- Continued, part 8 -


Using various terms such as 'the horror of basket–making', 'structural ergology', 'structural history', 'soft prehistory', 'perishable sacred signs of a traditional territorial law', 'emic value-centricity', we tried to outline a system which preserves continuities from prehistorical through historical periods. We pointed out certain structural traits and developments of this system and showed how it could provide new explanations in various cultural domains.

This system ultimately suggests a theory of culture based on settlement genetics (see Fig. 12). This is based on a clearly described traditional complex in which elementary constructive means structure the human environment spatially, temporally, and socially. Nothing is to be said against proposing this system for periods as early as the Palaeolithic times, but it became very important with the formation of permanent agrarian settlements during Neolithic times and throughout the Metal Ages.

In a primary level of the Neolithic, relatively isolated and economically autonomous settlements fibroconstructive signs in the sense of the five values outlined above had been of central importance in the framework of cyclic rites and cults.

The 'five values' described above implied general acceptance and relative pacification in a territorial sense. They also regulated social hierarchy within the settlements and among them and allowed peaceful growth. The outcome of territorial disputes was often formally memorized with the media of the signs (superimposition of the winning sign) which in spatial and cultic terms meant elementary centralization: subdued settlements offered tributes (sacrifices) to the now higher levelled cult site – the origin of taxation. This process produces smaller districts, politically related territories, what Hermann Kees (1956) terms "Gau" in the predynastic development of ancient Egypt (Orts-, Gau-, Reichsgötterkulte).

This system of conquest continues and leads to the formation of early cities and empires. The territorial implications of the central sign has increased considerably, integrating and dominating many settlements and districts. The importance of the sign is growing also in a vertical dimension. Its semantical value implies a vertical centrality related to the whole territory. <46> The metaphysical value with its immanent categories indicates an upper sphere categorially opposed to the lower human earth, a kind of 'state heaven'. With increasing territorial extension there is a growing tendency of separation of the upper 'spiritual' world from the lower bodily-material world: a process of idealization is produced.

Typical for higher social forms of this type is a close relation between a topologically fixed deity or god, ruler and cult, which is expressed in monumental dimensions of temples with state cults, rites, and festivals on this highest level. The king, cultically, genealogically, or mythically legitimized as founder of the city or state has absolute political power over the whole territory which is most explicitly expressed in his role as highest priest of the city or state sanctuary (owner of the deity) including his legal power as the highest institution in the related territory.

This close connection between god, human ruler, priest, cult and law, claims to the whole state territory and its men evidently corresponds to the same structure in the villages. It is a spatially extensive interpretation of the same core complex on a higher level. Here too, there are many hypothetical continuities, in Asia as well as in the Euro–Mediterranean region.

Let us have another brief look at the schema of Fig. 12, which shows the development of early states in three phases, representing the settlement genetic approach. The system is based on the structural schema of Fig. 4. The lowest line schematically lists nine of such autonomous prehistoric village cultures. The star beneath it represents their foundation, the black rings indicate any number of cyclic renewal rites of the central territorial marker which at the same time implicitly represents the ritual, social, and spatial order of the settlement.

For certain reasons (military, economic, etc.) the central settlement becomes dominant, subdues its neighbours and imposes its own cult as central to others. The inhabitants, or their cultic representatives of all three, are supposed to take part in the central cult, to offer sacrifices, tributes, or taxes. The territorial implications of the central sign is extended to all three corresponding settlements. As a result, there are three larger districts controlled by the central settlements and their cults on the second level.

In a third stage, the centre of district two becomes dominant over 1 and 3, extends the territorial implication of its marker (it becomes bigger, more and more important) centralizes its own cult with regard to the other eight settlements who bring tributes to its god and temple. With the rising significance of the god, the social, ritual, and spatial structures increase in importance, size, material equipment, and spatial extension: the upper polar part tends to become a sphere or dome which covers the new territory, state heaven in the vertically axial sense. What was once the village founding line, now, in the new empire, becomes the state founder, the emperor, the king. Accordingly, the state god and its related cults - formerly its renewal - become the legitimation of the king and his legal power, primarily of the territory, secondarily of its inhabitants and their activities, cultic and everyday. In this context, the king is the highest priest, "owns" the state god, dominates its cult. The state god 'occupies' and 'owns' - for him - the state territory. In short, all these seemingly irrational phenomena observable in the history of the earliest cities and empires, reveal the context in which they are functionally and evolutionary related. <49>


The latest version of the type of a 'thousand–year empire' with its terrible power over life and death is still alive in our memory. In an age of increasing fundamentalism and nationalism based merely on medieval historical methods, it might be necessary to become more conscious of the origins of these dreams of imperial power, by examining them within the framework of structural history and settlement research. Their splendour, so seductive in the eyes of numerous dilettantes of all sorts, should be dismantled and analyzed against the factual background of reality. 'Fifty years later': and are not the daily journals of the new world empire of blind profit full of advertisements ardently desiring 'aggressive leaders'? Leaders of this kind? No thanks! The historical trickster quickly changed his disguise. Since, evidently today those well known 'sneaking' processes - now on a worldwide level - have become potentially irreversible, it might be difficult to simply speak of 'reconstruction' in the future.

In brief, it should have become clear that the method which studies the continuity and origins of settlements introduces some important new paradigms into the scientific discussion of the humanities. <50> We have discovered a focus of dramatic actuality: the transitional field between the stratum of prehistoric agrarian village settlements and the higher level of the formation of the first cities and states. It owes its actuality to the fact that structures are there found in a state of development, structures of the state, of social hierarchies, of religion, territorial politics, art, which deeply affect us in our modern lives. We have also clearly demonstrated that the conventional highly facetted disciplines of the humanities could not depict this state of affairs, the core complex of early settlement, because their facetting ran contrary to this complexity. If, in the near future, it becomes possible to establish what has only been roughly outlined here, this would imply some considerable change of paradigms in our modern society. We have mentioned it earlier: under the title 'The Eternally Burning Thornbush', the next book of this series will take this discussion into the sphere of Egypto-Hebraic history.

Initially, we followed Patricia Highsmith’s short story 'The Horror of Basket–making', and obviously transcended the feelings of horror by developing a positive method that looks for soft industries on durable materials in archaeology. We tried to show that these soft objects might have been of highest value in the prehistorical past. The horror has not entirely disappeared though. Some might be frightened, just like the heroine of the story, when they discover that their high values are not very far away from the basket. But, once this fear is overcome, the world might become more human and, particularly, more responsible.

Back to main text part 1
To notes 1, 2
To figures 1, 2
To Bibliography
Back to homepage