The first architectural revolution
The impacts of fibro-cutting tools
Only few involved in this discussion focussed on toolmaking and brain development
are aware of the variable factor immanent in the term 'tool'. How was it used? Lawrence
H. Keeley (1980) showed that stone tools were not used exclusively in the framework
of hunting activities but also for cutting fibrous materials, plant stems and wood.
This is a very important information. But what did this mean? Of what nature were
the fibrous materials that were cut with early stone tools? To gain an idea of the
considerable dimensions of this questions let us return shortly to the discussion of ecological
circumstances of hominisation.
If we have a look at our scheme (Fig. 2) we see that the arrow representing 'nest building behaviour of the great
apes' continues into the present. Evidently it owes this continuity to the uninterrupted
presence of a mixed arboreal and terrestrial environment. Relatively original conditions were preserved. Brain size remained constant, has not increased among the great
apes. If, however, in some regions climatic changes favoured the formation of open
savannas, it can be assumed that the ground nest became dominant in and around open
landscapes. As we have mentioned above, it can also be inferred that the unique social
grouping of terrestrial night camps provided protection against predators. The ground
nest offered a selective advantage. But, and this is very important, in view of
its implications as a prototype of material culture, the ground nest had a great handicap.
With some observed exceptions of heaped grass nests ('siesta nests'), ground nests
of the pongids are exclusively constructed with rooted materials. Each nest had to
be constructed where feasible plants were growing. The topo-semantic system was limited
on the condition: identity of biotope and technotope.
From rooted to artificially stabilised architecture
In this environmental scenario of a widely diffused and complex terrestrial nest building
behaviour the appearance of the first tools must have provoked the 'first architectural
revolution'. Using stone tools for cutting fibrous materials allowed an important evolutionary step away from 'rooted construction'.
It provided independent choices of
a) nesting/resting/camping sites and
The tool allowed the divergence of bio- and techno-tope.
What we called 'judgement' above, a capacity for topological evaluation in the framework of nest building behaviour might have evolved considerably under
this new condition.
b) sites where construction materials were taken
In addition, the appearance of tools might have produced further dynamic processes
Mixed materials: different materials could be mixed into the same construction
An open system of 'fibro-constructive' potentials
and the demand for memorising capacity
New techniques: binding, bundling, weaving etc. were probably very quickly developed.
Staking: rooted stability had to be replaced by artificial stability.
Structural differentiations: particularly staking and other types of stabilisation
led to structural differentiations with heaping, binding, covering techniques.
Functional differentiations: rooted, layered or staked constructions were functionally
differentiated. They were used as signs for food control, food conservation, traps,
cages, storage etc.. Early hunting outfits like spears and arrows very likely were
derived from staking.
Development of stone tools: increasing differentiation and refinement of building
processes must have greatly stimulated the development of stone tools. Refinement
of tools allowed increase in constructive precision.
The use of sharp stone blades combined with handles to form axes provided construction
materials offering increasing stability and durability.
We have theoretically outlined an open system of 'fibro-constructive' potentials which
allows a wide range of developments also in regard to its social, spatial, psychological
and particularly also topo-semantic aspects (communication). If we assume that this high complexity increasingly gained importance with the 'first architectural
revolution' we can imagine the demand for increased memorising capacity. Places were
marked for settlement, for migration, maybe increasingly also for food control. It
required a new capacity: to memorise these places, the markers, their structure and form
and their surroundings, what they signalled etc. . Very likely those who in this
increasingly complex situation were disposed to larger memorising capacities had
great selective advantages. Evidently these parameters allow us to theoretically reconstruct
a wide range of early outfit with material culture. But, how does such a fibrous
culture really look like? What are its forms, its functions? Prehistory naturally
has only very fragmentary sources but, in the framework of the anthropological definition
of material culture the hypothesis can be tested in the domain of ethnology.
and the ethnological concept of material culture
Fibrous and fibro-constructive industries are a common and very important factor in
the material culture of traditional societies (Hirschberg et. al. 1966/89). Functionally they cover wide ranges of traditional societies' needs, including
dwelling (Oliver 1998), food control and clothing. But, due to its materially perishable
nature, fibro-constructive industries were only scarcely attributed 'historical' value in spite of other evidently 'primitive' characteristics: binding, weaving
as techniques using only 'the hand as the first tool' and the autonomy the local
material guarantees. These three points sufficiently legitimate the interest in the
'historic' value of fibro-constructive industries and we can ask questions like the following.
