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Dancing at the Dawn of Agriculture

Dancing at the Dawn of Agriculture

How dance was depicted in Near Eastern Neolithic artifacts.

June 2003
This is a print-on-demand title. Expedited shipping is not available.
346 pages | 7 x 10 | 199 b&w illus., 7 maps, 7 tables |

As the nomadic hunters and gatherers of the ancient Near East turned to agriculture for their livelihood and settled into villages, religious ceremonies involving dancing became their primary means for bonding individuals into communities and households into villages. So important was dance that scenes of dancing are among the oldest and most persistent themes in Near Eastern prehistoric art, and these depictions of dance accompanied the spread of agriculture into surrounding regions of Europe and Africa.

In this pathfinding book, Yosef Garfinkel analyzes depictions of dancing found on archaeological objects from the Near East, southeastern Europe, and Egypt to offer the first comprehensive look at the role of dance in these Neolithic (7000-4000 BC) societies. In the first part of the book, Garfinkel examines the structure of dance, its functional roles in the community (with comparisons to dance in modern pre-state societies), and its cognitive, or symbolic, aspects. This analysis leads him to assert that scenes of dancing depict real community rituals linked to the agricultural cycle and that dance was essential for maintaining these calendrical rituals and passing them on to succeeding generations. In the concluding section of the book, Garfinkel presents and discusses the extensive archaeological data—some 400 depictions of dance—on which his study is based.


Polonsky Prize for Creativity and Originality in the Humanistic Disciplines

  • List of Figures
  • List of Tables
  • Acknowledgments
  • Part I. The Dance Analysis
    • Chapter 1. Introduction
    • Chapter 2. Structural Analysis of the Dance
    • Chapter 3. Functional Analysis of the Dance
    • Chapter 4. Cognitive Analysis of the Dancing Scenes
    • Chapter 5. Conclusions
  • Part II. The Data
    • Chapter 6. General Remarks Concerning the Data
    • Chapter 7. Neolithic Near East
    • Chapter 8. Halafian and Samarra Cultures
    • Chapter 9. Neolithic and Chalcolithic Iran
    • Chapter 10. Neolithic Southeast Europe
    • Chapter 11. Predynastic Egypt
    • Chapter 12. Later Examples from the Near East
    • Chapter 13. Appendix: The Figures with "Turned-Upwards Legs"
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Yosef Garfinkel is a Senior Lecturer in the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.


In this book I deal with a subject that has never been investigated before: dance at the beginning of agriculture. At first glimpse it seems that nothing can be said on such an elusive subject and that it lies beyond the boundaries of knowledgability. However, as we shall see below, the earliest art scenes in the ancient Near East and southeast Europe depict dancing. In the eighth to the fourth millennia BC this subject appears in many variations, covering a vast geographical expanse: the Levant, Mesopotamia, Iran, Anatolia, the Balkans, Greece, the Danube basin, and Egypt. There is plenty of evidence for this activity, almost four hundred depictions of dance are relevant to our study. Thus, dancing is the oldest and one of the most persistent themes in Near Eastern prehistoric art, and this theme spreads with agriculture into surrounding regions of Europe and Africa.

Dance, beside being a subject of enquiry in its own right, is used here also as a medium that sheds light on other interesting topics: the beginning of artistic scenes in the ancient Near East and southeast Europe, public calendrical rituals of early farmers, and various cognitive aspects concerning the dancing motif. The principal strategies used to promote the bonding of individuals into communities, and of individual households into villages, were public assemblies for the purpose of religious ceremonies. The archaeological examples discussed in this work are pictorial displays of this activity and shed light on it. The importance of these ceremonies is also borne out by ethnographic observations of modern pre-state communities, in which dance is indeed the most important component in religious ceremonies.

In periods before schools and writing, community rituals, symbolized by dance, were the basic mechanisms for conveying education and knowledge to the adult members of the community and from one generation to the next. The lengthy duration of dance depiction as a dominant artistic motif, together with its dispersion across broad geographical expanses (from west Pakistan to the Danube basin), testifies to the efficiency of the dancing motif as one of the most powerful symbols in the evolution of human societies.

