Göbekli Tepe is a huge archaeological site in Eastern Turkey, currently under excavation (make sure you click on "Pictures"). It is one of the oldest architectural complexes in the world, possibly the oldest, and appears to be a religious complex. Even more surprisingly, the civilization that built it appears to have been one of hunters gatherers rather than city dwellers.

Given that current historical opinion holds the view that agriculture, food surplus and storage naturally developed more "specialised" workers (including priests), how does Göbekli Tepe change this opinion, if at all?

Edit: following the second link, you'll find a "Movie" button as well as the "Picture" button. Just thought you might be interested.

2 Answers 2


in the current historical view has the onset of agriculture stimulate permanent settlements, and food surplus and storage allow the onset of specialized "careers" (including priests)

This is incorrect. Permanent settlements and specialized societies require large food surpluses. This is generally produced by agriculture, but can also (in rare cases) be obtained by hunting-gathering.

For instance, Jared Diamond in Guns, Germs, and Steel notes:

American Indians of the Pacific Northwest coast, such as the Kwakiutl, Nootka, and Tlingit Indians, lived under chiefs in villages without any agriculture or domestic animals, because the rivers and sea were so rich in salmon and halibut. The food surpluses generated by some people, relegated to the rank of commoners, went to feed the chiefs, their families, bureaucrats, and crafts specialists, who variously made canoes, adzes, or spittoons or worked as bird catchers or tattooers.

(Chapter 14, "From Egalitarianism to Kleptocracy", pp 274 in my edition.)

In short, this doesn't change the picture much.

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    Interesting point of view. I always regarded this passage in GG&S as an exception, rather than the rule for the evolution of societies. Together with the one about Japan (IIRC), these examples were there to explain that another pattern of developement was also possible. Anyway I've read it long time ago (sigh), and might be wrong as do not have the book at hand. In any case applying this explanation to arid Southern Turkey requires invoking some changes in regional climate.
    – astabada
    Dec 13, 2012 at 11:22
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    Back then the site would have been part of the Fertile Crescent.
    – Anubhav C
    Dec 13, 2012 at 11:44
  • What relevance are the Kwakiutl, Nootka, and Tlingit Indians to a society that lived in 10,000 BC? The time frames are many Millenniums apart! The Göbekli Tepe excavation shows a society living in one place 500 years before the first recorded instances of villages subsisting on agriculture and they're not living next to a sea full of fish! This find challenges pre-conceived notions of hunter-gathers switching to agriculture by at least 500 years, how can you say it doesn't change the picture much? What nonsense! Dec 14, 2012 at 18:17
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    @spiceyokooko You're assuming that the switch from perfectly nomadic hunter-gatherers to perfectly sedentary farmers was instantaneous, without any intermediate stages. That's unrealistic.
    – Anubhav C
    Dec 16, 2012 at 2:34
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    If you read the first paragraph in en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…, you'll find that scholars think Gobekli Tepe changes everything. I will try and have a read at the sources to understand why, although I'd rather have the point of view of an expert.
    – astabada
    Dec 17, 2012 at 15:00

One of the theories of how agriculture was invented (the most popular today, at least among archaeologists) say that the people of natufian culture grew to too big numbers during a period of good climate (younger dryas; Anubhav already explained that it's possible to get such food surplus by hunting with plenty of game) and they needed to survive while the climate deteriorated. They theoretically knew the principle of agriculture, but they didn't need the hard work before. During the climate change, they moved to another region and brought first grains to be domesticated with them.

It's not explicitely stated on wikipedia, but as far as I remember from our lectures on neolithic (I have studied Archaeology), first phase of Göbekli-tepe settlement is natufian. There should be some more sources on this on internet, but I don't have time and mood for thorough search now.


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