National Geographic : 2011 Jun
religious practices---burying the dead, creating cave art and figurines---had emerged tens of thousands of years earlier, organized religion arose, in this view, only when a common vision of a celestial order was needed to bind together these big, new, fragile groups of humankind. It could also have helped justify the social hierarchy that emerged in a more complex society: ose who rose to power were seen as having a special connection with the gods. Communities of the faithful, united in a common view of the world and their place in it, were more cohesive than ordinary clumps of quarreling people. Göbekli Tepe, to Schmidt's way of think- ing, suggests a reversal of that scenario: The construction of a massive temple by a group of foragers is evidence that organized religion could have come before the rise of agriculture and other aspects of civilization. It suggests that the human impulse to gather for sacred rituals arose as humans shi ed from seeing themselves as part of the natural world to seeking mastery over it. When foragers began settling down in villages, they unavoidably created a divide between the human realm---a xed huddle of homes with hundreds of inhabitants---and the dangerous land beyond the camp re, populated by lethal beasts. French archaeologist Jacques Cauvin believed this change in consciousness was a "revolution of symbols," a conceptual shi that allowed hu- mans to imagine gods---supernatural beings resembling humans---that existed in a universe beyond the physical world. Schmidt sees Gö- bekli Tepe as evidence for Cauvin's theory. " e animals were guardians to the spirit world," he says. " e reliefs on the T-shaped pillars illus- trate that other world." Schmidt speculates that foragers living within a hundred-mile radius of Göbekli Tepe created the temple as a holy place to gather and meet, perhaps bringing gi s and tributes to its priests and cra s- people. Some kind of social organization would have been necessary not only to build it but also to deal with the crowds it attracted. One imagines chanting and drumming, the animals on the great pillars seeming to move in ickering torchlight. Surely there were feasts; Schmidt has uncovered stone basins that could have been used for beer. e temple was a spiritual locus, but it may also have been the Neolithic version of Disneyland. Over time, Schmidt believes, the need to acquire su cient food for those who worked and gathered for ceremonies at Göbekli Tepe may have led to the intensive cultivation of wild cereals and the creation of some of the rst do- mestic strains. Indeed, scientists now believe that one center of agriculture arose in south- ern Turkey---well within trekking distance of Göbekli Tepe---at exactly the time the temple was at its height. Today the closest known wild ancestors of modern einkorn wheat are found on the slopes of Karaca Dağ, a mountain just 60 miles northeast of Göbekli Tepe. In other words, the turn to agriculture celebrated by V. Gordon Childe may have been the result of a need that runs deep in the human psyche, a hunger that still moves people today to travel the globe in search of awe-inspiring sights. Some of the rst evidence for plant domes- tication comes from Nevali Çori (pronounced nuh-vah- -ree), a settlement in the mountains scarcely 20 miles away. Like Göbekli Tepe, Nevali Çori came into existence right a er the mini ice age, a time archaeologists describe with the unlovely term Pre-pottery Neolithic (PPN). Nevali Çori is now inundated by a re- cently created lake that provides electricity and irrigation water for the region. But before the waters shut down research, archaeologists found T-shaped pillars and animal images much like those Schmidt would later uncover at Göbekli Göbekli Tepe MAY HAVE BEEN A HOLY PLACE FOR PEOPLE TO GATHER. IT MAY ALSO HAVE BEEN THE NEOLITHIC VERSION OF DISNEYLAND.