Dance has been defined as a

complex form of communication that combines the visual, kinesthetic, and aesthetic aspects of human movement with (usually) the aural dimension of musical sounds and sometimes poetry. Dance is created out of culturally understood symbols within social and religious contexts, and it conveys information and meaning as ritual, ceremony, and entertainment. For dance to communicate, its audience must understand the cultural conventions that deal with human movement in time and space (Kaeppler 1992:196).

Dancing is an activity that is not limited to human behavior. As a means of communication, it has been observed in insects (the bee dance), birds, and various mammals' courtship interactions (von Frisch 1967; Wilson 1975:176-241, 314-335). However, as observed by McNeill (1995:13):

Community dancing occurs only among humans, if by that phrase we mean a form of group behavior whereby an indefinite number of individuals start to move their muscles rhythmically, establish a regular beat, and continue doing so for long enough to arouse euphoric excitement shared by all participants, and (more faintly) by onlookers as well. . . . Indeed, community dancing, together with marching and singing or shouting rhythmically is, like language, a capability that marks human off from all other forms of life. . . . Learning to move and give voice in this fashion, and the strengthened emotional bonds associated with that sort of behavior, were critical prerequisites for the emergence of humanity.

In human society, dance is a cross-cultural phenomenon that has been observed all over the world (Sachs 1952; Kraus 1969; Lange 1976; Bland 1976; Blacking and Kealinohomoku 1979; Clarke and Clement 1981; Cass 1993; S. J. Cohen 1998). It has been suggested that dance, as a medium of nonverbal communication, was already practiced during the Paleolithic era (Louis 1955; Blacking 1976; McNeill 1995:13-35). Pictorial sources such as rock art and portable items display dancing in past nonliterate societies. The earliest examples of these have been reported from Paleolithic European art, such the cave at Cala dei Genovesi on the island of Levanzo near Sicily and in Addaura Cave, near Palermo in Sicily (Leroi-Gourhan 1967:381-382, Fig. 710; Holloway 1991:2-4, Figs. 4-5). Archaic rock-art depictions of dance, whose dating is not always clear, have been reported from various parts of the world, such as Italy, Turkey, Israel, Azerbaijan, and India (Anati 1955, 1964, 1994; Peschlow-Bindokat 1995; Dzhafarzade 1973; Brooks and Wakankar 1976:18-19; Malaiya 1989, 1992; Neumayer 1997). More recently, rock art depicting dancing scenes has been produced by Australian aboriginals (Godden 1982, Figs. 25-27; Walsh 1988, Figs. 83, 111) and San Bushmen of Southern Africa (Vinnicombe 1976:307-319; Lewis-Williams and Dowson 1989, Figs. 14-18; Lewis-Williams 1999). Historical texts and depictions inform us about dancing in the great civilizations of Mesopotamia (Matou_ová 1970, 1993; Collon 1987:151-153), Egypt (Lexová 1935; Brunner-Traut 1958, 1985; Wild 1963; Baldacci 1987; Saleh 1998), Biblical Israel (Gruber 1981; Mulder 1992), early Aegean (Evans 1930:66-80; Lawler 1964:40-57; Iakovidis 1966; Dothan 1982:237-249; Goodison 1989; Lefèvre-Novaro 2001), classical Greece (Lawler 1964; Prudhommeau 1965), Rome (Kraus 1969:40-45), and the Middle Ages (Molé 1963; Kraus 1969:46-62). Dancing appears now in every form of human organization: urban, rural, pastoral, or hunter-gatherer communities (S. J. Cohen 1998; Reed 1998).

In this study I will limit discussion to the evidence for dancing activities in a specific chronological, geographical, and socioeconomic milieu, that is, the village communities of the Near East and southeast Europe, from ca. the eighth to the fourth millennia BC (calibrated). All the dates used in this work are calibrated BC, based on 14C radiometric datings.

