrible anthropologists in general, the whole fixed-versus-vagrant lifestyle thing was a great deal more immediate to them than it was to us, and we could do a bit more in the way of mining their perceptions than we do. Truly, prehistory starts in prehistory…) 

Barker moves on to Australian-Marxist-who-committed-suicide** Gordon Childe, who offered us the Neolithic oasis theory. As the climate dried out, or some such, people had to start farming. In some ways, this is still the go-to argument. The immediate-post-glacial pluvial is gone from climate history (except in Saharan studies), but the legacy is still with us. Somehow, rising population density causes agriculture. To be fair, though, Childe's climate-based determinism is still stronger than his later epigones, because at least he explains how there could be increasing population density in a basically empty Earth. 

Moving on, Barker looks at the “hearths of domestication” thing, which will eventually shape his version of the story. This is basically Jared Diamond. Farming starts with founder crops in a whole mess of places where botany has happened to give us killer apps for agriculture. So the Andes give us potatoes, Mesoamerica gives us corn, Ethiopia gives us sorghum and its complicated range of close relatives, India-China-Southeast Asia gives us rice, and, with lip service paid to ethnic food eaten by Italians, Irish, and other dusky heathens, the Middle East gives us the good stuff. The challenge here, Barker suggests, is that the "hearths" are far too big and far too easy to deconstruct into mini-hearths, basically raising the question of why the killer apps are exploited in this valley in the Zagros, but not that valley in the Anti-Lebanon.

Then we got “marginal zones” agriculture, where stable Pleistocene hunter-gatherer societies budded off daughter groups that headed into marginal areas where the resources their parents exploited could only be  maintained by artificial intervention. "Hey, Southern Iraq is great. Except for being a sun-baked mudpan, that is. How do we get delicious barley here? Watering? Great idea!" Agriculture starts in marginal zones because people move there and then invent ways of getting food to eat. ‘Since farming involves so much hard work and exploitation of ‘third-choice’ foods, I suspect that people did it because they had to’ [Barker quoting Kent Flannery, 29]. (In other news, Matter-Eater Lad's people develop the ability to eat anything because they evolve on the planet Bismoll, where there's nothing to eat.) 

At this point, Barker takes us to his roots in the ‘Cambridge paleoeconomy’ argument and cites Eric Higgs, a Welsh stock-raiser turned archaeologist who rubbished the whole argument and set the school on its ear with another of those, “that’s not actually how it’s done” arguments with which farmers like to turn academic theorising about agricultural history on its ear, not always with fortunate results.*** This is a pathways-to-agriculture argument in which the Paleolithic hunter-gatherer was already intensively exploiting ‘wild’ resources, within a hunting-remote herding-close herding spectrum. Barker has to admit that this argument has had its recent setbacks, but, signalling where he's going, ends with the classic 'but not really.' In all seriousness, the choice of 'forager' over 'hunter-gatherer' in the title signals what is probably a permanent shift in the historiography. Whatever we say about the possibility that the people who first sacralised the Stonehenge or Chilicothe, Ohio landscape did so as part of their evolving-towards-pastoralism exploitation of local bovine migration routes, the paradigm in which the Neolithic Agricultural Revolution has a prehistory, perhaps going back to the Upper Paleolithic Revolution, of pre-farming farming has won out.

But I may have been to quick to cut to the chase here. The argument against the Cambridge paleoeconomy school is a social argument that was also mobilised against the zombie population-pressure theory. So it is well worth considering. To wit: humans are not always rational economic maximisers. The social context of the transition from foraging to farming needs to be explored, leading us to the ‘cognitive’ model, which Barker introduces with a provocative ‘Domesticating the Mind’ section header. Neolithic ideologies fostered farming through hierarchy and chiefly feast-giving. This much is old news, but Ian Hodder’s argument in The Domestication of Europe is much more powerful: we have here the rise of an ideology that opposes 'domestic' to 'wild.' An ideology without which it is impossible to understand what 'settling' might mean, and which puts the question of what happened at Gnadenhutten out of the range of possibilities that we can think about at all. Which is my interpolation, of course. Barker gets to archaeologically-reconstructed scenes of horror in good time, but he chooses European ones.

Thus, therefore, ends the historiography section, signalling where the account is going to go in the end, once we are done with the new Disney Professor's grand synthesis.

