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IPFS News Link • Archaeology

First Religious Temple: Built 9,500 BC, Mysteriously Buried 8,000BC

Unlike most discoveries from the ancient world, Göbekli Tepe was found intact, the stones upright, the order and artistry of the work plain even to the un-trained eye. Most startling is the elaborate carving found on about half of the 50 pillars Schmidt has unearthed. There are a few abstract symbols, but the site is almost covered in graceful, naturalistic sculptures and bas-reliefs of the animals that were central to the imagination of hunter-gatherers. Wild boar and cattle are depicted, along with totems of power and intelligence, like lions, foxes, and leopards. Many of the biggest pillars are carved with arms, including shoulders, elbows, and jointed fingers. The T shapes appear to be towering humanoids but have no faces, hinting at the worship of ancestors or humanlike deities. "In the Bible it talks about how God created man in his image," says Johns Hopkins archeologist Glenn Schwartz. Göbekli Tepe "is the first time you can see humans with that idea, that they resemble gods." The temples thus offer unexpected proof that mankind emerged from the 140,000-year reign of hunter-gatherers with a ready vocabulary of spiritual imagery, and capable of huge logistical, economic, and political efforts. A Catholic born in Franconia, Germany, Schmidt wanders the site in a white turban, pointing out the evidence of that transition. "The people here invented agriculture. They were the inventors of cultivated plants, of domestic architecture," he says. Göbekli sits at the Fertile Crescent's northernmost tip, a productive borderland on the shoulder of forests and within sight of plains. The hill was ideally situated for ancient hunters. Wild gazelles still migrate past twice a year as they did 11 millennia ago, and birds fly overhead in long skeins. Genetic mapping shows that the first domestication of wheat was in this immediate area—perhaps at a mountain visible in the distance—a few centuries after Göbekli's founding. Animal husbandry also began near here—the first domesticated pigs came from the surrounding area in about 8000 B.C., and cattle were domesticated in Turkey before 6500 B.C. Pottery followed. Those discoveries then flowed out to places like Çatalhöyük, the oldest-known Neolithic village, which is 300 miles to the west.

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Comment by Leslie Fish
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Fascinating find!  Especially that bas-relief carving, which is of a lioness, not a lion.  Actually, sculpture and signs of devotions were found in Lepinski Vir, dating back nearly 25,000 years, not to mention the famous cave-paintings of Lascaux and Altamira, dating from about the same time.  Agriculture, though of different plants, seems to have developed simultaneously -- about 7000 BCE -- in Mesopotamia, China, India, South America and Polynesia.  At approximately the same time, domestication of animals developed across the northern tier of Europe and Asia.  The Australian Aborigines and the North American Indians domesticated the dog at about the same period but seem to have stopped there, possibly because of a lack of domesticable herding animals in their environments.  Likewise, at about 9000 years ago, we find the first signs of metal use -- gold, silver and copper.  I'd love to see what the archeologists discover next about physical and climate conditions at that time!

--Leslie Fish