The term "village communities" refers to what is commonly called the Natufian, Neolithic, and Chalcolithic periods. At this stage of human history the Paleolithic way of life based on small bands of nomadic hunter-gatherers disappeared, while cities and states, which emerged during the second half of the fourth millennium BC in Mesopotamia, had not yet developed. This period is the subject of many studies, both of the Near East and of southeast Europe (see, for example, Braidwood and Braidwood 1953; Mellaart 1975; Redman 1978; Nissen 1988; Bar-Yosef and Belfer-Cohen 1989; Maisels 1991, 1993; Tringham 1971; Hodder 1990). The village communities lasted some nine thousand years (from ca. 12,000 to 3,000 BC) in the Near East, and during this time, rapid changes took place in almost every area of human existence: Permanent village-type settlements developed (Flannery 1972a). Population growth and agglomeration of large communities took place (M. N. Cohen 1975; Hassan 1981). Food production was initiated, with an increasing number of domesticated plants and animals (Bender 1975; Zohary and Hopf 1988; Flannery 1973; Davis 1987:126-154; Buitenhuis and Clason 1993). Technological innovations, which included an increased use of pyrotechnology, were developed, initially for the production of plaster (Gourding and Kingery 1975; Kingery et al. 1988) and later for pottery and metals as well. Social developments produced stratification and the emergence of political institutions (Flannery 1972b; Redman 1978). Finally, mythology and basic concepts of religion were established (Amiran 1962; Margalit 1983; Garfinkel 1994).

Material culture and subsistence are usually easier to examine and analyze than social organization, religion, and ideology. The dancing scenes discovered in the early village communities are related to the second group and thus shed light on issues that are difficult to investigate.

The Beginning of Artistic Scenes in the Ancient Near East

Using the term "art" nowadays seems to need semantic, as well as conceptual, clarification. There is a tendency by some scholars to reject the term when dealing with prehistoric images and to introduce other phrases, including "symbolic expressions," "imagery," and the like. Soffer and Conkey wrote, "Long-standing debates about the definition(s) of 'art' conclude that aesthetic function is something that we cannot assume to have been the case in Prehistory. In fact, ethnographic data from nonwestern cultures clearly show us otherwise" (1997). There is a disturbing point regarding the rhetoric of that statement, as if the opinion of the authors should be considered as a "conclusion." Indeed, this ethnocentric, narrow-minded approach, as if only the western civilization has "art" while other human societies have "imagery," is rightly rejected by many archaeologists and anthropologists. As summarized by Morphy (1989:1):

Researchers have tried to solve the problem by changing the name; by switching from "art object" to "image" or "representation" or "information system" on the grounds that these are more neutral, less value-laden terms. Yet the replacement terms do not really help the situation. They are often more narrow in their definition than "art" itself which, because of all the argument over what it is, can have the advantage of being broadly conceived, whereas "representation", for example, may apply to only one aspect of an object.

The same approach has been expressed by ethnographers: "Art from non-Western cultures is not essentially different from our own, in that it is produced by individual, talented, imaginative artists, who ought to be accorded the same degree of recognition as western artists" (Price 1989). On the matter of aesthetic, Gell specifically noted:

There is no sense in developing one "theory of art" for our own art, and another, distinctively different theory, for the art of those cultures who happened, once upon a time, to fall under the sway of colonialism. If Western (aesthetic) theories of art apply to "our" art, then they apply to everybody's art, and should be so applied (Gell 1998:1).

Language is a mean of communication, but it can also become a means of miscommunication. The developing of a highly specialized jargon in a discipline may cause a better understanding among the members of the discipline, but it will be a barrier to the people outside. "Art," however, term is understandable to every layperson. It is an easy communication devise between the archaeologist and the general public. By using terms such as "imagery," we immediately disconnect ourselves from the general public. Indeed, even the above-cited words of Conkey and Soffer were published in a book ingeniously called Beyond Art: Pleistocene Image and Symbol. In this way, the rejected term "art" was incorporated into the book's title.

After clarifying the legitimacy of the term "art," the context of the depictions of dance within the development of art history should be examined. The nomadic hunter-gatherer societies of the Upper Paleolithic and Epi-Paleolithic in the Near East hardly produced artistic expressions at all, and only isolated art objects have been reported from this region. With the establishment of sedentary settlements in the ancient Near East, this situation altered completely. The earliest permanent villages were built in the Natufian culture of the Levant, dated to as early as the twelfth millennium BC. Natufian sites are characterized by rich symbolic artwork, falling into the following groups:

