Gobekli Tepe: The World’s First Temple?

The cover story of the Nov issue of Archaeology Magazine is about the World’s First Temple. The Smithsonian Magazine too has a detailed report about this amazing discovery in Turkey.
The temple consists of large carved stones, 11,000 years old, arranged in circles like at the Stonehenge.

In the pits, standing stones, or pillars, are arranged in circles. Beyond, on the hillside, are four other rings of partially excavated pillars. Each ring has a roughly similar layout: in the center are two large stone T-shaped pillars encircled by slightly smaller stones facing inward. The tallest pillars tower 16 feet and, Schmidt says, weigh between seven and ten tons [Gobekli Tepe: The World’s First Temple? | History & Archaeology | Smithsonian Magazine]

The interesting bit is that the people who built the temple were hunter-gatherers and not ones who had started farming. One of the oldest grains in the world comes from a nearby village and is dated to five hundred years after the temple site making this an important region in human history.
It was believed that a stable society was required so that people could indulge in hobbies like cutting 10 to 50 ton stone pillars and arranging them in circles.

To Schmidt and others, these new findings suggest a novel theory of civilization. Scholars have long believed that only after people learned to farm and live in settled communities did they have the time, organization and resources to construct temples and support complicated social structures. But Schmidt argues it was the other way around: the extensive, coordinated effort to build the monoliths literally laid the groundwork for the development of complex societies.
The immensity of the undertaking at Gobekli Tepe reinforces that view. Schmidt says the monuments could not have been built by ragged bands of hunter-gatherers. To carve, erect and bury rings of seven-ton stone pillars would have required hundreds of workers, all needing to be fed and housed. Hence the eventual emergence of settled communities in the area around 10,000 years ago [Gobekli Tepe: The World’s First Temple? | History & Archaeology | Smithsonian Magazine]

This begs the question: When you don’t have a proper supply chain for food, why would you go and build temples? There are no answers yet.
Finally, it would be presumptuous to say that this is the world’s first temple; that designation assumes that no other culture built temples before Gobekli Tepe. The correct terminology is buried in the Archaeology Magazine article – “oldest man-made place of worship yet discovered.”
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3 thoughts on “Gobekli Tepe: The World’s First Temple?

  1. JK,
    This is a fascinating find. And that chicken-and-egg question of what came first – agriculture resulting in complexity, or the yearning for complexity resulting in agriculture – is a great one to raise. I still believe in the former, but interpretations of the past are ever-changing.
    There is another intriguing question: Why is it that within a 5000-7000 year window the world began to see independent development of agriculture on virtually every continent, when for tens of thousands of years we’d all been hunter-gatherers? Changes in climate is one explanation that is offered, but such changes might have happened earlier as well.
    Finally, a related post on my blog:

  2. Hari,
    I too think the former happened and am perplexed by the new theory. How could so many people find spare time to do something so complex during that era? We have to wait and find.

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