We’ll start at the beginning. Close your eyes and keep reading to follow along on a journey back into time. (OK, you can keep one eye open for reading.)
Think back to when you were a tiny little kid. How far away does that seem and what was life like? For me, it seems a long way and a little hazy.
Now, think back a 100 years. We have good records of what the world was like around the time of the Titanic — photos, films, books, magazines, even personal stories— but it’s a little hard to picture.
Next, go back 1,000 years. Whoa, now we’re digging deep into the imagination — even with the paintings and writings available it’s murky.
2,000 years? An important time in Western history — buildings, statues and inscriptions still exist, along with copies of copies of books and documents — but putting yourself there is a real (if fascinating) challenge to the imagination.
Then, time-machine your mind back 5,000 years to ancient Egypt and the pyramids and try to see life on the Nile and the people there. Fun but not easy. It takes a lot of imagination and there are still a lot of blanks left to fill in.
OK. Are you ready? Now, DOUBLE that and you’ll get almost to the time of Gobekli Tepe, the ancient ritual site in southeastern Turkey — the world’s oldest known manmade structures.
I’m fascinated with Gobekli Tepe. It’s 12,000 years old, and maybe much, much older. That’s TWELVE THOUSAND years!
Here’s where it places in human history (by rough dates) compared to other well-known archaeological sites:
- 3,000 years before Jericho’s prime, the world’s oldest known city
- 6,000 years before the Druids built Stonehenge
- 6,500 years before our friend Otzi (above) tragically died and and was mummified in the Apline ice
- 7,000 years before the Great Pyramids were constructed
- 10,000 years before the Mayan Pyramids were built at Chichen Itza
- 11,000 years before Angkor Wat in modern Cambodia
That’s a lot of THOUSANDS of years!
What fascinates me about Gobekli Tepe is that it was built in THE STONE AGE — a period of prehistory when we human beings were supposedly wandering around in animal skins, snagging a meal wherever we could, pounding little tools out of big rocks and killing each other over scarce gathering lands for a few nuts and berries.
Gobekli Tepe blows that story by thousands of years and shows that human culture was well developed far earlier than we previously thought. We had to be socially sophisticated to build something as amazing as the 20 circular stone temples at the site. The intricate animal carvings that show up in the four temples excavated so far suggest a complex and common religious identity too.
Yes, you read that right – only four of the 20 existing temples have been excavated and archaeologists are already amazed at what they’ve found. And it’s not NEW news – Smithsonian Magazine’s most recent report on it was in 2008! National Geographic had an update in June, 2011. Why isn’t this a bigger deal?
The site was known to archaeologists for decades, but was ignored for one of two reasons: either it was misidentified as a much younger Byzantine city; or it was recognized as SERIOUSLY OLD and scholars wouldn’t touch it because the discoveries there would challenge all contemporary thinking about ancient history and human social development. German archaeologist Klaus Schmidt even says that when he first saw the site in 1994, he knew he had only two options: walk away entirely or spend the rest of his life excavating Gobekli Tepe. We thank him for choosing to dig.
And Gobekli Tepe was not just abandoned and left to decay into ruins. It was used for at least 4,000 years then DELIBERATELY covered with dirt — essentially decommissioned as a temple and buried in a grave.
Some people like researcher/writer Graham Hancock suggest that we’re older than we can imagine and that the clues to our remotely ancient history were wiped out by terrestrial catastrophe. We keep finding more clues to that past.
Gobekli Tepe is one of those clues that many modern scientists and historians have been unable to grasp. It says that we were grown up earlier than we thought and we cared enough about each other to build something amazing together.
I can’t wait to learn more from Gobekli Tepe about how we —human society — are WAY older than we think.
Here’s the cheese on this Brain Burger — three unknown things about Gobekli Tepe:
- As a kid, Fred Flintstone went to church there.
- It was built on a hill so the developer could charge more for the lots.
- It’s not a temple, it’s actually an intergalactic rest stop bathroom used by those ancient aliens that Georgio Tsoukalos won’t shut up about.
Chris Everheart is author of the YA thriller