- continued -

The first architectural revolution

In this scenario the appearance of the first tools must have provoked the first 'architectural revolution'. Lawrence H. Keeley (1980) showed that tools were not used exclusively in the framework of hunting activities but also in cutting fibrous materials, plant stems and wood.

Using stone tools for cutting fibrous materials allowed an important evolutionary step away from 'rooted construction' (identity of biotope and structurotope in the case of the great apes)

Further, anyone familiar with structural conditions in the anthropological framework may be aware that the appearance of tools might have produced dynamic processes of building.

Nuclear terrestric nests and peripheral signs:
the evolution of a toposemantic system

In this basically technological framework of 'constructivity' and with the focus on the terrestric nest, it is evident that using stones as cutters for fibrous plant materials could have produced an enormous amount of new solutions related to building.

But, the potential is much wider than the merely technical. From the bonobo example with its differentiated techniques (tear, break, stake, flatten on the ground) and the topological codes it provides (going straight ahead, turning left, etc) we can gain some understanding for the potential of a topo semantic system 'triggered' by the tool. This is supported also indirectly by the terrestric nest. The plan of a night camp made by Kawai/Mizuhara (1959) shows clearly that the nests have strong toposemantic qualities within the group at least temporarily. The nests indicate the order of the whole camp. The dominant male protects the access. The female with baby is in the centre in a tree and the other juveniles form a pentagon around, evidently to protect the whole arrangement. This semantic dimension of the nest group must have greatly increased with the shift into the border zones of savannas and into open grasslands.

If we assume that this semantic element increasingly gained importance with the 'first architectural revolution' we can imagine the demand for increased memorizing capacity. Places were marked for settlement, for migration, may be increasingly also for food control. It required a new capacity to memorize these places, the markers and their surroundings, what they signalled etc. It seems that there are, unfortunately, no studies exceptthe very general ones of Emlen/Schaller (1960), Izawa/Itani (1964), Nishida (1968), Mackinnon (1974). New studies should urgently be done, dealing more in details with the structure ofthe pongid environment and about indicators of the groups orientation in their territories and home ranges.

Differentiations of the toposemantic system:
the anthropological concept of tools and instruments

Until now, we have discussed technological, formal and toposemantic aspects of the 'first architectural revolution' produced by the use of stone tools as cutters of fibroconstructive materials. But, what we have described implies also other, namely functional differentiations.

Surprisingly the ethnographic literature about material culture of societies on the collectors and hunters level shows a very differentiated material culture, contrasting strongly with the concepts propagated by archaeology, particularly in regard to the fibroconstructive techniques used. Very simply constructed traps and nets for small animals, cages to keep them, fishtraps and nets, baskets and bags for transportation, very crudely made boats, various instruments, weapons, tools for various purposes, even games for children, or objects for the decoration or protection of the human body can be found. Small temporary huts are used while hunting.

The model of the paleosiberian Ainu

A good model here is the 'material culture' of the Ainu (see Fig. 5a-d below) as reported in details and with very precise technical drawings by Kayano (1978). Later accumulations (Japan, Amur) are included.

Fig. 5: Material culture of the Ainu (Northern Japan)

The important book lists about 250 tools and instruments an archaeologist would never find. Most of them 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 'fibroconstructive' ideas about prehistorical conditions. 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. Material culture must have been much richer than the archaeologists make us believe. The ergological characteristics of this broad spectrum 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. They might have been developed during the Middle and Upper paleolithic.

In addition the Ainu have an extremely interesting toposemantic sign system.

Fig. 6: Toposemantic sign system of the Ainu.

The plates show a selection of various types of signs (inau) according to Kremp (1928). The signs are used in highly systematic ways within the local environment and are considered of highest values in the framework of the local ontology or worldview.

Ethnographers were not aware of its semantic functions, because they interpreted the concerned behaviour in terms of 'primitive' religion! (Batchelor 1971). The semantic function came to light when the territorial implications of the signs were discovered. Kremp (1928) was the first who presented 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 resources. The elaborate 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.

Evidently, we can take this systematic view of a population of collectors and hunters as a model.

