Houses of Northern Mesopotamia during the transition to the Neolithic: utilitarian and sacral contexts
Keywords:Epi-Paleolithic & Early Neolithic, Southwestern Asia, dwellings, settled life, ‘Revolution of the Symbols’, ‘domestication’ of time and space
This paper is devoted to the issues of constructing, using and perceiving human dwellings among the communities of Southwestern Asia in the transition to the Neolithic. The case study is based on the data from Northern Mesopotamia. The analysis of the available evidence indicates that in the instance of the earliest permanent dwellings at the first long-term settlements, it is difficult to trace the division of their internal space into utilitarian and sacred areas. During this period the perception of the dwelling seems to have been syncretic. At this early stage, a model perceiving of the dwelling as an area that combined features of the utilitarian and the sacred, a seamless and organic phenomenon that had a start, development and renewal periods, and an end, was formed in social consciousness. In practical spheres, as well as semantically, the dwelling was associated with its inhabitants, the settlement, the regional ritual center and the Cosmos as a whole. A special sacred attitude towards ancient dwellings is manifested through material evidence of the symbolic treatment by their inhabitants; appropriate decoration of the outstanding ritual inter-tribal complex of Göbekli Tepe, whose ‘dwellings of deities’ were created on a similar model to the first man-made long-term human dwellings; and use of this model in constructing of a special type of public cult structures at settlements in the transition from PPNA to PPNB, as well as in the Early and Middle PPNB. Such a powerful perception and preservation of the image of an archaic dwelling as a sacred model in the cultural memory of the population was apparently associated with global significance of transition to the settled way of life for Northern Mesopotamian communities at the end of the Pleistocene and the beginning of the Holocene.