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The Spread of Agriculture in the Ancient World

  1. Jun 12, 2016 #1


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    The following are, at the top, photos of certain artifacts repatriated from a western museum to Iran, originally excavated from Jiroft, Iran. They are said to date from the 3rd millennium BC.

    Essentially identical objects are found dating to 12,000 BC at Gobekli Tepe, Turkey, 3rd millennium BC Iraq, and also to prehistoric Central America. Often they are represented as baskets held in the hands of deities or culture bearers.

    I think they are symbolic seed baskets, representing agricultural technology. What do you think? There seems to be no consensus amongst scholars of all the disciplines, sometimes referring to them as baskets, purses or simply "weights"





    Scorpion man


    Fish man

    Double helix


    Sumerian, also holding acorns
    Bird man above, fish man below

    Leaf and acorn

    Gobekli Tepe, 12000 BC
    baskets above, buzzards, scorpions below
    Last edited: Jun 12, 2016
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 12, 2016 #2
    There are things we will never know for sure about our ancestors and the artefacts. We can only guess. Still, they are beautiful and clearly show that people of that time were not stupid, but maybe more similar to us than we want to admit.
  4. Jun 12, 2016 #3
    The Iranian examples all seem like they could have a practical function as weights. However, most seem too highly decorated for such a mundane use. It could be, therefore, they were used ritually in conjunction with an official weighing, or that they were a badge of office awarded to someone permitted to officially weigh things, a kind of priest of weights and measures, with bird-man or fish-man being the deity or inspiring spirit of such priests. In any event, it's easy to suppose they represent the notion of "unit weight," regardless of what the unit might be: a basket of seeds or a basket of whatever.
  5. Jun 12, 2016 #4


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    I like your idea of a symbolic culture bearer's "badge of office" better than your idea of weights. Perhaps it symbolizes a higher knowledge of life in a way similar to the Egyptian Ankh? Ancient mesopotamia had a well-developed sophisticated system of metrology without reference to the symbolic seed basket of life.

    • th?id=OIP.M46d351eeb0990940808604e5acbc3feeo0&pid=15.1&P=0&w=279&h=166.jpg

    A series of old Babylonian weights ranging from 1 mina to 3 shekels

    A depiction of Sumerian scales
    • th?id=OIP.M1998e32088029087a39fb64f8c662941o0&pid=15.1&P=0&w=232&h=167.jpg
  6. Jun 13, 2016 #5
  7. Jun 13, 2016 #6


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    Interesting, but recent (iron age), with both Phoenician and cuneiform inscription. These objects have more to do with the post-bronze age collapse of civilizations rather than the spread of agriculture in the ancient world. But keep digging.

    Egyptian sowing and planting

    Veracruz, La Venta

    Andean, Olmec, India

    The gods, the tree of life, and the funny seed baskets of civilization
    • th?id=OIP.M444d5f30eb44f2e1c31b39901beffa9fH0&pid=15.1&P=0&w=316&h=169.jpg
  8. Jun 14, 2016 #7
    The first six images you posted demonstrate objects made to be lifted and moved around by the sturdy handles, which, like the Assyrian weights, strongly suggests to me they are weights and not merely sculptures of seed baskets. If you notice the handles of the seed baskets in the Egyptian images in your last post, they are just strings or, at best, leather thongs; quite thin and unlike the robust handles on most of the other images of these objects. A mere sculpture of a seed basket wouldn't need such a sturdy handle because it wouldn't be moved often and, when it was moved, could be picked up by the base. These handles look like they are meant to be used: they are robust and have been left undecorated.

    Also, none of the 'sculptures' is capable of containing anything: they are solid, and there is no attempt to suggest a load of seeds or anything else contained in them, or to suggest an opening into which anything might be placed. I really think they are weights, quite probably standards kept by specialists, based on them being highly decorated. I wouldn't be at all surprised to find they based the shape of their official weights on the shape of a seed basket given that seeds and grains would be among the most important things to be weighed. In that sense, a depiction of bird-man, or whoever, holding one of these things, would be both a representation weighing and what is weighed, and also the personage of 'keeper of the weights:' some official or priest who kept everyone conforming to the standard.

    One of the things that has to be accomplished for a civilization to arise is that weights and measures have to be standardized and enforced. Bird-man, scorpion-man, and fish-man have no obvious link to agriculture that I can see. It's easier for me to imagine they have some scarier function as spiritual police of those who would cheat at weighing.

    The other thing is, the same sort of "purse" that might hold seeds could easily have other functions. The most notable that comes to mind is it could be the medicine bag, or herb bag of a healer, or, it could be the 'bag of tricks' of the magician. It might contain artists paints and tools, or it might contain makeup. There's no particular reason to suppose we're seeing something with the same function across all these different cultures. The Indian one you posted looks, in particular, quite different in shape than the others, and has the inexplicable umbilical cord looking thing attached to it.
  9. Jun 14, 2016 #8
    I agree they look like weights.

    Look at birdman's leg. Doesn't it look bionic?
  10. Apr 22, 2017 #9
    The primary crops in ancient agricultures were grains. Could these weights particularly the ones with handles have been used to grind those grains into flour?
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