Human evolution Religion

Was there religion at Çatalhöyük (9500 years ago)

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From an interview by Suzan Mazur, author of Paradigm Shifters, with archaeologist Ian Hodder, at HuffPost:

Suzan Mazur: Templeton is known for its pairing of religion and science, inserting the divine in science. … I’m asking this because Templeton has come under fire for putting its fingers all over science from the investigation of the origin and evolution of life to space science. It’s perceived that the foundation is compromising the work of scientists and retarding science.

Maurice Bloch, one of your own Çatal book authors has said pursuing a religion angle at Çatal is “a misleading wild goose chase” because humans only thought up religion 5,000 years ago at the earliest. Bloch says humans largely live in their reflective imagination, something that first arose 40,000 to 50,000 years ago. Here’s the Bloch quote:

“The Templeton initiative that led to the publication of this book was about religion at Çatalhöyük, yet this chapter has not mentioned the word once. This is no accident. The reason is that I am confident that there was no religion in Çatalhöyük, any more than there was among the Zafimaniry before Christianity arrived there. Looking for religion is therefore a misleading wild goose chase. . . . The kind of phenomena that the English word “religion,” and the associated word “belief,” can be made to evoke have, at most, a history of five thousand years. This is thousands of years after the establishment of Çatalhöyük.”

What is your response to this?

Ian Hodder:Yes, well that’s fine. That’s Maurice’s view. I just think he’s wrong. He’s one author. I don’t know how many authors came to Çatalhöyük to discuss this issue. It must be well over 30 by now. He’s the only one who takes this extreme position. More.

It does sound like an “extreme position.” For one thing, religion would necessarily precede artifacts and monuments around religion, just as relationships precede descriptions and conventions around relationships.

One must know a culture to know what functions as religion and what does not. For one thing, many tradition are apophatic: One may not represent the Divine (or use the actual name of the Divine). But then everyday numbers or symbols may also function as codes, so one must use patterns or deviation from patterns to assess evidence. Here is an introduction to a number of papers on that question, relating to Çatalhöyük.

Note: There is a fascinating element in this account. Mazur reveals that her long-ago investigations showed that British Çatalhöyük archaeologist James Mellaart seems to have made up elements of an ancient civilization (the Royal Treasure of Dorak mystery). It sounds vaguely like Piltdown Man, a “missing link” human paleontology fraud perpetrated 1912 through 1953. In that case, there were, at one time, 30 accused suspects, though recent work has narrowed it down to one (but was he framed?). Possibly, people can sometimes need something to be true so badly that they make it up so that the force of others’ belief shores up their own.

The resulting scandal was one of the factors that led to reduced interest in the early Neolithic Çatalhöyük site itself but Templeton Foundation and archaeologist Ian Hodder raised money to hel make it a UNESCO World Heritage Site today.

See also: Official paper on Homo naledi published… yes they’re recent, and now everything’s a big mess Researcher: “We can no longer assume that we know which species made which tools, or even assume that it was modern humans that were the innovators of some of these critical technological and behavioural breakthroughs in the archaeological record of Africa.

and

Imagine a world of religions that naturalism might indeed be able to explain

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One Reply to “Was there religion at Çatalhöyük (9500 years ago)

  1. 1
    KRock says:

    I’d be inclined to side with Ian Hodder on this matter.

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