During our recent trip to Ankara we visited the Museum of Anatolian Civilisations (*). The museum houses artefacts from the Palaeolithic through to the modern period, including the finds at Çatalhöyük, the most important Neolithic site, and Hattusa, the capital of the Hittite state.

Çatalhöyük is south of present day Konya in southern Turkey and at the northern edge of the Levant where agriculture in Europe originated. The site at  Çatalhöyük was occupied between 9,500 and 7,700 years ago. Unlike modern villages, the public space was the rooftop, from which the building was accessed by ladder or steps. There is evidence of the domestication of sheep and cattle as well as hunting. There is also evidence of the use of woven cloth to wrap the dead. The artworks produced include murals and figurines, such as the massive women giving birth. There is little sign of social stratification. The dwellings are of similar size and there is no obvious ceremonial centre.

Something I hadn’t appreciated before visiting the museum is that the sedentary lifestyle preceded farming rather than being a consequence of it. The sedentary lifestyle is thought to have originated in the Levant in what is called the Natufian period between 15,000 and 11,800 years ago. Although still a hunter gatherer economy, the sedentary lifestyle was made possible here by very favourable conditions. The hypothesis is that farming first developed in the Near East as a response to a period of colder weather between 12,200 and 10,800 years ago and then later spread across Europe, westwards and northwards, between 8,500 and 6,500 years ago.

Locally, the Neolithic period itself is divided into the period before the use of pottery and period after the introduction of pottery. The transition between hunting and gathering and farming isn’t a single change but seems to have been more a matter of emphasis: in the earlier period a greater dependence of hunting and gathering and in the later period a greater dependence of domesticated animals and cultivated cereals.

What is called Pre-pottery Neolithic A lasted from around 11,000 to 9000 years ago and is charecterised by small circular buildings, the burial of the dead beneath the floors, hunting and the cultivation of cereals. The worlds oldest city, Jericho, dates from this period. It was surrounded by a stone wall but the purpose of the wall is unclear as defence was not a significant issue at the time. Pre-pottery Neolithic B lasts from around 10,700 to around 8,200 years ago. At this time there was more dependence on domesticated animals and the buildings had a rectangular rather than circular plan. The interiors were plastered, a technique that may have been a precursor to the use of clay in pottery.

The manufacture of pottery began around 8,400 years ago. The first use of the potter’s wheel also dates back around 8,000 years. Pottery requires the use of an oven, a kiln or a pit, to achieve the required temperatures, rather than simple hearths. Generating heat also acts as a constraint on the development of metallurgy. The use of metals for tools, utensils and weapons goes back some 6,500 years ago. Gold, silver, copper, tin and soft iron from meteorites can be found in their natural form.  Tin, lead and copper can also be extracted by smelting, that is by heating metal bearing ores. The technology to create bronze, an alloy of copper with other metals, was invented around 5,500 years ago, although copper occurs naturally alloyed with arsenic and tin so the leap is maybe from finding to fabrication. Bronze is cast and use to manufacture durable and hard edged tools, utensils and weapons. The widespread use of iron comes later. Iron is more plentiful but harder to extract from ores and harder to work but mixed with carbon to create wrought iron and steel it is harder and lighter than bronze. The first sustained use of iron is thought to be by the Hittites around 3,200 years ago.

By about 5,000 years ago the first states had developed in Egypt and Mesopotamia. States are complex societies centrally administered by a bureaucracy. Writing systems and calendars were developed. Legal order was maintained through courts of law. In Egypt the state’s activities were enabled through taxation in kind and forced labour corvées. In Mesopotamia, rather than a single state, there were multiple city states, brought under the central control of the Akkadian state in the south around 4,400 years ago and later by the Assyrians. At the centre of each city was the temple. Writing systems were used for transactional purposes, for records and contracts. The oldest known literary work is the epic of Gilgamesh, the earliest versions of which date to around 3,800 years ago.