Can the ethnographical domain be used to gain insights into the prehistorical conditions
of fibrous material culture? Can we gain indicators of corresponding parameters as listed above and, eventually, can we reconstruct principles of their development?
The ethnological model of the paleosiberian Ainu
There is probably no better example to answer these questions than the 'material culture'
of the Ainu as reported in details and with very precise technical drawings by Kayano (1978).
The important book lists about 250 tools and instruments an archaeologist would
never find in any site of Ainu archaeology. Most of the objects are exclusively made
with fibrous materials and wooden sticks. The Ainu were collectors and hunters with a strong
paleosiberian component. A great part of their material culture can give us 'fibro-constructive'
ideas about prehistorical conditions. Very simply constructed traps and nets for small animals, cages to keep them, fish traps and nets, baskets and bags for
transportation, very crudely made boats, various instruments, weapons, tools for
various purposes, even games for children, status symbols or objects for the decoration
or protection of the human body can be found. Small temporary huts are used while hunting.
Such an outfit with material culture was doubtless possible in the Mesolithic period
(see next paragraph), but very likely already during the Upper and Middle Paleolithic. Consequently, material culture must have been much richer than the archaeologists
make us believe. The ergological and technological characteristics of this broad
range of Ainu-objects show very clearly, that these things have not been 'invented'
recently. Most of them are conceived not functionally, but with polar principles.
The topo-semantic system of the Ainu
But, there is something even more surprising in our ethno-prehistorical analogy.
The Ainu have an extremely interesting topo-semantic sign system (Fig. 6). Ethnographers were not aware of its existence, because they interpreted the concerned
behaviour in terms of 'primitive' religion! (Batchelor 1971). It came to light when
its territorial implications were discovered. Kremp (1928) was the first to present
a systematical study, showing that the Ainu sign system was dominantly related to
settlement, to the house and its hearth, but that it also extends into the control
of food and other resources. The elaborately decorated staked altar behind the Ainu-house
clearly classifies outer domains and their 'income' according to hunting, fishing,
plant collecting, and small scale gardening (Egenter 1991a, 1998*, 1994c). Note that
all huts and houses were arranged parallel to the river which functioned as orientation
system in this local 'cosmos'. Watanabe (1973) confirmed this system from the ecological
viewpoint. Ohnuki-Tierney's studies (1969, 1972, 1973) contributed much to the understanding
of such systems of spatial organisation, but, unfortunately, she interprets the Ainu microcosm macro-cosmologically.
An agrarian society: the Japanese case
Surprisingly - in view of the parameters outlined above - very similar conditions
can be found on the level of an agrarian society, namely Japan. Due to its particular
culturo-geographical location as an island archipelago relatively isolated from continental dynamics, its villages have preserved very ancient rural traditions.
In his two volumed book on the Japanese cultural history of 'Straw' (Wara;
1985) Kiyoshi Miyazaki has gathered materials from agrarian villages all over Japan.
This 'straw culture' was still vital into the early times after the second world
war, resp.. until Japan was massively industrialised in the modern sense. It covered
a large part of material culture, from clothing, means of transportation, sacred objects
etc., and had very clearly the traits of a material culture based on traditional
local autonomy. (Fig. 7). This fibrous culture has doubtless its roots not only in Kofun and Yayoi periods,
it was imported with the early settlers as a vital tradition. The autonomy it provided
helped them to implant themselves into the new domains.
A very striking aspect of this fibrous culture of agrarian Japan is the following:
In the framework of its popular village-Shinto, but also in its urban historic Shinto-system
Japan has preserved a fibro-constructive topo-semantic system with a very surprising density. (Egenter 1980, 1982, 1994a, b, 1998*) Fig. 8. In spite of its technologically elementary characteristics, this topo-semantic system
appears paired with high ontological values (sacred). topo-semantic signs are considered
as deities and appear integrated into historical Shinto religion. In the framework of architectural anthropology these cults reveal themselves as cyclically renewed
archives of local history. The signs document essential points of the settlement.
Their cyclic renewal supports the political and social structure of the local settlement. The whole local 'constitution' is registered in terms of cultic behaviour.
