Ritual and consciousness in the Neolithic
The Neolithic represents a major change in human consciousness and in the organization of society. It is truly an archetypal development in the full sense of being a species-specifi c response in human behavior that produced strikingly similar solutions in the form of imagery and architecture as well as social organization. For in the West, alone, we are privileged to have archaeological evidence of two rather separate “Neolithic Revolutions.” The fi rst took place in the Near East, beginning as early as eleven millennia ago with agricultural discoveries that were dependent upon the plants, animals, topography and climate proper to the region. Agriculture then migrated up the Danube and around the coast of Europe and began all over again some 5000 years later in the British Isles, where the plants, animals, topography and climate were different. Two different regions, two different times, two different sets of circumstances, and yet the solutions are remarkably similar. There is both archetypal similarity and cultural difference, and this demonstrates unmistakably that the Neolithic Revolution in human consciousness was an organic response of the human psyche. It is almost evolutionary evidence for the development of human consciousness through history. To come to grips with what human consciousness was doing in the Neolithic Age, we will fi rst need to describe what archaeology has uncovered. To this end, we will discuss a few sites from the beginning of the Neolithic in the Near East, and then a few more from the end of the Neolithic in the British Isles. After establishing the facts on the ground, we will be able to consider what was occurring in human consciousness by looking at the process of domestication, the arrangement of funeral rites, and the tensions that arose between hierarchical political organization and shamanism.