Dancing at the Dawn of Agriculture
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As the nomadic hunters and gatherers of the ancient Near East turned to agriculture for their livelihood and settled into villages, religious ceremonies involving dancing became their primary means for bonding individuals into communities and households into villages. So important was dance that scenes of dancing are among the oldest and most persistent themes in Near Eastern prehistoric art, and these depictions of dance accompanied the spread of agriculture into surrounding regions of Europe and Africa.
In this pathfinding book, Yosef Garfinkel analyzes depictions of dancing found on archaeological objects from the Near East, southeastern Europe, and Egypt to offer the first comprehensive look at the role of dance in these Neolithic (7000-4000 BC) societies. In the first part of the book, Garfinkel examines the structure of dance, its functional roles in the community (with comparisons to dance in modern pre-state societies), and its cognitive, or symbolic, aspects. This analysis leads him to assert that scenes of dancing depict real community rituals linked to the agricultural cycle and that dance was essential for maintaining these calendrical rituals and passing them on to succeeding generations. In the concluding section of the book, Garfinkel presents and discusses the extensive archaeological data—some 400 depictions of dance—on which his study is based.
action (Laban 1971:4). Thus when a dancing scene was depicted, it was necessary to represent a dance movement that could not be confused with everyday activities. As we will see below, speciﬁc body postures were chosen for this purpose. The sample yielded 116 items in which both upper and lower body parts are visible. No items drawn in the linear style are included, since the degree of schematization is often too great to allow a realistic analysis. Predynastic Egypt is also excluded, since one
performed, while ﬁgure composition is concerned with the spatial interaction between individuals. Dance form We can see three diﬀerent types of use of space by the community: the circle dance, line dance, and couples dance. Technically, the depiction of a circle dance is easy to execute on a rounded object, such as a pottery vessel or a cylinder seal, but very complicated on a ﬂat surface. The opposite is the case when a line dance is depicted, as it is easier to present it on a ﬂat surface than
documented are mainly circle dances. In addition, row dances and couples dances are also recorded. 2. The direction of the dance is usually counter-clockwise. Some, though largely insuﬃcient, evidence suggests that dances were performed in the other direction in mourning ceremonies. 3. The contact between the dancers was on several levels: dancing with no contact, hand-holding, shoulder to shoulder, and embracing. 4. The dance could be performed in the nude but also with elaborate dress, hair
evidence presented above is the pictorial expression of this activity and sheds light on it. The importance of these ceremonies is also borne out by ethnographic observations of pre-state communities, in which dance is indeed the most important component in religious ceremonies. Dancing together creates unity, provides education, and transmits cultural messages from one generation to the next. In the context of early agricultural systems, with the transition from ad hoc hunter-and-gatherer
of Harald Hauptmann, German Archaeological Institute, Istanbul. figure 7.3 Engraved objects from the Near East: a. Nevali Çori, limestone fragment, ca. 19 x 13 cm (after Hauptmann 1993, Figure 27). b. Tepe Giyan, stamp seal, ca. 4 x 2.5 cm (after Herzfeld 1933, Figure 25). 114 the D ata separate, also shown partly horizontally and partly vertically, and end in feet and toes. This is a very dynamic representation of the human body, clearly expressing a dancing position. The character of the