Gobekli Tepe

In southernTurkey lies an ancient temple or religious site – Gobekli Tepe – dating to 9000 B.C., by far the oldest human structure discovered to date that was not a dwelling of some sort.  It predatesStonehengeby some 6,000 years. Limestone pillars, including megaliths up to ten tons, shaped with flint tools, set in circular patterns range from plain slab-like posts to more elaborate pillars, some with finely carved sculptures of all sorts of creatures, including lions, snakes, spiders, and scorpions, each sculpted as an integral but protruding part of a different pillar.  Although archeologists have only uncovered an estimated five percent of the site, they’ve found no evidence that the site was used as a dwelling place or where any cooking or food preparation was done.

So far, there’s little evidence to tell what people or culture created it, or for what exact purpose, except that it had to have had some overarching significance to those people, because it’s highly unlikely that a people would undertake such a massive effort to shape such stone with only flint tools without a purpose that lasted generations, if not longer.

 When I think of past human creations that have lasted hundreds, if not thousands, of years, I can’t help but contrast such creations as Gobekli Tepe, the pyramids, Stonehenge, the Acropolis, even the great cathedrals of Europe, or the vast complex at Angkor Wat with our current American culture, where even tangible goods can be obsolete in months, and where houses are often now being built to last only 30 to 40 years. 

The eras in which those incredible ancient structures were built were harsher times, and I have no doubt that the sense of purpose behind their creation was enforced by either applied strength or rigid cultural norms, so rigid that they would be totally alien to the vast majority of Americans, and yet… I have to wonder… what of wonder and permanence will we pass on to future generations?

 Much of what we have done of a permanent nature is less than constructive.  We’ve leveled mountains to pull out coal.  We’ve cut through cliffs and mountains to create roads so that we can travel between places with greater speed.  Even great engineering works, such as thePanama Canal, would fail in a few handfuls of years without constant maintenance.  The stone structures of the Incas have endured earthquakes that have flattened new buildings and homes.

 Nations in these modern times rise and fall in the blink of an eye.  It’s been said that theUnited Statesis the second oldest government in the same form in the world today – and the Constitution that created our government is little more than two hundred twenty years old.  The ancient Egyptian governments lasted thousands of years with little change.

 More than a few social scientists have theorized that technology enables, indeed requires, more rapid cultural, social, and even physical change in the world… but there has to be a limit on how fast that change can take place, if only because the physical and economic realities mean that we are limited in how vast we can built and create.  Of course, we’ve compensated by creating goods and structures that are ever more quickly built and then destroyed or discarded.  Am I totally out of date, or does it seem to anyone else that creating and buying a new cellphone every six to nine months is a bit excessive, especially if we’re talking hundreds of millions, if not billions, of discarded electronic devices every year?

 But maybe that will be the wonder we leave behind, mountains and mountains of discarded electronic corpses, leaching toxic metals and chemicals back into the earth.




8 thoughts on “Gobekli Tepe”

  1. Wayne Kernochan says:

    And the soon-to-be-dead ocean, according to a recent scientific report to the UN (although that’s caused more by global warming, lawn chemicals, and fertilizers).

    Not in any way to take away from your point: a very interesting recent history of Egypt actually paints a picture of surprising political upheaval during most of the period, with three foreign conquests before the Persian one that nominally ended “home rule” — each causing a fundamental change in the balance of power within the government towards bureaucracy and a more “military” state — constant changes of power even within “dynasties”, and a steady redefinition of religion in order to further maximize the power of the ruler.

    The key, apparently, was control of growing trade routes between Mediterranean and Mesopotamia (later with India thrown in) and along a string of oases running from near the Delta to modern-day Sudan. As growing trade created new civilizations to the south, constant extension of the southern frontier was required in order to keep the trade revenues flowing.

    The pyramids may have served a dual purpose of reinforcing the notion of kings as gods (starting with king as favored of god and moving steadily towards king as identical to god) and of making much of the economy dependent on the king as well as preventing excess labor and unemployment from causing political threats. – w

  2. Matthew Runyon says:

    A few things…

    First, isn’t that just the inevitable by-product of having higher levels of technology in our structures? There are a limited number of things that can go wrong with a building made of of stone blocks stacked on top of each other, and the number of problems and maintenance issues increase (at least) exponentially the more components you use, especially when considering “active” components like air conditioning or lighting. I can’t see any way we can get around greater degrees of climate control requiring more maintenance, and you would be hard pressed to find people who had the option of climate control in their homes or workplaces refusing it.

    Second, the rate of technological advancement in some fields makes building (some) things to last less than intelligent. Air conditioning is the biggest thing in housing I can think of. Yes, there are free-standing or window air conditioners, but they are much less efficient than true built-in air conditioning, and anyone with the means to make that choice will go for a house that has built-in air conditioning. So, houses built before that was common are suddenly much less valuable, for good reason. Weather sealing works the same way. Houses built a century ago are much worse at keeping interior climates insulated, and are thus less efficient and less valuable, and this is all leaving aside rapidly developing fields like electronics.

    That’s not to say there isn’t enormous unmerited waste, of course, with cellphones being one of the most egregious offenders indeed. I think that has more to do with Sturgeon’s Law rather than inherent problems with increasing technology, however.

    Regarding the change in governments and nations…I think that has more to do with globalization than anything else. Once regular travel across the whole world became feasible, people came to know how the rest of the world did things and started thinking about the differences…Which led to upheavals. The events in the Arab world right now are an extension of the rise of the “Information Age” where they can see that life does not have to be the way their leaders said it did. The fear of that happening is why China takes internet censorship so seriously, why North Korea is so isolated, and why every regime in trouble in recent years has tried to cut off communication with the outside world.

    If the United States is the second oldest government in the same form (which seems somewhat unlikely to me, unless you wish to accept a very narrow definition of “same form”) then I would point to the population of the US generally making positive comparisons between their government and that of the rest of the world.

  3. Decades ago, Arthur C. Clarke, a fair scientist himself, made the point in one of his novels that the ultimate goal of engineering was to design machines with no moving parts. By that token, we have a fair ways to go because all the mechanical improvements to our structures require more and more moving parts and more energy. As a practical matter, we’re already moving toward societal sustainability problems in a number of areas, medicine being the most prominent, where we cannot physically provide the highest level of technology to all members of society, or even to a sizable fraction. This has been true throughout history, but has been largely ignored in recent years.

    1. Sam says:

      Did Clarke mean visible moving parts or no moving parts at all even on a microscopic/sub-atomic level?

      I’m struggling to conceptualize a machine that actually does something useful that has no moving parts.

      1. Daze says:

        Here’s one: the entire global fibre-optic communications network has no moving parts at all. Everything in it is electrons and photons generated, detected and diverted without even a nano-scale moving part …

        1. Sam says:

          I’m talking out of complete ignorance here but don’t the electrons move?

          1. Daze says:

            Well, if we’re going to that basis, either a) everything moves – there is nothing in the entire universe that can be described as unmoving, so the words “moving parts” have no useful meaning; or b) everything in the universe is standing still, but everything else in the universe is moving relative to it, so the words “moving parts” have no useful meaning.

            Meanings being useful, and distinctions between meanings being even more useful, a “machine with no moving parts” only has meaning above the sub-atomic level (though still meaningful at the microscopic level, where my example still holds …).

  4. Brian Kelman says:

    Archaeologists just love burials and middens or garbage dumps. They preserve a great collection of material culture. There have been many Ages in the past including the Stone, Bronze, Iron etc. What will be our legacy? The very cheap and disposable Plastic Age.

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