There is excavation going on in Ceibal, Guatemala that is threatening the conventional wisdom concerning the ascent of man! Jacob Bronowski, who wrote the book “The Ascent of Man” and hosted the television series by the same name, wrote, “Man is a singular creature. He has a set of gifts which make him unique among the animals: so that, unlike them, his is not a figure in the landscape–he is a shaper of the landscape.”
Bronowski suggested that before man could build great monuments, he first had to transition from the nomadic way of life to a settled, agrarian way of life, “The largest single step in the ascent of man is the change from nomad to village agriculture.”
Alvin Toffler summed it up in his book, “The Third Wave” by stating, “Before the First Wave of change, most humans lived in small, often migratory groups and fed themselves by foraging, fishing, hunting, or herding. At some point, roughly ten millennia ago, the agricultural revolution began, and it crept slowly across the planet spreading villages, settlements, cultivated land, and a new way of life.”
So, it has become accepted that agriculture laid down the foundation for man to stop, settle and build cities, citadels and great monuments. But, at Ceibal that concept is being challenged, “Our study presents the first relatively concrete evidence that mobile and sedentary people came together to build a ceremonial center,” declares Takeshi Inomata of the University of Arizona in a recent press release. The Excavations at Ceibal in Guatemala have uncovered ceremonial buildings and a grand public plaza dating back to 950 B.C., at a time before any evidence of permanent residential structures or agricultural activity. Inomata believes that the hunter-gathering peoples of the surrounding jungles came together for public religious ceremonies.
Leaping across the Atlantic to Göbekli Tepe in southern Turkey, NewScientist reports, “The 11,000-year-old site consists of a series of at least 20 circular enclosures . . . Each one is surrounded by a ring of huge, T-shaped stone pillars, some of which are decorated with carvings of fierce animals. Two more megaliths stand parallel to each other at the center of each ring.
“Göbekli Tepe put a dent in the idea of the Neolithic revolution, which said that the invention of agriculture spurred humans to build settlements and develop civilisation, art and religion. There is no evidence of agriculture near the temple, hinting that religion came first in this instance.”
“We have a lot of contemporaneous sites which are settlements of hunter-gatherers. Göbekli Tepe was a sanctuary site for people living in these settlements,” says Klaus Schmidt, chief archaeologist for the project at the German Archaeological Institute (DAI) in Berlin.
And, in North America, we have only to look at the many “medicine wheel” sites where stones were arranged in a pattern where center stone(s) were surrounded by an outer ring of stones with “spokes”, or lines of rocks radiating from the center. The spokes aligned with the cardinal directions and marked the rising or setting of important celestial objects (stars or constellations). They were build by nomadic tribes that visited the sites for periodic ceremonies and ritual observances. Here, again, religious ceremonial customs preceded the civilizing affect of the agricultural revolution to drive man to build great permanent monuments.
“This tells us something about the importance of ritual and construction. People tend to think that you have a developed society and then building comes. I think in many cases it’s the other way around,” Inomata explained.