  • Anthropomorphic Figures. Small figurines made of bone or stone have been reported from el-Wad Cave and Eynan (Perrot 1979, Fig. 17; 1966, Fig. 23:1-2).
  • Zoomorphic Figures. Small figures made of bone or stone, sometimes forming the decorated handle of a larger tool, have been reported from el-Wad and Kebara Caves, Nahal Oren, and Wadi Hammeh (Perrot 1979, Figs. 10, 12, 15; Noy 1991, Figs. 5, 6:1-4; Stekelis and Yizraely 1963, Pl. 4:A-D; Edwards 1991, Fig. 9:2).
  • Geometric Engravings. Geometric patterns, including meanders, were engraved on various stone vessels, stone slabs, or bone tools. These have been reported from Eynan, Nahal Oren, Hayonim Cave, Wadi Hammeh, and Shukba Cave (Perrot 1966:467, Figs. 15:9-10, 23:4; Noy 1991, Figs. 2:5-6, 3, 4:1; Belfer-Cohen 1991, Fig. 3:6; Edwards 1991, Figs. 6:7-8, 8, 10).
  • Body Ornaments. Large quantities of necklaces, bracelets, and belts, made of dentalium shells and various animal bones or teeth, have been unearthed in graves, in situ on the skeletons. Examples of these have been reported from el-Wad Cave, Eynan, and Hayonim Cave (Garrod and Bates 1933, Pls. VI:1-2, VII; Perrot and Ladiray 1988, Figs. 14, 15, 18, 22; Belfer-Cohen 1988:302).
  • Varia. One item made of a river pebble depicts a couple in the act of sexual intercourse. However, Boyd and Cook (1993) questioned the object's Natufian context. This figurine, if indeed Natufian, is the earliest depiction of a scene in the ancient Near East. In any case, since no similar object has been discovered anywhere, it is an isolated phenomenon without any influence on Natufian or Neolithic art.

In the early ninth millennium BC, the period commonly designated Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA), the corpus of symbolic depictions unearthed includes the following groups:

  • Anthropomorphic Figurines. Figurines of clay or stone have been reported from Gilgal I, Netiv Hagdud, Salabiya IX, and Nahal Oren (Noy 1989, Fig. 5:2-5; Bar-Yosef 1980; Bar-Yosef et al. 1991, Fig. 13; Stekelis and Yizraely 1963, Pl. 2:F-H).
  • Zoomorphic Figurines. At Pre-Pottery Neolithic A sites the zoomorphic figures are birds: Mureybet Layer III, Gilgal I, Nemrik 9, and Hallan Çemi Tepesi (Pichon 1985; Noy 1989, Fig. 5:1; Kozlowski 1997; Rosenberg 1994, Fig. 12:1). No definite cattle figurines have been reported from this period.
  • Incised Stone Bowls. A zoomorphic figure and geometric patterns engraved on stone bowls have been reported from Hallan Çemi Tepesi (Rosenberg and Davis 1992, Fig. 8:1-13).
  • Incised Stone Tools. Geometric and meanderlike patterns were engraved on various ground stone tools. Meander patterns have been reported from Netiv Hagdud, Mureybet, and Jerf al Ahmar and a net pattern from Gilgal I (Bar-Yosef et al. 1991, Fig. 12; Cauvin 1985, Fig. 2:1; Stordeur 1998; Noy 1989, Fig. 4:1). These motifs seem to continue the Natufian tradition described above. In addition, an item decorated with zoomorphic figures has been reported recently from Jerf al Ahmar (Stordeur 1998, Fig. 9:1).
  • Architectural Decoration. A totally new area of symbolic expression in the beginning of the Neolithic period has recently come to light. In two sites of the northern Levant, excavators unearthed decoration from buildings. In Göbekli Tepe the decoration includes incisions of zoomorphic figures and geometric patterns. These were executed on large limestone T-shape pillars (Beile-Bohn et al. 1988; K. Schmidt 1998). In Jerf al Ahmar a mudbrick bench was decorated with a geometric pattern in relief (Stordeur et al. 2001, Fig. 8).

