1. From where have we come? It is important to the question of where are we and where we might be going in our lives? It is common to encounter the overly simple view that we were once apes in the jungle and then something odd happened which gave rise to cave paintings, pyramids, writing and then along came the Greeks who started Western Civilization. In the last blog I covered the time period from apes to physically modern Homo sapiens about 40,000 BCE. This blog continues the story of our cultural evolution.
2. This blog highlights the recent book by Andrew Collins that does a great job of exploring the cultures that lead to the building of man’s first temple - Göbekli Tepe (often Anglicized as Gobekli)- built 12,000 years ago in Turkey. In his book he explicitly searches for a human cultural lineage for the prominent artistic components found in the Göbekli Tepe site such as:
- A. alignment with the stars – particularly the constellation Cygnus;
- B. bird culture including the vulture;
- C. tall, thin humanoids with elongated skull shapes;
- D. tanged point technology;
- E. snake images;
- F. stone carving; and,
- G. the fox.
3. We start this story 40,000 BCE as the Neanderthals had died out in their homeland in Europe. By that time H. sapiens were occupying much – if not all – of the World’s land mass with humans having made their way to and through Asia to Australia.
4. In Europe, by 32,000 to 30,000 H. sapiens are recognizable as distinct cultures based on the archaeological remains.
5. By this time the Aurignacian culture stretched from Europe across to the Black Sea and the Eastern shores of the Mediterranean. Their production of the first 3-dimensional human figurines indicates a high level of self-awareness and they are considered by some to be the first modern human.
6. They are credited with the creation of the fantastic cave paintings in Chauvet Cave in southern France. Amongst the many images of animals painted in the cave there is one scene referred to as “The Venus and the Sorcerer” (Figure 1). Collins and others interpret this scene as representing a portion of the Milky Way in the area of the Great Rift and the constellation Cygnus. If this interpretation is correct, then this is the first real indication of a human appreciation of the night sky overhead. This was created at a very early stage in our cultural evolution. In keeping with Collins’ search for the lineage of the people who created Göbekli Tepe, this painting supports his Point A) for a culture with an awareness of the heavens.
7. In particular, if the scene represents the Summer Triangle, then it represents three bird constellations: Cygnus the swan or goose, Lyra the vulture and Aquila the eagle. Them this painting also supports the possibility that this very early human culture valued high-flying birds in their connection with the higher awareness and being as required for Collins’ Point B).
8. Potentially also included in the theme of the scene is a specific recognition of the North Star. The constellations Cygnus and Lyra encompass stars that act as North Stars as the precession of the equinoxes unfolds. The star Vega in Lyra was the North Star 14,000 BCE and Deneb in Cygnus 18,000 BCE. If the creators of image did consider the concept of a North Star, then this is further support of Collins’ Point A) concerning an early awareness of the sky and its change over long time periods.
9. In prehistoric Eurasia one of the driving forces influencing the cultural evolution of H. sapiens was the highly variable climate during what was associated with the last ice age. To summarize the climatic change and the various human cultures that followed the Aurignacian culture, Figure 2 shows the climatic trends from 25,000 to 8,000 years ago from data collected by the North Greenland Ice Project (NGRIP). The Y-axis is an indicator of temperature in the Northern Hemisphere for the period that is of interest to this blog.
10. Following the Aurignacian culture, the Gravettian culture is recognized in Europe as extending temporally from 32,000 to 22,000 years ago. This culture produced hundreds of Venus figurines that were transported from the east in Siberia to Western Europe. Figure 3 shows the Venus of Lespugue found in southern France and sketches of similar statuettes found at the Kostenki site in modern day Russia, 4,000 km to the east.
11. While the common occurrence of Venus figurines across the geographic distribution of the Gravettian culture is evidence of a single culture, two regional components can be distinguished: 1) the Western & Central component centered around cave sites in France and 2) the Eastern component with large communal building sites such as have been found in modern day Russia. Differences between the two components include the animals they hunted with the eastern component hunting large mammals such as mammoths while the western component hunting smaller mammals, mainly reindeer. In the west they lived in caves, while in the east the lived in large group houses (http://www.donsmaps.com/lioncamp.html).