First, we need to understand foragers. Their economic lives can be understood in terms of optimal forage strategies, which are in turn determined by ecosystems, and subject to anthropogenic modification. This is what I playfully called farming-before-farming. Foraging humans shape their landscapes with everything from firesticks to manure. Contrary to the original “original affluent society” model of Sahlins, actual foraging societies can exhibit grinding labour, hierarchies, and cultural property conceptions. More tellingly to my mind is Barker’s conclusion that forager communities exhibit great variations in demography, and are highly subject to boom-and-bust cycles. He might, I think, have benefitted from dragging in high Arctic archaeology, with its evidence of local extinctions of entire human communities in places like northern Greenland. (Thus no less than four extinction events in the same region of northern Greenland: Saqqaq; Independence I; Independence II; Arctic Highlanders.) The Sahlins-influenced idea that foragers lived better than their farmer descendants is a romantically-powerful idea that all-too frequently gets in the way of asking hard questions about the relationship between social inequality and economic progress. If all of our problems could be solved by going back to the land, we would have done that already. We haven't. It's not that we're stuck with the mess, it's that the notion that humans can live without their technology is a fundamental conceptual error. Our tools make us, as we make them. And, yes, not to get all Alistair MacIntyre on you, but that includes moral making.

Er, once again, I'm speaking out of turn. Professor Barker never said anything that crazy. What he wants to do is to prepare the ground for a commitment to the already signalled domus ideology. To get there, he moves on to the idea of foragers as producers, noting that both Aborigines and Great Basin Indians gathered seeds, made bush bread, and planted seeds in seasonal waterways.

Next, Barker notes the use of enclosures, herding ways, and killing platforms amongst migrant hunters. Much more could be done with this, I think. Why were our Mesolithic ancestors monument builders? What motivated them in their first steps towards a (literal) political landscape? The need for built structures to manage migratory herds, I say.

After discussing evidence, Barker moves on to the mini-“hearth of domestication” that gets implicit priority: the Natufians of the Levantine corridor, who inherit the key domesticable foods from their Kebaran (c. 20,000BC) precursors, and, Barker concludes, were clearly eating a diet rich in carbohydrates by 13,000BC, that is, before the end of the last Ice Age. This, it strikes me, is a misstep rather than a failure of emphasis. The regional approach forces Barker away from discussing the African evidence from Wadi Kubaniya first, and there is a case for the Natufians being post-Kubaniya, for the seeds (as it were) of domus ideology predating the last act of Out-of-Africa. But back to the Natufians, who were not ‘cultivating wild cereal,’ but who were beginning to intervene in the life cycle of the wild cereal they exploited. Nice save, there, Graeme! ‘Presumably’ they were drying and storing gazelle meat, too. The Natufians were ‘delayed returns’ foragers of highly advanced practice. The inference is that their need for a cultural practice of property implies a chiefly ideology. This implicit claim is made explicit two pages later, partly in the context of Natufian interments, especially the famous detached skulls. We are circling around the idea that 'the cultural manipulation of human remains' is important in the emergence of agriculture in a way that the whole concept of 'burial' obscures, rather than helps. There's a reason that this series is about 'gathering the bones,' and it is that I read people like Barker and Pryor and perhaps discover keys for reading even more opaque authors that might not actually be there. (129)

Continuing with what Barker has to say, we move on to the late-Natufian contemporary Zagros, where, by contrast, life continued to be about the hunting –but with the crucial addition of wild capriforms. Here is Diamond's thesis about animals that can and cannot be domesticated. Gazelle domestication, no matter how many times tried, is a dead end. Applying the same techniques to capriforms will lead us somewhere. That, though, might as well be a callback to Eric Higgs, as well as a call-forward to the Western Hemisphere domestication hearths.  (132). A few pages later, Barker makes the argument about burials and hierarchy explicit. Interments are increasingly common as we edge into the mid-upper Neolithic phases of the Middle East, and should be understood to  to mark out home spaces. At this point we tremble at the verge of the Secondary Products Revolution and are ready to leap into history --and the next chapter, where Barker moves on to Central and South Asia, characterised here as the “The Rice/Wheat Frontier.” This, it strikes me, defers too much to the embattled idea of a language-family-agriculture correlation. By this argument, South Asia ought to be a prehistoric collision space between the rice/Austronesian freight train express and wheat/Indo-European (or proto-Elamite) protozoan, but we have no evidence, leaving linguist and archaeologist arguing in their unsatisfactory separate silos. Barker, in the end, proves more comfortable plumping for separate, nucleated transitions from foraging to farming throughout the region, and the case must be made with the Middle Eastern, not East Asian "founder crops."