In the next chronological stage, the late ninth and the eighth millennia BC, the period commonly designated Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB), there is a rapid growth of symbolic expression. Examples now include the following:

  • Anthropomorphic Figurines. These are reported from sites all over the Near East and usually include female figures and much less frequently also male figures: Jericho, Beidha, Nahal Hemar Cave, 'Ain Ghazal, Munhata, Tell Aswad, Cafer Höyük, Nevali Çori, Jarmo, Sarab, and Çayönü (Kenyon and Holland 1982, Fig. 224:2; Kirkbride 1966, Fig. 4:1; Bar-Yosef and Alon 1988, Pl. IX; Rollefson 1983; Garfinkel 1995, Figs. 13-14; de Contenson 1983, Fig. 7; Cauvin 1989, Fig. 11; Hauptmann 1991-2:32, Fig. 27; Broman Morales 1983, 1990).
  • Zoomorphic Figurines. At this stage, cattle make their first appearance, replacing the bird figurines of the previous period. They have been discovered in sites all over the Near East: Jericho, 'Ain Ghazal, Abu Ghosh, Munhata, Tell Ramad, Jarmo, Sarab, and Çayönü (Kenyon and Holland 1982, Fig. 224:6-9; Rollefson 1983; Lechevallier 1978, Fig. 35:1-2; Garfinkel 1995; de Contenson 1981; Broman Morales 1983, 1990). These figures are so schematic that it is not always clear if they indeed represent cattle or rather other four-legged animals such as sheep or dogs. Other types of zoomorphic figures were also found, including an ibex at Beidha, a rodent at Nahal Hemar Cave, and pigs at Munhata, Jarmo, and Sarab (Kirkbride 1966, Fig. 4:2; Bar-Yosef and Alon 1988, Pl. XII:1; Garfinkel 1995, Fig. 17:5; Broman Morales 1983, Fig. 155:6, 1990, Pl. 2).
  • Engraved Slabs. Small stone slabs decorated with incisions portraying various animals have been reported from the desert campsite of Dhuweila (Betts 1987).
  • Remodeled Skulls. Human skulls plastered or covered with bitumen have been reported from the Levant: Jericho, Tell Ramad, Beisamoun, 'Ain Ghazal, Nahal Hemar Cave, and Kfar Hahoresh (Kenyon 1957, Figs. 19-20, 22; 1981, Pls. VIII:b-d, IX; de Contenson 1967:20-21; Lechevallier 1978:150; Rollefson 1983; Bar-Yosef and Alon 1988, Pl. XXIII; Goring-Morris 2000, Fig. 3).
  • Anthropomorphic Statues. Two different groups can be subsumed under this category: statues made of clay and of plaster, 40-90 cm in height, discovered at Jericho, Tell Ramad, 'Ain Ghazal, and Nahal Hemar Cave (Garstang et al. 1935:166; de Contenson 1967:20-21; Rollefson 1983; Bar-Yosef and Alon 1988, Pl. VIII); statues made of elongated limestone monoliths, 40-100 cm in height, were discovered at Nevali Çori in the northern Levant (Hauptmann 1993).
  • Masks. Life-sized limestone masks have been excavated in the southern Levant: Nahal Hemar Cave and Basta. A few such masks with no clear archaeological contexts have also been reported (Bar-Yosef and Alon 1988, Pl. X; Nissen et al. 1987, Fig. 16:1; Perrot 1979, Figs. 20, 26; Noy 1999:123-133).
  • Decoration of Architectural Components. Three different groups can be distinguished here: painted plaster floors, discovered at 'Ain Ghazal and Tell Halula (Rollefson 1990; Molist 1998); painted walls of Bouqras (Akkermans et al. 1983); and monumental stone pillars engraved with anthropomorphic figures in a cultic structure at Nevali Çori (Hauptmann 1993).
  • Dancing Scenes. The first appearance of scenes in the art of the ancient Near East took place at this stage. These have been reported from three Pre-Pottery Neolithic B sites in the Levant: Nevali Çori, Tell Halula and Dhuwila (Figs. 7.3:a, 7.4, 7.6:a). All three have a common subject--they depict dancing figures.

Rollefson suggested subdividing the art objects from 'Ain Ghazal into two groups based on their size (1983, 1986). This idea can be applied to objects from the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period in general. In the first group there are small anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figurines, usually smaller than 10 cm. These were used by individuals and reflect household cults. In the second group there are the large anthropomorphic statues, plastered skulls, and masks, usually larger than 20 cm. These were used on more public occasions and reflect rituals performed on the community level. The objects of both groups, however, are isolated art and cult items. Even when found in large numbers together, such as the plastered skulls or the anthropomorphic statues, they do not represent any scene, and no interdependence between the objects in any given concentration can be observed.

