Sunday, April 25, 2021

Cities of the Dead

Just a fun update in trying to picture the development of ancient civilisations.  In Mexico and South America; in Egypt, Turkey, and Kyrgyzstan; in several places in China, cities of the dead were built long before cities for the living.  These were places of ceremony, annual temporary gathering, and deposition of a culture's greatest art. It seems that few or none lived at Stonehenge or Newgrange, yet they were architectural and religious centerpieces.

We think of clans settling villages, villages growing into market centers, market centers becoming metropolises.  Not so much. While that was somewhat the case in the well-studied Middle-East, it seems not to be the model for other places. Mobile bands moved across the landscape in mixed foraging, proto-farming, and herding economies which could flexibly* leave one stop off the yearly rotation and add another as conditions changed. Yet most had some form of ancestor worship and created places to return to every year.

*"Flexibly," in this case meaning "only 2-10 generations starved to near extinction," which looks like a short period of time, hardly worth mentioning, to us.


james said...

It certainly seems to be true that durable cities for worship and the dead came first. The dead and the gods don't need waste disposal, so there's no need to up stakes.

Grim said...

Yes, in a sense cities are far more fitting residences for the dead than for the living. "Once great men lived here, giants, gods! Once, but long ago."

stevo said...

I find it surprising how much people think they can know about the past based on some ruins.