appear 30,000 years ago with evidence for external storage systems such as
art (Wadley 2001:210). The institutions and the architecture that flow
from agriculture had obviously never been seen before but I hope I have
demonstrated that these novelties do not lie at the heart of human identity
and the construction of the self.
What I have shown is that rational puzzles such as the hill of fragments
at Gobekli Tepe, or the piles of mammoth bone at La Cotte de St Brelade
are not clues to points of origin, the start of revolutions and the path to
modern minds. I have suggested instead that much of the archaeological
evidence points to people creating and reproducing identities by bringing
sets and nets of materials into association through the habitual practices of
accumulation and enchainment and the actions of fragmentation and
consumption. This constrained experimentation is best described by
Levi-Straussâ€™ term of bricolage and coming from the master of metapho-
rical readings is well suited to the task of understanding how the experience
of the world is mediated through material objects. To further that analysis,
I introduced here the project of the child and the concept of the childscape,
the environment of growth. It is apparent even from the few data I have
been able to present that the childscape, so crucial for the development of a
social brain and a distributed personhood, varied enormously in terms of
the sensory arrays that it contained. The material proxies for the body, those
containers and instruments, and through which experience is understood
and enacted, had a fundamental role in the self-creation of identity and an
understanding of othersâ€™ intentions and desires. These emotions were
shaped, just as the bodies of the women at Abu Hureyra were bent into new
forms, by the objects themselves. Through the three long technological
movements described in outline here, I have shown how the authority of
containers came to eclipse that of instruments, and with that came the
possibility of agriculture. I agree with Donald (1998) that a mimetic style of
thought that models the body, and the objects that are like the body, is our
key skill rather than language, important as that was for elaboration and
undoubtedly social extension. Mimesis has been with hominins ever since
they had a social technology 2.6 million years ago and is probably much
older still. Language as predicted convincingly by the social brain model is
at least half a million years old.
Where I do think my approach points to change is in the primary
metaphors that generated the sets and nets and selected containers and
274 Origins and Revolutions
instruments as proxies for the body, that source of symbolic force. Growing
the body can be demonstrated by the sheer consumption of the material
world and where eventually rules had to be followed and as a result we
became engineers as well as bricoleurs. An alternative metaphor, the giving
environment, while never extinguished, does lead to different identities
and uses of the material world. If there is a pre in human prehistory, that
trigger movement of the batsmen before the ball is released, then it is to be
found in that most hidden category, the childhood of the self.
The good upheaval
The Stone Age did not end for lack of stone,
and the Oil Age will end
long before the world runs out of oil
Sheikh Zaki Yamani
Former Saudi Arabian Oil Minister to OPEC
The Economist 23 October 2003
I began this book with a digested read that boiled the contribution of
prehistory down to the inevitability of well-directed change. This of course
was an unfair caricature. Although prehistoric evidence has often provided
an illustrated guide to the idea of progress, archaeologists left much of
this baggage behind in the last century. But not everyone has caught up.
The caricature still defines the broader landscapes of that imaginary
geographical place I call Originsland where the history of human desire
is the force that drives change onward. But in Originsland archaeologists
are only one small tribe with a quiet voice. They are outnumbered and
drowned-out by bigger battalions investigating our conventional history
and technological achievements in order to inform a public past. In this
company human prehistory provides little more than a convenient starting
point for familiar descriptions of change.
Change driven by human desire is classical in origin. Aristotle, for
example, asserted that only agriculture can civilise humans (Pagden
1986:91). Civil society, he argued, required a change in the way the
Earth was roamed and its resources taken. The benefits of civilisation were
good government, strong laws, moral codes and a world ordered by the
Human identity has been built on these ancient principles: the legacy
of an early literate society with fine stone architecture and some com-
pelling metaphors, such as the prisoners in Platoâ€™s cave, for the nature
276 Epilogue: the good upheaval
of reality. These principles, and their supporting rhetoric, have shaped
the landscapes of Originsland for every subsequent age. At the core is
the sense of the good upheaval, a revolution in human affairs that became
its own point of origin for the subsequent development of humanity and
society. It seems that we are basically content with the contribution the past
makes, in the form of several good upheavals along the way, to how we
understand ourselves. And while archaeologists may have left the baggage
of progress behind, they still carry the guiding principle of the good
upheaval in their hand luggage. This is the principle they return to when
interpreting prehistoric data as instances of fundamental change.
