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Sunday, November 4, 2012

Göbekli Tepe, the Origins of Civilization, and Turkish Millet Pilaf with Miso-Tahini Sauce

Yesterday I attended a TEDx event in Shelburne Falls, where I had the opportunity to listen to some really fascinating/inspiring 15-minute talks on a variety of topics. One of the speakers was Jim Vieira, a local stonemason who spoke about mysterious stone chambers found throughout New England—chambers which already existed when the first European settlers arrived, but were discounted or ignored for largely political reasons.


Studying these stone chambers and how they align with celestial events like the solstice sunrise/sunset positions led Jim to explore further ancient mysteries of North America—prehistoric mounds, skeletons of giants with double rows of teeth (acknowledged by Presidents Washington and Lincoln), and more. In case you didn't know, evidence for the existence of incredibly advanced civilizations on this continent—civilizations of Native American origin, and otherwise—is astounding.

Of course across the globe, particularly in Eurasia, there are countless more ancient civilizations to discover. While I was speaking with Jim after the event, he casually mentioned one of these: an ancient stone temple complex in Turkey whose name was unfamiliar but intriguing to me. Naturally, I came home and looked it up. It's called Göbekli Tepe, and omg. That this name (it means "Belly Hill" in Turkish) is not found on the tip of the tongue of every educated human being on the planet is, in my opinion, another great mystery.

Buried in a hillside until its discovery in 1994, Göbekli Tepe predates both Sumer and the great pyramids of Egypt by several thousand years. It is by far, the oldest known site of standing stone circles on Earth.


Göbekli Tepe is thought by most researchers to be a ceremonial complex due to the absence of hearths, cooking pits or other such signs of regular habitation found there so far. However, other experts suggest that the structure was a residential compound.

Whatever its intended use, one thing is certain about Göbekli Tepe. As stated on the website of the Global Heritage Fund, one group who is attempting to protect the site from thieves and vandals: "Until excavations began, a complex on this scale was not thought possible for a community so ancient."

The standing stone pillars of Göbekli Tepe are carved with detailed images of insects, birds, reptiles and ferocious beasts, some in full relief. The position of the individual circular chambers appear to mirror the position of the seven stars of the Pleiades. Because of its age, archaeologists originally assumed the complex was built by hunter-gatherers, but signs of agriculture (scythes, leather-working tools) have been found there more recently.

As an evolution-based nutritionist as well as a lifelong student of ancient mysteries, I am interested in Göbekli Tepe for several reasons. For starters, is this not the coolest thing you've seen lately? I mean, come on! Look at the pictures! But in terms of nutrition evolution, the question is who built Göbekli Tepe, and what did they eat?

We tend to think of hunter-gatherers as a wild bunch, huddled around firepits at the mouths of dark caves, gnawing on antelope bones: an uncivilized crew at best. The official story has long been that until these scruffy nomads gained control over their food supply through farming, our early human ancestors subsisted on wild foods without any large-scale, cooperative social structure or organization: exactly the kind of structure and organization that would be required to construct an elaborate temple complex such as Göbekli Tepe!

Agriculture, largely considered to be the single most necessary element responsible for the development of civilization, is believed to have come into existence around 8,000 BC—the time that Göbekli Tepe was intentionally buried in sandy earth (for reasons still unknown) after having already existed for a few thousand years. We might consider, therefore, that our start date for the Agrarian Revolution is wrong. On the other hand, if Göbekli Tepe was, indeed, built by hunter gatherers, the sociological implications are stunning.

Elif Batuman, writing in the December 19, 2011 issue of The New Yorker, puts it this way:

"The idea of a religious monument built by hunter-gatherers contradicts most of what we thought we knew about religious monuments and about hunter-gatherers. Hunter-gatherers are traditionally believed to have lacked complex symbolic systems, social hierarchies, and the division of labor, three things you probably need before you can build a twenty-two-acre megalithic temple. Formal religion, meanwhile, is supposed to have appeared only after agriculture produced such hierarchical social relations as required a cosmic backstory to keep them going and supplied a template for the power relationship between gods and mortals. The findings at Göbekli Tepe suggest that we have the story backward—that it was actually the need to build a sacred site that first obliged hunter-gatherers to organize themselves as a workforce, to spend long periods of time in one place, to secure a stable food supply, and eventually to invent agriculture."

It is possible that the invention of agriculture was well under way at the time of Göbekli Tepes construction. Certainly people had already been noticing the moon and stars—how could they not? And given the lack of other entertainment, noticing naturally gave way to intensive studying, and perhaps worshipping. The same is likely true for noticing how seeds germinate and grow, how seasons return in cycles, how animals live in relation to one another. Noticing, studying, worshipping—why wouldn't they follow each other?

It's irresistible to wonder, especially when new discoveries keep popping up all the time, forcing us to refabricate our worldview. I love it when a fact, upon discovery of new evidence, rapidly becomes an outdated theory. It's all very plastic and fractallized, this thing called knowledge. (Fractals were another captivating topic at TEDx yesterday.)

I will say that delving into all this information last night stirred in me a deep hankering for millet.

Millet, the most alkaline of all grains, is an ancient food, traditionally grown throughout East Asia and Africa. I've been eating and enjoying millet since my earliest vegetarian days, back in the '70s, and I still don't understand why this tasty little seed doesn't get more attention.

Here's why I love millet: Millet is highly digestible and alkaline. It only takes 20 minutes to cook (making it highly convenient for working people like me who find it challenging to start making dinner at six o'clock). Millet has a deliciously nutty, smoky flavor and a uniquely satisfying, chewy bite. Plus it's yellow!

Yellow foods, in addition to being very attractive, reinforce third chakra energy: finding/claiming our place in the world. From ancient Turkey to modern America, we all have a right to claim our place on this planet of mysteries. Let us do so with honor and responsibility, always choosing to treat the earth, our bodies, and each other with care.

Turkish Millet Pilaf, for One

1/3 cup millet, rinsed
2/3 cups water
1 handful frozen green peas
1 small carrot, diced small
2 Turkish apricots (unsulfured), diced small
1 teaspoon coconut oil
pinch of Himalayan pink salt
3-6 stalks of fresh parsley

Set parsley aside, and add all remaining ingredients to a small saucepan. Bring water to a gentle boil, stir until coconut oil melts, cover, and reduce heat to low. Simmer 20 minutes.

While millet is cooking, chop the parsley, and make this tasty little sauce:

Easy Miso-Tahini Sauce
2 teaspoons of raw tahini
1 teaspoon sweet white miso
1/8 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
1 small clove garlic, finely minced or grated (optional)
one or more teaspoons of water

Stir all ingredients together. You can do this right in the bottom of the bowl you plan to be eating from, to save on cleanup. I like to use a wooden bowl, but any bowl will do. Add water slowly, until desired consistency is attained.

When millet is done, transfer to bowl and mix with sauce. Stir in your fresh chopped parsley to enliven the meal, and enjoy!

3 comments:

Jordan said...

Amazing they virtually leave this stuff out of the history books... who's really to judge the relevance of any given culture? Superb article!

diana allen, ms, cns said...

Thank you, Jordan. Wouldn't it be great to see a more inclusive history taught in schools? It is OURstory, after all.

Bridget, Holistic Nutrition Consultant said...

Teaching alternative history would open up many, many cans of worms... Diana, if you haven't seen it already, Ancient Aliens, a History channel series brings to light many other sites like the one you write about here. Fascinating! It's on Netflix instant.