Following Rollefson and adding to his original observations, it seems that a three-stage development can be pointed out. First, small art objects were manufactured and these were used on the family level. Second, larger art objects were produced, and these were used on the community level. The third stage is marked by the appearance of the first scenes. This is a most dramatic change as the scenes described a few people acting together. They have the capacity of storing and transmitting much more information than any single art object. Thus, the scenes represent a big step towards writing. The importance of scenes was summarized by Renfrew and Bahn (1991:368):

Painting, drawing, or carving on a flat surface in order to represent the world offers much more scope than the representation in three dimensions of a single figure. For it offers the possibility of showing relationships between symbols, between objects in the cognitive map. In the first place, this allows us to investigate how the artist conceived of space itself, as well as the way in which events at different times might be shown. It also allows analysis of the manner or style in which the artist depicted the animals, humans, and other aspects of the real world.

Scenes, as opposed to figurines, are rather rare in the protohistoric Near East and southeast Europe. They can be classified in three main categories:

  • Wall Painting. The most well known of these are the Çatal Höyük wall paintings and reliefs, a unique assemblage (see, for example, Mellaart 1967; de Jesus 1985; Hodder 1987; Forest 1993). Another example of a wall painting depicting a scene has been reported from Umm Dabaghiyah (Kirkbride 1975, Fig. 7a).
  • Scenes Displaying Dancing Figures. This is the largest category in terms of chronological duration, geographical distribution, and the number of examples reported (Garfinkel 1998). It is therefore rather surprising to see that these dancing figures have never been the subject of a comprehensive analysis, and only some aspects of them have been discussed (Herzfeld 1941:29-42; Mesnil du Buisson 1948:23; Parrot 1960:44-46; Gulder 1960-1962; Vanden Berghe 1968; Nitu 1970; Marinescu-Bîlcu 1974a; Meyerhof and Mozel 1981; Yakar 1991:314; Esin 1993; Mantu 1993; Matou\xová 1970, 1993).
  • Nondancing Scenes. These are known on pottery vessels depicting human figures together with animals or architectural elements. This rare category has been reported from only a few sites. The most interesting examples come from Tell Halaf, Arpachiyah, Tepe Gawra, and a vessel of unknown provenance from Iran (von Oppenheim 1943, Fig. LX; Hijara 1978; Ippolitoni-Strika 1990; Breniquet 1992a; Tobler 1950, Pl. LXXVIII:a-b; Amiet 1979, Fig. 15-17).

This study is devoted to the second category, the dancing scenes. The three main subjects to be dealt with here are the dancing performance (Chapter 2), the social context of the dance (Chapter 3), and cognitive aspects of the dancing scenes (Chapter 4).

Research Objectives

Nine different research objectives, all related to the subject of dance and dancing scenes, are presented below. Although I may not address all the relevant questions, nor provide all the possible answers, I hope that drawing attention to this neglected topic will provoke further inquiry and discussion.

1. Relevant data

The Neolithic and Chalcolithic dancing scenes from the Near East and southeast Europe have never been previously collected or presented together. The evidence is dispersed over hundreds of publications, many of them obscure excavation reports. Therefore, the first aim of this work is to acquaint the reader with the different sites and the relevant finds unearthed in each of them. Most of the items are also presented here in drawings. In some cases the text refers to additional identical items that were discovered at the same site in large quantities and are thus not included in the illustrations. All this data is presented in Part II of this work.

The distribution of the motif dictates the chronological and geographical boundaries of my study. Chronologically the earliest dancing scenes appeared in the eighth millennium BC, and they continue to dominate the artistic record, at least in one region--the Levant--until the third millennium BC. The geographical range of the phenomenon includes the Levant, Mesopotamia, Iran, western Pakistan, Anatolia, the Balkans, Greece, the Danube basin of southeast Europe, and Egypt. The motif does not appear in all the areas at the same time. Thus the presentation of the data follows six major chronological-geographical units: Neolithic Near East; Halafian and Samarra cultures; Neolithic and Chalcolithic Iran; Neolithic southeast Europe; Predynastic Egypt; and later examples from the Near East. All together, some 170 sites and nearly 400 items are included. In an appendix, other possible examples of dancing figures in the Neolithic Near East are examined in the light of previous reconstructions. The dancing scenes, it should be emphasized, were a most popular, indeed almost the only subject used to describe interaction between people in the Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods.

