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Architectural Discourse and Social Transformation During the Early Neolithic of Southeast Anatolia

Within the Near Eastern research canon, the transition to more sedentary lifestyles during the Neolithic is often framed as an economic necessity, linked to plant and animal domestication, climatic change and population stress. In such a framework, an increasingly complex social structure, arising in response to the increasingly complex relations of agricultural production, is presumed. For example, some researchers would argue that feasting-based rituals became an arena of social control and an increasingly complex society began to emerge around ritual leadership and monumental ritual architecture. Yet the research projects conducted at many Near Eastern sites indicate neither that sedentism can be directly linked to the requirements of agriculture, nor that the presence of monumental architecture can be successfully associated with social control based on unequal redistribution of agricultural surplus. While ritual activity appears to be central during the Neolithic, two important questions remain to be explored: (1) what exactly did the rituals control, given that the societies under consideration are commonly perceived to have an 'egalitarian' ethos?; and (2) what happened to the ritual control in the second half of the PPNB, when ritual architecture completely disappears from the archaeological record at a time of increased reliance on agriculture? Through a critical review of the use of terms like 'sedentism', 'egalitarianism' and 'ritual', I argue that the architecture of the Early Neolithic is related to the management of social relationships through symbolic place-making activities. Based on a comparative review of burial activity, building continuity and the use of symbolic imagery, I examine the symbolic construction of some of the earliest examples of long-term occupational focus in southeast Anatolia, such as Hallan Cemi, Demirkoy, Kortik Tepe, Hasankeyf Hoyuk, Gusir Hoyuk, Gobekli Tepe, Cayonu and NevalA +/- Cori, in an attempt to understand the social factors behind the emergence and demise of Early Neolithic monumental architecture. The evidence from the above-mentioned sites suggests that Early Neolithic place-making reflects community formation at a variety of scales, at the center of which lay the continuous reinvention of kinship concepts. While some sites, with concentrations of burials, may have become the locus for construction of more intimate local place-based networks, other sites, such as Gobekli Tepe, may have integrated the extended networks. Arguably, the formation of large scale networks during the PPNA posed a threat to local groups. Thus, a focus on local group formation and close control of social exchanges may have begun during the early PPNB, and the places such as Gobekli Tepe may have fallen out of use during this process. In the context of the symbolism and figurine evidence, I further argue that sex and gender may have become important issues, both in the formation of place-communities during the late PPNA-early PPNB, and in the emergence of autonomous households during the later PPNB.