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.

Experimenting with the Neolithic

Article byKatrina Gargett

The Experimental House at Çatalhöyük. Photo by Katrina Gargett.

One of the most surprising features of the visitor experience at Ҫatalhöyük is the Experimental House, situated to the south of the Visitor’s Centre. By providing a visual representation of what one of the Neolithic houses may have looked like during Ҫatalhöyük’s occupation, the Experimental House makes for easier understanding when taking a tour around the North and South Shelters. Instead of squinting into a trench, and trying hard to imagine what the full interiors of the houses would have looked like, the cool dimness of the Experimental House puts you into the Neolithic frame of mind before you even set off on the tour. You remember seeing the reflection of light off the white plastered walls and standing on the platforms surrounded by geometric wall art. This then allows you to orient yourself and lend your efforts to marvelling at the work of the archaeologists in the trenches. In this way, the Experimental House is arguably one of the most useful assets to the overall visitor experience at Ҫatalhöyük.

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