The present study of dancing scenes is derived from my general understanding of the current state of art historical research. This research in ancient Europe and the Near East has usually been classified according to the following fields of specialization: on the one hand, the art of Paleolithic Europe, which represents the symbolic expressions of hunters and gatherers; on the other hand, the various art traditions of Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, and Rome, each type representing the symbolic expressions of states and empires. Art historical research on early village communities in the Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods, which lies between the two fields mentioned above, has not been extensively developed. Only very seldomly has a specific monograph on the art of the Neolithic or Chalcolithic periods been published (Goff 1963a; Cauvin 1972, 1994; Dumitrescu 1974; Gimbutas 1982, 1989; von Wickede 1990).

The leading authorities on ancient Near Eastern art have not paid much attention to the Neolithic period. The concepts that prevailed in the 1950s and 1960s concerning the art and cult of this period can be found in the works of eminent authorities. Henry Frankfort wrote: "The prehistoric clay figurines of men and animals do not differ in character from similar artless objects found throughout Asia and Europe. A history of art may ignore them, since they cannot be considered the ancestors of Sumerian sculpture" (Frankfort 1955:2). Edith Porada wrote: "For this early period [the eighth millennium BC] we cannot assume the existence of concepts of anthropomorphic deities similar to those later known in the cultures of the ancient Near East" (Porada 1965:21). In various books and catalogues on the art of the ancient Near East, the Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods usually occupy a brief chapter between the introduction and Sumerian art.

However, over the years, Neolithic art objects from various excavations have gradually accumulated. Nowadays there is no justification for an approach that ignores the art of the Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods, since in the last decade, archaeologists have unearthed and published art objects from dozens of Neolithic sites, of previously unknown quality and quantity. Thus, another objective of this research is to draw scholarly attention to the possibility that art historical research of the Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods can now be developed into an independent field of art history, that of early village communities.

2. A methodological framework for the depiction of dance

To analyze displays of dance, a methodological framework is required. Since, to the best of my knowledge, this topic has not been subject to systematic methodological consideration, it is necessary to propose one here. The next section of this chapter raises and discusses thirteen methodological aspects of the depiction of dance.

3. Structural analysis of dance

Analyzing the form and style of the performance carried out in the early village communities contributes to the field of dance history, which, when dealing with the evidence from antiquity, usually concentrates on Greek vases. To obtain the maximum amount of information, I have defined detailed categories of analysis, and the different items are analyzed in accordance with these categories. Not all the scenes previously defined as dance fit these categories, and thus the interpretation of some wall paintings from Çatal Höyük as a "dance of the hunters" is rejected below.

4. Emphasis on the cultic nature of dancing

The study of the cult and religion of ancient societies has lately attracted considerable attention. The dancing scenes can contribute to our understanding of public religious ceremonies in the early village communities in the Near East and southeast Europe. This matter also takes into consideration linguistic aspects and ethnographic observations.

5. Clarification of linguistic aspects associated with dance

It has been previously noted that dancing terms in West Semitic languages are loaded with more than one meaning (Mandelkern 1896:369; Loewenstamm 1965; Wensinck 1986). The dancing scenes add a new dimension to the linguistic context of the following terms: dance, festival, going in a circle, mourning, and pilgrimage.

6. Functional analysis of dance

The dancing scenes should be understood against the background of their social context, that is, the village communities of the Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods. Ethnographic observations are used to gain a wider view of dancing in pre-state societies. Many observations by modern anthropologists of traditional societies are devoted to dance. There is a vast literature on specific case studies, as well as works devoted to the anthropology of dance within a wider theoretical framework for investigating the significance of dance (see, for example, Rust 1969; Lange 1976; Royce 1977; McNeill 1995). As dancing is a universal phenomenon, and as the significance of dance has been investigated by dance scholars, the basic question discussed here is not why people dance but rather why dancing was used as a motif in the art of early village communities. In other words, it seems unlikely that the people in the early village communities were dancing many more hours per week than hunter-gatherers or city dwellers of the ancient Near East, even though they emphasized dancing activities in their symbolic expressions.

