Gobekli Tepe --Archaeology, Eden, and the Birth of Agriculture

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Medievalist

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Gobekli Tepe is an archaeogical site in Turkey with a number of stone circles made of T-shaped limestone slabs, many of them decorated with abstract animal designs.

It's clearly ancient. Archaeologists are unanimous in seeing as a religious/ritual structure. Carbon dating places the construction some 6000 years before Stonehenge, built in c.3,000 B.C.E. Note that the pyramids of Giza were constructed c. 2,500 B.C. E.

The quotations below are from the Smithsonian Magazine article here.

Scholars have long believed that only after people learned to farm and live in settled communities did they have the time, organization and resources to construct temples and support complicated social structures. But Schmidt argues it was the other way around: the extensive, coordinated effort to build the monoliths literally laid the groundwork for the development of complex societies.

"There's more time between Gobekli Tepe and the Sumerian clay tablets [etched in 3300 B.C.] than from Sumer to today," says Gary Rollefson[

Peters and Schmidt say, Gobekli Tepe's builders were on the verge of a major change in how they lived, thanks to an environment that held the raw materials for farming. "They had wild sheep, wild grains that could be domesticated—and the people with the potential to do it," Schmidt says. In fact, research at other sites in the region has shown that within 1,000 years of Gobekli Tepe's construction, settlers had corralled sheep, cattle and pigs. And, at a prehistoric village just 20 miles away, geneticists found evidence of the world's oldest domesticated strains of wheat; radiocarbon dating indicates agriculture developed there around 10,500 years ago, or just five centuries after Gobekli Tepe's construction.

There's a slightly-over-the-top article here from a novelist:
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencet...-mysterious-stones-mark-site-Garden-Eden.html

And a better one from Archaeology here: http://www.archaeology.org/0811/abstracts/turkey.html

ETA: There's a Google Map with sat images here.
 
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Medievalist

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Fascinating. So, in a broad sense, religion may have caused civilization?

That seems to be part of the contention, yes. I'm less enthused about Garden of Eden hyperbole, but I'm absolutely excited to be reading this stuff.

There are a number of Neolithic sites--including the wood henges that pre-date Stonehenge, the Irish site of Emain Macha, and a few in Eastern Europe, where ritual structures were built over several years, then covered up, deliberately. In the case of Emain Macha, the central structure was burned, and then covered while still smoking.
 

Monkey

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From Medievalist's first link:
To carve, erect and bury rings of seven-ton stone pillars would have required hundreds of workers, all needing to be fed and housed. Hence the eventual emergence of settled communities in the area around 10,000 years ago.

I find it both incredible and moving that, whatever these hunter-gatherers believed, they believed in it so strongly that they were able to not only envision, but actually achieve this.

And whatever they were praying to sure seemed to answer them; because of their faith, they were granted civilization.

Wonderful.
 

Guffy

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Fascinating article, mostly don't like to follow links but this was worth it.
 

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So, is civilization a good thing?

That was an interesting post. I will have to continue to look into Gobekli Tepe as more is known in the years to come.
 

Guffy

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one of the things that this points out is, the more we think we know about the past the more we can be surprised
 

Monkey

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So, is civilization a good thing?

Civilization, at least in this sense and IMO, is a very good thing.

Farming is so much more reliable than foraging. The domestication and eventual slaughter of animals is not only more reliable, but also safer than continually seeking out wild game. More permenant shelters means never getting caught out in the rain and a stable place to store possessions--which you can have more of, now that you don't have to carry them around everywhere. And that means more to pass on to your offspring; they get a better, easier start.

Civilization has the opportunity to make life more comfortable with each successive generation, at a far greater pace than a hunter/gatherer society.
 

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I am not a Luddite. I like being able to type on my computer rather than paint on cave walls. Still, there are two sides to every story.

I sometimes watch the documentaries about people still living in a pre-civilization state. I have found myself envying these people at times. They are close to nature, close to each other, egalitarian, cooperative, and only have to work two hours per day on average.

I remember hearing interviews with people of the Solomon Islands. They say it is their choice to live by gathering and hunting and have chosen not to move to nearby cities.

Many say we humans have grown out-of-control, and out of harmony with our environment. The programs in "The Matrix" compare humanity to a virus.

From "Humanity's Worst Invention: Agriculture:"
http://www.theecologist.org/pages/archive_detail.asp?content_id=623&j=y

agriculture is the invention that opened the gulf that we see between ourselves and mere nature. But by radically changing the way we acquire our food, the development of agriculture condemned us to live worse than we ever did before: losing our leisure time; eating worse; losing health, and losing autonomy. Not only that, but agriculture led to the first significant instances of large-scale war, inequality, empire, hierarchy, poverty, crime, famine and human-induced climate change as well as mass extinction.
 
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Monkey

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Honestly, I love the movie "The Gods Must Be Crazy", which poses as a documentary on the nomadic, hunter-gatherer lifestyle of a small aborigine tribe. It does seem an enviable lifestyle in many respects.

The "actor" who played the role of the main character was directly descended from the tribe portrayed--he was only one generation (maybe two) from that lifestyle. And yet, he and his family lived in solid housing and farmed. In an interview, he said that life out in the desert was really much more difficult and dangerous than portrayed, and he was scared that his part in the movie portrayal had been a lie (which was an incredibly strong taboo to break). He could go live as a nomad, and chose civilization, which is the case with most of us.

