The Garden of Eden?

Gobelki 1Michael Kruse brought these articles to my attention earlier this week. An ancient temple at Gobekli Tepe in Turkey revolutionizes thinking about ancient human culture and thought. A prehistoric construction, a “temple” dating from some 8000-12000 years ago. This is truly an impressive find. The Smithsonian artice on the find is fascinating: Gobekli Tepe: The World’s First Temple? The Daily Mail has an article that is somewhat more sensational (no surprise): Do these mysterious stones mark the site of the Garden of Eden?

Now – I do not think that this is “the Garden of Eden” (although perhaps some here will disagree) but the archaeological finds stretching into our distant past do shape how we think of ourselves as a people, as a species. This construction predates human settlement – dating from a period of hunters and gatherers. Yet these people, our ancestors, constructed a truly remarkable place, many of the carvings and representations are astounding. It is hard to fathom the thought processes that led to this construction.

Gobelki 2

From the Smithsonian article: “There’s more time between Gobekli Tepe and the Sumerian clay tablets [etched in 3300 B.C.] than from Sumer to today,” says Gary Rollefson, an archaeologist at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, who is familiar with Schmidt’s work. “Trying to pick out symbolism from prehistoric context is an exercise in futility.”

One of the things that this site may indicate is that the coordinated effort of humans gathering to construct such a site may have laid the groundwork for farming, settlement, and the development of complex societies. This contrasts with the standard paradigm that settlement led to construction of such monuments.

Gobekli Tepe is one of the most impressive finds, but not the only indication of ancient human cultures. The Clovis culture of North and Central America dates to roughly the same time frame (ca. 12000 +/- 1000 years ago). An article a couple of years ago in Science (Science 23 February 2007 Vol. 315. no. 5815, p. 1122) established dates of ca. 11,050 to 10,800 14C yr B.P. suggesting that this was not the first culture established in the Americas. Mankind had spread around the globe by the time the Gobekli Tepe temple was built. (14C yr is a carbon-14 dating year. There is a calibration between this and the calendar year – but the calibrations all suggest that the carbon-14 year is slightly longer than the calendar year.)

How do we fit this information into our interpretation of scripture?

Do we let scripture define how we interpret these finds (can’t be so old… 14C dating is flawed…the tower of Babel after all is later than Noah only a few thousand years BC)?

Do we let our new found knowledge dictate our interpretation of scripture – the stories of Genesis are merely etiological creation stories similar to the myths of superstitious cultures around the world?

Or is the relationship more nuanced (as many of us believe)? If so how?

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