“Gobekli Tepe,” say it again with me folks, “Gobekli Tepe.” It’s a name worth practicing because its a discovery that has turned anthropology on its head. As reported from Smithsonianmag.com:
“Six miles from Urfa, an ancient city in southeastern Turkey, Klaus Schmidt has made one of the most startling archaeological discoveries of our time: massive carved stones about 11,000 years old, crafted and arranged by prehistoric people who had not yet developed metal tools or even pottery.”
“So what?” You might say. Here’s so what. Temples that old aren’t supposed to exist. Traditional wisdom in the field of anthropology suggests that temples were a late development. First comes agriculture, then the city, then city walls. Once there is sufficient specialization population density increases, which in turn increases the benefit to those who hold sway over the masses, i.e. priests. Up till that point religious practice (burial, rites, shamanism) had been a quaint reminder of pre-civilized superstition. But after the development–both culturally and technologically–of the city, the proctors of religion, the keepers of the mysteries, translated religion into just one more power narrative.
In Marxist terms, civilized religion (priests, temples, rites, profit from the sacrificial system, social power) is a development of the superstructure which is a result of infrastructure (agriculture, urbanization, walls, techological and cultural specialization). But,–say it again with me folks–“Gobekli Tepe,” changes all that.
Millennia separate this Turkish temple from the development of city walls, let alone the city. What this suggests is startling. In the case of religion, superstructure enables infrastructure. Or, in other words, its not only developments that drive history, ideas drive history. This might sound dry or dull, but what it means is that our consciousness shapes the world.
It’s not just that we react to the world. It’s not just that we find a way to exploit its infrastructure. It’s that there exists an iteration between the world and our thought. Our posture toward the world terraforms it. Rather than infrastructure then superstructure then ideas. It runs like this: ideas then superstructure then infrastructure.
The idea, the oldest and until recently unspoken idea that drives human history, is domestication. Let me suggest at the end of this post that it is worth thinking seriously about the (terra)formation of such an idea. It is worth considering the outcome.
Look for more posts on domestication in the coming weeks.