The above images depict the archaeological site of Göbekli Tepe.
We humans tend to be very obstinate about our interpretation of early human history; early humans were peripatetic hunter-gathers, who ventured out of Africa, discovered farming, formed cities and created great civilizations. Being the mumpsimuses that we are, any evidence that refuses to corroborate with this model will be viewed with immense skepticism. But, in fact, we have fresh evidence that might just force us to change out interpretation. Göbekli Tepe is an archaeological site that could very well turn over our fundamental notion of early human history on its head. So, let’s pick apart what we have here.
But, first, where and what is this Göbekli Tepe? Located in the Anatolia Region of Turkey, it is an ancient settlement dated to the time in between the Paleolithic and Neolithic eras. It consists of a huge stone complex in a peculiar quiddity; pillars arranged in concentric circles around central pillars, some of which are 15m in height! The pillars are ornate with carvings of animals.
Apart from the overawing immensity of the excavation, there lies a more subtle yet Earth-shattering fact; the site is 11,000 years old, a full 6,000 years before the famed Stonehenge. Not only did the people of that time not have metal tools to work with, they also did not know farming. It was therefore, nomads who achieved this amazing feat of engineering.
When one’s food is obtained by running and hunting fleet deer and other nimble animals, it is pretty reasonable to assume that one would be too exasperated to do anything but eat and sleep. Ostensibly it seems that, they couldn’t have developed the technology needed to make such humongous monuments. But then here we are, presented with what apparently ought to suggest that our nomad ancestors did have such abilities. How were they capable of creating such grandiose structures of immense proportions?
Perhaps more importantly, the question we should ask is why? Why go to such painstaking lengths to create these monuments?
Well, it all boils down to that large scale human organizer: religion. It is not surprising that humans are willing to do anything in the name of faith and organized religion; even build huge stone complexes. But if religion is indeed the motive behind these structures, it introduces another bewildering problem: religion was not supposed to have sprung up until after we started farming and city building.
We can all agree that the great watershed moment for mankind was when we left hunter-gathering to take up a life of farming; a momentous occasion that propelled us into the space age. Anthropologists and archeologists prodigiously enunciate that farming created the environment to constitute organized settlements, which subsequently led to religion. So first came farming and settlements, and then came religion.
But, befuddling us now is the fact that Göbekli Tepe seems to be completely antithetical to that view. The monument at Göbekli clearly indicates a divine purpose; it shows the connection the people of the ancient site had with their religion. It would certainly be a logical step to conclude that, the people of Göbekli followed a religion, and indeed, before they were farming. Yes, it is a bewildering prospect, but the evidence speaks volumes, and we cannot ignore that.
Now, here is where we get to the addling crux of it all. Some archeologists hold the view that we’ve got the picture of human development completely wrong, and they are using Göbekli to leverage their point.
Religion, they hypothesize, was the makebate that caused people to start farming; and subsequently build settlements and civilization. It was therefore, the development of religion that was the watershed moment in human history. Religion created a new mentality within the people; it was a pivotal shift in the hunter-gathers’ perception. It promulgated that man was somewhat different from the animal kingdom; that he was higher, stronger than them. The people therefore felt an obligation to honour this boon that religion had bestowed them, and they only way they could think of to this was to build huge stone monuments honouring their gods.
During the site’s construction and usage, a multitude of nomads from all over the region would congregate together. This would inevitably result in a conflict between these people; there would be the insuperable problem of cohabitation. And here too religion steps in. The new religion would admonish peace and convivial behavior between different tribes. So, they could then work cohesively to advance their divine obligation. Thus, many people would eventually settle together to support the temple. Subsequently, this would create the pressing imperative of feeding all these increased mouths, and maybe farming could have been used to combat this problem.
To summaries, Göbekli Tepe shows that the erection of monumental complexes was within the capacities of hunter-gatherers and not only of sedentary farming communities as had been previously assumed. More importantly, it points to the fact that religion and the mobilization of labor behind the building of religious centers like Göbekli Tepe were the chief factors driving the development of civilization and the transition from the Paleolithic to the Neolithic ages. As chief excavator Klaus Schmidt puts it, “First came the temple, then the city”. Göbekli Tepe, therefore, is the most important archaeological site in the world.
Thus through our musing, we have now turned things on its head. Religion in lieu of farming played the central role of compelling us to create civilization. Of course, with most preliminary hypothesize it may be met with reluctance and skepticism. For example, Göbekli Tepe was buried and built over, not once, but some seven times, with each of the monuments being smaller than the previous. Why they would destroy their own monument is unascertained at this point. Also, the answer to how they could build such immense structures is not known. We, indeed, don’t have all the pieces when it comes to the puzzle of human development—and as such, many questions lie ahead. But, what is life without questions to pique our intrigue?