Therefore, the invention of pottery may well have been the beginning of a new order of technology that would have profoundly changed the way in which people made and used their environment. Such a change in technology would be likely to have been a dramatic change, with the advent of pottery potentially defining a new form of cognition. Pottery, like writing, was likely to have brought a new order of technology that, by the time it reached the Andes, had been in existence for thousands of years. The invention of agriculture gave rise to the first cities. The development of settled agriculture has had a profound effect on human history and culture. The development of settled agriculture may have marked the start of many new orders of technology. When technology becomes deeply entangled with the human landscape, it changes the way in which human beings use their environments.
The world is a functioning system with no predetermined direction, no inevitable trend or pattern. Although it may appear that humanity has settled into a long-term pattern of technological progress, the distance from the relatively recent invention of literacy to the present-day is not negligible. The diffusion of literacy may have gone on for at least a thousand years.
Andean ceramicists, as a whole, tended to be more skillful than their contemporaries at the time of the Commoner Period, with their elaborate, tubular vessels, carinated hand molds, and food containers. These ceramicists produced relatively high-value products and, in view of their specialized, complex technology, they may have been able to allocate the requisite time and effort to produce and distribute their wares (Denevan 1989: 282-283).
Such a prospect could be especially attractive as an economic strategy for the small coastal population of the Andes, even if it is likely that by the end of the Commoner Period even the more complex vessels (such as jars) were made by teams rather than individuals. The invention of pottery was a sudden and dramatic (and perhaps even unintentional) change in technology, which probably happened in a single, distinct and dramatic event. This was likely to have had a profound and long-lasting effect on the human landscape of South America.
F. M. Zeb is a writer and researcher based in Brussels. He is author of the blog The Post-Crisis World. In 2014, Zeb was named one of the Top 100 global thinkers by Prospect magazine, and in 2015 he was one of the Top 100 bloggers in the world. He is currently writing a book about the emergence of modern civilization in the Americas.
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