Monday, May 31, 2010

the deeper we go

Yesterday a friend wrote to me about a place called Gobekli Tepe, an extraordinary archeological site in the southeast of Turkey that is considered to be the oldest temple complex ever found. Maybe you've heard about it but the story was new to me. Carbon dating of artifacts found there have proven it to be 13,000 years old and Dr. Klaus Schmidt, the German archeologist in charge of the excavations has said the region is most likely the place described as the Garden of Eden. Turkey is just a part of an area long known as the Fertile Crescent but what is now mostly barren desert was once ecologically very rich. There were dozens of mammal species, green meadows and woods. The climate was wetter and lusher, but still warm and the herds of game were enormous.

The sophistication of the stone carving indicates to me that the people who built the place already had a long history of complex stone work that included realistic renditions of animals and human forms. We already know that the earliest human art on the planet began to appear in sacred caves more than 40,000 years ago so what, I wonder, were we doing during the intervening 27,000 years still unaccounted for. According to geologists and shown in the inundation maps presented by Graham Hancock in his book 'Underworld' there could be a strong case made that humanity was almost obliterated several times by ocean level rises in the aftermath of heavy glaciation. At the end of the Ice Age, over a 10,000 year period between 17,000 and 7,000 years ago - just before the accepted beginning of civilization - 17,000,000 square miles of what may have been the most habitable lands on earth were flooded as the ice caps melted. To have an idea of how much land that would have been you only have to imagine an area much larger than China and Europe combined.

What has this to do with southeastern Turkey you may wonder? Beside the Fertile Crescent, the Persian Gulf was dry land until about 12,000 years ago with a vast river running through it formed by the combined streams of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. The gulf itself wasn't fully flooded until about 8,000 years ago. It's very likely there were higher cultures that included small cities and trading ports for ships long before any currently accepted by formal archeology and I see Gobekli Tepe as another example of a much deeper history than what we've been taught. There would have been many small bands of people who were still foragers and it seems likely someone showed these Neolithic hunters and gatherers how to carve stone and how to align their temples with the north pole. The people who did so may well have been among the survivors of a lost maritime culture.

An interesting thing about Gobekli Tepe is that it appears to have been a temple without a town which puts art and religion squarely at the start of our journey to modern culture. In this place where hunter-gatherers met to build a complex religious community Schmidt has found carved and polished circles of stone, with terrazzo flooring and double benches. All the circles feature massive T-shaped pillars, many with beautiful carvings of totemic animals, made in a time when people still used flint tools. His summation is that it was the urge to worship that brought mankind together in the very first urban conglomerations. The need to build and maintain this temple, he says, drove the builders to seek stable food sources, like grains and animals that could be domesticated, and then to settle down to guard their new way of life.

These hunters who had learned some horticulture in their wanderings by planting fruit trees and edible grains in small patches discovered they couldn't feed the many who congregated for celebrations at Gobelki Tepe. So they began cultivating the grasses on the hills and domesticating animals. When people first started to farm their skeletons changed, growing smaller as their bodies adapted to a diet with less protein. By 8000 BC the landscape itself had changed partly because of the farming practices as well as the massive climate changes at the end of the Ice Age. Forests had been chopped down and topsoil leached away making what had been a garden of natural productivity into fields of hardship. For some unknown reason it was then that people went back to Gobelki Tepe and filled in the entire site with soil. That's why it has only recently been rediscovered in its original state.

The generally understood view of our history has been that shepherds and farmers appeared first from our Neolithic ancestral stock and then went on to create pottery, villages, towns, cities, specialized labor, kings, writing, art, and somewhere along the way to building the first airplane, developed religion. Now it would appear our need for spiritual expression in company with others of our species began the whole process that continues to lead us toward a mysterious future.

I wonder what we'll discover next.

∞ ☆ ∞


Nancy said...

Fascinating stuff. I think we are entering a time of great discovery. I think we are going to be amazed at what is about to be discovered, on a variety of fronts.

Spadoman said...

