I’ve been sitting back over recent months wondering when the Turkish archaeological site of Göbekli Tepe might receive more mainstream press attention. Finally, Archaeology Magazine has done somewhat of a feature on this fascinating site, although it’s still fairly light on information. It does, though, have some excellent images of the carvings on the megaliths. (For the Google Earth/World Atlas users out there, you can find the site at 37.223300N, 38.922400E, and there are also photos accessible through the Google Earth interface).
The reason I’ve been waiting for more hype is that Göbekli Tepe is a megalithic site (with actual ‘stone circles’) which predates both Stonehenge and the pyramids of Egypt by at least 7000 years – and has been known about since 1994! Stonehenge and the Great Pyramid both have construction dates around the 3rd millennium BCE (although Stonehenge had many stages of building). The construction of the megaliths (most around 2 to 3 metres high) at Göbekli Tepe has been dated to 10,000BCE. This raises some serious questions about currently accepted theories regarding early Neolithic peoples, from their religious and social practices through to their technical and artistic abilities. In contrast, Nabta Playa seemed to get far more media attention in the wake of its discovery.
One of the few decent sources of information that you’ll find online is this 2007 Fortean Times article, written by Sean Thomas. The article points out two fascinating (and in some ways, mysterious) aspects of the site: Firstly, that it was *intentionally* buried around 8000BCE. According to chief archaeologist Klaus Schmidt:
The really strange thing is that in 8,000BC, during the shift to agriculture, Gobekli Tepe was buried. I mean deliberately – not in a mudslide. For some reason the hunters, or the ex-hunters, decided to entomb the entire site in soil. The earth we are removing from the stones was put here by man himself: all these hills are artificial.
Looking at the Google Earth imagery of the site, it seems likely that there are still many more significant discoveries awaiting excavation of the area. And it’s a good lesson in what may also be awaiting discovery in other other places, such as under the sands of Egypt and in flooded ocean areas of the late Ice Age.
The second interesting point Thomas reveals in his article is that archaeologists found a 9 metre megalith in situ at the quarry, which apparently broke during excavation and so was not used. That may not quite rival the ‘Stone of the South’ at Baalbek, but that’s still a massive undertaking, especially in the supposedly primitive time of 10,000BCE. Remember when Robert Schoch was shouted down by the ‘orthodoxy’ about his age of the Sphinx argument, because there were no precedents to construction on that scale before 3000BCE? In fact, Göbekli Tepe sounds like it would have been front and centre in Graham Hancock’s Fingerprints of the Gods, if it had been discovered at the time of writing. The interesting question is – where are the other traces of megalithic culture from the 8000 to 3000BCE period?
One last twist in the tale of Göbekli Tepe is that there seems to be some quite serious discussion that it may have been the model for the tale of the Biblical ‘Garden of Eden’. As Thomas writes:
Back in the taxi, I make my final journey to Gobekli. On the way, I put all the jigsaw pieces together. Taking into account the Biblical links, the history and topography of the region, the evidence of very early domestication hereabouts, and the data from the site itself, Gobekli Tepe is arguably a temple located within the “Garden of Eden”.
Or, let’s put it another way: the story of Eden is a folk-memory, and an allegory, and it tells us of our glorious hunter-gatherer past in this once-fertile corner of Anatolia, before our own activities cast us into a harsher world. Gobekli Tepe celebrates and remembers a wonderful time of plenty, when we had leisure enough to learn the arts, and to cultivate a complex religion, even if we didn’t know how to make pots. And then we fell into farming.
For those interested in seeing some video of Göbekli Tepe, I’ve embedded a National Geographic documentary on the discovery below:
Hopefully we’ll start hearing more and more about this fascinating archaeological dig in the mainstream media soon (though no doubt they’ll all play on the ‘Garden of Eden’ aspect rather than concentrate on the mystery of the site’s construction date).