October 15, 2012

Göbekli Tepe: feasting, beer, and the emergence of the Neolithic

This is a very interesting paper which suggests that collective work accompanied by feasting played an important role in the creation of Göbekli Tepe. The site taxed hunter-gatherer resources, since it required the combined labor of many people from a wide area to erect. The "work events" associated with its building were occasions for feasting, which combined the consumption of many different types of prey, as well as beer fermented from wild crops.

From the paper:

The sediments used to backfill the monumental enclosures at the end of their use consist of limestone rubble from the quarries nearby, flint artefacts and surprisingly large amounts of animal bones smashed to get to the marrow, clearly the remains of meals. Their amount exceeds everything known from contemporary settlements, and can be taken as a strong indication of large-scale feasting. The species represented most frequently are gazelle, aurochs and Asian wild ass, a range of animals typical for hunters at that date in the region. 
In concordance with Hayden’s thoughts, it seems obvious that repetitive feasts of the amplitude implied at G¨obekli Tepe must have placed stress on the economic production of hunter-gatherer groups.Maybe in response to the demand, new food sources and processing techniques were explored. In this scenario, religious beliefs and practices may have been a key factor in the adoption of intensive cultivation and the transition to agriculture. Archaeological and chemical evidence further suggests that this innovation may have been fuelled by alcoholic beverages, giving a new response to Braidwood’s question ‘Did man once live by beer alone?’ Probably not, but beer—and wine—may have played an important role in one of the most significant turning points in the history of mankind. 
Personally, I am undecided whether the shift to agriculture was primarily ideological or utilitarian. Is Cauvin right about agriculture following the "birth of gods", being a dictate of some primordial religious-symbolic ideology, or did agriculture appear as a consequence of some ecological crisis that led Near Eastern hunter-gatherers to seek new reliable sources of sustenance? Or, was it more like a side product of an unrelated event, not dictated by a New Religion, but serving it indirectly by making possible the large-scale feasting exhbited in Göbekli Tepe?

Antiquity Volume: 86 Number: 333 Page: 674–695

The role of cult and feasting in the emergence of Neolithic communities. New evidence from Göbekli Tepe, south-eastern Turkey

Oliver Dietrich1, Manfred Heun2, Jens Notroff1*, Klaus Schmidt1 and Martin Zarnkow3

Göbekli Tepe is one of the most important archaeological discoveries of modern times, pushing back the origins of monumentality beyond the emergence of agriculture. We are pleased to present a summary of work in progress by the excavators of this remarkable site and their latest thoughts about its role and meaning. At the dawn of the Neolithic, hunter-gatherers congregating at Göbekli Tepe created social and ideological cohesion through the carving of decorated pillars, dancing, feasting—and, almost certainly, the drinking of beer made from fermented wild crops.



Katharós said...

There is a National Geographic documentation that touches the subject.

NatGeo-Cradle of the Gods (full)

eurologist said...

Or, perhaps religion was the cover-up for producing and consuming the best-quality beer available.

Perhaps it is all in the beer.

Bell Beaker comes to mind: how and why else would Corded Ware so nonchalantly rub elbows and voluntarily share settlements with them?

Digger said...

It would help explain the lack of a local water source (small stream three miles away) and the lack of any fire-pits or waste-pits or settlement. One might imagine it thus: hunter-gatherer men would arrive on a pilgrimage with only their bed-rolls, and portaging enough animal bladders full of grain-based beer to sustain their liquid needs during the visit. This would serve as a test of endurance and worthiness, and would usefully limit the duration of the stay and the numbers at the site. They would then fast, and live only on the beer. The alcoholic beer would amplify religious feelings (perhaps in combination with plant drugs) and also feelings of comradeship with alpha males from other bands.

Digger said...

I guess it might also that beer played a practical role in the preservation of ancestor skulls?