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Aerial photo of the excavation area of an Early Neolithic settlement near Vráble in Slovakia                Source: © Nils Müller-Scheeßel / University of Kiel

Evidence of Twisted Human Brains Found in Neolithic Settlements


Research at an Early Neolithic settlement near Vráble in Slovakia has provided an answer as to why early Neolithic humans leaned toward counterclockwise construction.

Rather than thinking then acting out conscious decisions, unconscious mechanics cause us humans to do most of what we do. A study published on Friday, January 10 in PLOS ONE, written by scientists from Kiel University (CAU) and the Slovakian Academy of Sciences, shows for the first time how a phenomenon known among perception psychologists as ‘pseudo-neglect’, a preference to the left visual field over the right, affected construction in the early Neolithic.

‘Geophysical Prospection’ Identified at 100s Of Ancient Sites

The Slovak-German research team investigated the alignments of early Neolithic houses in Central and Eastern Europe and proved that the orientation of newly built houses deviated from existing buildings in a counterclockwise fashion. Illustrating this observation further, archaeologist Dr. Nils Müller-Scheeßel, who coordinated the study, said researchers have ‘long assumed that early Neolithic houses stood for about a generation, i.e., 30 to 40 years, and that new houses had to be built next to existing ones at regular intervals’. But by studying ‘magnetic’ building plans and radiocarbon dating, the researchers demonstrated that newer houses had a ‘barely perceptible’ axial rotation, counterclockwise, and the scientists think the cause of this is ‘pseudo-neglect’.

Magnetic plan of an early Neolithic settlement. Each two of the dark lines with a length of 20 to 30 meters represent the part of a house.  (© Nils Müller-Scheeßel / Kiel University)

Magnetic plan of an early Neolithic settlement. Each two of the dark lines with a length of 20 to 30 meters represent the part of a house.  (© Nils Müller-Scheeßel / Kiel University)

While radiocarbon dating is relatively old science, ‘geophysical magnetic scanning’ stands at the cutting edge of modern technology and is presenting scientists with maps depicting differences in the Earth's magnetic field. These fluctuations reveal buried archaeological features and Dr. Müller-Scheeßel added that while hundreds of Early Neolithic houses have been discovered using ‘geophysical prospection’ in southwestern Slovakia, strict conservation measures have prevented the excavation of most of these buried sites.

Slovakia Pseudo-Neglect As A New Tool Of Interpretation

Knowing the psychological phenomena, pseudo-neglect, is responsible for slight changes in structural orientation, pseudo-neglect can theoretically be applied as a tool of interpretation by bringing houses into a relative sequence without having to excavate. This prospect, according to Dr. Müller-Scheeßel raises his research ‘to a completely new level’, but the scientist adds ‘Absolute dating using scientific methods must, of course, confirm the basic trend in every case.’

The significance of pseudo-neglect might have far-reaching applications across all fields of archaeology and perhaps especially within the discipline of archaeoastronomy, the study of how people in the past recorded and interpreted phenomena in the sky and how these phenomena shaped culture and worship.

One field within archaeoastronomy studies the axis of alignments measured at archaeological sites, and identifies their astronomical or terrestrial targets on horizons. According to Clive Ruggles, the British astronomer and archaeologist, in his 2005 book,  Ancient Astronomy, alignments are calculated using theodolites or compasses to measure a structure’s ‘azimuth, angle from north and the altitude of the horizon it faces.’ These precision devices were not available to Neolithic builders.

The Sun rising over Stonehenge at the 2005 Summer Solstice. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The Sun rising over Stonehenge at the 2005 Summer Solstice. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Barely Perceptible Axial Rotations Were All Counterclockwise

Since the formation of archaeoastronomy as a scientific discipline in the 1960s, ‘slight errors’ found in alignments have been a cause of debate. Some archaeologists point to environmental conditions such as mist and rising heat distorting visual alignments, while others maintain ancient stones and foundations have moved significantly over thousands of years of tremors, earthquakes and landslides. However, what no archaeoastronomer has yet considered is how ‘pseudo-neglect’ affected the accuracy of alignment making.

The new research presents barely perceptible axial rotation - counterclockwise’ affecting the orientations of homes, but might this effect also explain why Neolithic alignments are sometimes ‘slightly off’ their horizontal targets? On the field, once Neolithic builders had cleared an area for a new structure, teams of observing specialists using calibrated posts and ropes oriented and delineated the structures’ foundations. After each observer laid out ‘their’ alignment with string, maybe an average was taken, or the master aligner chose a final orientation, but now we know ‘pseudo-neglect’ was affecting every single alignment project in pre-history.

Killing Archaeological Ghosts

Returning to the new findings, Dr. Müller-Scheeßel said his team’s examination alludes to practically identical archaeological perceptions at different places and times, which show that comparable changes in direction can be observed in later ancient periods. The ‘essentialness’ of pseudo-neglect therefore ‘stretches out a long way past the dating of early Neolithic houses’, and my musings on this phenomena’s impact on archaeoastronomy are but a tiny aspect of what this means to all of archaeology.

Think about it this way: every single building, public space, religious structure and monument that has ever been built by the hand of a human has been affected by pseudo-neglect, a tendency to prefer the left, and this can be experienced if you draw a measured line on paper and ask someone to mark the half way point: you will find it’s slightly to the left ‘almost’ every time. Therefore, pseudo-neglect also affected every art and craft that was ever created, thus, this discovery is like killing a ghost: bringing an unseen specter of human influence into the empirical world of spreadsheets.

Top image: Aerial photo of the excavation area of an Early Neolithic settlement near Vráble in Slovakia                Source: © Nils Müller-Scheeßel / University of Kiel

By Ashley Cowie


Comments's picture

Thank you for this very interesting article; as an architect, I find this quite fascinating. I am wondering if this theory of counter-clockwise alignment/orientation/etc has been measured against other Neolithic sites and, if so, what findings have been made?

Sanjay R Singhal, RA

Dang another theory looking for a question/cause/audience  … or another scholar in a publish or perish cycle.  If one compensated for polar shift, the numer of four-leaf clovers per acre, and bovine flatulence would the shift be neutral?

The typical human tendency is clockwise, which as a circle begins with the left foot stepping off the left, afterwhich there would be a slight tendency to pivot to the right, which eventually completes four turnings/full circle.  Ancient customs have picked up on this tendency, which is manifested in many cultural and religious behaviors.  Only rarely, e.g., some jewish customs, etc., exhibit counter-clockwise tendencies.   Ripe for further study! 

The gradual change in orientation needs to be checked against the precession of the equinoxes, which would change the point of orientation.

ashley cowie's picture


Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

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