Gobekli Hill structures predate Stonehenge by 6,000 years.

Robert Zwilling

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#1
Did hunter gathers have organized religion complete with long term permanent buildings

I only ran across this article the other day. Its been out there for years, it predates Stonehenge by 6,000 years, the original site was originally thought to be a simple cemetery and Klaus Schmidt, the first archaeologist who realized what the site meant died in 2014. It raises some intriguing ideas. Maybe everything has multiple sources and latching onto a single path of explanations is always going to end up with sideways going results.

"Göbekli Tepe, to Schmidt's way of thinking, suggests a reversal of that scenario: The construction of a massive temple by a group of foragers is evidence that organized religion could have come before the rise of agriculture and other aspects of civilization."

If Gobekli Tepe structures were the results of spiritual beliefs, at least in some places, urbanization could be a by product or a dream of the human mind and not the physical result of leisure time brought on by the abundance of managed agricultural products.

Only 20 miles away is where some of the earliest examples of modified grain can be found.

Perhaps this was before the time people started picturing gods as having human sexual characteristics so that humans and gods could personally interact with each other. Previous to that the gods could be pictured as immense powers that had no personal interactions with individual humans. After the human characteristics were added then the soap operas began with the creation of humans and gods families.

Aerial Picture

Shorter Gobekli Hill article
 

Venusian Broon

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#2
Firstly, there is plenty of evidence that hunter-gatherer groups travelled very widely, as they would exploit and take advantage of various food sources as they came into season in the various parts of the Earth they roamed.

On top of that I think it is feasible that different groups, knowing about each other would also find time to come together. Purely on practical levels, it would be good to come together to trade - products, services, expertise and information, to find mates, and, hey why not, just come together and have a party!

I personally think it is a good bet that the place they would meet would be deemed sacred in their mythologies (see later) and so in the time they were there, collaborate and build structures like Gobekli Tepe, pulling effort and expertise to build something as a combined group. Therefore such places would also acquire a significant spiritual, as well as practical, meaning, growing over time.

I think this behaviour carried over to when people started to farm and herd properly. Again, I believe, there is evidence that, in the British Isles for example, peoples were very well connected over huge distances and would travel to significant sites - such as Stonehenge - but there are other places in the UK where a great deal of time and effort was put into building structures and may have had the same 'magnetic' appeal!

However the best evidence I currently have is the records of the Sumerians. They tell us, in their own words, that cities were sacred. Their gods took up residence on Earth and lived in cities.

(From Gwendoylen Leick's excellent Mesopotamia: The Invention of the City)
"Thus the Mesopotamian Eden is not a garden but a city, formed from a piece of dry land surrounded by the waters. The first building is a temple. Then mankind is created to render service to god and temple*. This is how Mesopotamian tradition presented the evolution and function of cities."

The archetypal first city of Mesopotamia is Eridu, which has evidence that it was first used at about 4900 BCE - evidence of a tiny 3 metre square chapel. This grew greatly over time and eventually became a monumental building. Possibly (my hypothesis is that) it started out like a sacred place like Gobekli Tepe, but Gobekli Tepe fell into misuse, while at Eridu constant visits slowly became people taking root next to the sacred area, possibly as they had worked out agriculture by this time, thus meaning they could spend all year building up the temple?

With people settled, then free time not spent wandering could really accelerate the process of diversification of roles, especially if they worked out how to economically created a food surplus (whether by trade or agriculture, I suppose) - so you would get masons, potters, farm labourers, priests etc...

Now, Eridu did eventually die out as a living city (I think even the Sumerians lost where it was circa 2000 BCE!), but it was heralded as the prototype and therefore most sacred city. Other people saw what was happening and recreated it in other areas - it is interesting that the temple structure of Eridu is generally reproduced and copied in other cities. However I think they took it to the next level, looking more at what the city could achieve, by diversification of effort and urban society, and they innovated there. (Like for example the invention of streets!)

I disagree with you on the gods ideas. We really have no idea what people thought before they started to write things down. I can see no evidence at all that gods of prehistoric times 'could be pictured as immense powers with no human interactions.' In fact I'd tentatively suggest the opposite. We do have humanoid figurines that have been found going back pretty far - say 35,000 years. i.e. The Venus's or the strange man-animal hybrids. Are they art, practice of carving, totems, toys, or something to do while you sat around the fire on a cold winter night waiting? Yeah, could be, but if these figures meant something to them, perhaps they point to anthropomorphic entities - fertility goddess or gods of the hunt, say?

