If you’re into archaeology, neolithic civilization, ancient religion and, of course, paleobabble, you’ve head of Gobekli Tepe. But in case not, Gobekli Tepe is an archaeological site in Turkey whose use dates back to the 10th-8th millennium B.C. The site has been interpreted as a worship center / temple complex. If that’s the case, it is arguable the oldest such complex discovered to date. As the Global Heritage Fund website for Gobekli Tepe states:
Göbekli Tepe is an Early Neolithic site of enormous significance, featuring 5-meter-high monolithic pillars carved in relief and dating to 10,000 or more years ago. Erected within circular “temple” structures, the latest excavations have revealed that these structures likely covered the entire hillside and could number as many as 20 in total. Göbekli Tepe has been interpreted as the oldest human-made place of worship yet discovered.
Though known earlier, excavation of the site first began in 1994 under German archaeologist Klaus Schmidt. The site quickly became known as the Turkish Stonehenge in the popular media. It’s circular structures are unique in that:
. . . [its] circles range from 30 to 100 feet in diameter and are surrounded by rectangular stone walls about six feet high. Many of the pillars are carved with elaborate animal figure reliefs. In addition to bulls, foxes, and cranes, representations of lions, ducks, scorpions, ants, spiders, and snakes appear on the pillars. Freestanding sculptures depicting the animals have also been found within the circles. During the most recent excavation season, archaeologists uncovered a statue of a human and sculptures of a vulture’s head and a boar.”1
Fringe researchers were quick to label it the original Eden. The problem is that other archaeologists who have now gone through the dig material don’t believe the site is a slam dunk for a temple complex. One of them is E. B. Banning, author of “So Fair a House: Göbekli Tepe and the Identification of Temples in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic of the Near East,” Current Anthropology 52:5 (October 2011): 619-660. Like so many of the antidotes to paleobabble, Banning’s article is not publicly available to those who lack access to scholarly journal databases like JSTOR. And of course the archeo-porn popular press would never tell you about alternative views. Fortunately, a short write-up of Banning’s criticisms of the temple interpretation is available: “Archaeologist Argues World’s Oldest Temples Were Not Temples At All.” Here’s a telling summary:
He outlines growing archaeological evidence for daily activities at the site, such as flintknapping and food preparation. “The presence of this evidence suggests that the site was not, after all, devoid of residential occupation, but likely had quite a large population,” Banning said.
Banning goes on to argue that the population may have been housed in the purported temples themselves. He disagrees with the idea that the presence of decorative pillars or massive construction efforts means the buildings could not have been residential space.
If you’re not used to reading scholarly literature on archaeology, this doesn’t sound like much. I’ll translate. True temples were houses of gods — not domiciles for the general population. The fact that this site does indeed witness to neolithic occupation by a sizable number of people argues against it being a temple complex. The abstract of the actual article puts it this way:
Archaeologists have proposed that quite a number of structures dating to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A and B in southwest Asia were nondomestic ritual buildings, sometimes described specifically as temples or shrines, and these figure large in some interpretations of social change in the Near Eastern Neolithic. Yet the evidence supporting the identification of cult buildings is often equivocal or depends on ethnocentric distinctions between sacred and profane spaces. This paper explores the case of Gobekli Tepe, a large Pre-Pottery Neolithic site in Turkey that its excavator claims consisted only of temples, to illustrate weaknesses in some kinds of claims about Neolithic sacred spaces and to explore some of the problems of identifying prehistoric ritual. Consideration of the evidence suggests the alternative hypothesis that the buildings at Gobekli Tepe may actually be houses, albeit ones that are rich in symbolic content.
Here are some excerpts from the Banning article that extend from the abstract:
. . . contrasting interpretations of Neolithic ritual space make it clear that archaeologists are far from agreed on how to identify specialized ritual spaces either in the Neolithic or more generally. This is not only a matter of identifying evidence of ritual activity but of identifying in what ways, if any, it can be distinguished from the “ordinary” activities of daily life that we associate with residential or “domestic” use. (619)
Schmidt interprets the images on the pillars as “art” and as religious symbols . . . [He] insists that “no serious claim for domestic use [of the buildings] . . .” and that the Gobekli structures are “without fireplaces, ovens, or other usual traces of “domestic life.” (623)
Banning proceeds to discuss the evidence for domestic ritual, ritual symbolism, and art in previously-known neolithic sites. Bringing such evidence to bear at Gobekli Tepe undermines its identification as a centralized cult center for a single population (i.e., a temple). Banning’s article shows that there is an abundance of such domestic contexts and artifactual materials from those contexts. Lastly, he combs through the excavation records from Gobekli Tepe, pointing out the site yields evidence of domestic occupation.
The point here is not that Banning’s alternative thesis has won the day. Rather, the point is that it’s a thesis that exists and must be taken seriously — as opposed to jumping to conclusions and turning Gobekli Tepe into Eden (perhaps Atlantis would be a more appropriate analogy). This propensity is something that crops up all the time in discussions of fringe archaeology. Amateur researchers seize on some site, assign a fantastic meaning to it, write a book that never undergoes peer review, make some cash, and then look for the next point of titillation amid the dirt and debris of antiquity. Conclusions are drawn about an object without serious consideration of all the data in context (or the absence of data one would expect if a given interpretation would be correct). This “method” is simply unprofessional and misleading.