We have to emphasise here that this comparison of an ethnological situation with prehistorical conditions is not simply a conventional retroprojection of an ethnological model. It is based on a fundamental re-evaluation of the ethnological conditions. The culture of the Ainu is not anymore classified into conventional disciplines, but is phenomenologically described in the framework of behavioural studies, including material culture. This presents us the phenomena of a culture in very different contexts. What was described conventionally as belief and religion now appears as territorial control. It is this new view into an existentially very important semantic and symbolic system (Kremp 1928), which supports our reconstruction. The Ainu hunter toposemantically 'occupies' his prey in the woods, if he can not take it with him immediately. Similarly fishing grounds are toposemantically organised before fishing begins. Small gardens in the mountains are toposemantically characterised, the Ainu know who uses the place. And the house and its environment is a very complex system of toposemantic behaviour. Signs are set up long before a house is built, and signs are ritually devalued, if a house is left or destroyed (Egenter 1991a, 1998*, 1994c).

But this analogy to prehistory is not the only argument supporting it. The main reason is the fact that such fibrous toposemantic systems are found in many and very different cultures (-> semantic architecture). The author of this paper has worked about 10 years on the toposemantic sign system of the agrarian population of the Japanese archipelago. One of the main reasons why this tradition was preserved in Japan is due to the fact that it was exempt from Christian conversion which in many other cultures devalued such autochthonous cultic systems as part of 'primitive religion' and thus fiercely eradicated it.

Fig. 7 The toposemantic system of Japanese agrarian cultures (Egenter 1980, 1995)

The plates show a documentation of the author's village Shinto studies. Most of these fibroconstructive signs are related to the village protector deity (ujigami) and can be considered as traditional survivals of a general pre-Buddhistic aequivalent to historical and modern Shinto-shrines.

In cases like Japan we become aware that such demarcations must have been a general and essential part of the prehistorical settlement. Note that in the case of agrarian cultures of Japan the fibroconstructive stratum of material culture in general was traditionally preserved as the following illustrations may show.

Fig. 8: Fibroconstructive material culture of the agrarian cultures of Japan (According to Miyazaki, 'Wara no Bunka' (under construction)

Obviously, the Japanese case of fibroconstructive toposemantic markers sharpens our eyes for fragmented traditions in cultures that were conversed to Christianity. We find them as maypoles and the like widely in European folklore studies (Kapfhammer 1977), we find them as festishes, idols in ethnology related to many cultures of the world. And we find such toposemantic signs also historically and archaeologically, e.g. as life trees depicted in many ways in Bronze age. They also play an important role related to the origins of script (Egenter 1985 [German], 1998* [English]. And, finally, we can assume that many tectiformes or 'female figurines' as depicted in rock art, had similar functions.

Thus, in this wider, anthropological horizon of material culture, we can assume a probably very early development of toposemantic systems that differentiated and increased with the use and development of tools and became increasingly important in open grasslands. If we are aware that the constructive disposition might have been established already with Proconsul, we can assume that the constructive factor became dominant with the development of the tool. Manipulating grasses, twigs and branches, carrying the materials at the desired site, combining different materials, e.g.sticks and grasses, might have offered a considerable repertoire of signs.

Of course, there are no ways to factually document such toposemantic demarcations as primary sources. They follow the same 'laws' of decomposition like the nests of the apes which we can now consider as proto-cultural artefacts. They last only about 2-3 months. In analogy to this material proto-culture we can maintain that the fact that we do not find fibroconstructive industries with the archaeological method does in no ways prove that they had not been there in the respective periods.

If thus we would positively assume the existence of toposemantic demarcations, we would have a very efficient argument to explain the increase of brain size. Not only the increasingly differentiated technology would suggest increasing memorizing capacity. The sign is nothing, if it is not remembered, where it is, how it looks, what the environment looks like, what it refers to and maybe also who had made it. The sign acts as a visual focus point of potentially many information codes accumulated in it.

Domestic architecture

If thus we consider the toposemantic factor primary in the architectural evolution outlined, we gain new indicators for the development of domestic architecture. Very likely the concept of inside space for living beings had its prototypes in dominantly toposemantically conceived traps, cages, and the like, which kept wild animals in a specific place. And very likely the concept of hiding from the hunted animal may have developed in small branch huts still found among contemporary collectors and hunters populations (Kayano1978).

In contrast to this, larger huts and houses must be considered as a composed development. Demarcations with semantic architecture (access place scheme) provided the plan (place- and gatemarkers) to which other derivates of semantic architecture were added. 'House-altar' or 'house-god' as place marker, and doorposts as gate-markers are the primary disposition. The fire as open hearth is transferred as an independent building into the hut or house, keeps its ontological autonomy. The roof too is an independent development from hut-like toposemantic signs and migrates on top of huts and houses either through storage or through dugout-hut traditions.

