For years, the consensus has been that religion arose to promote social cooperation only after people began settling in villages and farming. The theory goes, that religion was needed in order to ease tensions that occurred after hunter-gatherers settled into an agrarian life. This agrarian lifestyle produced food surpluses and a need for labor, which promoted the subsequent development of large societies.
Göbekli Tepe, flips this script, so to speak. The massive structure supports the idea that early people came to worship. There is no evidence of settlement, which has been seen by some researchers as one of the many mysteries surrounding the site. However, archaeologists have excavated stone basins that may have held beer made by nomadic foragers or even early farmers, and then brought to the site during pilgrimage. There is also evidence which shows that at the mountain settlement about 20 miles away from Göbekli Tepe, called Nevah Cori, plants were first domesticated. Perhaps they were farmed to supply religious ceremonies. Nevertheless, Nevah Cori has T-shaped pillars with animal images, like Göbekli Tepe. Similar pillars and images have also been found at settlements up to 100 miles away from Göbekli Tepe. Clearly, there was a significance placed on Göbekli Tepe, so much so that it influenced settlement and even behavioral patterns of people on a massive scale. Perhaps even more interesting, is that the archaeological record shows that there was not only a shift in settlement patterns, but there was also a spiritual, or religious shift.
What significant event may have occurred to bring about such a shift?
Archaeological evidence suggests not only a possible physiological event in human history, but also a spiritual one. We have evidence to support this spiritual shift, dating as far back as at least 70,000 years. It can be found in the hills of the remote Ngamiland region of Botswana.
It is here that archaeologists discovered what appeared to be remains of what some believe to be the world's earliest religious worship sites. In the shelter of these rocks, early man performed advanced rituals to worship the python. According to a report published by the University of Oslo (Norway), these rock paintings show that early man practiced some form of religious ritual some 30,000 years earlier than the oldest findings in Europe.
Until this discovery, archaeologists believed that man’s first religious rituals were practiced over 40,000 years ago in Europe. Associate Professor Sheila Coulson, from the Oslo University, is convinced she has discovered mankind's oldest known ritual in Botswana while searching for Middle Stone Age artifacts in the Tsodilo Hills. The Tsodilo Hills are listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site and are known for having the largest concentration of rock paintings in the world.
To this day, the Tsodilo Hills are sacred to the local San people, who call them the "Mountains of the Gods." The San people also still consider the python as their most sacred animals. According to their creation myth, man descended from the python in the sky. The streambeds around the hills are believed to have been created by the python as it circled the hills looking for water. In order to get a San guide into the hills, one must first gain permission from the ancient serpent.
Even after permission has been “granted” by the python god, reaching the cave is no easy feat. It is extremely difficult to access and so secluded, that it was not even discovered by archaeologists until the 1990s. At the site, there are two rock paintings on one side of the cave and a rock with a three-to-four hundred man-made indentations in it. This strange rock resembled the head of a large python, measuring six meters in length and two meters in height. With the sunlight glistening on the indentations, it gives the appearance of snake skin. An even more stunning site is at night, when the radiant glow of firelight bounces and flickers on the “scales” of the python, giving the feeling that the snake is undulating through the darkness.
To find out more about what specific rituals may have been performed at the site, archaeologists dug a test pit in front of the python stone. There, they uncovered a number of the stones that were likely used in the making of the indentations. These stones, as well as ancient tools, dating to at least 70,000 years ago, were found with more than 13,000 artifacts.
An even more interesting detail, is that the spearheads were made from material not from the Tsodilo region, but from areas much further away, indicating these were indeed, special. Additionally, the spearheads found were of better quality and more colorful than other spearheads from the same region and era.
Archaeologist found that only the red colored spearheads had been burned. They theorized that the early inhabitants of this site took an assortment of colored spearheads to the cave where they would finish carving them. Then, they would perform a ritual burning of the red ones. Given the absence of any other artifact type at the site, it is believed that no one lived here. Much like Göbekli Tepe, there are no signs of cooking hearths or other evidence of domestic life at the site. Rather, it points to the site as serving a special ritual purpose. All of this points to the idea that early humans were capable of abstract thinking, much earlier than previously accepted.
Moreover, behind the python rock is a secret chamber, believed to be accessed only by a shaman. It is there, that he may very well have hidden and spoke to pilgrims from his hiding place. From his vantage point, he would have had keen view of the comings and goings of people around him. He would also be in complete control, as the illusion would have been mesmerizing to an early human ancestor, having never before seen our experienced such a thing.
Just imagine for a moment you are an early human ancestor, approaching the summit after a long journey. Here, you catch a glint of light jutting off of what appears to be one of the most universally dreaded creatures in natural human history; the serpent. Although trembling in fear, you proceed. After all, this is what you came here for. Perhaps you are bringing your spearheads to be blessed so that you have luck in the hunt. Maybe you seek healing; a common association with serpent symbolism. As you stand in awe and reverence at the serpent, a low, cavernous voice bellows out to you. You would be in a highly suggestible state, having been scared and manipulated into submission to the will of the great serpent.
Had you been a cleverer fellow, you may have had some suspicion. Maybe you are brave and decide to go directly into the belly of the beast to see from where this voice was emanating. Alas, you would have likely been tricked, as the shaman would have disappeared from the chamber by way of the small shaft leading out onto the hillside!
There is so much yet to learn about early man and his religions. Sites like Göbekli Tepe are still being researched and many more have yet to be discovered. In time, I believe we will find evidence of an even earlier, advanced civilization in the region.
I would hedge my bets on there being more than an X, but perhaps Civilizations A, B, and C; all of which having their own derivative sub-civilizations. I think the desire to find a Civilization X is no different than that of the Evolutionist’s desire to find a “missing link.” It is so alluring because of its simplicity. It is as if there is a promise that if you search far enough, you will find the one puzzle piece that can provide us with the complete picture of human origins. I happen to think that there are more than just one puzzle piece. In fact, I would go so far as to say there is more than one puzzle completely.