12. Looking at the eastern component of the Gravettian culture, from 29,000 to 25,000 years ago there was a variant called the Pavlovian centered in Northern Austria and Southern Poland (http://www.anthropark.wz.cz/postgravet_a.htm). Their existence provides support for Collins’ Point C) that there existed a culture of tall, fair skinned people. They used tanged points and used snake motifs in their artwork supporting Collins’ Points D) and E).
13. Collins also mentions a human population called Predmosti that existed from 27,000 to 24,000 BCE who lived in what is the present day Czech Republic who were of “large stature” and with hybrid skull characteristics of both Cro-Magnon and Neanderthals. Again this provides secondary support for Collins’ Point C) concerning a lineage of tall thin people who arrived in Turkey 10,000 years later for the building of Göbekli Tepe.
14. Also within the Eastern Gravettian culture the Kostenki sub-culture (32,000 to 19,000 BCE) occupied the banks of the Don River south of Moscow towards the eastern edge of the culture’s distribution. In support of Collins’ Points they:
- D) used tanged point technology (Figure 4);
- F) carved stones into animal shapes (Figure 5); and,
- G) wore fox teeth necklaces (Figure 6).
15. Whereas the Kostenki culture appears to have died out around 19,000 BCE, further east in Siberia the Eastern Gravettian culture appears to have continued in Malta and Buret culture. In Siberia the culture is reported to survive until 12,000 BCE (http://www.anthropark.wz.cz/postgravet_a.htm). This culture provides support for Collins’ Point E) of a culture that used snake motifs in their art.
16. These Eastern Gravettian cultures overlap temporally with a new culture called Solutrean that extended from 22,000 to 17,000 BCE during the last glacial maximum.
17. This Solutrean culture used sophisticated pressure flaking methods for producing large delicate leaf shaped stone points as much as 13 inches/33 cm in length and many with tanged shoulders supporting Collin’s point D) for the production of finely produced stone points such as are being found at Göbekli Tepe site.
9. Continuing in the timeline, in Western and Central Europe the Magdalenian culture followed the Solutrean and extends from 17,000 to 12,000 years ago towards the end of the last ice age. They occupied an area from the Atlantic coast in Portugal in the west to the Carpathian Mountains in the east. This culture is associated with a migrating lifestyle following the herds of reindeer that moved northward as the ice retreated.
20. The Magdalenian culture produced figurative art that accurately reflects animals of the day and 3-dimensional carvings. One of the best-known Magdalenian creations are the paintings in Lascaux Caves. In the midst of many scenes and images of animals, there is one portion of the cave that contains a scene with a “bird man” and a line with bird on the top (Figure 8).
21. Some have interpreted the bird-man image as representing a shaman connecting with higher awareness through either a literal bird mask or in a bird-like state. This is seen as support for Collins’ Point B) concerning a culture that highly valued birds in their higher thoughts.
22. Also in the scene is a line with a bird at the top. This is interpreted as representing the North Star at the time which was Deneb in the constellation Cygnus, a bird constellation. Collins suggests that the line represents the earth’s axis (axis mundui) oriented to the “bird-shaped” constellation Cygnus. Collins (2014) suggests that Solutreans may have created this image in the midst of the other Magdalenian created images. Whichever culture created the scene, its existence supports Collins’ interest in A) alignment with the stars – particularly the constellation Cygnus.
23. In Western, Central and northern Europe the Magdalenian culture was followed by a number of cultures: Hamburg (14–11 ka), Federmesser (14–13 ka) and Ahrensburg (12–11 ka) each with their characteristic tool making. But the Collins in his quest for a possible history of the Göbekli Tepe creators turns our attention to what was happening in Eastern Europe to the east of the Carpathian Mountains?
24. Taking a non-Eurocentric view, we return to the Siberian culture. There is a suggestion that this culture with its tanged points, fox artifacts and rock carvings persisted through to 12,000 BCE so as to overlap temporally and spatial with the Swiderian culture that existed 11,000 to 8,000 BCE centered in Poland (http://www.anthropark.wz.cz/postgravet_a.htm).
25. The Swiderian culture lived through the sudden cold period at the end of the last ice aged called the Younger Dryas. The Swiderians show similarities with the Kostenki and Solutrean culture as they all used tanged points. The typical sites for the Swiderian culture are northern Europe in Poland not too far geographically from the Kostenki culture sites. It is reasonable that they may have originated there before being forced southward in the direction of modern day Turkey with the drop in temperatures of the Younger Dryas carrying with them their cultural aspects associated with Points D) tanged point technology, F) stone carving techniques and G) valuing a connection with the fox.
