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New Light on the Dawn: a new perspective on the Neolithic Revolution

March 28, 2009

The Rhind Lectures presented by Emeritus Professor Trevor Watkins FSA FSA Scot, University of Edinburgh
Friday 3rd April 6.00pm to Sunday 5th April 2009 6.00pm Venue: The Royal Society, 22-26 George St. Edinburgh.

Since Gordon Childe wrote of a Neolithic (or Agricultural) Revolution, the investigation of the origins and beginnings of agriculture at the east end of the Mediterranean have preoccupied generations of archaeologists, driven advances in archaeological method and theory, and generated new specialisations, such as archaeo-botany and archaeo-zoology. But just as there is more to the Industrial Revolution than technological innovation and the re-ordering of the economy, so there is more to the Neolithic Revolution than the adoption of crop cultivation and the herding of animals. In the final Palaeolithic and early Neolithic of Southwest Asia we can watch the emergence of large-scale, permanent village communities, displaying extraordinary architecture, sculpture and symbolic practices.

The question that Robert Braidwood first posed half a century ago – “Why then? Why not earlier?” – continues to challenge us, whether we are thinking of the adoption of farming practices, the formation of permanent village communities, or the extraordinarily rich symbolic expressions. Recent advances in the application of evolutionary theory to cognitive psychology and cultural theory: can be related to the material worlds that these communities created for themselves.  We can see how people at that time began to live in a new way, because only then did the nature of their human cognitive and cultural faculties make it possible. We can explore the conceptual complexities of the formation and maintenance of these new communities and the intense and extensive networks in which they engaged; and we can set these innovations at a critical point in human cognitive and cultural evolution. The unique skill evolved by our species, Homo sapiens, lies in the use of fully symbolic culture, whether as modern language, or in art, or architecture, or science. What we see in this remarkable process is the emergence from deep prehistory of communities of people who were essentially modern and like ourselves.

1. From economic to social and cultural revolution.
2. From hunting and harvesting to cultivation, herding and domestication.
3. Settling down, staying together: from Epi-palaeolithic to Neolithic.
4. Architecture, monuments and ‘theatres of memory’.
5. Evolutionary context: the emergence of the modern human mind.
6. Putting the story together.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Trevor Watkins permalink
    June 9, 2009 9:55 am

    I found this notice of the Rhind Lectures by accident, when I was searching for something else. This series of Rhind Lectures was recorded and can be viewed/heard at

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