This hypothetical outline of the evolution of domestic architecture is essentially based on architecturo-ethnographical reconstructions

Both housetypes are not functional developments. They represent composite evolutions on the basis of a pre-domestic toposemantic stratum. This lower stratum organised living space with cyclically renewed semantic architecture built with fibrous, thus perishable materials. (Egenter 1991a, 1998*, 1994b, c)

In this context it is interesting to take look at Amos Rapoports 'Built Form and Culture' (1969). Based on a worldwide study of traditional house form Rapoport came to the conclusion that the traditional dwelling had its origins in three complementary factors: environmental, structural and socio-cultural. Evidently this is extremely schematic. It does not help us to really understand house form. The main problem with RapoportŐs approach is:

Rapoport is not aware of the architectural characteristics of ritual demarcations. The best example in this context is his article on the Australian aborigines (Rapoport 1973). He mentions that these aborigines seemed to have no huts and hints to the fact that they had imported foreign types of primitive structures into their culture relatively recently. Surprisingly, Rapoport describes their toposemantic architecture very clearly as a cultic spatial arrangement, but was not aware of the fact that this arrangement of signs and symbols represents a primary type of pre-domestic semantic architecture.

Controlled fire

Another point to discuss here is also 'controlled fire'. Traces of fire are recorded very early (Lepoittevin: Olduvai, Ethiopia ~1.9 million years ago; Ember/Ember: 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 and the movement of the fireplace into the hut construction presupposes many evolutionary steps. We must assume, that this find is fairly evolved, looks back on a considerable time of development. If we consider the controlled fire as a derivate of building (to build a fire!) we gain some indicators for its evolution.

These are only some hints on how the development of fire could be reconstructed in the framework of an anthropological definition of material culture, showing that in this new field of sources, it can be interpreted in new contexts. The author's study on 100 villages in central Japan is basic for this wider understanding of the cultural potential of fire (Egenter 1994b). In the region surveyed fire is used as a means to destroy the cyclically rebuilt toposemantic system of the villages.

The cognitive system of 'coincidence of opposites' (polarity)

It was emphasised above, that the method outlined here reconstructs its cultural topics essentially not in the domain of prehistory, but in ethnology where the vital conditions are present and can be included into reconstruction. In view of 'semantic architecture' ethnographic conditions show a cognitive element related to toposemantic demarcation systems: polarity ('coincidence of opposites'). (Egenter 1994b). In addition, the categorically polar structure of the toposemantic markers is used to conceive other elements of the local environment in analogy to the structural model. This concerns

Conventionally, prehistory did not care much about the perceptive discovery of natural forms in the prehistorical environment. 19th century concepts still widely cover up this evolutionary problem of cognition. Nature and culture are seen in close neighbourhood. Primary, or 'primititve' cultural expressions are searched in the natural domain (phallus cults, etc.). In addition, natural forms, as part of natural history, are considered as evidently present and thus cognitively perceived. If, however, one is conscious of the time dimensions involved in hominisation, the integration of natural forms into the hominid perception becomes a basic problem which was greatly neglected Indoeuropean etymology for instance, contains endless indicators that the perception of objects was related tofibroconstructive processes. There are also strong indicators for the hypothesis that many objects, spatial domains and social roles were originally conceived in polar relations.


Language enters relatively late into this discussion. P. Liebermann (1978) and J. Laitman (1984) maintained that only modern man could have used language. Before Homo sapiens sapiens, thatis before about 100'000 years ago, the corresponding mouth and throat anatomy was lacking. Neandertals did not havevocal anatomy (Laitman 1984). But reconstructions are controversial (Carlisle/Siegel 1978).

If, for the moment, we accept the position of Laitmann, 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 the top of a primary system which used toposemantic signs. This had provided the basic communication system for hominoid night-camps, daily mobility and food control. With the development of tools this toposemantic system increased in importance through technical, formal and functional differentiations. It meant increasing control over territory and its contents. If we relate these processes also to the development of artificial derivates of the toposemantic system, we can assume a fairly rich - fibrous - material culture. 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 and spatial conditions. In their primary stage they remained toposemantically coded.

With this fairly rich theoretical outfit in mind it is easy to come to another hypothetical question: can we reconstruct this transition from a toposemantic and structuro-symbolic code system with structural conditions of modern languages and their etymologies? However, this hypothesis of the 'toposemantic structure of language' will be dealt with in another study.

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