Consciousness and creativity at the dawn of settled life

© Jason P. Quinlan (Çatalhöyük Research Project)

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)

Eventbrite - Consciousness and Creativity at the Dawn of Settled Life

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.

Was there a belief in the Mother Goddess at Çatalhöyük?

By Jenna Tinning

Photograph of female figurine, with missing parts reconstructed in clay, widely known as the 'Mother Goddess.'
Photograph of female figurine, with missing parts reconstructed in clay, widely known as the 'Mother Goddess.'

Archaeologists frequently reinterpret their finds. This could be due to a new discovery, or further analysis of an artefact that is already found. Archaeological theories are often the products of their time. It is therefore important when forming our interpretations that we act with caution and always search for the latest research and evidence available. A prime example of such archaeological reinterpretation is shown at Ҫatalhöyük, wherein the popular conception of the ‘mother goddess’ figurines has been challenged.

Understanding Images at Çatalhöyük

By Andrew Henderson

Images are some of the most powerful interpretative tools in archaeology. As has already been discussed on this blog, the image making process is laden with complexities and should be considered as rigorous as any textual description. Yet equally, as I see it, the true value of images lies in condensing multiple ideas and theories into one visual space, allowing us to imagine the past in a way which books or articles may struggle to achieve. Therefore, if we are to acknowledge the power of images and place them as equals to academic articles, then we need to begin to think about them in the same critical fashion as we would any academic publication. As part of my latest research at Ҫatalhӧyük, reconstructive images are being subjected to the level of analysis and scrutiny which they deserve.

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