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
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.

In addition, the appearance of tools might have produced further dynamic processes of building.
An open system of 'fibro-constructive' potentials and the demand for memorising capacity

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.

Semantic architecture

Fibro-constructive industries 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.

Domestic architecture

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>

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.

Controlled fire

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, 1994a, 1994b).

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.

Part 3