A Kurdish shepherd made a remarkable discovery. Is it the Garden of Eden? The stone monuments alone are unique and a bit like those of South America.
“….To build such a place as this, the hunters must have joined together in numbers. After they finished building, they probably congregated for worship. But then they found that they couldn’t feed so many people with regular hunting and gathering.
‘So I think they began cultivating the wild grasses on the hills. Religion motivated people to take up farming.’
The reason such theories have special weight is that the move to farming first happened in this same region. These rolling Anatolian plains were the cradle of agriculture.
The world’s first farmyard pigs were domesticated at Cayonu, just 60 miles away. Sheep, cattle and goats were also first domesticated in eastern Turkey. Worldwide wheat species descend from einkorn wheat – first cultivated on the hills near Gobekli. Other domestic cereals – such as rye and oats – also started here….There were herds of game, rivers of fish, and flocks of wildfowl; lush green meadows were ringed by woods and wild orchards. About 10,000 years ago, the Kurdish desert was a ‘paradisiacal place’, as Schmidt puts it. So what destroyed the environment? The answer is Man.
As we began farming, we changed the landscape and the climate. When the trees were chopped down, the soil leached away; all that ploughing and reaping left the land eroded and bare. What was once an agreeable oasis became a land of stress, toil and diminishing returns.
And so, paradise was lost. Adam the hunter was forced out of his glorious Eden, ‘to till the earth from whence he was taken’ – as the Bible puts it.
Of course, these theories might be dismissed as speculations. Yet there is plenty of historical evidence to show that the writers of the Bible, when talking of Eden, were, indeed, describing this corner of Kurdish Turkey….In the Book of Genesis, it is indicated that Eden is west of Assyria. Sure enough, this is where Gobekli is sited.
Likewise, biblical Eden is by four rivers, including the Tigris and Euphrates. And Gobekli lies between both of these.
In ancient Assyrian texts, there is mention of a ‘Beth Eden’ – a house of Eden. This minor kingdom was 50 miles from Gobekli Tepe.
Another book in the Old Testament talks of ‘the children of Eden which were in Thelasar’, a town in northern Syria, near Gobekli.
The very word ‘Eden’ comes from the Sumerian for ‘plain’; Gobekli lies on the plains of Harran.
Thus, when you put it all together, the evidence is persuasive. Gobekli Tepe is, indeed, a ‘temple in Eden’, built by our leisured and fortunate ancestors – people who had time to cultivate art, architecture and complex ritual, before the traumas of agriculture ruined their lifestyle, and devastated their paradise.
It’s a stunning and seductive idea. Yet it has a sinister epilogue. Because the loss of paradise seems to have had a strange and darkening effect on the human mind….Around 8,000 BC, the creators of Gobekli turned on their achievement and entombed their glorious temple under thousands of tons of earth, creating the artificial hills on which that Kurdish shepherd walked in 1994.
No one knows why Gobekli was buried. Maybe it was interred as a kind of penance: a sacrifice to the angry gods, who had cast the hunters out of paradise. Perhaps it was for shame at the violence and bloodshed that the stone-worship had helped provoke.
Whatever the answer, the parallels with our own era are stark. As we contemplate a new age of ecological turbulence, maybe the silent, sombre, 12,000-year-old stones of Gobekli Tepe are trying to speak to us, to warn us, as they stare across the first Eden we destroyed.