In Anatolia the area around Ankara was occupied by the Hatti tribes from around 5,000 years ago. The Hattians had trading links with both Akkad and Assyria. They are thought to have been assimilated by the Hittite state around 3,600 years ago. The Hittites are believed to be an Indo-European population. Indo-European is a reconstruction from language rather than being based on archaeological finds. The migration into Anatolia was part of the outward expansion of Indo-European speaking peoples into Europe and south Asia from their presumed homeland in the steppes around the Sea of Azov, north of the Black Sea. It is thought that they were the first to domesticate horses, around 6,000 years ago. Mycenaean Greece was established as part of the same migration, as later were Rome, Persia and the Vedic civilisation in India.

The Hittite state was established in Anatolia around 3,600 years ago and lasted until around 3,200 years ago when Hattusa was burned by invading armies, part of the historical event called the Bronze Age collapse.

Agricultural surpluses allow the development of states and also create the possibility of warfare. The battle of Kadesh on the Orontes River in Syria was fought around 3300 years ago, in 1274 BCE, between the Hittites under Muwatilli II and the Egyptians under Ramses II. This is thought to have been the largest deployment of chariots in any battle, 2,000 on the Egyptian side, more than 2,500 on the Hittite side. Chariots were developed around 4,000 years ago following the invention of spoke-wheels. At Kadesh, the two-man Egyptian chariots were able to out-manoeuvre the heavier three man Hittite chariots. Although Ramses claimed victory, Kadesh remained under Hittite control. In 1258 a peace treaty was concluded, the earliest known peace treaty in history.


When did human beings acquire the capacity for introspection? Anatomically modern human beings evolved around 200,000 years ago. Behaviourally modern human societies are considered to have developed around 40,000 years ago. Does either imply the development of a capacity for introspection?

One of the most interesting theories in this context is Julian Jaynes’ idea of the bicameral mind (*). The idea here is that self-awareness developed very recently, around 3,000 years ago. Consciousness is a learned process that is dependent on metaphorical language, rather than simply a biological event. While today we are aware of at least part of our own thinking and can reflect on it, the bicameral mind was not aware of its own deliberations. The outcome of the unconscious deliberation processes, that is, the decisions about what action to take, were heard in the form of commands communicated by the right side of the brain to the left side; auditory illusions that were attributed to the gods or to rulers or to the dead. The command hallucinations heard by people suffering from schizophrenia are vestiges of this earlier organisation of the mind.

In the theory the auditory commands that communicate the results of deliberation in the face of novelty are the outcome of deliberation in a particular context. The idea is that in sufficiently uncomplicated situations the bicameral mind could arrive without introspection at similar conclusions to those a conscious mind working within the same framework of knowledge and ideas would come to.

However, this kind of mental functioning was inadequate to deal with the increasing complexity of society, particularly in times of disruption, and this led to the evolution of unitary consciousness, to the awareness of awareness. Jaynes’ theory draws evidence from psychology and neuroscience and the analysis of early texts such as the Iliad. The evidence from literary sources cannot be definitive because it may just be an observation on literary conventions. Walking around the museum, where the exhibitions follow a chronological sequence, there is no obvious break between the capabilities of the Hittites and the capabilities of the later Phrygians and Lydians. Is it really possible that the complex state bureaucracies, written record keeping and technological innovation of Egypt and Mesopotamia could have happened without the capacity for introspection?

Part of the difficulty is trying to imagine what it would mean to lack this kind of awareness. Much of our thinking is intuitive and, as it were, automated, particularly when we are occupied by routine tasks. But this lack of attention is usually because practiced tasks such as driving can happen at the same time that we are talking or thinking about something else. The difference is that the routine task is happening in the background while typically something more introspective is happening in the foreground. But this doesn’t really describe what it means when there is no foreground, only background.

The nearest I can get is to imagine some sort of dream-like state. A shared coherent dreaming rather than our private incoherent dreams but similarly without the flooding in of awareness that happens when we are in the process of waking up. Even if Jaynes is wrong about the timing and the process there must presumably have been an awakening at some time and it seems plausible to suppose that the content must have been present before the capacity rather than that the mind acquired a capacity for introspection before there was any content to introspect.