In this group we aim to explore the beginnings of human societies and how the change from hunters/gatherers to settled agricultural communities took place and then affected the development of art and culture. Who were the key actors? What were the roles of women and men? Some historians claim that the change to agriculture was worse for women, but is that true? Often in written history the story of women tends to get missed out as an aspect of life that was ‘normal’ and not worth reporting, while battles led by men are key features. Much more is known these days about ancient cultures because the tools we can use to decipher old scripts or ancient bones are improved. So there is much new knowledge leading to new theories about the developments of societies. All participants are invited to contribute with their own explorations, leading to us all learning from each other.
Group Convener : Greta Sykes
The Group meets in Crouch End, N8 on a Wednesday of every month, 2.30 – 4 p.m. The number of places available per meeting is 15
This form may also be used to contact the Convener on any other matter relating to the Group’s activities.
16 October 2019 : Pat will talk about rock/cave art
20 November 2019 : Greta will talk about nature and the first class struggle
18 December 2019 : Ian will talk about an aspect of anthropology
Despite a lower than usual attendance (due to a change of date) Nevertheless, we spent a lively and enjoyable hour and a half on the subject Ancient Egypt, Greece and Mesopotamia. This is one of the topics Greta has done quite a lot of work about. She gave a talk two years ago on it, and still finds the changes that took place among those early civilisations fascinating, especially, when one looks a bit more deeply at the place of women and the role of gods and goddesses. Both ancient Egypt and ancient Greece believed in many gods and goddesses. The arrival of monotheism had a gradual effect on all the early cultures in the area. Byzantium became Christian. Greta referenced Professor Judith Herrin who has done much to enlighten people in her book Byzantium :The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire (2007), about it
Our July meeting focused on the change from hunter gatherers to agriculture. This is, of course, an extremely fascinating ‘moment’ in human history, and one can talk and write about it for a long time, with few definite conclusions. Was the step from the freedom of the gatherers and hunters a result of climate changes, or was it due to human explorations or both? Was it a lucky development or was it a harder life than before? We can only guess at it. It certainly led to many more dramatic changes.
Mark gave us a complete overview of the latest theories. Known facts are that the change to agriculture first took a foothold in the Fertile Crescent (Mesopotamia) and along the Yangtse river. An interesting aspect of the change was that women did not need to feed their babies for several years any more, because the new variety of foods, such as cereal, could be digested by much younger children than before. The changes took place over many thousands of years and arrived in Britain at about 5000 BC. Again, many questions were raised and we had a good discussion.
We started our meeting with a splash. Margot talked to us about the latest findings regarding the human species and other similar creatures. It used to be easy to distinguish between us, homo sapiens, and the Neanderthals. We were at the top and could look down at a species that was far below ours in terms of intelligence. These times are gone, Margot showed. From the news that we mingled and mixed with the Neanderthals things have moved on to show that nothing is quite as straight forward as it appeared.There are many hominid species that all developed over the thousands of years close to us. There were hobbits for over a hundred thousand years, famous Lucy, probably, was one of those. Even the idea that we all came out of Africa is not simple. There may have been human species that developed in the Far East, and there were waves of those who left Africa.This was a very enlightening session with plenty of discussion and ideas for other research in the future.