The transition period between the physical and conventional stages

Social development had already greatly escalated in this period[3]. Its outset can be linked to the appearance of horticultural farming. Horticulture started as simple gardening, supplementary to hunting and gathering. It used relatively crude technology and was less efficient than agriculture. Nevertheless, this way of production had important social implications.

Establishing permanent settlements became possible. The villages were initially small, some no larger than the temporary ones of hunters and gatherers. However, because the soil would quickly get exhausted, new land had to be found, sometimes at the expense of neighbours, which in more populated regions greatly increased the chances of conflict. Large-scale warfare was not usual though, probably because there was no political or other unifying force that would amass a sufficient number of individuals for such endeavours. Horticulturalists had more material goods than most hunter-gatherers due to the greater stability of their settlements, with the implication that divisions, on the basis of wealth, started to emerge. However, this was a less physically demanding way of production than agriculture, so women were still able to work in the fields alongside men, with a consequence of greater equality between genders. Tracing one's ancestors through the mother's lineage has its root in such societies. Cults of goddesses rather than male dominated pantheons were widespread (this trend continued through the worship of Inanna in Sumer, and Ishtar in Assyria and Babylonia).

Nevertheless, in many respects the religion of horticultural people resembled that of the hunter-gatherers. Shamans, rites of passage, human sacrifices, animism (worship of plants or animals believed to be ancestral to clans or lineages) were common. In time, religions became more and more anthropomorphosised though, deities were often represented in a half human, half animal form (this legacy can be found in as diverse civilisations as the Egyptian and Olmec). Among horticultural peoples with chiefdoms, the chief's remote ancestors, the founders of the lineage, became eventually the most important gods. More recent or less significant ancestors received a lesser status. The result was a hierarchy of gods moving religions in the direction of fully-fledged polytheism.

  • [3]. ‘Conventional stage' should not be identified with having a society or living in a group. Even animals live in groups and sometimes have a relatively complex social structure, but it does not mean that they are at this stage. Their social life is physically determined and is essentially the same from group to group, while the huge variations of human societies indicate that they are products of more than just adaptation to their environments. They transcend the strictly practical purpose of social organisation.