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Domestic containers
It now seems that the first domesticates were not sheep and wheat,
maize and turkeys but the hominins themselves, and that containers
were central to the process. But among all the containers that could
have been discussed one in particular, the house, has been given special
attention. As anthropologist Peter Wilson explains (1988:4), ˜I want to show
that domesticated society relies to a great extent on the house as both a
dominant cultural symbol and a central rallying point and context for social
organisation and activity™. Wilson draws a distinction between hunters and
gatherers who have a focus and farmers who have a boundary (ibid. 1988:5).
In other words sedentism, with its walls and rooms, provided the means by
which we domesticated ourselves first and the plants and animals later.
More recently Helen Leach (2003:359) has explicitly linked the criteria
of domestication to biological changes brought about through living
in a culturally modified, artificial environment of settlements with
houses. Hence changes such as reductions in body and skull size, sexual
202 Origins and Revolutions

figure 7.8. Tattooed Lapita pots from the Pacific (after Kirch 1997:Figure 5.5),
Reproduced with the permission of the author. Photo courtesy of C. Gosden.

dimorphism and greater phenotypic diversity that are well known for the
domestic animals also apply to humans. She reminds us that this was
pointed out some time ago by Franz Boas (1938) who drew parallels
between animal breeds and human races based on the effects of shelter,
changes in diet and reduced activity levels.
A prehistory of human technology: 3 million to 5,000 years ago 203

Sedentism is therefore the process and the house the material proxy
for change. Rather than humans driving the process as masters and creators
of animals and crops, it is an unintended consequence of acclimatisation
to the built environment (Leach 2003:359). Others see external climate at
the end of the Pleistocene as playing a part. Ian Hodder (1990:294) favours
this view and articulates the process as one where more and more resources
were brought from the wild into the house, the domus (Chapter 4).
The discourse of power in these societies during the last 20,000 years
was conducted in terms of the house and the activities associated with
it (Hodder 1990:38). As we saw in Chapter 3, Hodder regards domestication
as a culturing process that involved the house, hearth and pot. These
artefacts came to stand as appropriate material metaphors for the
domestication of society (Hodder 1990:294).
This metaphor of the power-house whereby society was transformed
ideologically and materially from hunting to farming makes containers
of us all. A domestic species, whether it is a yak or a dog, wheat or potatoes,
is domestic because it is contained. But archaeologically these and many
other resources are more readily understood through the social practice of
accumulation rather than the discourse of power. Fields of planted crops,
herds and flocks of animals, rows of storage bins in granaries and streets
of houses are sets of containers that express metaphorically the principle of
accumulation. The domestic identity depends on containers to relate
people to the world by engaging them in material projects and as a result
of such social re-production what is contained is also changed.
But just a moment À why do we privilege some containers the house,
pot and hearth as well as the sheep, cow and corn cob over others such
as the cave, clothing and boat? What in particular is so special about the
house, apart from its obvious significance to us, that this one container
changed humans forever as Wilson and Hodder claim? Is this another
instance of origins research rearing its head like a well-pitched roof
(Chapter 3)? Chronologically the house is pre-pottery, pre-crops, pre-
domestic animals (Table 7.4). It therefore fits origins research like a glove.
But as I have pointed out repeatedly in this chapter, containers can be
found much earlier during technology™s long introduction and we should
be aware of this before we concentrate, as usual, on the technological
excitement generated in the last 10,000 years. A social technology based
on accumulation and enchainment does indeed allow us to follow up
Woolgar™s (1987) perceptive observation that the history of tech-
nology is the reverse side of a coin that debates the capabilities and rights
of humans.
204 Origins and Revolutions

