Why Do We Build Monolithic Monuments?

I have this fascination with the in-between. Of times between the gods and just one God, between stone and bronze, between one empire and another. I am attracted to the birth of things, at untangling, questioning, hypothesizing on what were the circumstances around certain major turning points in the human story.

Now, this particular story begins way back before that, at an in-between, a place that has upended many theories.

A time just before that age of stone and the whispers of the Bronze Age, that time before the age of warriors and their wars, civilizations rolling across the landscape, engulfing the weaker into their tribes, the birth of cities, with large groups of people beginning to settle in larger and larger population centres.

The Neolithic, the age of stone with these monoliths that over time spread north across the land, with perhaps its final crescendo, a swan song, at Stonehenge.

This region, situated between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers were the first settled agricultural communities of the Middle East and Mediterranean basin are thought to have originated by the early 9th millennium BCE

And it is in this area that researchers decades ago came across Göbekli Tepe, with current carbon 14 data dating back to just before the first wide-scale agriculture had taken root in the Fertile Crescent (modern Iraq).

The established theories by those who care about this sort of stuff, the historians, archaeologists, anthropologists, and the like, I guess one could say they discovered that in fact the egg came before the chicken.

Kavita Gangal , Graeme R. Sarson, Anvar Shukurov / CC BY
Earliest carbon 14 dates for Göbekli Tepe as of 2013
[8967 BCE]

There are no signs of human habitation, these monuments are isolated on top of a rise in the landscape, a place that everyone could have seen from a long distance.

Today, it is remote and wind swept, and an unlikely place to build a temple. Yet, there it is.

… within 1,000 years of Gobekli Tepe’s construction, settlers had corralled sheep, cattle and pigs. And, at a prehistoric village just 20 miles away, geneticists found evidence of the world’s oldest domesticated strains of wheat; radiocarbon dating indicates agriculture developed there around 10,500 years ago, or just five centuries after Gobekli Tepe’s construction.

smithsonianmag.com | Gobekli Tepe: The World’s First Temple? | By Andrew Curry. NOVEMBER 2008
Klaus-Peter Simon / CC BY-SA
Göbekli Tepe surrounding area

This navel of civilization now rocks many theories of how this instrumental time in human evolution began, knocks them right off the shelves of what we THINK we know.

In fact, this place suggests that maybe it was instead religion that drew people together, and not agriculture.

Six miles from Urfa, an ancient city in southeastern Turkey, Klaus Schmidt has made one of the most startling archaeological discoveries of our time: massive carved stones about 11,000 years old, crafted and arranged by prehistoric people who had not yet developed metal tools or even pottery. The megaliths predate Stonehenge by some 6,000 years.


Groups of hunter-gatherers maybe gathered on this mound, they were the first, or the first of which remains. Over time, as people became more settled, later structures of similar construction become smaller, more akin to the village chapel versus St. Peters in Rome, and once that began this giant mound was never used again.

Each circular set of structures was used for a set amount of time, some epoch, some reign or other, and then it was buried and another built, and so forth. The excavations that have been done so far are but a small fraction of what is still underneath the earth, hidden for thousands of years.

Klaus-Peter Simon / CC BY-SA

Though a remote and somewhat hostile wasteland today, in fact, way back in the misty prehistory, it was the very heart and soul of the civilized world, the very seed of civilization.

What’s the quote? Necessity is the mother of invention?

Why did people begin to come together and build these permanent structures? Hunter-gatherers gathering, annually? In cycles? At particular times of the year?

Now, what would have been going on back over 10,000 years ago to precipitate such a change?

Was there some event that rocked that particular area of the world?

What gave rise to these sacred places? These sanctuaries? Where these places perhaps ritual sites were many stories were told, passed down from generation to generation, steeped in wisdom and rules of how to live together, get along, how to survive? Perhaps it was a place where new ideas drifted through the crowd and changed them, spreading out across the earth, slowly, gradually over thousands of years.

Göbekli Tepe, this monolithic circle of these carved stone structures, seem like some ancient mysterious story caught in time… representations of something they would have instantly understood, but to our eyes seems foreign and strange.

Were the humanoid carvings representations of ancestors? Were they monuments to the living? Characters that inhabited some misty long ago and far, far away tales they told around campfires on hunting trips? Was this the birth of the gods, born out of stories of great balls of fire crashing down onto the earth?

We realistically will never know.

Cobija / CC BY-SA
Neolithic totem pole from Göbekli Tepe in Turkey – Urfa (Şanlıurfa) Museum; from Layer II, 8800-8000 BC, PPN B

However, archaeologists and historians alike often base their theories on what we know of current and historical culture, those who have survived isolated to this day in remote areas of the world, or that we have written documentation of.

Many of the most significant are those that have survived despite the global rise of more and more advanced civilizations, hidden away in archival records, tucked into remote jungles, thousands of miles across the great big sea. These far-flung groups of people give hints to why our ancient ancestors did what they did.

