But Mary Settegast has revived the tradition of dating him in the seventh millennium, for she believes that the archaeological evidence from this period most closely fits with the narrative schemas of Zoroastrianism. The middle of the seventh millennium was a time of great change in which the preceding period, known as the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B, with its skull cults and worship of male virility in the form of statues and bull’s heads, was beginning to fade away. The making of weapons, furthermore, in the form of arrowheads and speartips, simply vanishes during the new period, that known as the Pottery Neolithic, as farming communities in both Greece and Iran began to take up the practice of agriculture in earnest. This phenomenon is interesting, according to Settegast, in light of the fact that Zarathustra privileged the farmer over the warrior class. The newly dawning Pottery Neolithic also brought with it new culture forms, such as the making of the world’s finest painted pottery on vessels which apparently had no practical use, copper and lead metallurgy, irrigation and generally smaller settlements.
The iconography of the pottery from this period is elaborate and amazing. Far from being — as some scholars think — mere decoration, the motifs articulated on these vessels have a definite cosmological and mythological significance. Whatever such significance was, it is now lost to us since no writings — or even oral traditions — have survived from this period, but Ms. Settegast believes that its iconography becomes intelligible in the light of Zoroastrian mythology. The emphasis on dark and light contrasts, checkerboard patterns, double axes, all are motifs based on the principle of cosmic polarity, which is, of course, the whole basis of Zoroastrian cosmic dualism. Other phenomena from this period may also fit well with the Zoroastrian ethos. Irrigation, for example, which appears during this phase for the first time, was known in later Zoroastrian texts such as the Vendidad as a sacred duty. We also find miniature mortars and pestles from this period, which is interesting in light of the later Zoroastrian ritual of the yasna ceremony, in which the cosmic mortar and pestle were used to grind the sacred haoma plant.
Ms. Settegast’s book is full of such wonderful speculations — such as the totally fresh idea of Catal Huyuk as a possible early stronghold of Indo-European traditions, which turns its conventional associations upside down — and if the book has a major flaw, it is that it is too short. At only 154 pages it is only a fraction of the length of her earlier masterpiece Plato Prehistorian, and one can only wish that this book had been longer, so full of fresh ideas does it seem. Ms. Settegast is able to look at the Neolithic with a gaze undiminished by the bland writings of the Levantine specialists in this field, and one can only hope that she will write another book soon.
When Zarathustra Spoke: The Reformation Of Neolithic Culture And Religion
Mazda Publishers (June 30, 2005)