It is almost twenty years since Bryan Pfaffenberger (1988:242) dismissed
the way archaeologists approach the history of technology with a rational
view and set out the task of an anthropology of technology as bringing
hidden social relations to light. I have attempted to do this here by focusing
on technology, the concept of change and using the proxies of instruments
and containers to explore three temporal movements in the history of
technology. I conclude that whereas the evidence for much of human
evolution is strongly weighted towards instruments, this basis for material
culture was never exclusive. The situation is similar to the apparently
overwhelming archaeological evidence for meat eating in hominid diets
and the assumption of male led hunting (Nitecki and D. V. Nitecki 1987),
a view that has been successfully challenged by Nancy Tanner (Dahlberg
1981) and Linda Owen (1996) and now supported by the discovery of
organic and artefactual evidence for nut cracking at Gesher-Benot-Ya™aqov
in Israel 780,000 years ago (Goren-Inbar et al. 2002a). Comparable
discoveries of containers are a distinct probability if further ancient wet-
lands can be found, and such discoveries would confirm Glynn Isaac™s
(1989:383) characteristic insight that the oldest technology was probably
the bucket, bag and sling. His suggestion was based on the strong selective
pressure that daily foraging from a home base would exert for
a technical solution to carry water, food and children. I would add
a relational perspective to his standard view whereby, for several million
years, hominins have used containers and instruments as a social
technology to narrate their lives to others. Either way we should not
make the mistake of looking for a ˜Container Revolution™ at any time in
human evolution.
But while there was neither an origin for containers for example at the
chimp-hominin split, nor a revolution in their use during the Palaeolithic,
the material record does show a changing authority between the two
material proxies. Containers commonly survive in many mediums
after 100,000 years ago during technology™s common ground (Table 7.4)
when evidence for graves, houses, cylinders, clothes and basketry are found
and boats as containers can be reliably inferred from the initial peopling of
the Western Pacific and Australia (Gamble 1993a). At best, then, the history
of technology is as John Gowlett (2000) has described it, a gradient rather
than a revolution. However, I have still not accounted for this pattern,
and that is now my task.
chapter 8

Did agriculture change the world?

These procedures which we apply to animals men voluntarily apply
to themselves and to their children. The latter are probably the first
beings to have been trained in this way, before all the animals, which
first had to be tamed
Marcel Mauss Body techniques 1936

A nod in the right direction
Have you noticed how news reporters always start their on-air answers
to questions from the studio anchor with, ˜Yes™, ˜Well™, ˜Absolutely™, ˜Umm™
and ˜Uh™? These are the linguistic prefaces, or pre™s, that prepare the viewer
for what is to come, just as the pre in pre-history alerts the reader to what
many regard as the main course. Pre™s can also be gestures, like nodding,
or fidgeting with a pen, so inconsequential that we barely register them.
Yet in these tiny details, argues linguist Jurgen Streeck (1995:87), lies the
very heart of social collaboration that arises from people interacting with
each other. What is more, these little acts that present us to others belong to
a social intelligence that is much older than spoken language and is shared
by many other animals.
My task in this chapter is to identify the changing face of human identity
during the course of hominin evolution. To achieve this end I have already
shown (Chapter 7) that the history of technology is a complex landscape
where the emphasis shifted through time from instruments to containers
and from reductive to additive and composite techniques. These gradients
were not, however, long, slow ascents to the present. Neither were they cliff
edges over which our ancestors tumbled and that might be described
mathematically as catastrophes (Renfrew and Cooke 1979) or historically as