Moving on, in East and Southeast Asia, the Holocene is allowed to play an exogenous causal role, changing the distribution of favoured wild food resources and prompting multiple local transitions from late foraging to agriculture, at least where those transitions took place. Here, then, Barker is willing to take the Austronesian rice-and-pig freight train on explicitly (228—30).

The next chapter brings us to the Americas, and the tenuous hold on relevance to this blog. what is going on here, in Jared Diamond's "thin, tall" continent? Corn and potatoes aside, Barker discusses “Foraging and Floodplain Weed Cultivation in Eastern North America,” beginning 239.  According to this, the transition from pure foraging to agriculture began early with the “floodplain weeds exploitation” theory of Bruce Smith (242). A truly ingenious bit of evidence for the increasing importance of proto-agriculture is the increasing use of hickory and oak as firewood, suggesting a de-emphasis on protecting these productive nut trees. Another, which I wish to return to, is the appearance of ground stone tools. 

So this is the familiar Diamond argument that promotes the Eastern Woodlands to the status of a separate "hearth of domestication" on the strength of evidence for the cultivation of Marsh elder, goosefoot, maygrass, little barley, sunflowers, and such. I'm a little disappointed that sorrel (buckwheat) isn't mentioned, more so that, given that we've gotten rid of the idea that foragers did not plant, that we are willing to entertain the idea that a crucial threshold-to-agriculture is to be seen as crossed by the use of plants that were probably in our forager ancestors' arsenal from the Upper Paleolithic. It is field crops that matter, and for all that I praise Barker in general, it is a cop out to suggest that corn cannot replace these crops until a fortuitous mutation allows it to flourish in northern climates (250). Paleobotanists now think that flint corn appeared in the Guatemalan highlands long before it spread north. 

Moving on to Mesoamerica, though, Barker more than redeems himself, highlighting evidence that corn was first cultivated, not to change lifestyles but to preserve them. Early forms of corn weren’t particularly productive, but they were easy to store. This is utterly, absolutely, bold-the-passage-for-skim-readers key. Corn eked out the “hungry times.” Eventually, there was a transition to farming and complex communities –but not the domestication of bighorn sheep in Southwestern agricultural communities with access to them. Barker proposes that it is their solitary nature presumably deterred this step. This is praiseworthy caution in the face of the many conceptual and practical difficulties in the way of proposing that the Southwest was hesitating on the doorstep of domus ideology, but it might have been braver to commit (248). We know that in the Eastern Woodlands, corn cultivation spread with remarkable speed. Barker around 500AD, and while it is perfectly reasonable to discuss skeletal evidence for dietary stress and archaeologically recovered dates for first corn cultivation, it would have been a bolder but useful step to point to the possibility of Aztlan/Teotihuacan as an ideological seedbed, still inspiring imitation centuries after the metropolis itself had fallen. And, yes, I think that the proposal to translate "Aztlan" as both "the place of marsh reeds" and "the beginning place" matters here. Once again, the instincts of the first cultivators are in some ways more reliable than those of their distant descendants. Society and agriculture were born twins, at the water margin.

Moving on to the Caribbean littoral,  Barker gives us “dooryard horticulture.” Cultivation of corn is early –5000BC—but not as a food! Here is a different explanation for corn:  pulque. (The same explanation works for cocoa, and, with a slight change in emphasis, the spread of tobacco, cultivated in North America long before corn.) There is even a handy graphic that shows that the earliest ‘founder crop' is, of course, a water's edge plant, quinoa. Even self-fertilising beans come later, and large-cob corn last of all. In some areas of the littoral (ie hilly western Venezuala), three-level chiefly hierarchies are as late as the mid-first millennium AD. (267)

For Africa, Barker restates the ‘Big Dry’ thesis that pushes the African oecumene south and out of contact with its daughter societies save via the Nile. This makes Wadi Kubbaniya central to my understanding of the synthesis that I pull out of Barker. That is, that the Agricultural Revolution is in itself a second-order effect of the beginning of behavioural modernity itself.  The Nile is the funnel through which African innovation, in the form of the last generation of (ground) stone tools reaches The Rest of the World, in the midst of the last glaciation, ready to spread to the ends of the Earth in the form of climax foraging.