Towards an universal concept of 'semantic architecture'
In cases like Japan we become aware that such artificial topo-semantic demarcations
must have been a general and essential part of the prehistorical settlement. We
find them as maypoles and the like widely in European folklore studies (Kapfhammer
1977), we find them as fetishes, idols in ethnology related to many cultures of the world
(Egenter 1990b). And we find such topo-semantic signs also historically in the framework
of 'lower mythology' (Frazer 1890, Mannhardt 1963) and archaeologically, e.g. as
life trees depicted in many ways in Bronze age (Egenter 1994a, b, 1998*), and, very likely
many tectiformes or 'female figurines' had similar functions (Egenter 1994a, 1998*).
Thus, semantic architecture can be taken as a predomestic type of universally widespread architecture. It was the experimental field of architectural form and meaning.
If thus we consider the topo-semantic factor primary in the architectural evolution
outlined, we gain new indicators for the development of domestic architecture. The
'shelter-theory' reveals as a functional retroprojection. Huts and houses must be
considered as a composed development. Demarcations with predomestic semantic architecture
(access place scheme) provided the elementary plan (place- and gate markers) to which other elements derived
from semantic architecture were added. 'House-altar' or 'house-god' as place marker
and sacred doorposts as gate-markers are the primary disposition. From this disposition the ground plan often acts as an extremely conservative factor of traditional
house types (Ränk 1949/1951), evidently because the highly valued primary points
are related to cyclic cults originally focussed on their renewal. The fire as open
hearth is considered as an independent building which is transferred into the hut or house,
where it keeps its ontological autonomy. The roof too can be considered as an independent
development from hut like topo-semantic signs. We will have to explain how - under different cultural implications - it 'migrated' on the top of walled huts and houses
either through storage and granaries or through dugout traditions. This hypothetical
outline of the evolution of domestic architecture is essentially based on two in
depth ethnographical reconstructions. 'In depth' means that not only the house, but
dwelling in the framework of the whole culture and particularly also including related
cults was extensively studied.
Main result: both house types are not functional developments. They are 'accumulations'
or composite evolutions on the basis of a pre-domestic topo-semantic stratum. This
lower stratum organised living space with cyclically renewed semantic architecture
(Egenter 1991a, 1998*, 1994b, c). Methodologically important: the house has to be studied
including the cults and rites related. <6>
- House and World view of the Ainu, a study on the level of a collectors' and hunters'
society (Egenter 1991a, 1994c, 1998*).
- The traditional agrarian house in Japan in the framework of rites and cults related
to house and settlement (Egenter 1991b, 1998*).
With these parameters we can reconstruct the evolution of domestic architecture as
a process from the semantic level (access-place-scheme). Beginnings of these processes
may be seen in the Lower Paleolithic, early developments in the Middle and Upper
Paleolithic and Mesolithic. Maybe its primary phases (Homo habilis - Homo sapiens sapiens)
provided conditions of demarcated territorial control in which increasing memorising
capacity was a great advantage.
If - with solid arguments, e.g. widespread fire symbolism - we derive 'controlled
fire' from topo-semantic architecture, it is worth to outline the corresponding field
of problems. Traces of fire are recorded very early (Lepoittevin: Olduvai, Ethiopia
~1.9 million years ago; Embers: 1.4 million years ago). But the sources give no indication of systematic use of controlled
fire. Lumley's Terra Amata site near Nice, France, (~380'000ya) shows central hearths
in some huts. This implies that the fire was well under control. But this control within the hut presupposes preliminary evolutionary steps. If thus we consider
the controlled fire as derived of topo-semantic architecture we gain some indicators
for its evolution. The origins of fire might no more be searched as a threatening and destructive element
of the wild gradually transferred into culture, it might have been perceived right
in the centre of early culture: as self ignition of topo-semantic demarcation, due
to fermented fibrous materials.
As a topo-semantic element controlled fire was doubtless an important selective
advantage against animal predators and hominid territorial competitors. In addition
it was an important part of the orientation system.
Doubtless, fire was also an important requisite for hominid diffusion into colder
climates. It was of existential significance in certain conditions.
There are also cognitive aspects. Its mobile flames emanating light and warmth on
top of a construction, must have provided strong impacts towards symbolic per-/conception.
Further, the flames consuming the artificial structure from which they protrude
upwards, must have been considered as a striking phenomenon. And finally, with an increasing constructive cultural paradigm, fire was certainly
also used more and more as a weapon.
