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Blog 13 (06/19)

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Anatolia’s Archaeological Mysteries

Anatolia has been home to some of the oldest civilizations known to man. Blessed with savanna land at the end of the ice age, it provided the perfect environment for Stone Age societies to flourish. Later, as culture advanced and nomadic societies began to settle down, the river valleys of the upper reaches of Tigris and Euphrates became centers of development.

Gobeklitepe is often regarded as the first evidence of New Stone Age man creating and building spaces for rituals. We had crossed the Euphrates, not far from the Syrian border and were atop a plateau where we came across circular stone structures with two T-shaped totem poles in the centre. These were ritual structures, not places where people live. Along the circular walls were seating arrangements. It appeared as if the people had assembled under the stars to share stories and discuss their relations with the planets above and the earth below, with the totem poles as witness. There were strange carvings of animals and birds and reptiles and some with the human form. Interestingly, they began to cover the openings and made an entrance through the roof, perhaps to keep their secrets or perhaps to keep wild animals away. 11,000 years ago, man had begun to think and he developed proto-religion in the area. There were more sites in the neighborhood, similar to Gobeklitepe. Amazingly, this happened while man was still a hunter-gatherer and nomadic, long before he settled down to the rhythm of agrarian societies.

Some 700 km away and 2,000 years younger than Gobeklitepe were the Stone Age remains at Catalhoyuk near modern day Sufi capital Konya. We saw the remains of multi-level housing, still with entrances from the roof. These were not ritual buildings but places of habitation as societies were settling down to agricultural life. The transition was fascinating.

Last week we visited Arslantepe, or Mound of the Lion, a Chalcolithic site which dated almost 6,000 years after Gobeklitepe, in the vicinity of modern Malatya. Located almost 10 km from the Euphrates, this was part of the Tigris-Euphrates river basin civilization that saw great advancement downstream in Mesopotamia. The site had a modest palace complex and a temple, both symbols of power and housed the elite. The new age rulers had power over their gods and had control over people who would work for them in return for rations. A new class structure had developed. The workers lived closer to the river and fields. Interestingly, the first metal sword was developed here, marking a new era of conflict and suffering caused by man and his struggle for power.