Tag Archives: Agriculture

The Vertical Integration of Religion

Covering in the past few lectures was the Indus Valley Civilization.  As someone from the region, it is extremely interesting for me to hear how these particular ancient people lived.  The extremely organized city-state (the civilization’s most identifiable quality) we studied made me think of the island I come from in India, Sri Rangam.  The differences in infrastructure and public institutions between India and Western countries are so stark now.  Why is this?  What pivotal event(s) or state policy made it so; was it economic or institutional?  The island itself is extremely agricultural focused, and known internationally for being home to a relatively large, old Hindu temple.  And there apparent social stratification between not only socioeconomic levels, not only between gender but also between sex and gender.  Unlike most Western civilizations, culture in the Indian Subcontinent (ancient & modern) has impressions of religious rhetoric ingrained in it.  And its vertical integration into the Indus Valley Civilization is what led to the eventual collapse.

A perfect example of this, the story that Ethan talked about in the Rig-Veda that led the the collapse of the Indus Valley Civilization.  It was often was to me as a bedtime story, and like most traditions, was only passed down orally.  This oral nature of reciting history further reinforces the influence of religion on culture, as exemplified when Hindus call the Rig-Veda the “breath of Bhraman”.  This is one of the main reasons I think anthropologists are so unclear as to the true nature of collapse in the Indus Valley.

The predominately auditory characteristic could be why the civilization died out: no meticulous agricultural records or weather patterns by the state (or other institutional authority).  Assuming the state placed some sort of tariff/tax on agricultural utility, citizens must have realized that the land had gone over usual yield.  If this is the case, then the “State” does not seem that powerful: a perfect explanation for why smaller settlements became a more popular form of community rather than urbanism.

Coming back to Sri Rangam’s infrastructure, architectural design of the community is in direct correlation with that of the temple.  A sanctum sanatorium surrounded by bands that decrease in importance.  Thus, socioeconomic stratums are literally built (along with the caste system which came much later).  But does this drive competition, which is necessary for social innovation and cultural progressivism.  How long is it before this civilization collapses upon itself?

The Feasting Model

The Feasting Model set forth by Bryan Hayden was, in my opinion, the most fascinating concept in our reading and lectures thus far.  This hypothesis is much different than others present.  It confides more on the evolution of behavior than changes in climate, or population density, or technology.  The notion that agriculture, domestication, and the sedentary lifestyle were perpetuated by man’s desire to show wealth through extravagant displays of food reveals much about not only human nature, but also society.  While competition in social status is known to be a reoccurring theme in history, this theory somehow seems incomplete to me.  A “feel good”, “smug” self-awareness is not economically sufficient, in my opinion, after a cost-benefit analysis.

A relationship must have existed for a random group of hunter/gathers to feel any sort of competition with each other.  Furthermore, social stratification must have been in place before mass accumulation of crop can happen.  Access to the best seeds, land, and water were taken by those in positions of power and/or authority.  I cannot believe that the one who toils the land is the same one to ostentatiously displays its bounty. Especially since his fertile land will come under threat of seizure.  In conclusion, this theory is not capitalistic enough standing alone.

If the competition began after institutions were set in place (i.e. state, religion, laws), then it would make more sense.  It seems only natural to me that elementary fraternal populations had developed certain innate practices even during the hunter/gather to chiefdom era.  Here, in these social establishments, lay the basic foundations for pomp and circumstance: communal integration, cultural responsiveness, recognizing natural phenomena through “religious” practices.  Small celebrations bring communities together and these frequent interactions lead to social acknowledgment of land ownership, for now collective admissions are basic institutions.  And once kinship ties begin breaking within the community due to hierarchy contestation or scarce resource for an increasing population density, competition arises.  One community becomes two, and two becomes four, and an “one-upmanship” feasting model is more viable.  But the concept of community, hierarchy, and institution must be in place for settlements to practice agriculture.

There is complete validity in saying that for a community and institutions to develop there must have been a stable food supply.  Agriculture provides a steady amount of crop previously referenced.  And that is where this particular theory, against my personal opinion, leads to a chicken vs. egg situation.

Predynastic Egypt Agriculture and Health

Some of the class lectures have talked at length about the development of agriculture in Egypt and the way agriculture fits into classifying predynastic Egypt.  This got me thinking about the effects agriculture would have on the overall health and nutrition of the population.  Could nutrition and health be analyzed through examination of human remains from burials?  With agriculture’s prominence, would the population see an increase in health due to a consistent supply of a variety of food?  Or would there be an increase in disease occurrences because the agriculture is ensuring a sedentary lifestyle?

The low floods and high floods of the Nile during predynastic Egypt are determinable by geological analysis of the soil and sediment layers.  I believe that these same seasons of famine could be mirrored in the remains of individuals, specifically the dentition.  Teeth will show striations, or lines/bands, that result from extreme fluxes in nutrients.  If Petrie’s sequence dating method, which correctly identified the timeline of ceramics in predynastic Egypt, is combined with radiocarbon dating, human remains from burials could be correctly placed in a timeline.  Further analysis of the remains would hopefully determine age at death for individuals.  Working backwards from these years, and using the standards for tooth formation and emergence, any bands on the teeth could provide estimates for years of high or low flooding.  These estimates could then be compared to those obtained geologically.  This method would only work if the famines brought about by the high and low flooding seasons were significant enough to cause malnutrition.

As far as nutrition is concerned, analysis of remains is a method of determining and comparing the health of pre-agriculture and post-agriculture Egyptians.  At first, it would seem that Egyptians received a better diet after agriculture was instated, considering they were producing, storing, and redistributing crops; however, they were at the mercy of the Nile.  An analysis and comparison of human remains from Fayum could shed some light on nutrition.  Fayum A was predynastic, and practiced full-time, settled agriculture.  Fayum B was truly Neolithic.  If remains, specifically dentition, from Fayum A and Fayum B were analyzed, then the prevalence of malnutrition could be compared between the two populations.  This is just one area, but other areas in Egypt could also be studied.

When comparing human remains, we could also look for bone markers that indicate disease.  With the implementation of agriculture, the population is going to become sedentary (instead of nomadic).  This sedentary lifestyle could provide an environment for diseases.  The close proximity of individuals can cause problems involving the disposal of human waste, etc. that lead to thriving diseases.

All of this together provides a plethora of research options (that may or may not have been attempted already).  But it is very interesting to see the cross-over of cultural and physical anthropology, not to mention geology and many more scientific disciplines.