Gobekli Tepe: A Neolithic Megalith with a Story to Tell

by Fernando Perfas

Gobekli Tepe site | Photo by Zhengan via Wikimedia Commons

In southeastern Turkey, in the ancient city of Sanliurfa, stands a megalithic complex known as Gobekli Tepe. The hill where it stands had been visited by archeologists decades before, but it wasn’t until 1995 when a cluster of megalithic monuments was first unearthed. What makes this site a staggering archeological find is its age. It was built a thousand years or so after the last ice age. It is estimated to have been constructed more than ten thousand years ago by neolithic people, man’s hunter-gatherer ancient ancestors. It is older than the pyramids of Giza or Stonehenge, or any other known megalithic structures. Its discovery and what it revealed had upended the accepted narratives of the beginning of human civilization.

It is believed that around eight to ten thousand years ago, early humans had transitioned from hunting and food gathering into domesticating staple crops and animals. Accordingly, this transformed nomadic man into settlers, which led to the evolution of more complex social organizations such as a community, tribe, or fief. With a growing and more organized population, long-term cooperative enterprises developed, such as largescale agricultural projects or building dwelling places or fortifications. With more efficient food production and a source of security, our ancestors found more time for aesthetic and cultural pursuits, i.e., arts, architecture, religion, etc. It was the beginning of human civilization, and the oldest recorded civilization emerged in Mesopotamia about five thousand years ago.

With Gobekli Tepe’s discovery, many of these assumptions are being revisited and the history of human civilization re-written. Besides its age, it raises many provocative questions about the early people who built it and how and why? Klaus Schmidt, the German archeologist who unearthed Gobekli, reformulated the crops and animal domestication argument as a precursor to human civilization. Instead, he argued that man’s propensity for building elaborate monuments ushered in the birth of human civilization.

The hunter-gatherers who built Gobekli needed many people to build massive structures using primitive tools and technology. They moved boulders around, measured, cut, polished, carved, and hoisted them as massive pillars and columns with rudimentary tools made of stone flints and other similar implements. It was built up on a hill requiring enormous manpower and logistics.

“This inward and upward-looking into the mysteries of creation prompted the early man to erect monuments to honor an unseen power. An intimation of the divine has always been with man, inspiring him to create edifices and great works of art. It is this primordial urge that ushered in the rise of human civilization.”

Schmidt theorized that the logistics necessary to feed the workers at Gobekli would have required a large amount of readily available food and drinks for the duration of the enterprise. Moreover, there were several sites of similar megalithic monuments in the hills of Gobekli and around the region, which they built in the same era. The evidence points to early man’s proclivity to build mammoth edifices. It led early man to transition from food gathering and hunting to agriculture and animal husbandry to sustain such projects. Schmidt held a contrarian view.

Gobekli Tepe has an unearthly grandeur unique to itself, considering its age, magnitude, design, carvings of indigenous animals, and rudimentary technology employed to achieve its intended purpose. There is no consensus among archeologists on why it was built and for what purpose. What is certain is its importance among its builders, judging from its obvious deliberate design and the amount of work put into it.

Some think it was built for ceremonial purposes or as a gathering place for rituals or celebrations. Others believe it was an astronomical site to track the movements of celestial bodies. Whatever the reason ancient people built Gobekli, it stands as an oblation to something they believed to be greater than themselves.

This inward and upward-looking into the mysteries of creation prompted the early man to erect monuments to honor an unseen power. An intimation of the divine has always been with man, inspiring him to create edifices and great works of art. It is this primordial urge that ushered in the rise of human civilization.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR  Dr. Fernando B. Perfas is an addiction specialist who has written several books and articles on the subject. He currently provides training and consulting services to various government and non-government drug treatment agencies regarding drug treatment and prevention approaches. He can be reached at fbperfas@gmail.com.

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