Isolated, they provide hints to other far more ancient peoples complexities and ways of being, relating, beliefs and types of expressions of those beliefs, stories and types of traditions that bind them together as distinct.

For instance, when British archaeologists Michael Parker Pearson brought his Madagascar colleague to see Stonehenge, he took one look at them and knew exactly what those stones were, what it represented – they were monuments to the dead, to the ancestors.

In Madagascar, peoples still to this day drag huge monoliths across the land and erect them in homage to their dead. It is a ceremony handed down, and perhaps with a faint echo maybe of a far more ancient time.

It is to the construction of these monuments’ humanity has been drawn over the millennia, structures in stone to stand for an eternity.

Dosseman / CC BY-SA
 Image of one of two at the museum in Urfa… “central pillars of Building D provide clear evidence for the anthropomorphic character of the T-pillars, these two monoliths carrying low relief representations of arms and hands, and with depictions (also low relief) of belts and fox fur loincloths. These two central pillars are preserved to an original height of 5.5 meters and they still stand in-situ. The eastern T-pillar appears to carry a fox under its arm on its western broad side. … It is highly likely that these depictions relate early Neolithic mythological scenes. It dates from the 10th-9th mill. BC”

It would have been a massive project, bringing many groups of people together. The building of these monumental structures would require labourers to haul the stone, carvers to chisel the images onto the stone, others to pull the gigantic monoliths into place, cooks and healers, a menagerie of humanity, with all the rattle and hum of a county fair.

But, why? Why do people build monuments? Why, at certain points of time did groups come together, to make real, to chisel in stone with primitive tools, some construct once only seen in the minds eye?

Why did it first come to be, and why there?

… a theory first advanced last year in that some type of cosmic impact or impacts—a fragmented comet bursting in the atmosphere or raining down on the oceans—set off the more than 1,300-year cooling period in the Northern Hemisphere known as the Younger Dryas for the abundance of an alpine flower’s pollen found during the interval.

scientificamerican.com | Did a Comet Hit Earth 12,000 Years Ago? | By David Biello on January 2, 2009

Could it be that a series of cosmic impacts so altered the northern landscape that huge numbers of peoples were displaced, migrating south to safer and more temperate climes?

To my mind, that seems a reasonable hypothesis as any, as often it is after epic events, those with far-reaching implications, displacing large groups of diverse peoples.

For instance, in the Salisbury Plain that surrounds Stonehenge, Carbon dating of the remains of temporary settlements that sprung up in line with the winter solstice show that the people who gathered were from all over, from northern Scotland and beyond.

Which, and even though they be separated by thousands of years and thousands of miles, there are in fact some distinct similarities between the two – Stonehenge a kind of abstracted version perhaps of the original temple, a homage to an ancient creation story told on the longest night?

To Schmidt and others, these new findings suggest a novel theory of civilization. Scholars have long believed that only after people learned to farm and live in settled communities did they have the time, organization and resources to construct temples and support complicated social structures. But Schmidt argues it was the other way around: the extensive, coordinated effort to build the monoliths literally laid the groundwork for the development of complex societies.


Many when they look upon these megalithic structures are in awe, and question how such an archaic people could have possibly constructed such massive things. Yet, it is a testament to humanities desire to gather, to share, to come together for a common goal.

“People are not lazy, they simply have impotent goals..that is..goals that do not inspire them.”

Anthony Robbins

So, evidently, something inspired them.

Something moved them so deeply that they chose to come together and build these monumental megalithic structures, to etch in stone a set of images that inspired them, ignited them, and gave rise to a completely different way to be.

Actually, I think these places suggest a people who were beginning to control their landscape, rather than being at its whim.

Cobija / CC BY-SA
Göbeklitepe consists of buildings with a diameter of 30 meters and round and oval plan and georadar scans. The excavations of one of them were completed and the others were determined by geomagnetic and georadar methods. The results obtained with these measurements and excavations show that Göbeklitepe is a large meeting place of 11,500 years ago and it is covered with monumental buildings built for ceremonial purposes, not places for daily life. Among these monumental buildings, the most magnificent and preserved temple is the d temple. Temple D is dated to the first phase of the Göbeklitepe ruins (9500-8500 BC). In the center of the temple, with heights up to 6 meters and weights up to 30 tons; 12 steles were placed in the style of the center stelae. In the central steles, it is indisputable that the tiki post is depicted as the arm, hand, belt and garment, and the T steles symbolize the human or human-like saints. There are many animal depictions on the T steles in this temple. These are wild boars, wild oxen, donkeys gazelles, cranes, storks, ibis, ducks and feline as well as a large figure network of snakes and foxes are weighted.
– [ Feature photo by Vijay Sadasivuni on Pexels.com ]

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