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posted by Fnord666 on Saturday May 16 2020, @12:03PM   Printer-friendly
from the did-they-file-a-permit? dept.

Geometry guided construction of earliest known temple, built 6,000 years before Stonehenge:

The sprawling 11,500-year-old stone Göbekli Tepe complex in southeastern Anatolia, Turkey, is the earliest known temple in human history and one of the most important discoveries of Neolithic research.

Researchers at Tel Aviv University and the Israel Antiquities Authority have now used architectural analysis to discover that geometry informed the layout of Göbekli Tepe's impressive round stone structures and enormous assembly of limestone pillars, which they say were initially planned as a single structure.

Three of the Göbekli Tepe's monumental round structures, the largest of which are 20 meters in diameter, were initially planned as a single project, according to researchers Gil Haklay of the Israel Antiquities Authority, a Ph.D. candidate at Tel Aviv University, and Prof. Avi Gopher of TAU's Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Civilizations. They used a computer algorithm to trace aspects of the architectural design processes involved in the construction of these enclosures in this early Neolithic site.

Their findings were published in Cambridge Archaeological Journal in May.

[...] Discovered by German archaeologist Dr. Klaus Schmidt in 1994, Göbekli Tepe has since been the subject of hot archaeological debate. But while these, and other early Neolithic remains, have been intensively studied, the issue of architectural planning during these periods and its cultural ramifications have not.

Most researchers have made the case that the Göbekli Tepe enclosures at the main excavation area were constructed over time. However, Haklay and Prof. Gopher say that three of the structures were designed as a single project and according to a coherent geometric pattern.

[...] "This case of early architectural planning may serve as an example of the dynamics of cultural changes during the early parts of the Neolithic period," Haklay says. "Our findings suggest that major architectural transformations during this period, such as the transition to rectangular architecture, were knowledge-based, top-down processes carried out by specialists.

"The most important and basic methods of architectural planning were devised in the Levant in the Late Epipaleolithic period as part of the Natufian culture and through the early Neolithic period. Our new research indicates that the methods of architectural planning, abstract design rules and organizational patterns were already being used during this formative period in human history."

Next, the researchers intend to investigate the architectural remains of other Neolithic sites throughout the Levant.

More information:Gil Haklay et al, Geometry and Architectural Planning at Göbekli Tepe, Turkey, Cambridge Archaeological Journal (2020). DOI: 10.1017/S0959774319000660


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  • (Score: 4, Insightful) by Arik on Saturday May 16 2020, @04:28PM (8 children)

    by Arik (4543) on Saturday May 16 2020, @04:28PM (#995028) Journal
    "Archaeologists generally suppose that the invention of agriculture led to the creation of sedentary dwellings, which became cities. It is hard to tend your crops if you're off following the buffalo (gazelles? wild sheep?) instead of living next to your field. Göbekli Tepe, however, rather pre-dates agriculture in that area."

    While this is basically correct, one thing that's beginning to be appreciated is just how arbitrary of a line "agriculture" for example draws in the record. The way we talk about it, you would imagine a pretty clearly defined moment where someone started farming when no one had ever farmed before. The record doesn't support that view, however. Even where we can point to a fairly clear line like that, it's not really a line between agriculture and no agriculture, a binary transition. It's just the extension of previous strategies further towards their logical conclusions.

    So yes, we're talking about a time well before what we might call lifestyle farming - fully sedentary, planned production of regular fields. But all the pieces needed to put that together were around earlier - likely many millenia earlier. Hunter gatherers often live in a yearly circuit, bringing them back by the same spots year after year, and they take actions to improve those spots. One common way is to select and scatter chosen seeds in a place where they can be harvested later. Another is to burn out areas of forest, almost exactly like a slash and burn farmer would do - but with no intent to farm. Instead, the intent, initially at least, is to create clearings where prey animals can be taken more easily. But of course it still has the same effect of clearing ground for grasses (part of why the big prey animals like to enter) and those wind up becoming cereal grains via human selection.

