Göbekli Tepe: Series Introduction

The 11,000 year old archaeological site of Göbekli Tepe in southern Turkey is undoubtedly one of the most important in the world.  German archaeologist Klaus Schmidt began the ongoing excavations at Göbekli in 1994. Besides being a huge undertaking (less than 5% of the site has been uncovered), the finds — and claims associated with them — have been extraordinary. In a nutshell, these claims are:

  • Göbekli was built and used by nomadic hunter-gatherers rather than sedentary agriculturalists.
  • It was a religious or ritual pilgrimage center that attracted people from far and wide.
  • The massive stone structures or megaliths were “temples” or world’s earliest “churches.”
  • It shows that complex organized religion preceded the domestication of plants and animals or Neolithic Revolution.

Why are these extraordinary claims? Because hunter-gatherers aren’t supposed to be doing these things and the order is wrong.

Before Göbekli, the consensus was that the domestication of plants and animals was a condition precedent to the construction of megaliths and organized worship. After Göbekli, the causal arrows were supposedly reversed. If correct, this is heady stuff: it would mean that ideas and symbols led to or caused the single most important change in the history of humanity. There is no “civilization” without agriculture or food production.

Under the Göbekli scenario proposed by Schmidt and others, religion is not mere superstructure: it is base.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, which Göbekli supposedly provides. But does it? In the October 2011 issue of Current Anthropology, University of Toronto archaeologist Edward Banning challenges the Göbekli claims. Banning’s article raises important questions about what has been found and how it has been interpreted.

Because the Göbekli claims and counterclaims are foundational, I will be covering them in a series of posts. In the first, we will look at the site itself and the extensive (sometimes sensational) press coverage, including interviews with Klaus Schmidt. In the second, we will examine Schmidt’s professional publications and site reports for Göbekli. In the third, we will look at the questions raised by Banning in “So Fair a House: Göbekli Tepe and the Identification of Temples in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic of the Near East.” Finally, we will assess the whole to determine whether the extraordinary Göbekli claims are supported by sufficient evidence. The complete series listing with links can be found here.

Although Göbekli surely is not (as Spiegel suggested in a 2006 cover story) the lost Garden of Eden, its archaeological and historical importance is undeniable. By the end of the series, we should have a better fix on Göbekli and the claims surrounding it. Is Göbekli an archaeological or metaphorical Stairway to Heaven? I kid but watch the video anyway.

Reference:

Banning, E.B. (2011). So Fair a House: Göbekli Tepe and the Identification of Temples in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic of the Near East Current Anthropology, 52 (5), 619-660 DOI: 10.1086/661207

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4 thoughts on “Göbekli Tepe: Series Introduction

  1. Paul Wenke

    I found your link on Huskers Illustrated (Huskers on line) and have read a few blogs. Very intersting and I will be a reader.

    Go Big Red.

  2. Cris Post author

    Hi Paul and welcome to Genealogy of Religion; we try to have fun around here and I encourage everyone to participate with comments.

    Glad to have you and GBR!

  3. Gina

    Hi, came here this morning, after having discovered the Gobleki Tepe monuments only yesterday, imagine, via a series of youtube videos about earth groaning and strange sound phenomenas. Apart from any archeological and historical or religious significance, these stones are simply gorgeous to look at, and shows a high developed sense of aesthetics. In the little time I had since yesterday, I have already found out about Edward Banning who has a different view on these findings. That makes it even more fascinating. I also have a little bit of trouble with the fact that this site is labeled as a temple because the bible and religion are used as references. But it is what we, modern mankind, know. So it’s the only way we are able to explain things, especially when we can’t. So that weaves an even more intricate or complex shell around it. I have a lot of reading to do, and someone also already referred Graham Hancock’s book, Fingerprints of the Gods, to look at the bigger picture. Either way, from my point of view, that mankind is way too arrogant and assuming ‘we know it all’, mistreating and abusing other creatures that live on this planet, such as animals on land in in the seas… All of this is very interesting and your blog here sure helps a lot, because you write very clear and it makes for fun reading. And I am not a student or connaisseur or expert with a whole lot of knowledge or inner databank filled with facts… I do have a mind that likes to explore things and draw its own conclusions in collaboration with a sense that maybe isn’t scientific, nonetheless valuable in life: gut feeling :-) Thank you for maintaining this blog, have it bookmarked!

  4. Cris Post author

    Hi Gina and welcome to Genealogy of Religion! We are glad to have you and look forward to your comments.

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