September 10, 2008

Neolithic feasting in Pre-Pottery Neolithic, and the significance of cattle

Journal of Anthropological Archaeology doi:10.1016/j.jaa.2008.06.002

Transformations in an early agricultural society: Feasting in the southern Levantine Pre-Pottery Neolithic

Katheryn C. Twiss


Feasting is a powerful and transformative phenomenon. Societies are both integrated and differentiated through feasting; identities are both enacted and altered; and ideologies are inculcated. This paper uses ethnographic data to establish criteria for the archaeological recognition of prehistoric feasting. These criteria are then used to assess the changing evidence for feasting across the southern Levantine Pre-Pottery Neolithic (ca. 10,200–7500 BP/9700–6250 cal BC), with the aim of shedding light on changes in social organization across the transition to agriculture.

During most of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic, the extent and scale of feasting expanded as sociopolitical complexity increased. Towards the end of the period, however, populations dispersed and feasting probably declined. Feasts were simultaneously integrative and competitive, ameliorating scalar stress even as they offered opportunities for individual or household competition. Feasts may also have played a key role in conferring ideological prominence on Neolithic cattle, and perhaps even contributed to their adoption as domesticates.


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