    Animal domestication is similar. It became a full fledged lifestyle relatively recently, but that doesn't mean the same techniques weren't practiced for a long time before that.

    So while the common narrative has agriculture leading to sedentism, that's actually a pretty huge oversimplification at best. In fact in the fertile crescent where the oldest evidence of agriculture is found it coincides with a period of climate change. It was in response to changes that made game harder and harder to find that humans focused on using old techniques in new ways. They stayed closer and closer to home and relied more and more on artificially encouraging the plants and animals in the immediate vicinity. It was a dry time, and water became very important, with populations and powers growing up around sources of water.

    "Both sites suggest spiritual motives that drove their construction despite the physical difficulty and inconvenience of doing so."

    Maybe. It's sort of an overworn cliché at this point, that any ancient artifact for which we don't immediately recognize a practical purpose today must have spiritual significance. But how do you prove that? Or disprove it?

    Whether it was perceived by those who built it as having spiritual significance or not, it strikes me as having an obvious practical purpose. Complexes or "temples" or whatever you want to label it, this sort of a landmark can function to provide cohesion to larger groups in a tribal setting.

    You see, in hunter gatherer societies, much of the year is generally spent in 'bands.' These are small ad-hoc groups that might contain part or all of one or a few families. They travel together through much of the year. But there is a larger tribe as well, and that entity is given reality by regular rendezvous.

    Often at a particular time of year, the bands that compose a tribe meet together at a previously chosen place, often a traditional place, and they get to catch up. Impressive ceremonies go well with this, whether or not they have spiritual significance.

    The members of the tribe meet, they greet, they trade and entertain. And when the time comes to depart, the bands that depart are often not the same ones that arrived. Anyone can switch bands at this time, within the tribe.

    Obviously, should there be conflict between tribes, the larger tribe has an advantage. Even without conflict, it's still an advantage - there are more bands to choose among, more competition between band leaders for the reputation of a good provider and leader that people will want to band with. And tribes generally expand whenever they can.

    One way they can expand is simply to absorb smaller tribes, which may well be eager to be absorbed, as this is a practical way to reduce the chances of violence between the groups, improve their position against any outside tribe should there be trouble from that direction, and also expands their choice of bands to join as well.

    But there are limits on the size of a tribe, and while this is not the only possible limit, the size and suitability of the rendezvous point is one of them. When the rendezvous point becomes too crowded, when the rendezvous is disappointing for any reason really, then small tribes are more likely to split off than to join.

    So I look at Göbekli Tepe and I can't help but see a very impressive, purposefully built rendezvous point. And it even suggests a tribe or sub-tribe of priests, a group of people that stayed in the area and tended to the rendezvous point year-round, and took the lead in performing impressive ceremonies for all who came at the appointed time. It might well have had spiritual significance - but it would have been of great significance in a more practical and political sense as well. What had previously been many small tribes who passed near in their yearly travels, who perhaps conflicted with each other, who perhaps were so weakened by that conflict they became easy prey to outsiders - perhaps one small tribe built the first stage of this monumental complex and then started inviting the others to rendezvous and see the show.

    The experience would have brought these groups together peacefully, and perhaps exposed them to some custom propaganda as well. The object would be to unite all these groups to form one huge tribe, large enough to protect the area and themselves against any neighbors. Large enough to provide for the architects, we might call them proto-levites, so that they could stay close to the area full time, keep it maintained and defended, make sure that it was ready each year at the appointed time to host a gigantic tribe, to host perhaps the largest party on the planet.

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  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by HiThere on Saturday May 16 2020, @05:35PM (3 children)

    by HiThere (866) on Saturday May 16 2020, @05:35PM (#995062) Journal

    Well, I think that the structure came first, and those who tended it afterwards, but otherwise I pretty much agree. I suspect that after the gathering some of the elderly who weren't fit to travel decided to stay, and perhaps a few others decided to stay and help them. And that this was the origin of the resident population. The staff of a senior housing center. Of course they'd have lots of chances to practice medical care, so they would become more skilled at it than those who wandered, so it would turn into a combination senior care center and hospital. The results might not be great, but it's better than walking 50 miles a day with a broken leg.