26. An additional artistic component of Göbekli Tepe that may not have come from a northern European culture is the valuation of vultures. This may have come from farther south. Fifteen hundred kilometers south of the area of the Kostenki culture and in the vicinity of the Göbekli Tepe location, there is a recognized gatherer-hunter culture based in present day Northern Iraq called the Zarzian culture. It existed between 18,000-8,000 years BCE towards the end of the Kostenki culture and overlapping the existence of the Swiderian culture that is thought to have been moving south due to a cold climate. It is likely that the Zarzian made a migration from the Russian steppes in an earlier cold period around 20,000 BCE possibly taking with them some of the cultural aspects of the Kotenski peoples. In any event, vultures were of cultural interest to the Zarzian and they may have been the ones that contributed this artistic component to the work at Göbekli Tepe – Collins’ Point B).
27. Upon reviewing all of this information, Collins’ proposal for the cultural evolution and lineage that lead up to builders of Göbekli Tepe seems plausible. It is likely that the people who built Göbekli Tepe originated from the cultural evolution in the northeast on the edge of the advancing and retreating glacial ice edge between 20,000 and 10,000 BCE. It is time to leave the Eurocentric interpretation of our early cultural development and focus more on the area East of the Carpathian Mountains. Artistic themes found in the carvings and layout of Göbekli Tepe could be seen to come from:
- A. alignment with the stars – particularly the constellation Cygnus – Aurignacian/Solutrean;
- B. bird culture including the vulture – Solutrean/Zarzian;
- C. tall, thin humanoids with elongated skull shapes – Pavlovian/Predmont/Swiderian;
- D. tanged point technology – Pavlovian/Kotenski/Solutrean/Swiderian;
- E. snake images– Siberian;
- F. stone carving – Kotenski/Solutrean; and,
- G. the fox- Kotenski/Siberian.
28. Collins in his book entitled “Göbekli Tepe Genesis of the Gods – the Temple of the Watchers and the Discovery of Eden“ sums all of this complex reasoning on page 300 as “. . . Yet what seems more certain is that the Swiderians, who would have reached eastern Anatolia during the Younger Dryas period, carried with them some semblance of the beliefs, practices, and ideologies that had earlier thrived among the Solutrean people of southwest and central Europe. They were also, very likely carriers of magical traditions derived from the Kostenki-Streletskaya culture, whose descendants they would have encountered as they crossed the Russian Steppes on their way to the Causcasus Mountains and Armenian Highlands. The Kostenki-Streletskaya people’ own successors most probably included the Zarzians, who had followed a very similar route as the Swiderians, southward from the Russian steppes to eastern Anatolia, as much as ten thousand years earlier. All of the these influences are interconnected and came to bear, eventually on the construction of presents Göbekli Tepe, ca. 9500-8000 BC.”
29. Collins (2014) presents Göbekli Tepe in southeastern Turkey as a major milestone in the development of man’s creations – possibly even leading to the beginning of agriculture and our present Western Civilization. Göbekli Tepe was constructed between 10,000 and 8,000 BCE with large megalithic standing stones. It was built by a large number of gatherer-hunter individuals. It may have contributed to the development of agriculture and animal husbandry.
29. So this brings me back to the Blog #8 and the chimps, bonobo and human comparison. What is the necessary balance between our urges for food, sex, survival and higher consciousness? Survival on the edge of the glacial ice edge seems an odd place for the development of non-essential concepts and activities. Yet this may be the geographic/environmental location of the development of an awareness of our more-than-animal nature over the tens of thousands of years leading up to agriculture, settlements and eventually writing.
31. Footnote 1: Now it is difficult to trace out cultural evolution based on the evidence of our technology. For instance there is evidence that humans in Blombos Cave, South Africa, were using pressure flaking techniques for making sharp points 73,000 years ago. Such techniques are not seen for 1,000s of years until the Solutreans in 20,000 years ago. To get an in depth sense of the difficulty and complexity of following human cultural evolution based on the tools and technology check out this academic article: http://www.academia.edu/3598381/Quantitative_functional_analysis_of_Late_Glacial_projectile_points_from_northern_Europe. Although difficult, Collins (2014) paints an interesting picture of the connection between the Upper Palaeolithic Solutreans and the much later builders of Göbekli Tepe.