….Which leads me to the section on Europe, where “Late Pleistocene proto-herding is now discounted.” But then Barker claws back some of the ground from his critics with a wave towards recent historic Sami reindeer herding practices and Neolithic Norwegian stone art showing what looks like a ritual/hunting killing enclosure for the convenient mass slaughter of caribou and reindeer.

We have climbed a long way back up the Archaeological Succeesion Table to get to this primeval continent of Lapps. We want now to talk about deglaciation, beginning between 12,700 and 10,800, followed by Nature's great dirty trick, the Younger Dyas reversal (10,800—9,600 BC). We see tree colonisation corresponding more to precipitation and elevation than temperature climes, with a northward spread of pines and the driest regions remaining parkland. Regrettably, Barker does not address the current controversy over whether parkland oak forest is primeval or a recent anthropogenic replacement for a closed canopy, low biomass-shedding forest. (You may recall that I am currently resting on some evidence tentatively pegging this to the Iron Age transition and pushing it as late as the threshold of the Roman expansion.) 
He does, however, discuss late-Mesolithic survival strategies in terms of dispersal, small family groups, controlled burns to clear the forest edges, and heavy use of marine and lacustrine resources, the pattern that very strongly suggests that the deep forest is not particularly habitable in the Mesolithic, and, in turn, that it is not a open, browse-and-acorn filled habitat.(343)

The first transitions to farming in Europe are in the second half of the eighth millennium in Cyprus, and then we get the PPNB farmers of Greece about 7000BC. Barker wants forager-farmer societies. This conflicts, I think, with Catherine Perles' monograph-that-I-happened-to-run-across-shelf-scanning, which I am inclined to place great weight on by virtue of its extraordinarily rigorous use of evidence, but perhaps the Thessaly basin is a special case. Thessaly is not Puglia, the area Barker brings forward as an example of site interaction between farming and foraging practices.

So as the DNA-studies guys have been telling us for a long time now, farming tells appear in the Danube a few centuries after Thessaly –6600BC (353) and with similar cultural practices speaking to "demic diffusion," and perhaps linguistic as well. Sedentism is assumed, but, Barker cautions us, perhaps mistakenly. The most economical explanation of settlement patterns is that agriculture is the technique that is imported; foraging techniques are already in place and working well. To the extent that cultural practices are economically-embedded, we will see a fusion culture, correct? This, of course, bears on the idea that we will be able to detect a linguistic diffusion to go with demic/technological, and that is a bit of a dead horse. On the other hand, we have the whole domus ideology thing, and it is now time to drop the most powerful evidence of all:

What we know of this Danubian/South German culture is that it is stable and enduring, with a consistent boundary facing towards a laggardly Mesolithic Atlantic littoral for almost a thousand years. It is also quite violent. We see fortress building that underlines the reality of some archaeologically-recovered scenes of quite extraordinary violence that really do serve to highlight the parallel that I have already drawn with Gnadenhutten. Scenes of atrocity that leave their evidence to be recovered seven thousand years later deserve to be the climax of any historical monograph that Herodotus would recognise! 

So, in the end, what happened? Climate is always going to be a big part of this story. No matter how much I want to qualify stories of exogenously-driven human history, this is the story of the end of the last Ice Age, in the end. Nevertheless, simple explanations from exogeneity do not wash. Was there overpopulation from sedentism leading to over-exploitation of foraging resources? No! (369)! 

So what is the explanation? Ideology! Monuments and longhouses, so well known in Britain in what is otherwise a “landscape of mobility” shows an ideological concern with property rights. Burials (374) begin not as a once-and-for-all ritual of respect for the dead, but as the repurposing of already-used human remains. The first burials are not of the recently deceased, but of long-carried trophies that irresistably recall medieval cults of saintly relics. The thesis, which should by now be familiar to observers of British landscape archaeology, is that the characteristic funerary rite of prehistory is excarnation. The bones that are left behind are at first the objects of living memory, but as the dead gradually transition across a liminal boundary into anonymity, they become generalised ancestors, whose deposition legitimates claims to territory. (374). Again, this is a Mesolithic insight. Our ancestors began claiming, as they began shaping, the land long before "agriculture." 

