The Seed Of Civilization

by Chris Bodenner

The excavation of 11,500-year-old temples in Turkey - a discovery that "predates villages, pottery, domesticated animals, and even agriculture" - has upended the consensus over human development:

[Lead archeologist Klaus] Schmidt's thesis is simple and bold: it was the urge to worship that brought mankind together in the very first urban conglomerations. The need to build and maintain this temple, he says, drove the builders to seek stable food sources, like grains and animals that could be domesticated, and then to settle down to guard their new way of life. The temple begat the city.

This theory reverses a standard chronology of human origins, in which primitive man went through a "Neolithic revolution" 10,000 to 12,000 years ago. In the old model, shepherds and farmers appeared first, and then created pottery, villages, cities, specialized labor, kings, writing, art, andsomewhere on the way to the airplaneorganized religion. As far back as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, thinkers have argued that the social compact of cities came first, and only then the "high" religions with their great temples, a paradigm still taught in American high schools.

Religion now appears so early in civilized lifeearlier than civilized life, if Schmidt is correctthat some think it may be less a product of culture than a cause of it, less a revelation than a genetic inheritance.