Very informative piece. It deserves more research on my end. I had never heard of such a place. There are relics of the past with no definitive answers as to origins and history all over the world. Some of these are in the Southwest USA. The people had names and prospered, then disappeared, leaving artifacs. I wonder what they'll say about the trash and other fodder we leave behind.


Pagan Sphinx said...

So much depends upon natural forces. Sometimes I think the earth's ability to "reinvent" itself many times over is its only saving grace.

Where once it was all about natural forces, humandkind's lack of empathy for the earth will certainly hasten its demise.

susan said...

nancy - I think you're right and that the only necessary thing is to keep our hearts and minds open.

spadoman - I do know they've found huge mounds in the US filled with seashells that were once sacred sites to ancient North Americans. I don't know what future archeologists might say about styrofoam and all the rest other than to determine we were crazy.

pagan sphinx - Dinosaurs lasted 160 million years and may still be around if we allow for birds. Humanity has only been dominant a very brief time and I'm quite sure something else will develop if we miss our chance. There's always hope for sentience and spirit.

Liberality said...

Fascinating. You write about such interesting things. I think you may have something there with this statement:
An interesting thing about Gobekli Tepe is that it appears to have been a temple without a town which puts art and religion squarely at the start of our journey to modern culture.

peace :)

Gary said...

Very interesting! Open mind...keep an open mind humanoids...we have much to learn (especially from the past I believe).

Seraphine said...

it is scary the way civilizations rise and fall. some disappear altogether. it is a good lesson not to take anything for granted. nuclear war, ecological disaster, disease- equivalent catastrophies have happened on this earth in the past. its too bad we forget the very things we should remember.

susan said...

liberality - I was wondering if maybe the place had really great acoustics and a state of the art light show. That would explain its popularity.

gary - What was it Shakespoke? 'There are more things under the sun Horatio than are dreamed in your philosophy.' :-)

sera - At least we only get to experience a tiny part of any given civilization. It's best to do the best we can before we take our final bow and leave the stage.. and remember - always leave them laughing (or wondering).

lindsaylobe said...

There are 4 rivers in the Yahwist’s biblical account of the ‘Garden of Eden’ creation story of Genesis –including the Tigris & Euphrates with a geographic fertile location unclear but probably reflective of a 'cultural memory' of ‘hunters and gatherers’ living in abundance.

Here in Australia we recently discovered arts work in Arnhem Land depicting a bird which has been identified as extinct more than 40,000 years ago so the artists in question predate that period.

Our evolution to thinking person’s arose much earlier than previously thought. Professor Ralph Holloway from Columbia University, New York found a Neanderthal skull to be 20%larger than our modern day average and anatomically almost identical with the areas of brain responsible for complex thought conforming to present day configurations.

The Neanderthal vocal tract although shorter and wider than a modern male human’s was capable and used for speech language.
Although Neanderthal’s successfully lived for over 200,000years by adapting to the ice age it is thought about 45,000 years ago climatic conditions fluctuated sufficiently between extreme warm and cold conditions to result in their demise.

So presumably their rich culture which existed was lost as they retreated into the woods about the time Homo sapiens arrived after their circuitous journey from Africa via central Asia and gained economic ascendancy since they were better suited to the climatic conditions.

However remains are beginning to emerge to show that the Neanderthals occupied dwellings with separate rooms for the preparation of food and kept highly intricate ornaments.

Best wishes

jams o donnell said...

It's an amazing place isn't it? It is certainly somewhere I would love to visit.

Sean Jeating said...

... and I'd like to accompany Jams.

Being fascinated by this particular place, I was / am fascinated by your post, Susan. Chapeau!
Well, I enjoyed reading many of your recent posts, but I am such bloody lazy a commenter. And when I'm not lazy, the proper words wouldn't come easy to me.
The peace of the night.

Zee said...

Let me just say this. Your post was very well written, right down my alley with the theme and commentary.
Lately I have very little energy to post, left alone to comment on other blogs...
Sorry for that.
I am though going to come back to your essay, because it confirms certain things I bundled up as "world evolution".

Seraphine said...

"settling down and guarding" my way of life is big on my pile of stuff too. i need a push...

Seraphine said...

leave them laughing. i like that. just so they aren't laughing *at* me but with me...

susan said...

lindsay - Yes, I read about the four rivers too but haven't seen names for the others or where they may have been in relation.

I also read about the giant Genyornis found painted in the cave in Northern Australia. I know the Aborigines have stated they've been there for 140,000 years and I'm not going to argue that they haven't.

I've also read that recent DNA results have shown that modern humans do carry some of the genetic material of Neanderthals so it's kind of nice to know they didn't completely disappear.

jams - I'd like to visit there too but would prefer seeing it as it was if even for an hour rather than seeing it as it is now. Imaginations are good for that kind of travel and easier on the pocketbook too.

sean - Nice to see you again and I'm glad to know you've enjoyed my posts. I've been an infrequent visitor too so no worries. I'll be by.

zee - Thanks and I'm glad our thoughts tend in similar directions. I often find the energy lacking these days too but since I never did get in the habit of posting frequently it's not very noticeable. If you ever get the time I think you'd really enjoy reading Underworld. There are a number of other out of the mainstream writers worth reading but it takes some sifting to find them. Let me know if you interested and I'll send you a list.

Zee said...

Ok Raven - I actually like ravens, I have one in my yard now, he or she visits daily. It's kind of nice - they are graceful, gentle and observant and not like the crows, I can't stand them! Crows make all kinds of fuss for nothing, they are annoying.
I read the article in the Smithsonian, interesting read.
I am not super-convinced about the carbon tests, I hope they took it from the bones of animals and the few bones of humans left.
But it doesn't matter, they found this place, that in itself is kind of joyous.
The theory according to Rudolf Steiner, is that the tribes or people that left "Atlantis" , made a comeback in different regions of the world, they emigrated because their island was sinking.
So the knowledge they had was embedded transported around the globe.
Steiner then goes on to describe that the first transformation (what we nowadays would call genetical engineering) happened in the Middle East.
Oh well, this probably sounds like SiFi to you - but there is a taste that runs true.
Be well, have a good weekend - Zee

Randal Graves said...

We spent those 27k years nearly drinking ourselves to death as we watched reality caves.

marja-leena said...

I've been busy too so am just now catching up with your links... wow, the photos of the site are great. I've never heard of it though I know Turkey is rich with archaeological sites and interesting rock formations - the kind of stuff I love! Thanks so much for this excellent article, Susan!

susan said...

sera - A resource based economy may eventually solve many of our problems. Remember, people laughed at Charlie Chaplin and it did him no harm.

zee - My son attended Waldorf school until we moved to the US and there were none close by. I'm pretty familiar with Steiner's theories since I still have close friends who are teachers at those schools. One of these days if I can work up the energy I may do some posts about mythic Atlantis. Theories are abundant but proof is elusive as you know.

randal - Reality caves then, caving reality now. We're still dreaming.

marja-leena - This was a neat surprise for me too. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Steve Emery said...

This and biology serve almost daily to underscore for me how much of our so-called "knowledge" and "history" are just what we assemble from fragments of data and misunderstanding. We are, by nature, bound to make wholes from pieces. We don't know what we don't know - or even how much we don't know.

But I have long suspected that even the areas of human knowledge where we believe we know the majority of facts, and where we think we are in command of the story, we are actually playing poker with only a handful of the total cards in the deck. Even in the sciences, we are doing as much guesswork as we do in archeology.

And don't even get me started on theology...

susan said...

steve - Yes, it's kind of like having a fraction of a map and then presuming to draw in the rest of the territory - as you say, making wholes from pieces. I certainly can't speak for all of the alternatives that have been postulated by both trained and lay scientists and historians but there are some very well educated and beautifully deduced guesses that ring true. The strange thing is that some scientists and archeologists will discover one thing and then spend the rest of their careers defending the premise against any alternate view. When we stop to consider how ancient our world is compared to our species it's impossible to believe we know more than a little of its history - or our own.

I'll think twice before writing about Theology but it is an interesting subject to consider :-)