How does Göbekli Tepe fit with biblical history?
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 Sanders 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]
Thanks for writing in. We’ve gotten several questions lately regarding Göbekli Tepe.
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 Sanders and Dr. Robert Carter