206 Origins and Revolutions

revolutions (Childe 1942). Moreover, the temptation is always to explain
such long-term changes by concentrating on particular innovations that act
as artefactual pre™s, items that indicate new forms of social collaboration
based on our human talent for language, music and reckoning kinship.
As a result the question that has inspired origins research is whether these
symbolically based behaviours so changed the character of the gradient
that they fundamentally altered the nature of hominin identity, personal
and public, and created the human character we know today. If so, then the
archaeologist™s main task seems to be finding pre™s, such as the oldest
symbolic artefacts (e.g. Marshack 1990), that indicate by their rarity and
unique forms the imminence of language and associated ritual endeavours.
However, technological innovations (Table 7.3) are not to be read
as a series of pre™s indicating the development of symbolic expression.
Technology is more than simply an indication of some greater and more
transforming human attribute such as language or art. A social technology
is always indicative of the production of identity irrespective of its form.
Handaxes are as significant as projections of personhood as jaguars, either
animal or automobile. What we see during the history of technology are
countless expressions of that hidden identity, the self and the engagement
of others with that representation. What we have to decide is whether,
during the same history, the enlargement of our brains (Dunbar 2003) or
the development of institutions with agriculture (Maryanski and Turner
1992) changed the rules of engagement.
But this is a lot to bite-off, hence my chapter title is a question to provide a
much needed focus for these slippery issues. So, did agriculture change the
world? The answer, I will argue, is no in the expected sense of villages, crops
and gods and goddesses, but yes in the novel sense of a changed primary
metaphor for constructing identity: growing the body. I use it to signal
change in the timeless project of renewing social life and where previously
the giving environment (Chapter 3) served as a major, but not the only
rhetorical device. The body, that source of symbolic force (Chapter 4) is
integral to both primary metaphors. Growing and giving, as I will show, can
be differentiated by tracing those practices of accumulation and enchain-
ment and the actions of consumption and fragmentation as applied to
material projects. I will show that the change in primary metaphor is
revealed through a material project as hidden, archaeologically, as the self.
Children are that project.
The changes that brought us children were neither Neolithic in date
nor Anatomically Modern in biology. As a result they were hardly revolu-
tionary. Accordingly, an origin point for change will remain as elusive as a
Did agriculture change the world? 207

satisfactory conclusion to the legal, theological and scientific argument
over when, exactly, a human life begins.
If archaeologists are to investigate the technology of children they need to
re-direct their primary metaphor to acknowledge the relational as well as
the rational and also accommodate the emotional. ˜I change you as you
unfold and you change me as I unfold™ is how psychotherapist Sue Gerhardt
(2004:31), reporting infant researcher Beatrice Beebe, has described the
journey of development that we have all been through by growing the body
that we are. Those changes we call agriculture, I will argue, were not so very

The social cage
Writing about the sociology of the Stone Age, the social and political
scientist Garry Runciman (2005:137) asks when ˜society as we know it™ came
into existence. Society from his perspective involves social roles and their
accompanying formal institutional inducements and sanctions. This is the
social world of assemblies, markets, law courts, temples, armies and per-
manent public positions of power that were achieved through ability but
also ascribed to individuals by virtue of who they were by accident of birth
(Runciman 2005:129). His answer is that such a society is no older than the
Neolithic where these institutions can be inferred from the architecture of
villages and towns, and where their functions as economic centres provided
the apparatus for state power to emerge.
This accords with the sedentary revolution proposed by archaeologist
Colin Renfrew (1996; 2001) when humans were fundamentally changed by
the opportunity architectural spaces provided for the symbolic construction
of society. A similar viewpoint is provided by anthropologist Peter Wilson
(1988) who regards architecture as domesticating social life by its ability to
interrupt attention and interaction that depended primarily on sight and
hearing, and so led eventually to the creation of private worlds.
The conclusion to be drawn from these three different disciplinary
perspectives is that we built our way out of older social arrangements. It
does not matter much if these earlier societies are classified as egalitarian,
hunting and gathering economies or biologically non-modern people.
What is important is that the potential for such a fundamental change had
existed for at least 30,000 years before the first villages, and probably much
longer (Table 7.4), when anatomically modern humans painted cave walls,
carved ivory and limestone into figurines and buried their dead with
ornaments. What, asks Renfrew (2001:127), was so novel about this new
208 Origins and Revolutions