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    • (Score: 2) by Arik on Saturday May 16 2020, @05:53PM (2 children)

      by Arik (4543) on Saturday May 16 2020, @05:53PM (#995074) Journal
      "I think that the structure came first"

      Who would have built it in that case?
      --
      If laughter is the best medicine, who are the best doctors?
      • (Score: 1, Touché) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 16 2020, @09:52PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 16 2020, @09:52PM (#995152)

        If you need to ask such a silly question, you clearly haven’t been watching enough of the Ancient Alie—... er, I mean ‘History’ Channel.

      • (Score: 2) by HiThere on Sunday May 17 2020, @03:16AM

        by HiThere (866) on Sunday May 17 2020, @03:16AM (#995236) Journal

        You find a "good meeting place", meet there, leave some injured with helpers. They build a shelter before the next time you show up. You figure a way to improve it a bit, leave some more people to be cared for, and leave them some supplies to encourage them.

        Repeat for a few centuries.

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  • (Score: 2) by Phoenix666 on Sunday May 17 2020, @01:09PM (3 children)

    by Phoenix666 (552) Subscriber Badge on Sunday May 17 2020, @01:09PM (#995338) Journal

    Maybe. It's sort of an overworn cliché at this point, that any ancient artifact for which we don't immediately recognize a practical purpose today must have spiritual significance. But how do you prove that? Or disprove it?

    It's supported in the same way that archaeologists draw the same conclusions about any site: artifacts left behind, their placement, the size of the site, etc. Göbekli Tepe has carved stone stelae with totemic images in large structures that show geometrical placement. Archaeologists recognize those as religious in nature the same way they recognized the Mayan gods from their stelae before they were able to decipher their glyphs.

    Modern people need to be careful not to project their own atheism onto the past.

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    • (Score: 2) by Arik on Sunday May 17 2020, @01:35PM (2 children)

      by Arik (4543) on Sunday May 17 2020, @01:35PM (#995353) Journal
      "Göbekli Tepe has carved stone stelae with totemic images in large structures that show geometrical placement."

      Sure, but that proves nothing about religion or spirituality. Maybe it was simply a map of the surrounding territory, for instance. We just don't know and can't know the exact significance of these things to those that built them.

      "Modern people need to be careful not to project their own atheism onto the past."

      Modern people should also be careful not to project current ideas about religion and spirituality onto the past as well.

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      If laughter is the best medicine, who are the best doctors?
      • (Score: 2) by Phoenix666 on Monday May 18 2020, @12:43PM (1 child)

        by Phoenix666 (552) Subscriber Badge on Monday May 18 2020, @12:43PM (#995720) Journal

        That is all fine and technically true for rhetorical purposes, Arik, but if you want to throw out the exact sorts of markers and evidence archaeologists have used to posit a spiritual purpose for Göbekli Tepe then you have to do the same for every other civilization they have done the same for. The consensus of the world's archaeologists is that when certain images, objects, and placements obtain, a spiritual or religious purpose is strongly indicated.

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        • (Score: 2) by Arik on Monday May 18 2020, @08:45PM

          by Arik (4543) on Monday May 18 2020, @08:45PM (#996006) Journal
          "then you have to do the same for every other civilization they have done the same for."

          Oh not really. For many civilizations written records are available to fill in at least some of the gaps.

          But for pre-historic sites, it's simply honesty to say we don't really and can't really know some of the things we might like to know. What did those figures mean? I strongly suspect some of them had astronomical significance, meaning they had a timekeeping function. Even that is somewhat speculative. Would astronomy and timekeeping have been seen as 'spiritual' by the people then? That's piling speculation on top of speculation. Does it seem likely, sure? But how would you prove it? I can't imagine a way.

          One thing we can say with some assurance is that it's very unlikely they even had a concept that would *exactly* correspond to what we mean by 'spiritual' or 'religious' today.
          --
          If laughter is the best medicine, who are the best doctors?