Agriculture or Complex Societies?

The discovery of the 11,000 year old temple at Gobekli Tepe in Turkey raised an important question: Did complex societies arise after the discovery of agriculture or vice versa?

Scholars have long believed that only after people learned to farm and live in settled communities did they have the time, organization and resources to construct temples and support complicated social structures. But Schmidt argues it was the other way around: the extensive, coordinated effort to build the monoliths literally laid the groundwork for the development of complex societies. The immensity of the undertaking at Gobekli Tepe reinforces that view[Gobekli Tepe: The World’s First Temple? | varnam]

The discovery of a 12,000 year old female shaman grave in Israel, 1000 years older than the stonehenges at Gobekli Tepe, supports the idea that complex societies arose before farming.

Agriculture was not established in the Levant when the Natufians lived there, but they still erected rudimentary structures to inhabit. Traces in the soil of the remains of mice and sparrows — animals that exist most commonly in places of human settlement — point to a significant population boom in the Natufian period. They may not have had seasonal harvests, but the people of this time lived in a complex and perhaps even flourishing society.[12,000-Year-Old Shaman Unearthed in Israel – TIME]

3 thoughts on “Agriculture or Complex Societies?

  1. JK,
    The shift from hunting/gathering to a more sedentary existence probably didn’t happen instantly. It was probably a process of trial and error lasting centuries, or even millennia. So there might have been intermediate stages when agriculture may have been partially tried and abandoned. Hunter gatherer societies everywhere constantly changed their milieu – by burning in a controlled way, dispersing seeds etc. – and trying new things.
    Apparently, in the Middle East/Fertile Crescent the wild ancestors of the soon to be domesticated crops were abundant enough, and easily obtained. That might have caused sedentary tendencies. Complexity, therefore, might have been possible without farming. But since farming might have been attempted earlier, the ambition to build temples might have spurred the idea.
    This is all speculation, of course. I am only extrapolating based on some things I’ve read in books.
    Whatever the answer, there is no disputing the following: Farming and domestication of animals marked a pivotal shift in human history. I don’t think we recognize this in today’s world every crop/vegetable/food item is available everywhere; we take these things for granted.

  2. What is the case regarding India? Was Agriculture the first or Temple building?
    I guess we can say from a cursory look at Rigveda that Vedic worshippers didnt believe in building complicated structures for Gods. So they might not have needed any sort of coordinated effort, which should not have resulted in development of agriculture and complex societies in India in Vedic period at all!
    But then we do have concrete evidence of an agrarian Vedic society. Hmm!!

  3. Kedar,
    By the time of the Vedic period, agriculture was established around the world. So this discussion does not really apply there.

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