While a lot of us may, at times at least, envy those hunter-gatherers, we don't exactly quit our day jobs, sell our possessions, and go join them. We do have that choice. Instead, when we want to get reconnected to nature, we go out and ride horses through the woods, or go rock climbing, or to a cave. We might garden or farm, but most of us don't do that full-time, and we don't want to do without electricity and pumped-in water and flushable toilets. It's all a choice. And there are good reasons for what we've decided.

Personally, my religion is extremely nature-based. Given my druthers, I'd be outside and barefoot pretty much all the time, so long as the weather wasn't too cold (I can handle rain, I can handle 110 degrees, but if it gets below 50, I'll be inside by the fire!) My house is built to incorporate the outdoors, I garden, I keep livestock. But I'm glad to have a stable home for my children, and to be able to pass my accumulated wealth to them, and to know that, if they're hungry, there's plenty in the fridge. I'm glad to be able to talk to all of you, via internet, via electricity...and even though I get mine from the sun, that wouldn't be possible without civilization.
 

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I agree with much of what you say, but I am a bit more ambivalent. I blame my high school counselor. He never mentioned hunter/gatherer as a possible career choice.

Regarding the original topic. I was expecting the development of agriculture to have taken place further from Europe, and closer to Babylon or Egypt.
 

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Regarding the original topic. I was expecting the development of agriculture to have taken place further from Europe, and closer to Babylon or Egypt.

Keep in mind that the area is in the "fertile crescent," between the Tigris and the Euphrates; Egypt and Babylon are both, even now, flood plains, which means the good soil comes, and the good soil goes.
 

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Yes, Gobekli Tepe looks very close to the northern end of the "fertile crescent." If I consider good farmland as good wood to agriculture's fire, agriculture would burn quickly along the Tigris from pre-Nineveh to pre-Babylon. It must have traveled down the Levant quickly as well. Jericho's walls were built around 8K BCE. The location explains the early rise of the Hittites. The Hittites, who were not primarily a fertile crescent civiliztion, were right there where agriculture started.

Based on Jared Diamond's theories, agriculture would have taken a bit longer to cross the varying climates (mountains, valleys, and thin coastal regions) of Anatolia to Greece.

I wonder if agriculture developed independently in China.

I know too little of Hittite civilizations. They were one of the cultures to have a cuneiform along with Egypt and Sumer. I wonder what things happened in Anatolia between the development of agriculture and writing.
 

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I am more of the opinion that commerce caused civilisation: religon, education and the arts were simply emergent properties. The thing certain types of religion leave more artifacts than an open air market, stockyard or trading camp and so are more likely to remain to the present day.
 

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I wonder if agriculture developed independently in China.

I would expect that agriculture arose separately in all areas with ammenable conditions. i.e. animals that flock and so can be herded and owned (Europe, Scandinavia) rather than scatter and so cannot (Africa, much of the Americas).
 

Medievalist

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I know too little of Hittite civilizations. They were one of the cultures to have a cuneiform along with Egypt and Sumer. I wonder what things happened in Anatolia between the development of agriculture and writing.

Hittite is, with the related languages in the Anatolian family (all dead) and Indo-European language. You can learn enough to read it sort of crudely, (using annotated texts) in roughly ten weeks.

What's interesting, to me, is that while the language is very much I.E., as are the myths, fairly regularly, a Near Eastern/Summerian or Semitic myth, or word pops up and takes the text in very unexpected directions.

The development of agriculture quite honestly caused the development of writing, both in the Near East, and, completely independently, in Asia--rulers needed accounting records.
 

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I would expect that agriculture arose separately in all areas with ammenable conditions. i.e. animals that flock and so can be herded and owned (Europe, Scandinavia) rather than scatter and so cannot (Africa, much of the Americas).

Asian and "the rest" of the world did it a bit differently--because of the different requirements around wheat growing, and rice.

And then too, there's the other cultures that are, unfortunately, too often ignored in the West--Polynesian cultures, or Micronesian cultures, where agriculture is not connected to grain, but to tubers, or trees.
 

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I love the Polynesian "Adam & Eve" myth acording to Joseph Campbell. God created a man and a woman and put them in a boat with a chicken, a pig and a dog.

I was just now reading a bit about the Hittites. It seems they had a post-Magna Carta style monarchy, and rather liberal laws regarding crime. There were very few capital crimes and the penalty for theft was, "pay your victim back!"
 

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The development of agriculture quite honestly caused the development of writing, both in the Near East, and, completely independently, in Asia--rulers needed accounting records.

That's definitely true! I remember reading about all the mundane accounting records that are found among the ancient clay tablets.

I also remember reading about the religious and mythological documents being some of the earliest found, such as the _Epic of Gilgamesh_. Religion must have also played a key role in the development of writing as Gobekli Tepe demonstrates--since religion came about in a similar time to agriculture.

I wonder what happened with the Incans, though. They made large drawings that can only be seen from space. They built roads accross some of the harshest terrain on Earth and built large cities with impressive architecture, but never developed writing.
 
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Higgins

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That's definitely true! I remember reading about all the mundane accounting records that are found among the ancient clay tablets.

I also remember reading about the religious and mythological documents being some of the earliest found, such as the _Epic of Gilgamesh_. Religion must have also played a key role in the development of writing as Gobekli Tepe demonstrates--since religion came about in a similar time to agriculture.

I wonder what happened with the Incans, though. They made large drawings that can only be seen from space. They built roads accross some of the harshest terrain on Earth and built large cities with impressive architecture, but never developed writing.

They used quipu:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quipu

And like many Imperial societies, they didn't invent a lot of the stuff they accumulated under their control.
 
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