So what happened? The answer, it will turn out, must be local and contingent, and Barker has already dropped his best line in discussing the origins of corn cultivation. Farming is not entered into with hindsight about what it will become. It is conservative in the end, meant to preserve life against the hair-raising revelations discovered in those north-of-Greenland middens, the discovery of discontinuous occupation layers in which human populations radiate into what seems like good hunting grounds, flourish for centuries (suggesting a sustainable economic practice) and then are killed off to the last person, perhaps by a single tragic error, such as the loss of a sealing kayak filled with a few too many of the community's vital hunters. The transition to agriculture took place because certain crops can be accumulated in year-over-year surplusses that gradually buffer a community against mass die offs. (391—5). It is not about good fortune in domesticates or invention. It is about positive feedback loops of increasing complexity. 

At least it is in my summary. The additional literature that I promised, but which I now think I shall put off to a later post, is some awesome recent paleobotanical work on the Middle Bronze Age upper Tigris valley that suggests just how much surplus food a full commitment to dry land cereal farming can produce. I will even try to tie it back into the Old Northwest. 

Enough teasing future posts. What does Barker think that it is it about? Cimate change? Yes, obviously. The transition from Pleistocene to Holocene triggered a major expansion in the human population because the weather got better. Was it, in itself, the adoption of sedentism? That there might have been some relaxation of environmental constraints on fertility by the adoption of sedentism, is possible. (400) Certainly there is some skeletal evidence that some early farmers were less well nourished than some of their forager ancestors, but that cannot be pushed.

Finally, our trip ends, as Barker puts his cards on the table with the story of a telling double Danish inhumation, thus just over the line from the long-lasting boundary between Mesolithic hunter and Linearbandkeramic atrocity-perpetrator. In the earlier inhumation, a Mesolithic woman, is buried in an entirely organic context. Her grave goods are all animal-derived, minimally modified to serve as ornaments. 

The other, is a man, her Neolithic great-great-great-grandson. He is buried with flints and axes, all things of the Earth crafted by human hands, redolent of male aggression. These two people, so closely related, lived in conceptually different universes. From here, Barker turns quickly to a Southeast Asian site and talks about a semiotic ideology of female fertility and male aggression, of  an “agricultural theism.” I would add, however, as Barker does not, that the ground-stone tools of the climax Neolithic techniques do not just make farming possible. They also make it much easier to bury the dead. All evidence drawn from interments must be qualified by the realisation that "planting" a body and plowing a field are things made possible --at least, possible on  a large scale-- by the same technology.  

Here we are, then, at the threshold of the two heroes, the man in battle upon the field, the woman couched of the next generation of hero, each flirting with death and "anonymous ancestorisation" in a new ideology that locates us in a place: a home, opposed to wilderness, to be defended with the blade and handed down to the child. The Linearbandkeramic massacres tell us the dark side of this story, one of violence and inequality. It seems to me that everything else that is different about our lives from then to now tells us the positive side of the story. The tension between the two, which Barker might have done more to emphasise, is access to the grain stores. What makes the rich feed the poor? The fact, I propose, that violence is always a two-edged sword. Those who unleash violence to immanentise the social order must be aware that it might be turned on them. 

In conclusion, war sucks, with the following exceptions: World War II, the Revolution, the Star Wars trilogy, and all that horrible Neolithic (and much more recent American frontier) violence that nevertheless midwifed civilisation by giving regular people some kind of leverage against emergent social inequality. Other things that suck include Fox's copyright protection policy that prevent me from just embedding the relevant Bart Simpsons quote here. 

*I won't link to the review, just notice that I made it through my studenting career by taking no, or, depending on how you count them, two courses from "real" professors. Although another two (three) have made the grade since I graduated. (Congrats and a small uptick in Google rankings to Chris Friedrichs, Bert Hall and Janis Langins!) Not that the implicit argument for firing all of the tenured full professors that have not written a "big book" wouldn't be greeted with jubilation in some quarters. I would, in fact, greatly enjoy watching a public conversation about this initiative. 

**It is obligatory to mention these three things in all discussions of V. Gordon Childe. Although Barker missed the memo.

***Top Google return for the auto-completed "Victor David Hanson is a moron" search.


  1. So, what was the blog comment?

  2. I decided that Slate/Quora counted, and had the recent discussion about "why 99% of human progress occurred in the last ten thousand years in mind."

    You will notice that "Balaji Viswanathan, Founder [of]" gives a wordy answer that manages to avoid suggesting that the state had anything to do with it even when discussing the role of civilisation, which is apparently just something that happens when enough people live together for ....reasons.