I have virtually no evidence for the last sentence :), but I find it more plausible. I do feel, even today, we tend to anthropomorphise virtually everything.

Sorry for the long post ;)


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* In Sumerian/Mesopotamian myth when the gods were created they came to Earth and found that they absolutely hated having to work the land and build things, so they came together and created humans to do all the labour, cultivation and maintenance of their houses/temples (Ziggurats)
 

Ursa major

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#3
I personally think it is a good bet that the place they would meet would be deemed sacred
Would deeming such places to be sacred (to all who attended them) also help in developing the idea that they were safe places in which pursue (non-violent) aims in the absence of (or a refusal by some to recognise) a higher human authority?
 

Venusian Broon

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#4
Would deeming such places to be sacred (to all who attended them) also help in developing the idea that they were safe places in which pursue (non-violent) aims in the absence of (or a refusal by some to recognise) a higher human authority?
That's an interesting thought. If they developed out of ideas that the place was sacred (In the case of Eridu, it was believed that the temple was built on the very first piece of land that emerged from the primeval waters) and they all arranged to 'meet on the first place on Earth' and celebrate/trade/play/tell stories/give prayer & thanks to the gods then I suppose this could intertwine the sacred with it being a friendly cooperative place of peace.

But I'm clutching at straws really. Evidence of human aggression in prehistoric time is pretty ephemeral. I think the narrative had been that hunter gather societies were pretty peaceful and cooperative and it was the advent if farming and cities, requiring ownership of land and assets that introduced war. But there have been discoveries of pretty brutal attacks on what must have H-G groups in recent years.
 

Brian G Turner

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#5
evidence that organized religion could have come before the rise of agriculture
We already have plenty of evidence of that in Neolithic Europe. Original standing stones and menhirs - not least Stonehenge - were set up by Neolithic hunter-gatherers, and almost certainly convey a spiritual message lost to us. The fact that so many monuments of the period across Europe share similarities suggests an underlying shared-belief system, which also implies contact between these societies, regardless of localized differences.

In Britain at least, the spread of farming brought barrow building and the interring of the dead (often cutting into Neolithic monuments to do so), but even then the peoples were nomadic - possibly planting crop, moving with herds, then returning to harvest. In Western Europe it's not until the Bronze Age that permanent settlements are believed to have begun.
 

Robert Zwilling

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#6
I've been thinking that the majority of original gods, tens of thousands, maybe 100,000 years ago, represented things that were not people and would never be seen as something people could interact with in simple normal human actions. Gods or Spirits would have been things like the sun, Moon, weather, earth as in geological features, wind, fire, or water. Things like hands and feet and other body parts came later. The first stuff was just huge in concept, huge in visualization, nothing in common with people. Humanizing the gods came later like in, yeah, I could do that.

I was thinking 10,000 years ago would be the end of the style of sexless gods, but that seems like it should be pushed farther back. I would guess that once the writing started it became very easy for whoever was dictating to the scribes to include themselves in the form of humans hobnobbing with the gods. Maybe even the scribes wrote their own fan god tributes. It's done like a selfie. Put yourself in a great story. Human attributes that came into existence a long time ago.

The Venus statues are found all around the ancient world and go back 40,000 years. Either the shape insured that the design would make it through the ages and not get destroyed unlike other figures or it was very popular. It doesn't have to be a god, there are plenty of other things it could be. Good luck charm, amulet to attract success, first art representing people, knicknack, some of them have post like bases where they could have been mounted in the ground so they stood up or held in the hand by the post. Knowing the diverse ranges of interests people have, some of them could have been the first pinups.
 

HareBrain

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#7
I've been thinking that the majority of original gods, tens of thousands, maybe 100,000 years ago, represented things that were not people and would never be seen as something people could interact with in simple normal human actions.
It's impossible to know, of course, but I think it's more likely to be the opposite. The idea of a human soul/spirit emerged first as a little person inside oneself, and was then transposed onto other things, as little people (or big) inside them. What would be the point of worshipping something you couldn't interact with? The whole point would be to influence it.

Even folklore animal heroes are really people in furs and feathers. The tribes didn't worship the animals themselves except as extensions of the folklore figures.

See James Frazer's Golden Bough, etc.
 

