The Inevitability of Change: St. Augustine

On September 8, 1565, Spanish admiral and explorer Pedro Menéndez de Avilés arrived in Florida and began the founding of St. Augustine.  His journey took place many years before Jamestown or Plymouth Rock were established, making St. Augustine the oldest permanent European settlement in North America.  The government in control of the settlement changed over time. Spain controlled St. Augustine from 1565 to 1763. The Treaty of Paris (1763) gave the British control of the settlement until 1784, when Spain regained authority. In 1821, Spain ceded Florida and St. Augustine to the United States. As the ruling government in St. Augustine changed over time, so did the culture and appearance.

The top shows the St. Augustine city gates in 1808 when they were first built. The bottom shows the gates in 2013 and how the architecture has changed as the settlement has survived.

As more Europeans arrived in St. Augustine, the land that was originally inhabited by Native Americans, specifically the Timucua tribe, was altered.  Land had to be cleared for the construction of new buildings. The indigenous Native American culture that once dominated Florida became heavily influenced by the incoming European way of life. Disease and political conflicts diminished the Timucua culture. As the Spanish established their presence in Florida, they had trouble completely preserving their way of life. While degrading and changing the land in St. Augustine, they had to adapt to the new environment. The original goal of implementing all of Spanish culture in the new settlement was difficult because of unfamiliar environmental pressures.

A representation of what a Timucua village would have looked like before the Spanish arrived.

When pressures begin to affect a culture and the culture does not adapt, it will fail. This ability to be flexible is extremely important in the survival of any group of people. St. Augustine is a prime example of how any land that is subject to degradation by human actions will require cultural change over time. Most cultures are opposed to change, and will avoid cutting out certain activities that they value or find to be convenient. The Spanish way of life in Florida was not exactly the same as how it originally was in Spain. The same goes for the British rule. The cultures then evolved into the modern American way of life. The St. Augustine environment changed over time, so the cultures of the inhabitants did too. The arrival of more serious architecture and large-scale agriculture forced the cultures to adapt. Natural change combined with the consequences of human action require change, otherwise the affected group will collapse.

This concept is extremely relevant today. Cultural change has been happening for hundreds of years and has allowed certain groups to persist. The modern issue of climate change can be most effectively minimized when our present-day culture accepts the need to be flexible and give up certain privileges. For example, if humans today completely gave up electricity or agriculture, the impact of climate change would decrease. Even though people want to limit global warming, they will not give up these luxuries because the  change would be too extreme. St. Augustine proves that cultural change is not a negative thing, but a necessity in the survival of a society.




Further Reading:



Understanding Neolithic Life: Çatalhöyük

Around 7,400 BCE, people first settled in Central Turkey at the site of Çatalhöyük. By 6,500 BCE, the site was a Neolithic urban center. Several construction phases of tightly packed mud brick houses led to the formation of a tall mound at the site. The excavation of the mound and the examination of discovered features and artifacts led to the understanding of what life was like in the Neolithic community and how it developed over time. The site provides great insight into how early farming communities functioned and what activities and items they valued.

A recreation of what Çatalhöyük possibly looked like

The dense settlement was made up of mud brick houses, each with an entrance on the roof.  All of the houses were closely packed together, with zero space dedicated to streets or major pathways.  Evidence of crop cultivation and domesticated animals proves that the last group to occupy Çatalhöyük was a segmentary society of farmers and herders, not a mobile group of hunter-gatherers. It was not a large enough settlement to be considered a chiefdom or state, but still had up to 9,000 residents.  Inside the mud brick houses, there were cooking spaces with ovens and hearths. As agriculture was beginning to become the dominant way of life, food preparation was developing.  More serious cooking tools could be built because people had the ability to settle down and build houses, instead of temporary camps.

The presence of wall paintings and relief sculpture contributes to the understanding of the culture and beliefs of the people at Çatalhöyük. The plastered walls of the houses were used to display painted geometric designs or reliefs of wild animals.  One of the most abundant forms of art found at the site was clay figurines. They were found throughout various areas of the houses, but usually in garbage pits.  The Çatalhöyük people may have used the sculptures to protect against evil spirits or as wish tokens. Another important art form was the installation of animal remains into the main rooms of the houses.  Many bull skulls can be found lining the walls of the rooms, with huge horns sticking out into the living space. The presence of undomesticated animals in the art of the Çatalhöyük people may show a desire to remember the recent past, when hunting was still the main source of food.

Some of the bull skulls found in the houses

The art, organization of houses, and presence of agriculture suggests that the residents of the Çatalhöyük site were in a position in which they could stay in one spot and hold territory. They had stable enough resources to devote time to the arts, but used paintings and installations to connect them to the memories of the past way of life. Çatalhöyük was one of the largest settlements of its time, and by examining the ancient structures and artifacts we can gain insight into how humans lived during the beginning stages of farming and crop cultivation.




Further Reading: