There must be factors that civilizations are founded upon and high among these factors must be a powerful creation myth. It must answer the questions where did we come from? Why are we here? What is our purpose? What am I supposed to do with my life? How can I help us survive and prosper?
Yesterday’s Probaway post opened this concept with the idea of the fetal miscarriage being discovered by ancient Olmec people and thought to be the sprouting seed being of humanity. They created a visual art form of the sculpture we can see in Olmec art that existed from their earliest days, and I suggest this creation story was what was used to organize these primitive people into a larger and more stratified society. The myth held larger groups of people together than could be known personally to one another, but they could recognize people in large groups as being of their personal group by their identification with these strange iconic figures.
Between 1800 BC and 400 BC these people built a civilization that is comparable to Classic Egypt in the size and quality of their art and public structures. They lived in a jungle environment and so their artifacts have not survived as well as have those of the Egyptians, who were in a very dry climate. The later civilizations in Mesoamerica bear characteristics that are derived from the earlier Olmec culture.
The idea I am searching for in proto civilizations is the spontaneous event that triggered the joining together of hunters, gatherers, farmers, herders, fishers into settled cohesive groups. Some precursor groups that left ideas captured in visual art include Çatalhöyük in Turkey, Stonehenge in England, Sechin Bajo in Peru and the Olmec of Mexico. Their foundation ideas may never be known, or even discoverable, but what I would watch for would be unique artistic artifacts that possibly represent foundational ideas that would unite people.
Using that leverage point into an ancient society may not be necessary for developing my idea, because all current societies may have similar foundation points. But there must be something special that binds people together spiritually for a thousand years to form what we think of as a civilization. That something must be more than just the threat posed by foreign people over the next boundary. Even within our current world, people bind together over sports teams and follow strange ritual practices that appear to an outsider to be nonsense. But it is the nonsense of the practice that assures people of a very large group that an unknown person is one of their trusted social group’s members.
Groups are founded on a mutually held idea, and that idea is found incorporated into their art, strange beliefs, and competitive games.