Several years ago when I first learned about the site at Gobekle Tepe in Anatolia the thing that impressed me was that the art represented a mature form, with established conventions and techniques. This is a pretty spectacular thing to see as the site is 12,000 years old. For those of you not familiar with Gobekle Tepe it is the oldest known megalithic site, possibly the oldest known city, and possibly the oldest known site of agriculture. It’s also not small, and most of it has not yet been unearthed.

Previously it had been believed that the only people living in that part of the world at that time were hunter-gatherers. When the site was first examined the immediate supposition was that somehow hunter-gatherers came together at this spot and pulled the techniques of stone-carving and architecture out of nowhere. Currently the leading theory (as far as I know- my information may be out of date) is that the site was a religious site, and that agriculture arose in response to the need to support the work force constructing it. Given that the stonework and art appear to represent a mature body of techniques this explanation did not ring true to me, and I am not the only one to find this conclusion questionable. Add to this new discoveries of other sites contemporary to Gobekle Tepe discovered nearby, and the obviously cultural ties between these sites and Gobekle Tepe, and I find my skepticism growing.

Graham Hancock is also skeptical of this version of events. He is an author, amateur archeologist, researcher, journalist and lecturer who is convinced that there was a lost global civilization that remains undiscovered. Like the craftsmen at Gobekle Tepe he’s not just pulling it out of his ass; he asks some very good questions and makes some very good points. But as much as I respect his work his suppositions often exceed the available data. For example he assumes the existence of an Atlantis that existed in prehistory as described by Plato. He believes that the existence of Gobekle Tepe can be attributed to refugees from the destroyed civilization. He points out there was a global cataclysm around 12,000 years ago that resulted in, among other things, a dramatic rise in sea level. So, we have an ancient story of a city destroyed about 11,600 years ago, we have a cataclysm that could account for that destruction, and anomalous technologies suddenly appearing in Anatolia. Gobekle Tepe must therefore have been an attempt by refugees from Atlantis to restart their civilization. It seems logical and it might even be correct, but there is a slight problem; there is no concrete evidence that his Atlantis existed.

Occam’s Razor suggests that the simplest explanation is likeliest to be true, and frankly I don’t think that Graham’s explanation is the simplest one. It seems to me more likely that we are looking at a culture that pre-dates the site of Gobekle Tepe, but that does not mean we need to be looking for a connection to a hypothetical lost civilization.  To me we should be looking for predecessors of the builders of Gobekle Tepe in Anatolia. I think the most likely answer is that evidence of this culture simply either has not yet been discovered or has not been recognized as such.

I believe that the roots of human civilization go deeper than current theories allow. But I don’t believe this out of some sort of wish-fulfillment. I believe it because sites like Gobekle Tepe indicate that there are whole chapters of human history and the history of civilization that we are not yet aware of. I believe in human intelligence, creativity and energy and I have seen nothing in the historic record that could not theoretically have been accomplished with entirely conventional methods that are within our current understanding of physics and engineering.

People are fond of pointing to massive blocks of rock, obviously shaped by that hands of men, and say ‘There’s no way our ancestors could have done that with the technology available to them.’ I think this says more about the limits of their imaginations than it does about the capabilities of our ancestors. There’s a fellow in the mid-west, a retired contractor actually, who raised a twenty-ton slab of concrete ten feet in the air over the course of a day- with only himself and one helper. His tools? Four logs, some rope, a rock and a big pile of sticks. How did he know how to do this? He figured it out. Our ancestors were as smart as he is, they could have figured it out too. He did this with two people. Imagine what the Egyptians could do with a work-force of thousands. Or, for that matter, the early Anatolians. The works of ancient man did not require alien intervention, or technology transfer from an unknown, hypothetical advanced culture. It just required human ingenuity and invention. Sure, we might not know how they did it- but we’re clever too. We’ll figure it out.  Of course to do that we need to stop looking for phantasms and deus ex machina as our explanations.