hominin species, the modern human, if so few decisive happenings in
human experience accompanied its appearance?
To Renfrew™s mind the long wait for agriculture is a sapient paradox:
why have advanced cognitive powers if they were not used as we know they
can be? His answer is that architecture and settled communities were a
form of pressure cooker that released the full potential (Chapter 2). Not
only did the institutions of ˜society as we know it™ make their appearance in
the Neolithic but so too did people as we know them. His view is widely
supported by other archaeologists working in the Neolithic (e.g. Bar-Yosef
2001; Sherratt 1997a; Hodder 1990). For example, in his review of the Near
Eastern evidence, Trevor Watkins (2004b:19) concludes that ˜the world™s
earliest village communities were also the first to develop fully modern
minds and a fully symbolic culture™. These villages were in his phrase
˜theatres of memory™ (ibid.), while for Renfrew (2001:127) the close asso-
ciation of people and material culture led to objects taking on symbolic
power. It was this process of ˜forced™ engagement with objects by virtue of
living in settled communities that led to new concepts for organising social
life. One result, Renfrew suggests, was the ascription of social value to
particular raw materials such as gold and classes of manufactured objects
that included the paraphernalia of rank and religion.

Complicated social bonds
I would group all these models under a single heading and describe them as
a social cage. The description is used by Alexandra Maryanski and Jonathan
Turner (1992) in their synthesis of sociology and primatology to understand
the evolution of society. The consequence of elaborating social structure
beyond that of the egalitarian hunter and gatherer was to put humans
in a social cage of their own construction (Maryanski and Turner 1992).
This they claim violated our genetic tendencies and led to two further
cages; a cage of kinship created by horticulturalists and the cage of power
that agrarian societies built. It is only with industrial societies, they believe,
that we have broken out of these cages, thanks to scientific analysis, and so
been able to see them for what they are.
The image of the cage also appeals to primatologist Shirley Strum and
historian of science Bruno Latour (1987). They begin by proposing that
primate and human societies differ because the former are complex and the
latter complicated (Gamble 1999:41À2). When social life is complicated it
is made up of a succession of operations that are literally folded in to create
more permanent social bonds. These operations simplify social negotiation
Did agriculture change the world? 209

by calling on resources other than the social actor™s body to structure action
and perform society. Without such external symbols it would not, they
suggest, be possible to organise others on ever larger scales and where many
different societies, differentiated by customs and cultures interact.
The complex societies of the great apes never achieve these scales
because they lack the all important symbols that state and re-state a
particular view of ˜what society is™. However, while humans build cages
to live in from symbolic materials, not all cages are equal. That depends
where you find yourself in the trajectory of social evolution. Hunters and
gatherers may, according to Strum and Latour, have complicated societies
but these compare poorly to agriculturalists and recent industrial nation
states that have an increasing level of material and symbolic resources at
their disposal. The prime characteristic of ˜society as we know it™ is there-
fore the ability to organise others on ever vaster scales. In a statement
that foreshadows the sedentary revolution of Watkins and Renfrew, they
conclude that ˜once individuals are aggregated and choose not to avoid
each other, there must be a secondary adaptation to a new competitive
environment of conspecifics (Strum and Latour 1987:796)™. Humans
achieve this by engaging with their material and symbolic worlds while
different types of human societies are created depending on the extent to
which new resources are used (ibid.:796).
The social cage model is therefore clear about one thing; agriculture, or
more precisely sedentary communal living, really did change the world.
The pre™s in this case will not, as Renfrew points out, be the earliest art or
rich burial but rather the constellation of structures that indicate settled
life. The social cage may be spun like a web from changes to the networks
that linked individuals and communities (Maryanski and Turner 1992).
A process driven, as archaeologist Brian Hayden (1990) has described it, by
persons who exploited the symbols of their worlds, especially those of food,
through aggression and the inherent drive for aggrandisement. This would
not have been possible without settling down.

The social brain
Cages are a most interesting container. An example of composite
technology involving a set of instruments, the bars, and a small amount
of bindings, glue or solder. A cage defines a space that is both inside and
outside and is permeable depending on the concepts and bodies it
encompasses. Like a rabbit-proof-fence it is a net thrown over an elusive
quarry that does not always result in capture.
210 Origins and Revolutions

