Thursday, 16 April 2009

On Cycles - the Beginning of Urban Settlements

A book by Josef H. Reichholf titled “Warum die Menschen sesshaft wurden”, translated why men started settling, explores a new theory to explain why the first settlements started forming. As generally known, the early humans were not settled at one place but rather nomadic, moving around to ensure the supply of food. The current theory to explain why they started settling down assumes, that around 15000 to 11000 years ago there has been a shortage of animals to hunt and people started farming plants and simultaneously started domesticating animals. Josef Reichholf argues this view is wrong and develops in his book a different explanation for the big change from nomads to citizens. His two main arguments are that at this time, in the area where farming first started, the ground must have been very rank and therefore it must have had plenty of food. The second argument is, that starting to farm grain from early forms of these plants would have been much too labor intensive as these early plants must have had such tiny grains. Only much later crossings of these plants grow the grain we know today. So he sets out to set up his own theory on how all this happened. His main idea is that it all started from having too much rather than not enough. He suggests that it started with the production of beer, or rather an early form of it, which is quite simple to brew from grains and water. This drink was sweet and nutritive. It was mainly consumed as part of events related to cult and religion. The buildings for rites and cult are the oldest ones known, for example Goebekli Tepe (Turkish for "Hill with a Navel") in south Turkey. From there it has grown into permanent settlements. It wasn’t therefore hunger that lead to permanent settlements but excessive consumption and surplus of supply.

Image from / Image from

This theory of how settlements started is very interesting in the context of the research work on cycles in urban environments, not so much because of the beer and how the early settlers had started farming, but more in context with the rites and events that were based on a cyclical repetition but also based at one specific location in space. In connection to this cult site a permanent settlement could have started growing, but it would still be based, through the cycle of the cult event, on a repetition. This would then suggest that the rhythm of the rite was the main driving force behind the settlement and from it must have influenced all areas of everyday activity in these early hamlets from the start.
As an example a quote about the calendar system developed for Goebekli Tepe: “The Mesopotamian year of Göbekli Tepe in southeast Anatolia, Urfa-region, north of the Syrian Harran plain, 11 600 – 9 500 BP, and the calendar of Upper Mesopotamia in later times, for example in the Halaf period, 6th millennium BC, had (I believe) a month of 30 days, a year of 12 months plus 5 additional days, while 63 continual periods of 30 days yield 1890 days and equal 64 lunation”

This would link in with the earlier post on week and calendar concepts, that also derive largely from religious rites and cults and at the same time have their spatial manifestation.
To have the event or rite as the starting point for the settlement give a very interesting dimension for the research on cycles in the current urban environment.

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