- Sandra Scham, “The World’s First Temple,” Archaeology Volume 61 Number 6 (Nov-Dec 2008). ↩
indeed, each home could have had its ritual component. A large temple like of YHWH’s had living quarters for priests and storage space, but it wasn’t the size of a whole city.
what is far more interesting is the sand it is (said to be) buried in, some think this was a deliberate burial act by it inhabitants as they left town and are puzzled.
I think this sand was dumped by The Flood and that this is a pre Flood city.
I also suggest this in A Possible History of Life on Mars by Christine Erikson on amazon kindle, where I speculate that aliens are descended from humans modified by genetic engineering and the first ones were ascribed to the angels who in fact had no DNA to give, because born to the women the angels mated with, also used in experiments to help interests of human leaders wanting super soldiers and so forth, and the aliens we see now descend from those offworld when The Flood hit.
Moke, I enjoyed your articles. I’m reading other writings by you as recommended by Sharon Shipwash. Thanks for your insight on this archeological topic. I have a great curiosity in many fields. I currently work on a shipboard missile program for the Navy. Blessings.
Thanks – my brother was career navy.
What are you going to do with all of this when you meet them face to face? Those who have are really tired of all this schmooze over.
not sure who this was intended for. If it’s me, I have no idea what it means.
There are far too many instances where an archaeologist has jumped to a conclusion. We have books like 1491 that essentially re-told the archaeology of the Americas and it was nothing like the general consensus even 20 years prior. Calling Gobekli Tepe a temple is simply bad scholarship. You gather all the evidence then look at what it tells you. Here all the evidence is certainly not in with only 5% of the site excavated. How could you make a definitive statement knowing that there is another 95% that can be known but is not, unless there is an agenda or bias. If this is a ritual site, it hardly classifies as a temple using modern definitions. We have no idea what happened here or what the builders intended. So until the other 95% is uncovered and multiple researchers and scholars examine the evidence, we should stop trying to ascribe our biases to it. However, we should look at these ruins with a sense of amazement – look at what humans are capable of achieving when they work together. That is the real lesson here.
You can’t listen to these so called experts graham Hancock proved this theory, you need to think outside the box nobody can say what this is 95% is still to be unearthed these so called experts can’t not even tell us the truth about Egypt they no they just don’t want to admit that all there achievements all the qualifications are worthless history must and has to be rewritten this is a point of fact not fiction human civilisation deserves better truth we can not keep putting our own personal spin on things let it speak for itself
When Hancock submits his work to peer review and it’s endorsed by real experts (he’s not one – he’s a journalist), then I’ll be happy to post that.
Quite right you but you’ve got to admit he’s spot on that we were building alot longer than these archeologists have said the trouble is nobody will look at his papers and like you said he’s not an expert but neither are the archeologists who came up with the times dates in the first place if you think about it there theories were wrong they have done some exceptional work but to be wrong by almost 4 thousand years is not cricket everything that they based there time lines around there theory has a knock on affect we must look at everything else know nothing can be overlooked because some people might be offended when they are challenged they close rank that’s the real problem
prove to me no one will look at his papers. The research done by the excavator was published. It’s not Eden, like the fringe wants to claim.
What peer review poppycock that’s all I can say the academics are in compleat denial they are seething frofing at the mouth they still haven’t even begun putting all the facts out there not because the evidence is to weak because it is to strong
Having published under peer review (and some stuff out of the mainstream), I can say with complete certainty that you don’t know anything about peer review. This caricature is nothing more than an excuse. It’s whining.
Whining yes but very true you see I do understand why people hide behind what very little truth they blurt out of the hole under there nose but ignorance is no excuse,let me ask you this what is the point of having theses peer reviews if they are incorrect dont get me wrong there’s been fathomless good work done by all who are involved but sadly we must start again it is futile to duck it any longer
why would you assume peer reviews are incorrect? True, they aren’t infallible, but they are overwhelmingly correct because they reflect people familiar with the sum total of factual knowledge within a discipline. Being “different” is no sign of being on target. Ideas need to be probed and tested by panels of people who know a field of knowledge very well — as opposed to what happens in pseudo-archaeology and other pseudo-research: an idea is subjected to no one with field knowledge, and is therefore (somehow) deemed worthy of consideration just because it exists in someone’s head. That’s a poor alternative.
Alternative ideas DO survive peer review. Consider Robert Bauvall’s Orion correlation theory. His ideas were published in Discussions in Egyptology, a well-known respected Egyptology journal. It stimulated responses that were also published in that journal. Not everyone agreed with the idea (and Bauvall has since gone off into some truly wacky stuff), but experts thought it had merit — despite being innovative (outside the mainstream).
If someone isn’t willing to even try peer review, they are afraid. And yes, it’s whining to then lament “persecution” by the academy.