The world’s oldest civilization has long been an enigma, with archaeological sites yielding tantalizing clues to the lives and beliefs of the people who lived there. From Gobeki Tepe to the present day, we are slowly uncovering the secrets of this ancient culture, which have had a profound impact on the development of human civilization.
Gobeki Tepe is a Neolithic site in Turkey, dating back to the 10th millennium BCE. It was discovered in the 1960s, but it wasn’t until the 1990s that its true significance was realized. The site is a series of stone circles, with megalithic pillars weighing up to 20 tons. These pillars are adorned with intricate carvings of animals, such as lions, bulls, and foxes, which are thought to be representations of the gods worshipped by the people who built the site.
The discovery of Gobeki Tepe has challenged our assumptions about the timeline of human civilization. It was previously thought that the development of agriculture and settled societies came first, followed by the construction of monumental architecture. However, Gobeki Tepe shows that the reverse may be true, with hunter-gatherers building elaborate religious structures long before they had established settled communities.
From Gobeki Tepe, the story of the world’s oldest civilization continues through the Bronze Age, when the people of Mesopotamia and Egypt were building great empires. These civilizations were characterized by their writing systems, which allowed for the recording of history, trade, and law. We are fortunate that so many of these texts have survived, giving us a window into the lives and beliefs of the people who wrote them.
One of the most important developments of this period was the codification of law. The Code of Hammurabi, dating to the 18th century BCE, is one of the earliest known legal codes, and set out a system of punishment for crimes ranging from theft to murder. Similarly, the Egyptian Book of the Dead was a guide to the afterlife, setting out the proper rituals and spells for the deceased to follow in order to reach the other side.
As the Bronze Age gave way to the Iron Age, new civilizations emerged, such as the Phoenicians, who were renowned for their seafaring abilities and trading networks. They established colonies throughout the Mediterranean and were instrumental in the spread of the alphabetic writing system, which is still used today.
Meanwhile, in India and China, highly advanced civilizations were developing. The Indus Valley Civilization, which flourished from 2600 to 1900 BCE, was noted for its advanced urban planning, with grid-like streets and a sophisticated drainage system. The Shang Dynasty in China, which lasted from 1600 to 1046 BCE, was known for its bronze metallurgy, oracle bones, and the earliest known examples of Chinese writing.
Today, we live in a world shaped by the civilizations that came before us. From the development of agriculture and settled communities, to the establishment of writing systems and legal codes, the world’s oldest civilization has left its mark on humanity. Despite the many gaps in our knowledge, we are gradually uncovering the secrets of the past, and gaining a deeper understanding of the people who built the world we inherit.