How does Göbekli Tepe fit with biblical history?

Published: 26 July 2011 (GMT+10)
Wikipedia.org Göbekli Tepe:

Göbekli Tepe is a site just north of the Syrian-Turkish border on a ridge overlooking a wide valley to the south. It has been in the news a lot lately, prompting several people to write in and ask about our view. For instance, Travis H., whose question is published below with a response from Lita Cosner and Dr. Robert Carter. As there is so much that is uncertain about the find at present, these should be taken as preliminary comments which may change depending on how the story develops.

I recently watched a piece on Göbekli Tepe, and was frustrated by all of the assumptions they were willing to change so they would not have to question the dating. I was hoping you guys would be willing to put a response together. [Link deleted per our feedback rules]

Dear Travis,

Thanks for writing in. We’ve gotten several questions lately regarding Göbekli Tepe.

They have a little bit of data, to which they add a lot of assumptions to give the narrative gloss so that the History Channel can make a compelling piece on it.

First, we find it rather curious that this site is being used as if it’s something that should be a big challenge to creationists because of the date. Our response to that is the same as the dates that put the earliest Egyptian pyramids before the biblical date for the Flood and those that claim dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago—the dates are wrong. In this case the dates are based on carbon dating, something we’ve written much about previously. We would agree though that it’s probably one of the earliest big human monuments we have—a tentative dating would put it soon after the Flood. The site’s location is about perfect for it to be the product of one of the early post-Flood or post-dispersion people groups to have built it.

To put things in perspective—archaeologists are claiming that, 12,000 years ago, people were capable of carving these huge monuments. This is supposed to be long before any sort of written language, thousands of years before the Egyptian pyramids, and prior to the settlement of Sumer. Out of nowhere, we have this ancient monument, and then humans supposedly put down their chisels and don’t build anything for thousands of years more—but when they do, we get Sumer and the Egyptian pyramids. This stretches credulity.

The video you sent observes that the kinds of animals described vary from current biodiversity in the area, and therefore it might be evidence of many types of animals existing in the area that currently don’t live there. This would also fit with the biblical narrative. Post-flood, it would take a while for the animal populations to spread out to where we find them today, and we would expect many shifts in species composition as ecological changes occur and as interspecies competitions and associations ebb and flow. Also, there is evidence that the land is now much drier than it was in historical times (many dry wells in plain to the south, for example).

In several places the archaeologists marvel that we have this huge stone monument with no tools—several people repeat this in the video as if it’s very extraordinary. But just think—we have skyscrapers with no cranes around them, no scaffolding, no jackhammers or tools. This is because the tools were removed after construction was finished. This is even more likely as an explanation in the case of Göbekli Tepe if it was in use for some time before being buried.

Update, 8 August 2011:
A National Geographic article on Göbekli Tepe, The Birth of Religion, reports:
Other parts of the hill were littered with the greatest store of ancient flint tools Schmidt had ever seen—a Neolithic warehouse of knives, choppers, and projectile points. Even though the stone had to be lugged from neighboring valleys, Schmidt says, “there were more flints in one little area here, a square meter or two, than many archaeologists find in entire sites.”
Given that the video was made around the same time as the National Geographic article, it would seem that the interviewees either did not have access to the latest information, or were distorting the data to make it as sensational as possible.

The identity of Göbekli Tepe’s builders is also problematic. Supposedly, they are hunter-gatherers, but there is a very basic problem with this—hunter-gatherer societies don’t have the specialization of labor necessary to free up workers for something of this scale—hunter-gatherers don’t build great big monuments, because they’re too busy, well, hunting and gathering. It’s not an efficient way to get food (see also An ancient textile factory?).

Only 5% of Göbekli Tepe has been uncovered—who knows what will be discovered as the other circles are excavated. At this point, archaeologists are making tons of assumptions that they can’t possibly know. They have a little bit of data, to which they add a lot of assumptions to give the narrative gloss so that the History Channel can make a compelling piece on it. Yet, it fits well in creationist assumptions—not far from where we think Noah’s Ark probably landed, there’s an incredibly ancient monument that shows amazing human artistic skill and engineering ability, and it depicts lots of animals that aren’t in the area today.

Another piece of evidence that we uncovered—the once-fertile plain to the south of Göbekli Tepe is the site of the biblical Haran, a mere 25 miles away. This is where Abraham lived for several years during his family’s migration from Ur of the Chaldeans to the land of Canaan. It is where Terah settled and died, and from whence Isaac and Jacob both obtained their wives. It is uncertain what the association between these two places might be, but there’s a lot of tantalizing circumstantial evidence that they are somehow connected. The people of Haran should have known of the existence of Göbekli Tepe at the very least, assuming the biblical history is true. Whatever the outcome, we are confident that the evidence will be able to be interpreted in line with biblical assumptions.


Lita Cosner and Dr. Robert Carter

Readers’ comments

Charles P.
Could this possibly be once part of the altar that Noah built to the Lord according to Genesis 8:20 (the first religious site)? Later peoples could have enlarged it know full well it's origins, perhaps the dead sea scrolls in the Genesis scroll has a little more information.
Lita Cosner
So little is known about the site at this point that no one is able to give more than guesses as to what the site's significance may have been. But your guess is certainly interesting.
Cecily A.
Göbekli Tepe could be pre-flood. This would account for the animals that were found there, having been washed into the area by the floodwaters and rapidly buried along with the man-made structures.
Lita Cosner
Thanks for writing in and commenting on the article. We pondered if Göbekli Tepe could be antediluvian, but quickly rejected this for several reasons. For one thing, even though I haven’t had a chance to fully study the geology under the site, I would bet it’s sitting on top of hundreds of meters of sedimentary rock, laid down by water. Those rocks might well contain fossils. When could these have been deposited if not during Noah’s flood? Furthermore, the stones are carved out of limestone, a sedimentary rock that was quarried from a nearby site close to the top of the ridge. By all accounts, limestone should not be forming at high altitudes in the 1,600 years between Creation and the Flood. Something carved out of ‘Flood rocks’ can’t be pre-Flood! Perhaps the most convincing evidence that this is post-Flood is that the site shows every indication of being buried deliberately by humans—no natural phenomenon we can think of would completely bury the stone circles, leaving the stones in their places. Even a local flood of that intensity would topple and break the stones, but how could a “local” flood cover such a high hill? A global flood would most likely obliterate all the evidence of pre-Flood man, scouring the original landscape and then burying it beneath hundreds of feet of newly deposited sediment. This is why we argue that we don’t have any evidence of what pre-Flood society was like, aside from the few hints we’re given in the Bible (they had metal-working and musical instruments, for instance). A society that possessed the engineering knowledge required to build a massive Ark might be expected to have some sort of architecture, but if they did it should have been destroyed in the Flood.

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