Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Archaeologist argues world's oldest temples were not temples at all

Date:
October 6, 2011
Source:
University of Chicago Press Journals
Summary:
Ancient structures uncovered in Turkey and thought to be the world's oldest temples may not have been strictly religious buildings after all, according to a new article. Archaeologists argue that the buildings found at Gobekli Tepe may have been houses for people, not the gods.

Ancient structures uncovered in Turkey and thought to be the world's oldest temples may not have been strictly religious buildings after all, according to an article in the October issue of Current Anthropology. Archaeologist Ted Banning of the University of Toronto argues that the buildings found at Göbekli Tepe may have been houses for people, not the gods.

The buildings at Göbekli, a hilltop just outside of the Turkish city of Urfa, were found in 1995 by Klaus Schmidt of the German Archaeological Institute and colleagues from the Şanlıurfa Museum in Turkey. The oldest of the structures at the site are immense buildings with large stone pillars, many of which feature carvings of snakes, scorpions, foxes, and other animals.

The presence of art in the buildings, the substantial effort that must have been involved in making and erecting them, and a lack of evidence for any permanent settlement in the area, led Schmidt and others to conclude that Göbekli must have been a sacred place where pilgrims traveled to worship, much like the Greek ruins of Delphi or Olympia. If that interpretation is true it would make the buildings, which date back more than 10,000 years to the early Neolithic, the oldest temples ever found.

However, Banning offers an alternative interpretation that challenges some of Schmidt's claims.

He outlines growing archaeological evidence for daily activities at the site, such as flintknapping and food preparation. "The presence of this evidence suggests that the site was not, after all, devoid of residential occupation, but likely had quite a large population," Banning said.

Banning goes on to argue that the population may have been housed in the purported temples themselves. He disagrees with the idea that the presence of decorative pillars or massive construction efforts means the buildings could not have been residential space.

"The presupposition that 'art,' or even 'monumental' art, should be exclusively associated with specialized shrines or other non-domestic spaces also fails to withstand scrutiny," Banning writes. "There is abundant ethnographic evidence for considerable investment in the decoration of domestic structures and spaces, whether to commemorate the feats of ancestors, advertise a lineage's history or a chief's generosity; or record initiations and other house-based rituals."

Archaeological evidence for domestic art from the Neolithic period exists as well, Banning says, such as the wall paintings at Çatalhöyük, another archaeological site in Turkey.

Banning suggests that the purported temples may instead have been large communal houses, "similar in some ways to the large plank houses of the Northwest Coast of North America with their impressive house posts and totem poles."

"If so, they would likely have housed quite large households that might provide an extremely early example of what the French anthropologist, Claude Lévi-Strauss, called 'house societies,'" Banning said. "Such societies often use house structures for competitive display, locations for rituals, and explicit symbols of social units."

Banning hopes that more excavation at the site will ultimately shed more light on how these buildings were used. In the meantime, he hopes that researchers will not automatically assume that the presence of art or decoration in structures at Göbekli and elsewhere denotes an exclusively religious building.

"It is … likely that some of these buildings were the locus for a variety of rituals, probably including feasts, mortuary rites, magic, and initiations," he writes. "Yet there is generally no reason to presume a priori, even when these are as impressive as the buildings at Göbekli Tepe, that they were not also people's houses."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Chicago Press Journals. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. E. B. Banning. So Fair a House: Göbekli Tepe and the Identification of Temples in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic of the Near East. Current Anthropology, 52:5; October 2011

Cite This Page:

University of Chicago Press Journals. "Archaeologist argues world's oldest temples were not temples at all." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 6 October 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111006162535.htm>.
University of Chicago Press Journals. (2011, October 6). Archaeologist argues world's oldest temples were not temples at all. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 24, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111006162535.htm
University of Chicago Press Journals. "Archaeologist argues world's oldest temples were not temples at all." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111006162535.htm (accessed April 24, 2014).

Share This



More Fossils & Ruins News

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Mich. Boy Unearths 10,000-Year-Old Mastodon Tooth

Mich. Boy Unearths 10,000-Year-Old Mastodon Tooth

Newsy (Apr. 20, 2014) — A 9-year-old Michigan boy was exploring a creek when he came across a 10,000-year-old tooth from a prehistoric mastodon. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Couple Finds Love Letters From WWI In Attic

Couple Finds Love Letters From WWI In Attic

Newsy (Apr. 17, 2014) — A couple found love letters from World War I in their attic. They were able to deliver them to relatives of the writer of those letters. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Erotic Art Offers Glimpse of China's 'lost' Sexual Philosophy

Erotic Art Offers Glimpse of China's 'lost' Sexual Philosophy

AFP (Apr. 16, 2014) — Explicit Chinese art works dating back centuries go on display in Hong Kong, revealing China's ancient relationship with sex. Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
French Historians Fight to Save Iconic La Samaritaine Buildings

French Historians Fight to Save Iconic La Samaritaine Buildings

AFP (Apr. 15, 2014) — Parisians and local historians are fighting to save one of the French capital's iconic buildings, the La Samaritaine department store. Duration: 01:42 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins