Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Beginning of Civilization?

found this via Foxnews, a report on a potentially revolutionary ground breaking discovery in South-Eastern Turkey near the city of Sanliurfa. An ancient temple complex of massive stone construction reminiscient of Stonehenge called Gobekli Tepe (meaning Hill of the navel in Turkish) which was discovered in 1994 and has been under examination by a German-led archaeological team headed by Klaus Schmidt is now estimated to be over 10,000 years old. This means organized society capable of monumental architecture existed before agriculture, before pottery, before the rise of urban cities, and long before the written word.

Stonehenge dates back to around 2000-2500 (although people likely gathered at the site before the stone megaliths were located there). The date for the beginning of civilization usually begins in Sumeria around 3500 BCE, around 5-6,000 years ago. The Gobelki Tepe temple is more than twice as old, dating back to 9000-10,000 BCE. Prior to this discovery, the oldest stone structure known, found on the island of Malta, dated to around the same period as the rise of Sumerian civilization. The idea that a primitive hunter-getherer society could undertake such enormous scale monument building is unprecedented.

"These T-shaped ochre stones loom abruptly from the exhausted earth. Most of them are carved with bizarre and delicate images – mainly of animals and birds. One image is a sexualised representation of a woman. Sinuous serpents are another common motif. The stones themselves seem to represent men – some have stylised ‘arms’, which angle down their sides. So far, 43 stones have been dug out. They are arranged in circles from 5–10m (16–32ft) across. Around the circles are benches of rock, smallish niches, and walls of mud brick. The unearthed megaliths stand 1–4m (3.3–13ft) high.

There are indications that more is to come. A few years ago, Schmidt and his team found a very weathered, half-quarried, T-shaped stone lying in a limestone bed, 1km (0.6 miles) from the main site. This enormous stone is 9m (30ft) long, and was, it seems, designed to join the other pillars at Gobekli. “The stone is cracked, so it must have broken,” Schmidt explains. “When this happened the builders probably left it and started on another.” All of which means there may be other stones of similar size as yet undiscovered; indeed, geomagnetic surveys of the various artificial hills at Gobekli Tepe imply that there are at least 250 more standing stones waiting to be excavated."

What is even more interesting about the site is that is also the area from which einkorn wheat originated. Einkorn wheat is the wild purcursor to modern domesticated wheat. Schmidt theorizes that the large number of hunters gathering at the site for religious activitities may have exhausted game animals and turned to the wild ceral crops for a food resource. In other words, the hunters turned to farming and herding to support the population gathering at their religious site. The domesticated pig has been also traced to the area nearby, within 100 miles. However, the switch to farming and herding had a ecological impact. The rich savanna and forests existant at the time began to wither as forest were chopped down to clear the area for farming and the soil was depleted. Sometime near 8000 BCE, the temple complex was deliberately buried by the local inhabitants.

Much more here, which includes the quote above.

And also here.

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