Last year, when talking about Attis, I mentioned that the goddess Cybele might have roots in Asia Minor going all the way back to the site of Catal Huyuk, a Mesolithic community in southern Anatolia that dates back to c. 7500 BCE, and which has been the focus of much religious speculation on the part of Joseph Campbell amongst many others. Bulls and lions are prominently featured in the iconography of Catal Huyuk, and thus both of these have their connections to Antinous and various other ancient Mediterranean figures as well. Catal Huyuk had been thought to be one of the earliest large human settlements, with the earliest evidence for formalized and organized “temple religion.” (Though I’d disagree on that somewhat–even the paleolithic cave paintings indicate there was some organization in the religious experiences of the people concerned, no matter how limited or temporary it may have been.)
Well, all of that has changed. I realize I’m a bit behind on this story, which was featured in the National Geographic for June of 2011, but I’ve only been able to access the information recently and reflect upon it, and thus here we are.
The site known as Göbekli Tepe in Anatolia (modern Turkey, in the area of ancient Asia Minor) has stretched the archaeological horizon of organized temple-building to the period of 9600 BCE, a full two millennia (that’s right, the period of time between the present and roughly the time of Julius Caesar!) before Catal Huyuk. The above is a reconstruction of the site, which was re-built several different times over its millennium-and-a-half of active life. Each time, the construction quality seemed to deteriorate a bit, as the (most likely) open-air multi-ring structure with taller interior pillars was filled in with stones and then abandoned, with another similar multi-ring structure being built nearby. The materials for it were quarried within a mile of the site on each occasion, with unused pillars having been found in the quarries along with everything else.
But, here’s the kicker: there is no evidence whatsoever of a human settlement of any kind in the vicinity…and indeed, any evidence at all of larger human settlements has been thought to vastly postdate the active period of Göbekli Tepe. So, what does this mean?
In short, it means that large centers of religion, or (if nothing else) of “things to see” and “things to do,” predates large human settlements, and the agriculture necessary to support them. If these types of places became centers of pilgrimage and “tourist attractions,” then a need would have arisen to not only provide for lots of visitors, but also for the “staff” necessary to maintain such locations, and the builders to create and repair them. This has caused the archaeologists involved to suggest, in fact, that temples such as that at Göbekli Tepe were the cause of the building of cities–of civilization, in other words–rather than an effect of them. To put this in other words, the ways in which goddesses like Cybele were depicted as crowned with city-walls or spires in later images from the ancient and late antique worlds is too right indeed–the gods and their worship (in whatever form) really did give humans cities and civilization, and all the laws pertaining thereunto.
I’m particularly interested in the figures that are depicted at the site, including (in addition to various anthropomorphic figurines and a few of the larger T-shaped pillars made into rough humanoid forms with low relief sculptures…which no doubt someone will suggest demonstrates alien origins for the place!) various animals, particularly snakes, boars, foxes, and lions. Of course all of these have connections in various ways to Antinous, except for foxes…but, they are connected to Dionysos, particularly in his form/epithet of Dionysos Bassareus. So, perhaps this association goes very far back indeed for Dionysos…?!?
So much about it is suggestive–including this tiny amulet found at the site, which seems to depict (possibly?) a tree, a snake, and a humanoid figure…further evidence, perhaps, that “certain stories” are not at all original, and may have roots that go very far back indeed. Alternatively, the three-part downward-pointing symbol on the right of this image instead indicates there was a pawn shop at the site…run by the snake? Hmm…
In any case, there’s a lot to be fascinated by in these new suggestions, and I’m extremely intrigued by them. It would be even better to know what some of the actual rituals involved at such a site would have involved; none of the animal remains at the site are “domestic” animals of any sort, so the people who built this were still hunter-gatherers…
I’d love to hear any thoughts any of you who are reading this may have on the matter! It’s intriguing stuff to consider, at very least.