The Neolithic Revolution

The Neolithic Revolution refers to the time (roughly 12,000 years ago) when humans first transitioned from living in small, nomadic, hunter-gatherer bands to become vil- lagers, temple builders, and even city dwellers. Until recently, archeologists (for exam- ple, Childe, 1935) assumed that the pivotal event in the Neolithic Revolution was the domestication of agricultural plants and then animals. Tending to these required folk to stay put, and to build structures for storage and security. Effectively maintain- ing these goods and properties led to social stratification (that is, managers directing workers) and the need for rules and record-keeping (so in turn, the development of writing). From this foundation emerged the first religious temples, and eventually our first “civilizations.”


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At least by the time of the Neolithic Revolution, the approach used to explain the world assumed that a ghost or spirit dwelt in everything, including humans, and that these spir- its were as real as anything else. Our word spirit is derived from the Latin word for “breath.” Breath (later spirit, soul, psyche, or ghost) is what gives things life, and when it leaves a thing, death results. This vital spirit can sometimes leave the body and return, as was assumed to be the case in dreaming. Also, because one can dream of or think of a person after his or her biological death, it was assumed that the person must still exist, for it was believed that something that could be thought of must exist (rei- fication). Indeed, in those first cities, archeologists often find select individuals buried behind walls and beneath floors, where their presence likely suggested that they were still watching (and as such, would see misdeeds).

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