This is something that has long puzzled me. It's also been a subject of debate among archaeologists and historians for years. And while this fascinating archaeological dig in Turkey doesn't actually settle the problem it promises of great things to come. For, you see, only about 5% of the entire area has been excavated and it will be many years before everything is uncovered. But what has been uncovered is amazing.
But the location, age and sheer size of Gobekli Tepe have led some to posit a radically different explanation for the change. "The intense cultivation of wild wheat may have first occurred to supply sufficient food to the hunter-gatherers who quarried 7-ton blocks of limestone with flint flakes,"
What is most interesting about the site is that, so far, it looks to have been constructed right smack at the point when the semi-nomads settled into communities. In other words, this site was built by a new breed of men who, unlike everyone before them, began to live in structured communities. This is one of the most important time periods in the history of the human race. Settled communities, brought on by the need to sew, watch over and harvest crops, lead to everything that we think of as civilization: planned cities, organized work forces, writing, mathematics, etc. If not for this radical change the human race might not have even survived!
And, interestingly enough, the sudden change might not have been so sudden and may have taken place for a completely different reason.
For many experts, climate change was behind the transformation. Global temperatures had been warming gradually since the last Ice Age. Between 10,800 and 9,500 b.c., they suddenly plummeted again.
From a pagan perspective I can't help but wonder about the role of early religion within this debate. After all, the ancient monuments weren't just built with simple, pointless partying in mind. Some of them were probably temples dedicated to specific deities and many of them were built to mark solstices, equinoxes and other celestial events. So, what role did that play? Was there a religious revolution which then brought about the agricultural revolution? Did the ancient pagans decide to build big to show veneration for their gods which then brought about the need for more food? After all, if you got several hundred, or even thousands, of people quarrying and transporting huge stones that doesn't leave much time for hunting. If you've got 1000s of man hours devoted to massive earthworks there's not going to be time or energy for the tracking of game.
I guess what it really boils down to is that we may never be certain what brought about the Neolithic Revolution but that, in future decades, the site of Gobekli Tepe in Turkey may contain a lot of revelations. Personally, I think the answer probably lies somewhere in between the various theories. Some people wanted to build big and realized they'd need a lot of food to nourish their workforce while others in another region decided to build big simply because they had plenty of well-fed folks with nothing much to do while the plants grew. I'm not discounting the climate change as catalyst for change theory either. If things got colder it would stand to reason that people might come together to tough it out. After all, communities provide more people to cut and gather firewood. More people crammed into the same building means more body heat. But then, more people means more help with the harvest too. So, who knows?