Article by Ian Hodder/Scott D. Haddow
Conference at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge
(Friday, July 27 to Sunday, July 30)
Despite the evidence for cognitive change in the Neolithic Near East, there has been little specific testing of the claims made. Scholars have assumed that the cognitive changes they describe are loosely linked to sedentism, changes in technology, trade and exchange, increases in amounts of material culture in the Neolithic as a whole, without exploring or testing any specific correlations. The dating of sites and events in the Neolithic of the Middle East remains imprecise, and many of the processes involved took place over millennia (e.g. sedentism, cultivation and domestication) and varied in nature and speed in different parts of the Middle East: the process of Neolithization has come to be understood as a complex poly-centric process. It has proved much easier to talk about cognitive change in broad-brush terms than to test specific hypotheses against the data from the Middle East as a whole.
The Templeton Foundation-funded project Consciousness and creativity at the dawn of settled life thus takes a different strategy to formulating and testing the above claims for cognitive change and the causes of them. First, a single excavated site, Çatalhöyük, with large amounts of data that cover part of the Neolithic sequence will be used as a laboratory for testing hypotheses about the causes of cognitive change. Second, specific measures of the cognitive changes are proposed. Third, the data will be examined to test alternative causal accounts of cognitive change.
To set this project in motion, the Cambridge conference will bring together members of the Çatalhöyük Research Project and other Neolithic Near Eastern researchers, as well as leading experts in neuroscience, evolutionary psychology, cognition and material culture in order to discuss and debate these issues.