Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Descent from Eden

There is a fascinating article in the New Yorker (behind pay wall) about Gobleki Tepe, the oldest religious/ monumental structure yet discovered. It is in southeastern Turkey, and appears to predate the transition to agriculture itself. 

Some German scholars even argue that it is the actual Garden of Eden, as it is filled with natural imagery - including snakes - and it lies between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, as mentioned in Genesis.

The article dwells at length on Jared Diamond's argument that the transition from hunter-gathering to agriculture is the "worst mistake humanity ever made." People worked far longer hours, were more poorly nourished, prone to disease,  smaller and shorter-lived. Passing on land and property led to all sorts of consequences in later society from enforced monogamy to warfare. Or at least so the argument goes. 

But there were more farmers, and they eventually wiped out the hunter-gatherers.

The point is transitions from one sort of economy to another are very difficult. Agriculture, of course, is the foundation of all later civilizations. But at the time it may have led to millennia of lower standards of living. 

The first great economic transition may have been the descent from Eden.

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