Of special interest to my study are observations on the San Bushmen of Southern Africa, since there exists abundant documentation of both the dancing activities and artistic symbolic expressions of this people. In Bushmen societies, dance activities are extremely important in daily life (Marshall 1969; Katz 1982; Biesele 1978). Nevertheless, dance is not a major motif at all in artistic expressions (Vinnicombe 1976:307-319; Lewis-Williams 1981:19; Lewis-Williams and Dowson 1989; but see Lewis-Williams 1999; Garfinkel 1999b). This example demonstrates that there is no direct correlation between the role of dance in daily life and the appearance of dance in symbolic expressions. Two questions are relevant here: (1) why were dancing scenes the most popular, indeed almost the only subject used to describe interaction between people in the Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods? and (2) why do dancing scenes lose their prominent position with the rise of urban societies in the Near East? To answer these questions, Chapter 3 deals with social developments in the eighth to fourth millennia BC in the Near East and southeast Europe.

7. Replacement of the dancing motif

The objective of this section is to identify a widely distributed motif in the ancient urban Near East, which expresses social interaction between people and thus replaces the dance motif.

8. Cognitive aspects of the dancing scenes

In a programmatic statement in the introduction to the first volume of the Cambridge Archaeological Journal, Scarre declared that "human cognition is one of the key areas of archaeological thinking at the present day, encapsulating a wide range of those activities which give the human species its unique character and separate us most clearly from our near relatives the non-human primates: art, symbolism, mensuration, religion and language" (Scarre 1991). As dancing activity is closely associated with public religious ceremonies, dancing opens a window onto the cognitive map of the early village communities' rituals.

There is a growing archaeological literature on issues such as ritual and cultic performance. These works deal mainly with the analysis of cult objects and temples, that is, the material remains of ritual activities. Marcus and Flannery, for example, combined three methodological approaches when dealing with ancient Zapotec ritual and religion: (1) the direct historical approach, (2) the analysis of public space and religious architecture, and (3) the contextual analysis of religious paraphernalia (Marcus and Flannery 1994:55). The nature of the evidence concerning dancing, however, is totally different from the source material of Marcus and Flannery, since we do not have direct remains of the activity. "Direct remains" of dance in the archaeological record could theoretically be footprints or an arrangement of skeletons trapped during dance activity. The suggestion that circular platforms of carefully constructed ashlar masonry stones discovered at Knossos were used for circle dances (Warren 1984) is problematic, since the platforms may have been used for other purposes. What we do have in hand from the past are depictions of dance that are not "objective" photographs but the results of cognitive processes that function as filters, eliminating the less important aspects of an event and emphasizing its essence. Depictions of dance may give rise to all kinds of theoretical or methodological issues, since they are not direct material remains of performance and ritual. This is where cognitive analysis comes in, focusing on the process that transfers reality into depiction. The importance of pictorial relationships has been summarized by Renfrew and Bahn as follows (1991:363):

We can obtain the greatest insight into the cognitive map of an individual or a community by representation in material form of that map, or at least a part of it. . . . But the more general case is that of depiction, where the world, or some aspect of it, is represented so that it appears to the seeing eye very much as it is conceived in the "mind's eye."

Dancing scenes are clearly suitable for the application of the approach labeled "Cognitive-Processual Archaeology" (Renfrew and Bahn 1991:431-432, and see discussion there), as the subject of dance implies the following points:

  1. As ethnographers have noted, dance is a cross-cultural phenomenon in human behavior and has been observed the world over. It appears in every form of social organization: urban, rural, pastoral, and hunter-gatherer.
  2. From a structural point of view there are biological limits to the movements of the human body, which dictate possible body gestures (Laban 1971; Fitt 1988).
  3. From a functional point of view there are similarities in the way traditional human societies use dance: it is associated with public religious activities.

9. Communicative aspects of the dancing scenes

This research objective concerns not the dancing activity but the function of the objects on which the dancing scenes were depicted. Pottery vessels, which are the most common objects decorated with dancing scenes, are examined as a means of information exchange.



Dancing at the Dawn of Agriculture offers fresh insights into live in the Cradle of Civilisation, and will hopefully serve as great sustenance for future thought on this intriguing issue.”


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