The World Turns Upside Down
People with a sense of the history of science know that there were amazing advances made in the realm of science during the 20th century. At the turn of the last century, we didn’t know what powered the Sun, how mountains were formed, or anything at all but about the age and origin of the Universe. Heck, we were still stuck with Newtonian physics, so our very understanding of the nature of reality itself was limited. Well, we discovered the Sun was powered by nuclear power, continental drift is what makes mountains, and that the Universe was apparently “created” out of “nothing” some fourteen odd billion years ago. And Einstein came along and showed us relativity, the science that made space travel possible. So, science has it all figured out now, right? <pause for laughter> Of course not. To lay people or or people of an anti-science bent, it may appear that scientists know it all. Not even close, while science is pretty sure about a lot of stuff, anyone who has seriously looked into science can tell you … there’s vastly more waiting to be discovered, since so many of science’s discoveries raised more questions than they answered. There’s no reason to believe the 21st century will be any different than the twentieth, by the end of it, some of today’s science will seem quaint at best.
So, the next century is well underway, are there any scientific revolutions afoot? Yes, yes there are. One has to realize though that science doesn’t change over night. When new and revolutionary ideas and discoveries come up, scientists often debate for decades their importance and how they fit into our current understanding. Sometimes they do eventually fit in somehow, sometimes it turns out our current understanding is flawed. And in those cases, when enough of the hidebound old scientists die off, science adopts a new and better understanding of the world. So as a spectator sport, science makes baseball seem insanely fast and exciting. With that being said, I am going to write a few posts about some of the revolutionary discoveries and ideas that are very likely to shake up science’s understanding of thew world in the coming century. And by extension, ourselves and our place in it.
And why not the best first? Göbekli Tepe. What the heck is Göbekli Tepe? Well, it’s helpfully illustrated above. Tepe just means hill, so literally the name of this place is Göbekli Hill. Or Belly Hill fully translated into English. Yes, we are talking an archaeological site in Southern Turkey. The various stone pillars visible above weigh 10-20 tons, some as much as 50 tons. The pillars are carved with images of various animals and symbols. Your basic megalithic site, like Stonehenge or on Malta. So what’s so exciting about Göbekli Tepe? Well, Stonehenge dates from 3100 BC and the sites on Malta, the oldest free standing structures on Earth, date from 3600 BC. The world’s first cities were created around 4000 BC. Within about a thousand years, around 3000 BC, the first states arose and the history of the world began. Where does Göbekli Tepe fit in this neat picture? It doesn’t, Göbekli Tepe dates from at least 9,000 BC. The people who built Göbekli Tepe used stone tools, hadn’t invented pottery, metalworking, writing, or the wheel. In fact the people who built Göbekli Tepe were paleolithic cultures who lived in villages only part of the year, didn’t have agriculture, and survived by hunting and gathering. Yes, the world’s first great structures were built by Stone Age people.
This, to put it mildly, Göbekli Tepe really upsets the applecart about our ideas of the growth of human civilization. People of this era were simply not supposed to have had the type of social organization to build structures like this. And more on point, what the hell was the point of all this anyhow? Moving and carving ten plus ton rocks isn’t something one does for fun or relaxation, a lot of work went into this site. The archaeologist in charge of excavating it, Klaus Schmidt, theorizes that Göbekli Tepe was a “temple complex.” I think that’s reaching more than just a bit, we really don’t know what the people who built Göbekli Tepe we’re thinking, although it does seem pretty clear that these structures had no functional purposes. People didn’t live in them, and no evidence of other use has been found.
Since they didn’t have writing, the pictures and symbols on the pillars may forever remain undecipherable. The site also contained the first life size statues of human beings, th0ugh they are pretty crude by our standards. It’s even been suggested that Göbekli Tepe figured into one of humanity’s oldest myths, and may have been the original Garden of Eden. There is evidence that the cultivation of wheat actually started very near the site of Göbekli Tepe. And as one final mystery that may never be understand, around 8,000 BC, just as agriculture was starting to flourish … Göbekli Tepe was deliberately buried. It wasn’t buried by a landslide or the sands of time, people went to a great deal of trouble to completely entomb the site in a man made hill. What the hell was up with that?
Most of the Göbekli Tepe site has yet to be excavated, so this discovery is still unfolding … slowly. Stay tuned.
(I am not sure of the origin of the above image, so I’m claiming it as Fair Use under US copyright law. It is not being used for profit, and not only is it central to illustrating the post, there appears to be no such other image available. It may possibly be produced and copyrighted by the Deutsche Archaologische Institut. The title of the post was an English Ballad from 1643, written as a protest against the policies of Oliver Cromwell, who had outlawed traditional Christmas celebrations in favour of a more somber observance of the holidays. Puritans take the fun out of everything, what can I say. Some good pics of the Göbekli Tepe site can be found here, more pics including the human sized statues can be found here.)