- Religion, History, and Place in the Origin of Settled Life ed. by Ian Hodder
Louisville, CO: University of Colorado Press, 2018. Pp. 306, 63 figures. Hardback, $75.00. ISBN 978-1-60732-736-3.
During the 25-year-long excavation project at the Neolithic central Anatolian site of Çatalhöyük, Ian Hodder has been able to confront archaeological data with extraordinary innovation, giving life to data through a detailed reconstruction based on complex theoretical approaches. In particular, the relationship between material culture and religion in the process of reconstructing ancient spiritualities has been a pivotal subject tackled by Hodder and the members of his research team during recent years. Thus, this book represents another extraordinary dowel in his research plan to reconstruct forms of religiosity of communities of early settlers in the Neolithic Near East. More specifically, the contributions to this edited volume aim at establishing a framework for a better understanding of the concept of "history making."
In the introductory chapter Hodder clearly explains this concept, which is based on memory construction created as a result of the continual repetition of social practices and commemorative behaviors by the members of a given community. In so doing, Hodder merges Bourdieu's practice theory and Connerton's social memories into a well-constructed theoretical tenet that makes "commemorative history making" a fundamental social practice. This is especially true for Neolithic communities, which, due to the socio-economic transformation involved with agriculture and animal breeding, made residency a fundamental element in finding their communal identity. It is the case at Çatalhöyük, where the continuous reconstruction of buildings and the presence of relics of ritual practices create a continuum of habitual behaviors. For example, in Buildings 59 and 60 "there is an example of an obsidian projectile point kept/owned in a house for the duration of fourteen wall re-plasterings" (p. 7). Thus, according to Hodder (p. 8), "history making refers to continuities produced both by habituated practices and by commemorative links to the past."
Drawing on these theoretical premises, the following ten chapters tackle diverse archaeological correlates of history making in the Neolithic Near East:
Chapter 1 by Shults and Wildman tries to answer a general hypothesis based on the ontological value of religion in transitioning to sedentarization. In so doing, the authors use an interesting combination of a theoretical approach (i.e., religious entanglement) with agent-based computer modeling. The resultant charts are based on variables assigned to domesticated plants and animals that can entangle agro-pastoral activities with religious behavior. Even though the challenge is fascinating, I found it difficult to follow their charts and the codes assigned to the variables in relationship with a human-thing nexus. Probably a clearer presentation of the agent-based model would have helped the reader.
The relationship between the origins of early agriculture, settled life, history and place making, and ritual practices during the Neolithic is the subject of Chapter 2, written by Wendy Matthews. In her contribution, she decides to focus on three key questions: 1) the timing of the emergence of history making at particular places and if there is any correlation between agricultural intensification, population increase, and social competition; 2) the relationship between repetitive building and cosmological patterning in creating (and sustaining) durable historical ties to places, ancestors, and long-term social relationships that are typical of delayed-return agricultural systems; 3) indication of differences between the Zagros and the rest of the Near East in terms of ritual practices. The author faces these three pivotal themes using macro- and micro-archaeological analyses of contexts from the Zagros and Çatalhöyük. In particular, micro-stratigraphic and micro-morphological analyses allow researchers to clearly identify a detailed sequence of surfaces and deposits that can be useful in interpreting how given communities created historical ties with places through forms of continuity in settled life. Through a detailed analysis of a high number of thin sections of surfaces, the author suggests that: 1) with [End Page 260] the increase in settled life, "deposition was much more rapid and repeated, indicating...