Archaeology – The Staunch Science

Among my early childhood books, was an amazing work of non-fiction on ancient civilizations.  It covered the beginnings; Egypt, Phoenicia, and Sumeria.  It also discussed a few others; Assyrians, Hittites, and Nubians, all of which appeared to be more nomadic and less organized.  Instantly, I wanted to become an archaeologist.  Not the Indiana Jones type of archaeologist, but the real deal… digging in sand, uncovering ruins one painstaking inch at a time and trying to decipher artifacts and relics from times long gone.

Fast forward about ten years and my dreams of becoming an archaeologist were a distant memory.  A very distant memory.  There were three serious flaws with archaeology as a profession.  1) I don’t like being outdoors.  2) I don’t like being dirty (or sandy).  3) It is really hard to change the minds of archaeologists.

For some strange reason, of all the sciences, archaeology is pretty set in its understanding of the world.  This realization came when I was reading an article about Gobekli Tepe.  For those who don’t follow antiquity, I’ll give a brief explanation.  Gobekli Tepe is a series of large stones located on top of a mountain in Turkey.  No, that doesn’t really sound impressive.  What is impressive is that it has been dated to between 10,000 – 8,000 BCE.  That’s about 5,500 years earlier than the building of The Great Pyramid in Egypt.  There was no such thing as civilization during the time period that Gobekli Tepe was built.  The stones have impressive carvings on it and there is some debate about some of the carvings because they may depict animals not native to Turkey.  Also, the stones really are massive.  We are talking tons, as far as weight goes.

So, how the hell did nomadic tribes with no wheels build a massive stone circle with massive stones?  Also, as a general rule, nomads don’t build huge monolithic structures.  Monolithic structures using stones that weigh several tons require the tribe to stop wandering, because it isn’t being tossed together in a week.

The reason this killed my passion for the science was because the German archaeologist who undertook the task of uncovering it, was labelled a crack pot when he put forth his dating.  Unfortunately, for the rest of the archaeological world, the date seems to be fairly accurate. I once asked an archaeology professor about Gobekli Tepe and he rolled his eyes and told me he taught “fact, not fantasy.”  That’s a really disappointing answer.  I’ve seen the pictures and read the literature.  Gobekli Tepe is fact, not fantasy, so why wouldn’t he talk about it?  If he didn’t know much about it, he could have plead ignorance, that is allowed, even by archaeology professors.

I do continue my interest in archaeology, but it’s a hobby now.  I read and digest and think about what I’ve read and wonder “what if?”… A question that doesn’t seem to be allowed in the academic field of archaeology if it bucks the “known information.”  And for any archaeologist who is a little more open-minded, my apologies, I’ve just never met one that is open to finding new information that goes against what we “know to be fact.”  Of course, I’m also throwing stones in a glass house… I’m a historian… heaven forbid we decide not to accept “known facts.”

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