Robert Zwilling

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#8
See James Frazer's Golden Bough, etc.
I am looking through Frazer's Golden Bough. It does contain a lot of information about a lot of different people and their customs. I will look deeper into it, but at first glance it seems to be mainly about the tail end of the arc that covers peoples attempts at dealing with how the forces that operate this planet benefit mankind with absolutely no assistance from mankind, besides the practice of acting on beliefs based on the idea that humans always come first. It's sort of like a conflict of interest. I am trying to figure out what the beginning of the arc looked like.

Many still believe that this world was built exclusively for their own personal use and the name of the game is grab everything that isn't nailed down because no one is looking. No one is looking but the consequences are automatic and most dramatic when a ton of events sitting on a hair trigger after so many years have gone by that the mental connections just can't pick up the clues in time.

I'll get a searchable copy and plow through to see what he's got about the weather or anything from 50,000 years ago.

Shamans acting as guides to the spiritual world has multiple planes of action. Perhaps being able to answer people's questions gave those people power. Being able to answer the questions correctly for whatever reason could give a person a real feeling of a position of power.

In some places it could be as simple as an observant near sighted person living among a bunch of far sighted lazy people. Or the position could be obtained by who was the smartest at close combat fighting and had a an observant head on their shoulders. Some people just have to answer questions, find solutions to problems, it's kind of like a mental block but it generates actions instead of inaction. The worst case would be a person who desires power and will lie to people endlessly to keep their loyalty as they perform the role of guide to the spirit world only they can sense. The same way popes, bishops and priest sold indulgences, or free passes to heaven during Martin Luther's time. None of this deals with peoples perceptions of how the background world works that everyone takes for granted.

I can understand people seeing animals as having or being spirits and themselves having or being spirits but I think there was a time when the way people looked at animals or themselves was not the same way they looked at storms.

We almost successfully delegated weather to the back seat, explaining everything it could do, making predictions based on years of repeating past history, thinking it couldn't rule our lives. The comfort derived from that period of stability with our growing knowledge base is probably going to turn out to be a one off for the immediate future.

Rainstorms have been totally dissected. Refrigerator unit, air pump, water pump, circular wind generator, water supply, electric power generator, charge accumulator, and particle accelerator. Check. Now these storms are ramping up their size and duration presenting a whole new dimension that we can't control. You can try looking at these storms the way we use to, but it just doesn't work because of the high injury and destruction rate the new weather patterns have. I would say that the way the weather has evolved into a formidable adversary for us is probably on par with the way earlier people looked upon the weather. Something to be reckoned with. You can ignore it but if you go too far out on a limb it can cut you down very easily. So we are back to keeping a wary eye on it.

I don't think most people are connecting the weather with spirits or gods, or animals, or other people. I am connecting it with a new way of approaching everything the natural world has to offer that might be similar to the way people use to do things. They respected what they didn't know. By trying to understand how people worked the natural visible world and the invisible world that backs it up I am looking at spirits and gods as some kind of structure that integrates what I don't know with what I think is happening. And don't look now but here comes another one. I look upon the nitrogen, oxygen, sulfur, carbon dioxide, phosphorous, water, cycles (there's plenty more) and decomposition, weathering, the weather (plenty more operations), as local gods for this planet. Things that humans can't control by laws, beliefs, regulations, steel bars, bribery or other human based techniques that work on ourselves but little else. These processes work regardless of what we do and have been working for 4 billion years.

I figure people must have had some kind of thoughts about the results of all these processes whether they understood them or not without resorting to making them a part of their bodies, something they could understand. The ironic part is that our bodies are probably the key element for making this whole gods thing work. If our bodies weren't such a combination of complex natural operations, there wouldn't be anyone around to admire how it all got to the way it did in the first place. I do believe this, the power that makes inert materials come alive has absolutely nothing to do with the life it creates. Zero communication. The job of explaining things to the local lifeforms is left to the local gods which put on a very good show.
 

Ursa major

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#9
Apart from anything else, humans seem to find -- like finding -- patterns in all sorts of things (including in other patterns**).

Sometimes the pattern is real; sometimes the pattern appears by happenstance. In both cases, people seem prone to looking for a reason why there has been a change, i.e. why an existing pattern has been disturbed or why a new pattern has appeared from nowhere. In the absence of what we might see as rational explanations, what we might see as less rational explanations may be lighted upon.


** - Such as "seeing", for example, "faces" in the patterns of patterned wallpaper and curtains.
 

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