Origins of sedentism: possible roles of ideology and shamanism in the transition




Wickham, Ross Durward

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Recognising causal links between religious practices and socio-political structures, it is argued that the transition to settled life during the Neolithic was the product of social and political changes brought about by the institutionalisation and manipulation of ideology. These were employed by ambitious, influential individuals using sedentism as a strategy to achieve social control and the power, status and appropriated wealth (labour and resources) this engendered. A key factor in this was the materialisation of ideology, making visible the supernatural. Exploration of the ideopolitical nature of cultural elements — social, economic, and political — integral to the transition among Southwest Asian societies who experienced the profound changes involved, identified a nexus between increasing intensity of shamanistically manipulated ideology and progressive decrease in mobility. Furthermore, it reinforced the pivotal role played by shamanism in the transitional process, and that it was facilitated and maintained by the generation of ongoing socio-ideological stress. Emergence of personal and group individualism during the transition, but particularly in the latter part, saw competition in both hierarchical and heterarchical contexts for social control. In the course of this, shamanism was also employed by other influential individuals and became hybridised in the form of the quasi-divine shaman-priest-leaders operating ceremonial centres from which they dominated the activities of regional populations. A model derived from the archaeology of selected sites in Southwest Asia is presented that views the transition as a three-phase process reflecting the emergence and progressive intensification of a collective psychology, this manifest in new ideology, the growing importance of ‘place’, and individualism and social complexity not previously experienced. Also apparent is that initiation of the transition was associated with a new ideology and driven by shamanism, with the influence of the various agents involved becoming increasingly evident in a range of interrelated behavioural trends and developments. Each phase of the model sees ideology taken intentionally and necessarily to a higher level of intensity, providing a longer-term perspective on the relationship between ideology and economy. Evidence from the British Isles 5000-2000 calBC used for model validation confirmed that where ideology is evident in the archaeological record shamanism was influential, and emphasised the ideological context of the settlement foci and controlling agencies. Behavioural trends become more developed throughout, despite site context and location. While variation was apparent among the subregions in the extent to which a more settled way of life achieved, the overall effect in each was to bring dispersed communities together long-term, ideopolitically controlled in geographically confined contexts by site or wider location. People were being aggregated more regularly and co-operatively; this clearly facilitated by ideology. The British evidence also indicated that settled life did not necessarily equate precisely with the criteria of settled life, i.e., living permanently in durable structures on one site; rather, there was flexibility in the way these might be exhibited. Furthermore, full-time sedentism was shown to be preceded by permanent ceremonial structures and their ideological context.



sedentism, ideology, Shamanism




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