Author of the Month

Megaliths, Shamen & the City Builders – the hidden connections (cont.)
By Lucy Wyatt

The Ice Age

[Figure: The Ice Age map, reproduced courtesy of Prof Bryan Sykes, ‘The Seven Daughters of Eve’, Corgi books, 2001]

To answer that question I want to go right back, back to the beginning as it were; back to the end of the Ice Age more than 12,000 years ago (the dashed line on this map represents the extent of the ice; the other line, the lower sea levels – you can read about the clans in my book). The Ice Age is when we tend to start the story of how civilisation began; how we came to be modern, progressive people with all our urban comfort and sophistication, leaving behind the wild, woolly, elemental stuff. ‘

And the story we tell ourselves is that it all starts with the farming experiment. You can read about it in the British Museum: paleolithic man instead of sitting in his cave begins to throw seeds around outside; he finds he has a surplus of crop and, being clever, he decides to exchange it for something else. We, as primitive people, were then on our way to becoming civilised with towns and cities growing out of early market places. We could leave behind our hunter-gatherer cave-dwelling past and evolve into modern man, with the help of the Greeks and Romans of course. Lots of people continue to believe that civilisation only really starts with them.

The Farming Experiment?

But unfortunately we have been telling ourselves the WRONG story. This is not what the prehistoric record shows. There was no farming experiment. Natufians, for instance, who were around from about 12,500 BC onward, cultivated wild seeds for 3,000 years. During this time there was no change from a wild seed to a domesticated seed. Even when the change from wild to domesticated did occur after 9,500 BC, it is not plausible to suggest that it was an ‘evolutionary’ process.

Figure: Barley head

What we are talking about here is the difference between wild and domestic in terms of a single gene: one that relates not to taste but to convenience; convenience being one of the hallmarks of civilisation. This image is of a barley seed head and shows the rachis, the little hinges that connect the seed heads to the stalk. What happens with the wild seed is that the rachis break when the seed heads are ripe; what the domestic version do is wait. They wait to be picked.

The chances of a rare genetic mutant wild cereal turning into domesticated cereal have been calculated at once or twice in 2-4 million seed heads – according to Gordon Hillman who is cited by Steve Mithen (a well-respected prehistorian academic). For this change to have occurred naturally would take 20/30 cycles – ie 20 to 30 years.i No one is realistically going to wait around that long for an ‘experiment’ to work – they would return to trapping and say “Dad, can you forget your farming experiment...”. The obvious conclusion is that this change was deliberate: someone knew how to interfere genetically with cereals.

i - pp36-37 After the Ice–A Global Human History 20,000 -5,000 bc. Steven Mithen, Phoenix, Orion Books Ltd, London, 2004

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