Yesterday I examined geologist Robert M. Schoch’s attempt to radically revise human history by claiming that the Easter Island writing system, traditionally dated to c. 1200-1500 CE, is in fact 10,000 years older. This claim appeared in part one of a two-part article. Today, let’s take a look at the second part, “The Mystery of Göbekli Tepe and Its Message for Us,” which appeared in New Dawn magazine’s September-October 2010 issue.
In this article, Schoch explores the Turkish site of Göbekli Tepe, a complex of carved stone circles erected around 12,000 years ago. This site is spectacular, and its existence has called into question the accepted narrative of the development of civilization because there is no evidence of agriculture, permanent settlement, or any of the other hallmarks of civilization at the site. In short, it appears to have been built by hunter-gatherers coming together for ceremonial/ritual purposes.
But for Robert Schoch, that’s not good enough. It has to be something more. Schoch begins his article by recounting how “had the temerity” to radically re-date the Great Sphinx at Giza to 7000-5000 BCE based on his claim, unsupported by other geologists, that the monument was eroded by precipitation rather than forces common to the area’s desert environment.
Schoch admits that Egyptologists refused to recognize his revised dating due to the complete lack of any archaeological evidence for a civilization living and working around Giza in 7000 BCE. He quotes Egyptologist Mark Lehner in order to set up a clever straw man argument:
Do you see where this is going? Göbekli Tepe was constructed by hunter gatherers without cities; therefore, the Sphinx was, too. QED. It’s a cute argument, and it superficially makes sense. However, at Göbekli Tepe we have evidence for the people who built the site, including the temporary settlements they used while building it, a thousand-year-long record of their occupation, the trash left over from the food they ate, examples of the tools they used, and so on. The stone circles do not exist in isolation. There is none of that at the Sphinx. Lehner’s quotation is a straw man; there is still no context for a people who would have built the Sphinx in 7000 BCE.
Schoch works hard to marry his context-free re-dating of the Sphinx to the undeniably authentic Göbekli Tepe, but he fails to mention that Göbekli Tepe is merely the oldest example of cultural expressions in the ancient Near East that form a continuum, including such sites as Jericho, the oldest continuously-inhabited settlement in the world, dating back to 9000 BCE, and Çatalhöyük from 7500 BCE. Both sites are relatively close to Göbekli Tepe. (Much closer than the Sphinx.) There is nothing comparable in Egypt. The Turkish site is not, as Schoch asserts, evidence of “high culture and civilization” as conventionally defined (cities, agriculture, craft specialization, ascribed social status, etc.) but rather, like the effigy mounds of the Native Americans, examples of the collective religious efforts of widespread tribal groups coming together on occasion, both for the spiritual purpose of celebrating the gods and, most likely, the secular purpose of finding mates outside the family group. Compare, for example, a rural barn-raising and square dance.
Schoch argues that the pillars at Göbekli Tepe and the moai at Easter Island are closely related because they both depict stylized human figures with thin hands—you know, just 11,500 years apart with no intervening cultures either in time or space. The moai, one might note, depict large Polynesian heads, while the Turkish pillars are shaped like the letter T and have no heads. Also, the Turkish site features a carving of a bird as does Easter Island does. Could it be due to the fact that there are birds in both places? “In counterargument, I question whether we really know when Easter Island was first colonized,” Schoch says. Well, yes, we do, and as a geologist he should have some sort of connection to reality and understand how archaeologists date sites. There is an argument among scholars whether Easter Island was settled as early as 300 CE or as late as 1200 CE, but no one supports a date of 7000 to 10,000 BCE.
Isn’t it weird that Schoch celebrates radiocarbon dates when they place Göbekli Tepe at 10,000 BCE but when they place Easter Island in the period of 300-1200 CE suddenly we can’t “really know”? That’s what happens when you cross over from science to pseudoscience: Suddenly evidence is transactional, applicable only when it supports your crazy theories.
Schoch claims that the depictions of snakes on the Göbekli Tepe pillars represent plasma clouds from the (assumed but not proved) major solar coronal mass ejection of 9700 BCE, which was incidentally after the earliest radiocarbon dates for Göbekli Tepe. Therefore, Schoch reverses course again and abandons all reality in favor of a bizarre fantasy. In his mind, the people of Göbekli Tepe recorded the plasma clouds for posterity on the stone pillars and then buried their circles to run and hide from these same plasma clouds, this despite the fact that the circles were built and buried in succession over centuries, not all at once. It couldn't be that they depict, you know, snakes. We're supposed to assume the ancients were unimaginative enough that they felt compelled to record sky lights for all time by tracing their shapes in stone but so imaginative that a carving of a snake could not be a snake but instead sky plasma.
It is an insult to the master craftsmen of Göbekli Tepe and their deeply held spiritual beliefs to fantasize that they were little more than stenographers for imaginary plasma clouds.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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