However, there is not much point in my citing examples of symbolic
pre™s, for example the engraved pieces of ochre (Figure 7.7) at Blombos
Cave, South Africa 80,000 years ago (Henshilwood et al. 2002), to refute the
sedentary revolution because its supporters have already declared that it is
the scale of the new systems that is important not their meagre antecedents.
Similarly, a much used hunting camp at Doln± Vestonice, Czech Republic
30,000 years ago (Gamble 1999:387À414; Svoboda et al. 1996), does not
allow us to recognise the first assemblies and institutions, those decisive
happenings that Renfrew locates in the Neolithic. Society, so defined, will
always start with agriculture.
But we can always choose to look between the bars of the cage
rather than at them. If institutions make society, and we derive our iden-
tity from them, then we are forever within the cage. However, as Strum
and Latour (1987) contend, if society is performed by social actors
as they negotiate their society then we also have an existence outside
the cage.
This may sound contradictory given that I have just criticised Strum
and Latour for characterising hunters and gatherers as rich in material
and symbolic means to create society, when compared to baboons, but
˜impoverished™ when judged against farmers and modern industrial socie-
ties (Strum and Latour 1987:791). The hardship experienced by hunters and
gatherers would seem to be their lack of material goods that is, according
to Strum and Latour, responsible for their tiny populations. The stricture,
˜Go forth and multiply™ applies to technology and material culture first, and
population numbers second. To be modern, it seems, is to be numerous and
so in need of organisation. It is this notion of impoverishment that I take
issue with, not their demonstration of how hominid society is performed
and created through interaction in a bottom-up rather than top-down
manner (Gamble 1999:33À8; Hinde 1976).
However, what exactly are the implications of larger symbolic universes
constructed from more objects and people? In terms of human demography
should we conclude that at the time of the Domesday survey in AD 1086 the
2 million people recorded would have had 100 per cent larger symbolic
universes than the 20,000 hunters and gatherers who lived in England at
the end of the Ice Age (Gamble 2004)? And by the same calculation the
50 million people living in England today would have symbolic worlds
25 times greater than their Anglo-Norman ancestors. In terms of material
culture the number and diversity of styles and types of objects far exceeds
these simple ratios and defies measurement. A supermarket alone contains
over 30,000 separate items. Standing in front of the long shelves of
Did agriculture change the world? 211

toothpaste I often think that as our material inventories have increased so
our symbolic universes have shrunk.

The release from proximity
The way to unlock the cage and its imprisonment of everything but the
present is to visualise it as a web or network that, as we saw in Chapter 4,
takes us back to the body. From this perspective the appearance of a society
we might recognise is not a matter of institutions and assemblies but instead
of solutions to problems of absence and the maintenance of social life.
Once again the primatologists provide a lead and in particular Lars Rodseth
and colleagues™ (Rodseth 1991:240) discussion of the release from proximity
that is the hallmark of human societies. Apes and monkeys depend on face-
to-face contact to forge and affirm the social bonds that structure their
networks of allies. What a primate cannot see, hear or smell does not
concern them (Robin Dunbar pers. comm.). Dispersal, driven by the
fission and fusion of primate groups as they look for food, often diminishes
rather than enhances social networks (Rodseth 1991:232). By contrast,
humans regularly create alliances between people who have never met
or who encounter each other infrequently. Hence the importance of
proximity for social life is released. Social relationships are uncoupled from
spatial proximity through the mediation of culture and language (ibid.:240).
All human societies recognise a release from proximity, irrespective of
whether an individual™s identity is based on a distributed or singular
personhood (Chapter 5). As a result, the issue of how we influence social
outcomes when we are not present is regarded as a central problem for the
social sciences. How, as sociologist Anthony Giddens (1984:35) asks,
are social relations ˜stretched™ so that the limitations of creating society
through face-to-face interactions are overcome?
Such extension of social ties beyond the immediate is what we all do
well (Gamble 1993a, 1998, 1999) and have been doing well for at least
the last 60,000 years when open sea crossings took people to Australia for
the first time (Roberts et al. 1990). This was a dramatic development
(Gamble 1993b) that measures in a stark geographical absence/presence the
appearance of the ability to extend social relationships. Nick Allen (2005) in
discussing the appearance of tetradic kinship (Chapter 4) also uses the

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