As an intrinsically human experience, the way we bond over food reveals much about a community. More than a means for survival, food gives us a chance to develop the cultural practices that come to define a group of people.
Just as the consumption of food reflects a collective identity, so too does production.
New research published in the journal PloS One demonstrates that specialised food production buildings were commonplace in the world’s earliest agricultural villages. The study shows how these buildings played a key role in maintaining and enhancing community cohesion.
Food production encourages an organised society
Prof. Cheryl Makarewicz of Kiel University and Prof. Bill Finlayson from the University of Reading have posited that the advent of food production sparked profound changes in the ways humans organised their societies.
The team undertook excavations at the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B settlement of Beidha, not far from the UNESCO World Heritage site of Petra in Jordan. The very architectural fabric of early farming villages helped to shape human interaction, which was crucial during a period when farming and animal herding were in their first incarnations.
Professor Makarewicz comments: “These buildings provided a focal point for the community, a place where everyday mundane activities such as preparing food and making tools could have been undertaken by several people simultaneously.”
A place to cook, a place to chat
On top of their immediate functions, these spaces became a platform for conversation and the exchange of ideas.
She continues: “These spaces were also important in that they provided a place where community members could drop by and have a chat with their neighbours.
“This informal, but highly regular activity may have been all the more important in this context of increasingly large and settled populations. Community members knew information was being passed along and there was a central place to catch up on the news.”
A platform for philosophy?
The buildings have even been linked to the first hints of control and ownership in human society.
“What we are also seeing here at Beidha is a really interesting example of how societies deal with managing new issues of how to access and control ownership of plant and animal resources, which might have become more contested within these increasingly populous settlements.”
The early social influence of architecture
“Also interesting is that people at Beidha dealt with these new social tensions very differently from their contemporaries to the west across the Jordan Valley,” Makarewicz adds.
The research suggests that in southern Jordan, community daily practice occurred in non-residential buildings, which maintained and strengthened social structures. Conversely, nearby communities would use buildings like this for occasional, dramatic ritual practices.
The researchers conclude: “There is a long history of using special-purpose architecture in the south of Jordan to structure the community, and this way of using the built environment for more than just shelter goes right back to the start of the Neolithic here. The continuation of this practice illustrates a strongly local continuity in pathways through the Neolithic revolution.”