Monday, March 02, 2009


"Gobekli Tepe changes everything."
~ Ian Hodder, Stanford University.

Last year in April, Britain's The Guardian ran an article about an archaeological site in North Kurdistan called Göbekli Tepe. Today, the Daily Mail has an update:

For the old Kurdish shepherd, it was just another burning hot day in the rolling plains of eastern Turkey. Following his flock over the arid hillsides, he passed the single mulberry tree, which the locals regarded as 'sacred'. The bells on his sheep tinkled in the stillness. Then he spotted something. Crouching down, he brushed away the dust, and exposed a strange, large, oblong stone.

The man looked left and right: there were similar stone rectangles, peeping from the sands. Calling his dog to heel, the shepherd resolved to inform someone of his finds when he got back to the village. Maybe the stones were important.

They certainly were important. The solitary Kurdish man, on that summer's day in 1994, had made the greatest archaeological discovery in 50 years. Others would say he'd made the greatest archaeological discovery ever: a site that has revolutionised the way we look at human history, the origin of religion - and perhaps even the truth behind the Garden of Eden.

[ . . . ]

About three years ago, intrigued by the first scant details of the site, I flew out to Gobekli. It was a long, wearying journey, but more than worth it, not least as it would later provide the backdrop for a new novel I have written.

Back then, on the day I arrived at the dig, the archaeologists were unearthing mind-blowing artworks. As these sculptures were revealed, I realised that I was among the first people to see them since the end of the Ice Age.

And that's when a tantalising possibility arose. Over glasses of black tea, served in tents right next to the megaliths, Klaus Schmidt told me that, in his opinion, this very spot was once the site of the biblical Garden of Eden. More specifically, as he put it: 'Gobekli Tepe is a temple in Eden.'

To understand how a respected academic like Schmidt can make such a dizzying claim, you need to know that many scholars view the Eden story as folk-memory, or allegory.

Seen in this way, the Eden story, in Genesis, tells us of humanity's innocent and leisured hunter-gatherer past, when we could pluck fruit from the trees, scoop fish from the rivers and spend the rest of our days in pleasure.

But then we 'fell' into the harsher life of farming, with its ceaseless toil and daily grind. And we know primitive farming was harsh, compared to the relative indolence of hunting, because of the archaeological evidence.

[ . . . ]

But there was a problem for these early farmers, and it wasn't just that they had adopted a tougher, if ultimately more productive, lifestyle. They also experienced an ecological crisis. These days the landscape surrounding the eerie stones of Gobekli is arid and barren, but it was not always thus. As the carvings on the stones show - and as archaeological remains reveal - this was once a richly pastoral region.

There were herds of game, rivers of fish, and flocks of wildfowl; lush green meadows were ringed by woods and wild orchards. About 10,000 years ago, the Kurdish desert was a 'paradisiacal place', as Schmidt puts it. So what destroyed the environment? The answer is Man.

As we began farming, we changed the landscape and the climate. When the trees were chopped down, the soil leached away; all that ploughing and reaping left the land eroded and bare. What was once an agreeable oasis became a land of stress, toil and diminishing returns.

And so, paradise was lost. Adam the hunter was forced out of his glorious Eden, 'to till the earth from whence he was taken' - as the Bible puts it.

Of course, these theories might be dismissed as speculations. Yet there is plenty of historical evidence to show that the writers of the Bible, when talking of Eden, were, indeed, describing this corner of Kurdish Turkey.

[ . . . ]

Gobekli Tepe is, indeed, a 'temple in Eden', built by our leisured and fortunate ancestors - people who had time to cultivate art, architecture and complex ritual, before the traumas of agriculture ruined their lifestyle, and devastated their paradise.

It's a stunning and seductive idea. Yet it has a sinister epilogue. Because the loss of paradise seems to have had a strange and darkening effect on the human mind.

A few years ago, archaeologists at nearby Cayonu unearthed a hoard of human skulls. They were found under an altar-like slab, stained with human blood.

No one is sure, but this may be the earliest evidence for human sacrifice: one of the most inexplicable of human behaviours and one that could have evolved only in the face of terrible societal stress.

Read the whole thing at the Mail Online. It's absolutely fascinating.

For more on Kurdistan's Garden of Eden, check an article from the Smithsonian and don't forget to check out the stunning photos of Göbekli Tepe.

For a series of questions and answers on Göbekli Tepe check The First Post, which also has a more detailed article, with more photos, on the dig.

I have to admit that the arguments presented in all the links are very persuasive and the extreme antiquity of Göbekli Tepe is mind-blowing. Jarmo, near Kerkuk, may be one of the best preserved sites for a study of early agriculture and animal husbandry along with its Anatolian contemporary, Çatal Höyük, but Göbekli Tepe really fires the imagination. As I looked through the photos of the carvings on the megaliths, I was reminded of some of the photos our comrades have taken in the mountains, an example of which may be seen in one of Gordon Taylor's posts, "The Return of the Karduchoi?".

One of the things that I love about Kurdistan is its antiquity. It's an intangible quality that I'm always aware of when I walk Kurdistan and breath its air. It creates a feeling I've never felt anywhere else and as more findings from Göbekli Tepe reach the wider world, it will mean there is even more to love.

Göbekli Tepe will definitely be on the itinerary for the next return trip.


Skoko said...

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Dara Sor said...

Silaw Mizgîn can - it's been a long time...

Thank you for this lovely blog! I was truly mesmerized!

Gelek sipas û dest xoş!

- Sohrab

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