These are only some hints on how the development of fire could be reconstructed in
the framework of an anthropological definition of material culture. The functionally
complex aspects of the fire as well as its rich symbolisms and mythical contexts
taken as survivals, indicate that the fire was probably from its beginnings a very strong
factor in view of increased capacity for memorisation.
'Coincidence of opposites' - a primary cognitive system
In view of 'semantic architecture' ethnographic conditions show a cognitive element
related to topo-semantic demarcation systems which can be derived autonomously already
from the rooted type: polarity ('coincidence of opposites', Egenter 1994b :22 - 23, :46 - 66). In addition, the categorically polar structure of the topo-semantic markers develops
a formal dialogue with other elements of the local environment and adapts to the
natural form of a tree (Egenter 1981, 1994a), fish, sun-wheels, etc. We find male-female relations, double headed snakes, fire spitting dragons and finally technomorphous
forms, e. g. boats. In the ethnological field it is very clear that the allusions
to natural form are based on the polarity of the topo-semantic system. The allusions
are not naturalistic but based on polar relations, the forms remain dominantly structural,
technically defined and geometric. In prehistory, particularly in regard to rock
art, this model can be used to explain how man discovered natural form. The corresponding landscape may be structured according to this model (Egenter 1991a,
1994a, b, c, 1998*). Time is structured in polar relations (Egenter 1991a, 1994b, c) and social structure
too is articulated in polar relations ('settlement core complex', Egenter 1991a,
These short and very schematic points may outline the potential for a tremendous wealth
of cognitive processes which were indicated in the Semiotica paper (Egenter 1994a).
The narrow nature-culture-dichotomy of the 19th century (and before) still widely
covers up this evolutionary problem of cognition. Primary, or 'primitive' cultural
expressions are searched in the natural domain (phallus cults, etc.). Natural forms
are 'naturally' presupposed as part of natural history. Present anthropology considers
cultural evolution in the framework of processes of millions of years. Evidently the
former 'nature-culture' shortcuts are illegitimate today. Simplistic dichotomies
dissolve into extended processes.
The aesthetico-philosophical revolution
of the Middle and Upper Paleolithic
We tried to demonstrate ethno-pre-historically that fibro-constructive semantic architecture,
under certain conditions, might have developed an elementary aesthetic principle
(polar categorical harmony). This provided a model to cognitively integrate natural forms into cultural conscience. We can assume that the cognitive system of polarity
had been a very early outcome of topo-semantic demarcation. It can be related at
least to the Middle Paleolithic. It thus would have been active between Homo sapiens
and Homo sapiens sapiens, the later phase of brain extension. Very likely 'polarity'
triggered an aesthetico-philosophical revolution which is still active in some traditional
societies of today. Thus, in this context too we have found traits that might have
been important in regard to increased brain size.
P. Liebermann (1991) and J. Laitman (1984) maintained that only modern man could have used language. Before
Homo sapiens sapiens, that is before about 100'000 years ago, the corresponding
mouth and throat anatomy was lacking. Neanderthals did not have vocal anatomy (Laitman
1984). But reconstructions are controversial (Carlisle et al. 1978). If, for the moment,
we accept the position of Laitman, that the anatomy of language was late in the formative
phase of increased brain size, we can definitely exclude language as the 'prime mover' in regard to the development of the hominid brain. On the other hand we
gain a fairly important new hypothesis, namely that language developed on top of
a earlier system of communication which used topo-semantic signs. This had provided
the basic communication system for hominid night-camps, daily mobility and food control. With
the development of tools this topo-semantic system increased in importance through
technical, formal symbolic and functional differentiations. It meant increasing control
over territory and its contents. If we relate these processes also to the development
of artifacts derived of the topo-semantic system, we can assume a fairly rich - fibrous
- material culture which acted to a great extent also as a communication system related to spatial organisation. If further we take the development of polarity into
account, we could see also a fairly rich perception of natural forms, plants, animals,
tectonic characteristics, spatial conditions. In their primary stage they remained
topo-semantically coded. Note that with this fairly rich theoretical outfit in mind
we might ask another hypothetical question: can we find topo-semantic and particularly
structuro-symbolic survivals in modern languages? But this hypothesis will be dealt
with in another study.