And change happened. Hominin material culture saw many innovations
during two and a half million years. The end product was a social and
technical world of enhanced potential, peopled by very different creatures
from those that started the process. Moreover, there was a marked
quickening of pace that over the long run of human evolution occurred
That things and people changed is inescapable. But I evaluate the facts
differently. I dispute that change proceeded by a number of upheavals to
create a set of universal identities applicable to early hominins and finally
to ourselves. Changes to our universal identity, those familiar components
of self and personhood, may need a rational explanation of how the world
of people and things have evolved together, but that does not mean we have
adequately described the object of change: the material basis of human
As a result, the Human and Neolithic Revolutions are obstacles to
understanding what changed as we evolved. The good upheaval that
gave us Modern humans falls back on evolutionary science and a single
geographical origin point for a universal identity. The alternative,
convergent evolution to the same end result but in geographically separate
locations, just stretches the notion of a universal identity too far. But this
convergence is, of course, exactly the case for the worldwide Neolithic
Revolution that took place independently in unconnected regions; Near
East, China, Africa, the Americas and many smaller ones besides. The
result, although based on very different local resources, was a new but
essentially similar human identity, the farmer-citizen. These worldwide
changes during the last 20,000 years have taxed archaeologists set on finding
common reasons Ã€ climate, population numbers, food crisis, social
packing, environmental windfalls to name a few Ã€ for such obviously
beneficial upheavals that led to a shared identity.
Epilogue: the good upheaval 277
I argue differently. Alter the standpoint on change from a rational to
a relational one and the face of Originsland is transformed. Instead of our
burgeoning endowment marked by revolutionary step changes we have a
gradient (Figure 9.1) with an uneven surface, as indicated by the relative
fortunes of instruments and containers, those material proxies for the body.
These were always used as solid metaphors for hominin identity, their forms
sourced to the experiences of the body. The gradient has a logarithmic time-
scale during which the authority for understanding the world shifted
imperceptibly from instruments to containers. It was through that change,
neither gradual nor abrupt, that some very different understandings of
identity were produced. A gradient from instrument to container could just
as well, as Sheikh Yamani observed, be from stone to oil since neither runs
out nor had to be â€˜inventedâ€™. Instead we fashion identities out of such
engagements with the material world. We do not use such resources to
construct a pre-conceived identity however much we rationalise the
outcome to that effect.
I can be sure of my conclusion because a supposedly universal category,
such as Homo sapiens or the Modern human, only exists in contra-
distinction to equally universal categories with different identities, such as
Neanderthals or archaic humans. These widespread identities may have
been sufficient even fifty years ago when the distinctions drawn between
farmers and hunters, citizens and barbarians would have made Aristotle feel
very much at home. This is the rational model of the past founded on the
master narrative of Western society that re-counts human ascendancy over
In contrast to this account is my relational perspective where hominin
identities have always been woven out of local conditions. Alasdair Whittle
(2003:166), writing about Neolithic Europe, has pointed out that there
are alternative prehistories to a grand narrative of directed change. His
emphasis is on local diversity, rather than universal processes. In Figure 9.1
this interplay is indicated by the wavy line that traces the changes in my
geographical metaphor, Originsland. The line is irregular to indicate that
at any one time we can never be quite sure what we will find. A situation
brought home for example in Chapter 5 when I discussed the Western
and Melanesian concepts of personhood and in Chapter 8 with the work
of bricoleurs and engineers among the earliest huts and villages.
