It’s 7,000 years older than Stonehenge and the pyramids. It predates villages, pottery, domesticated animals, and agriculture. So gather the implications for our view on the earliest development of human civilization. As it is a temple, moreover, it might also change our view of how civilization developed – suggesting that the urge to worship and build temples sparked the need to develop architecture, farming, writing and statecraft, rather than the other way around.
From a beautiful article in Newsweek, worth reading entirely:
Standing on the hill at dawn, overseeing a team of 40 Kurdish diggers, the German-born archeologist waves a hand over his discovery here, a revolution in the story of human origins. Schmidt has uncovered a vast and beautiful temple complex, a structure so ancient that it may be the very first thing human beings ever built. The site isn’t just old, it redefines old: the temple was built 11,500 years ago—a staggering 7,000 years before the Great Pyramid, and more than 6,000 years before Stonehenge first took shape. The ruins are so early that they predate villages, pottery, domesticated animals, and even agriculture—the first embers of civilization. In fact, Schmidt thinks the temple itself, built after the end of the last Ice Age by hunter-gatherers, became that ember—the spark that launched mankind toward farming, urban life, and all that followed.
Göbekli Tepe—the name in Turkish for “potbelly hill”—lays art and religion squarely at the start of that journey. After a dozen years of patient work, Schmidt has uncovered what he thinks is definitive proof that a huge ceremonial site flourished here, a “Rome of the Ice Age,” as he puts it, where hunter-gatherers met to build a complex religious community.
The new discoveries are finally beginning to reshape the slow-moving consensus of archeology. Göbekli Tepe is “unbelievably big and amazing, at a ridiculously early date,” according to Ian Hodder, director of Stanford’s archeology program. Enthusing over the “huge great stones and fantastic, highly refined art” at Göbekli, Hodder—who has spent decades on rival Neolithic sites—says: “Many people think that it changes everything… It overturns the whole apple cart. All our theories were wrong.”
This theory reverses a standard chronology of human origins, in which primitive man went through a “Neolithic revolution” 10,000 to 12,000 years ago. In the old model, shepherds and farmers appeared first, and then created pottery, villages, cities, specialized labor, kings, writing, art, and—somewhere on the way to the airplane—organized religion.
Religion now appears so early in civilized life—earlier than civilized life, if Schmidt is correct—that some think it may be less a product of culture than a cause of it, less a revelation than a genetic inheritance.
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.