The Birth of Religion “We used to think agriculture gave rise to cities and later to writing, art, and religion. Now the world’s oldest temple suggests the urge to worship sparked civilization.” http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2011/06/gobekli-tepe/mann-text
ŞanlıUrfa(Shanliurfa), Southeast Turkey, 1994
When Professor Klaus Schmidt of the German Archaeological Institute arrived in one of the oldest towns in the world, he believed he could find something unique to improve his understanding of the Neolithic era. Perhaps, something to make this town, where Prophet Abraham was supposedly born, inspire interest again. Buried at Göbeklitepe, about twenty kilometres away, he unearthed evidence that might prove his theory that the thinking of the modern archaeologists and anthropologists was probably not quite right. He had worked in the area together with a team of Turkish and international colleagues, and discovered many sites related to the Neolithic Age. This fertile land, between the rivers of Euphrates and Tigris, the cradle of civilization in Anatolia, he knew held all the secrets regarding the progress of mankind. Does it begin with Sumer or is it even older?
Klaus decided to stay in Urfa and rented a house. The 1960 survey by the University of Chicago and the Istanbul University on Göbeklitepe triggered his interest, and he managed to scrape together the funds to conduct an excavation there, in collaboration with the local authorities.
The following year the excavations begin. He discovers the lime-stones at the top of the mounds, dismissed as Byzantine and Ottoman in the survey, are much older. The more they dig, the more they find. Layer upon layer of stone, the technique and artistry getting more sophisticated under each layer, the oldest dating back to Stone Age, more than 11,600 years ago.
“There are more flint tools in a square meter or two, here than many archaeologists find in entire sites,” says Klaus, to Chigdem, a Turkish research archaeologist from his team, both with a passion for Göbeklitepe. The mutual obsession, which lasts a lifetime, sparks a romantic relationship, and some years later they get married. They live between Urfa and their house in Germany. The excavations continue, two months in the summer and two months in the winter.
As the head of the excavation, Klaus ponders on V. Gordon Childe’s theory that the primitive foragers and hunters settled first, then began their attempts to develop agriculture, giving rise to the need to invent better tools and objects to facilitate their lives. The settlements grew, societies advanced and religion was established. Yet, the excavations imply otherwise. Göbeklitepe finds in Mesopotamia reveal no evidence of settlements, but only rings of tall, T-shaped pillars with carvings of many animals and beasts on them.
Klaus closes his eyes and imagines. They look like human beings assembled in a circle around the fire, perhaps dancing, meeting or praying.
Totalling 200 pillars, between three layers, they range between 5-10 meters high, their diameters 20-50 centimetres wide, and they weigh between 20-50 tons.
“How did they erect these stones here? The mounting system for the central pillars must have been designed so well,” Klaus asks his colleague, German architect and civil engineer, Eduard Knoll.
“They hadn’t yet mastered engineering then. Perhaps they propped them up by wooden posts.”
“The lime-stone source is at least one hundred meters away. They must have cut the pieces with flint and carried them here. So far, we’ve found no domestic evidence on the site. Most probably they brought food here, as we came across animal bones, gazelle and aurochs, even stone basins that could have been used for beer.”
“The nearest source of water is about six kilometres away. How did they carry everything, without wheels or any pottery?” Chigdem asks.
“I think they must have used many workers going back and forth. Those who lived here were not inhabitants, but only staff. The visitors came to celebrate or pay their respects to a higher power. Nature, most likely. They used their imagination and created the supernatural. The creatures and beasts, as well as the gifts of nature around them, inspired this belief.”
“So you’re refuting Childe’s theory? Belief first, followed by settlement and agriculture, and civilization last.”
“This is the oldest temple in the world when human-beings were nomads. Everything is a result of human imagination. Unique in its mysterious ways.”
“And your faith in this place all these years proves your theory, my love.”
Klaus’s previous work at Nevali Çori, a settlement in the nearby mountains, dating to 500 years later than Göbeklitepe, exhibits the first evidence for plant domestication, at a time called Pre-pottery Neolithic. Similar T-shaped pillars with carvings of animals and beasts are also found there. Catalhoyuk, the famous Neolithic village in Anatolia, is 2000 years later than Göbeklitepe.
Klaus believes in the French Archaeologist, Jacque Couvin’s theory that this is “a revolution of symbols” where human consciousness imagined a universe beyond the physical world.
The excavations continue, the world looks at the site with curiosity. Some archaeologists and anthropologists conclude this is a discovery that could change all beliefs and theories about the origins of civilization. Others disagree and say, the fact that no settlements were found, does not prove religion came before civilization. Maybe they all came at the same time, but different aspects surfaced first in different places.
There is no definite answer to the Neolithic Revolution.
In the summer of 2014, Klaus passes away, at the age of sixty, after a heart attack, leaving a sad and lonely Chigdem behind.
In the Spring of 2015, Chigdem travels to Göbeklitepe for the first time without Klaus. The locals who call him Klaus Bey have organized a ceremony for the Father of Göbeklitepe.
She looks around with tears in her eyes and remembers the man who believed in his dream and did not miss one day of excavation during the last twenty years. From six a.m. till the end of the long day, he worked with his team. His words echo in her mind, “Twenty years ago, everyone believed civilization was driven by ecological forces. I think what we are learning is that civilization is a product of the human mind.”
This is based on a true story, in memory of Klaus Schmidt, a Dreamer, the Father of Göbeklitepe.