When the material basis of identity is examined anywhere on these time-
scales it is local diversity that emerges. And why? Because the body was
always a source for the basic metaphorical forms of material culture, while
the actions of fragmentation and consumption led to their elaboration
278 Epilogue: the good upheaval
figure 9.1. The changing landscape of Originsland over three million years. During
this time there has been a movement from instruments to containers as the material
proxies for framing concepts about identity. The bumpiness of the gradient is indicated
by the wavy line. Some of the consequences are also indicated such as the development
of linguistic metaphors and the social extension associated with the late global diaspora.
The position of the descriptive labels is to clarify the components of changing human
identity and do not represent origin points. The gradient was first suggested to me by
through accumulation and enchainment into sets and nets. So, what I now
realise is that my starting definition of change as â€˜organisation based on
novel social premisesâ€™ needs to be re-phrased as â€˜experience articulated
through novel material metaphorsâ€™. It is the importance of material
metaphors, as simple as a stone tool, rather than just the forms of social
relationship, that have to be appreciated as the basis of a relational identity.
Once the conceptual shift from mind to body-whole is accomplished it
can be seen as liberating for the study of two and a half million years of
Epilogue: the good upheaval 279
hominin prehistory. One example is the potential such acts of liberation
open up for the study of a neglected category such as hominin children.
This will not be done by finding the Palaeolithic equivalent of a stuffed toy
but through a childscape, the environment of development, where the
interplay of experiences on our growing social brains are first understood by
senses and sensations involving objects and things, rather than language.
Concepts such as the childscape depend upon relational rather than
rational approaches to the same data.
But not everything in the past is attributable to local diversity. I have
stressed how the primary metaphors of the-giving-environment and
growing-the-body take on wider geographical significance. The former
characterises much of European prehistory that I have discussed here,
while the latter came to organise social technologies in the Near East.
Consequently, there is no single root metaphor to explain agricultural
origins worldwide. Instead during the last 60,000 years the conditions for
change were intensified through the scale of sets and nets, resulting in social
extension and a global diaspora.
I have concentrated in this book on only two root metaphors to show
how they are supported by material proxies. Originsland should have many
more and in the future these can be explored. For example, in our own
society, as geographer Tim Cresswell (2006) has discussed, there are very
different, and often conflicting notions of mobility. In a distinction that
takes us back again to Aristotle, the hunter, the nomad, the migrant or the
tramp are regarded as a social pathology. They present a threat to the social
order and need to be controlled. By contrast sedentary life is the foundation
of culture through tradition and sending down roots. In an illuminating
passage, that lacks the irony you might expect from an American living in
London, the poet T. S. Eliot (1948:52) wrote that: â€˜On the whole, it would
appear to be for the best that the great majority of human beings should go
on living in the place in which they were bornâ€™; and in a passage clearly
influenced by his contemporary Gordon Childe: â€˜When people migrated
across Asia and Europe in pre-historic, and early times, it was a whole tribe,
or at least a wholly representative part of it, that moved together. Therefore,
it was a total culture that movedâ€™ (1948:63).
Mobility, according to conservative critics such as Eliot, waters down
tradition and leads to rootlessness and the erosion of culture. The value
attached to tradition depends upon settling down and curing the disease of
mobility among either individuals or small groups. Sedentism was initially
a good upheaval in the Neolithic and continued to be so for Eliotâ€™s world
of Modernism. Good upheavals in prehistory also arose from the movement
280 Epilogue: the good upheaval
en-masse of a people and their culture, the transposition of culture en-bloc
rather than piecemeal. The arrival of farmers from Asia into Europe
remains the classic archaeological statement of the good upheaval that
benefited all. However, it is the primary metaphor of sending-down-roots
rather than the data that need re-considering.
These are suggestions for further enquiry as the material basis for human
identity is pursued, not through the familiar cast of characters such as
hunter and farmer, but rather as all hominins made sense of their varied
experiences of living through material proxies. For too long we have
assumed, because Aristotle told us, that such experience is the preserve of
language and texts. Future enquiries might like to consider that the epitome
of civilised society owes more to the body and its material proxies and less
to the triumph of the mind. And in those cultural histories the pre-literate
past, and all our ancestors, will have a fundamental contribution to make.
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