Sunday, June 28, 2015

What are the beginnings of labor?

Sumit Guha and others (quoted in his book 'Beyond Caste', a good review here)) suggest that local hierarchical systems esembling caste systems existed all over South Asia and elsewhere and discount religion. A crucial part of these systems is the use of labour by lesser ranked groups in the hierarchy. So, it may be worthwhile to look at the beginnings of the uses of labour. In a preview of a recent book, Michael Hudson says "We begin the volume in 10,000 BC in Gobekli Tepe in Turkey where you have very large city-like ceremonial sites, larger than Stonehenge, huge sites that took hundreds of years to build with huge stone megaliths, even in the pre-pottery Neolithic. They didn’t yet have metal to carve these stones. They didn’t even have pottery. But they had in Gobekli all sorts of huge carvings in a seasonal site where people would come together on ceremonial occasions, like midsummer. We researched from Turkey in 10,000 BC to Sumer in the third millennium BC, Babylonia in the second millennium BC, the building of the pyramids, and we have the actual bills and accounting statements for what’s paid to labour to build the pyramids.
We found they were not built by slaves. They were built by well-paid skilled labour. The problem in these early periods was how to get labour to work at hard tasks, if not willingly? For 10,000 years there was a labour shortage. If people didn’t want to work hard, they could just move somewhere else. The labour that built temples and big ceremonial sites had to be at least quasi-voluntary even in the Bronze Age c. 2000 BC. Otherwise, people wouldn’t have gone there.............We found that one reason why people were willing to do building work with hard manual labour was the beer parties. There were huge expenditures on beer. If you’re going to have a lot of people come voluntarily to do something like city building or constructing their own kind of national identity of a palace and walls, you’ve got to have plenty of beer. You also need plenty of meat, with many animals being sacrificed. Archaeologists have found their bones and reconstructed the diets with fair accuracy.
What they found is that the people doing the manual labour on the pyramids, the Mesopotamian temples and city walls and other sites were given a good high protein diet. There were plenty of festivals. The way of integrating these people was by public feasts. This was like creating a peer group to participate in a ceremonial creation of national identity." 
I looked at some of the articles in the book. Though the evidence is not as convincing as Michael Hudson suggests, it seems plausible that the beginnings of semi-voluntary labour are rooted in some sort of primitive religions and the chiefs or leaders who contributed to some records of natural cycles and probably predicted some seasonal and cosmological events. There is more later on about this, for example,
 "First the priesthoods, then the accountants and scribes. The calendar keepers were usually the chiefs (there may have been “sky chiefs” and “war chiefs” separately, or perhaps their roles were combined as dynastic rulers developed). Most of the religions were cosmological. They wanted to create an integrated cosmology of nature and society (“On earth, as it is in heaven”). Administration was based on the astronomical rhythms of the calendar, lunar and solar cycles. For instance, you typically find a society divided into 12 tribes, as you had in Israel and also in Greece with its amphictyonies. In a division of 12 tribes, each could take turns administering the ceremonial centre for one month out of the year."
But this is one region and it is partly speculation. Neolithic age and such came at different times to different region and possibly different kinds of societies existed at the same time. One has to look more about the Indian context to see the beginnings of labor but it seems (from the work of Kosambi and others) different local cults were present from prehistoric times.
P.S. Check also the skeptic's site and Gobekli Tepe: Fuel for crankery. There is also and for details without any theory

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