Chapter 1. Neolithic

Göbekli Tepe

Archaeologist Peter Benedict could tell something was there near the upper reaches of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, but he thought the T-shaped pillars protruding from the field were Byzantine grave markers. Göbekli Tepe lies on the slope of a tell, a manmade mound rising 50 feet originally covered by a building called “Temple of the Rock.” The lowest layer was built as far back as 9130 BCE and features twenty circular rooms each with up to eight twenty-foot T-shaped pillars, encircled with stone benches, and smooth floors hewn from the bedrock. Animals carved into the pillars represent lions, bulls, boars, foxes, gazelles, and donkeys; snakes and other reptiles; insects and arachnids; and birds, particularly vultures, but nobody knows what they mean, even though they are all wild and fearsome creatures. It doesn’t seem that people lived at the temple, but animal bones suggest that people prepared food and ate there. Archaeologist Klaus Schmidt said Göbekli Tepe was a temple for a death cult, or for ancestor worship, this having been from the time before the gods were born.


Cool in the summer, dry in the winter, comforting. But deeper in the darkness, caves were frightening, mysterious. Once we figured how to light our way inside, caves became our own spaces, spaces where we met our fears, met and learned to listen to the hidden spirits. Deep in the interior, oxygen-deprived, patterns in the darkness, like lights in the night, helped us with our problems and lured animals into our fastnesses.


Imaginary temples made of low walls of rock piled up less than four feet high making rectangles up to a thousand feet long with an entrance at one end and a platform at the head made of rocks piled up over chambers containing fragments of cattle bones. A thousand of these span northwestern Saudi Arabia.


Enough has been dreamt of it that you already know even if it wasn’t a temple it is a temple now.