Monday, August 29, 2011

Göbekli Tepe Or The Ruins That Predate Civilization

Most of the science on this blog is linked to biology or chemistry in one way or another, in large part because it's what I study in.

Today we take a look at something a little different. And by "a little", I mean a lot. I have the awesome Steph Sinkhorn to thank for one of the most major mindblowing discovery I've made in the last month: Göbekli Tepe. 

What is Göbekli Tepe?

Göbekli Tepe is a set of ruins discovered on a hilltop in southeast Turkey. The complex appears to be a sanctuary of sorts. It contains multiple round subterrean structures, each of which has a series of massive limestone pillars (we're talking 8 feet tall and seven tons here). The pillars themselves are decorated with complex carvings of animals, plants and other enigmatic pictograms.

The construction of Göbekli Tepe, which involved the carving and carrying of the pillars uphill, would take a staggering amount of manpower - estimations speak of 500 men.

Okay. But the Egyptians built the pyramids, so what's the big deal?

A Little Historical Context

The big deal came with the carbon-dating. At the moment, the oldest dating on Göbekli Tepe places it at 9000 BC. They are not done digging the site, however, and most archeologist estimate the ruins' beginning to be in 11,000 BC.

Mesopotamian writing systems are estimated to the end of the 4th millenium BC.
Animal husbandry is estimated to 9000 BC.

What this means, in short, is that Göbekli Tepe was built before the Neolithic Revolution, when humans were still hunters-gatherers. Before agriculture and animal husbandry.

The hilltop sanctuary speaks of a level of organization that was never associated with the time period. Archeologists now believe a priestly caste supervised the work (good job on gathering those 500 men, there) and, afterwards, the religious ceremony that took place there.

Kind of awesome, how wrong we were about the small packs of hunter-gatherers, eh?

And Now the Actual Crazy Inspiration Part

There is something else unique with Göbekli Tepe, and I'll admit that's the part I found the most interesting. It spoke to the writer in me, because it implies a story.

Göbekli Tepe was deliberately buried under 300 to 500 cubic meters of sand. They took the sand from elsewhere and filled their sanctuary with it, and no one knows why. Protection from invaders? Preservation for future generations? Respect for a religious site no longer in usage?

We don't know. Chances are, we never will.

If you're like me, though, you are weaving an epic tale that would lead hundreds of hunter-gatherers to work together and fill their holy sites with sand, in the desperate hope that when danger passes, they can return to it and honour their gods.

Images are from Ancient Wisdom, where there's a lot more to see.


  1. Hee! I was really blown away when I first hear about this. It is SO COOL. And yes, totally inspiration fodder :)

  2. That is absolutely fascinating. Though the 500 men thing seems improbable to me. I get the feeling that modern people seriously underestimate what a human being is capable of when he's not relying on modern technology.

  3. Steph: I'm so glad you put that link on Google+ . I spent so much time thinking about it. It's awesome!

    Sarah: I honestly have no idea how they estimate these things. Even then, it's not only modern technology they lack, it's basic stuff like wheels and levers.

    Even if it's less than 500 men, though, it'd take an unexpected amount of organization to pull off. The estimate gives a good idea. How accurate it is doesn't seem that important.

  4. This is wonderful, thank you for sharing :-)

    Although I must admit, when I read the part about the site being buried in sand, my first thought was, when you bury ancient religious sites, it's usually to prevent the resurrection of a demon.

    Clearly I have been watching too much Buffy the Vampire Slayer lately.

  5. This is very cool. I had no idea this place existed.

  6. This is awesome! Those pictures are breathtaking. This is the 1st time I've heard about this, so thanks for sharing! Great idea fodder. >:D

  7. Ah, I didn't mean to downplay the awesomeness of the achievement. My point was something along the lines of "I think ancient peoples were even more capable of doing amazing things than we generally give them credit for." It certainly is an inspiring find, but I promise I won't steal the idea. ;)

  8. Yep, just got bookmarked into my "Research" folder. Series inspiration for a historical fantasy writer. Ruins from 11,000 BCE! Whew!

  9. Duuude. That's awesome. *thrusts away plot bunnies*

    Must work on my current projects... Must not get distracted. T-T

  10. You're right, an awesome historical novel can be told from the history of the Gobekli Tepe. I'm curious as to what exactly about the ruins indicated the site was a sanctuary.

  11. Sommer: Heey, that's a perfectly valid explanation! I vote demon burial. :P

    Michael, Alex, annalise: It is rather crazy and out there, right? I love discoveries that force us to question the very basics of what we know.

    Matt: They've been digging this thing for a decade, but they still don't have a lot of info. If you look up the german scientist (google him along with his university name) you'll get the papers he wrote. There's a lot of sites out there that are of doubtful quality -- religious groups have called the ruins the Gates to Eden, and others think it's an alien civilization. I doubt the serious info will be on the internet.

    SilentPages: You. Back to your novel. The ruins won't go anywhere. ;)

    Sarah: Steal, steal all you want! If I meant to keep it to myself, I wouldn't post it here. ;) And don't worry, I know you didn't meant to downplay it. Just wanted to point out how, even with lower numbers, this is some crazy shit.

    Laura: I think it's the circle disposition and the pillars, first and foremost. Habitations rarely have this open-aired set-up. Plus, one of the video-report I found on youtube mentionned that they'd found no traces of living tools (pots, knives, etc.), not even the carving tools used on the pillars.

    And whew, I think that's all of you! :)

  12. I love discovering things like this! I'm firmly in the camp that ancients were a lot smarter than we give them credit for.

    there has been talk due to recent research that the Sphinx and the Pyramids are a lot older than we previously thought.

  13. I think Sommer's on to something... :)

    This is SUPER interesting. Thanks for sharing, Claudie! I'll tuck it away in my mental filing system (which is a sure sign it will be lost forever) for future story inspiration!

  14. cookie: Definitely smarter than we think. You and Sarah have a point there. I doubt the new discoveries are because we got smarter with time. We just had more smart background from the people before us to build upon.

    TL: Don't worry. The human brain is a thing of association. It'll come up the day you need it to. :D

  15. Wow, that's so interesting!

    Nice to meet you fellow campaigner. Now a follower on your blog and Twitter :).

  16. Hi Claudie!
    I've been aware of Gobleki Tepe since another writer friend made me aware of the Nat Geo article on it. I have a theory that the standing stones are representative of an ancient zodiac and were used to determine astronomical alignment..oh wait, the guys in black suits are at the door! Ha! Great article and thanks for spreading the word!

  17. Isis: Hey, nice to meet you too! Blog followed. Will get to twitter soon enough. :)

    Autumn: I really, really like that theory. Dodge the black suits and spread it! Quiick!

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