Readers know I think religion is post-agricultural, which raises some difficulties if we find evidence of organised religious behaviours before the onset of agriculture. The case in point here being Göbeli Tepe. Now a recent model of the process of cereal domestication has set back the beginnings of agriculture some ten thousand years earlier than the c10kya version, the “rapid onset” model, in favour of a “protracted transition” model.
Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog has a very nice roundup of the issues, and there is a summary at Science Daily. The crucial question resolved by this model is that of phylogenies of genes in domesticated crops. The assumption had been that if crops were monophyletic, that implied a single evolutionary event. Instead Allaby, Fuller and Brown showed that expectation was unnecessary. Via simulations, they showed that monophyly will be achieved even if there were several domestication sources and events, rather than the “Neolithic Package” of standard theory; and also that the process could take several orders of magnitude longer than expected.
This raises a very interesting question about what the role of simulations is in historical sciences. I used the term “expected” above – on what basis did the standard model derive its expectations? From simulations – that is, from calculations based on models. The more elaborate, and it is hoped realistic, models used by Allaby and colleagues, give different expectations. The authors do anchor their expectations with data, particularly of evidence that predomestic gathering of crop grains led to differential planting even before the Older Dryas. But the expectations here remain theoretical – they are as good as the assumptions built into their model. And the advance is that the model is indeed more realistic.
My view of religion is that it requires cross-ethnic and cross-kinship populations of a density that only agriculture can provide, in order to set up the conditions for social class and specialisation of social role that religion is both a solution to and itself requires. I am very pleased that this work supports my prior theoretical presumption, and take it as a kind of confirmation that I am on the right track. But of course, this is defeasible by further investigation.
Thanks to Dr Allaby for a copy of the paper.
R. G. Allaby, D. Q. Fuller, T. A. Brown (2008). From the Cover: The genetic expectations of a protracted model for the origins of domesticated crops Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 105 (37), 13982-13986 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0803780105