Central Anatolia, Turkey


The Cradle of Civilizations...

Helmut Uhlig, one of Europe's leading linguists, says in his book Die Mutter Europas: 'Human beings spent the thousands of years of prehistory regarding all the quirks that life brought as both fate and a kind of protection. They emerged from the darkness in the embrace of the mother, just as a plant emerges from the darkness of the earth, and falling to the earth once again, dispersed and returned to it.' The earth was seen as the universal maternal embrace, symbolized by the mother goddess, and this concept carries Uhlig on a journey into the depths of history to discover the place where everything began. This place is none other than Anatolia and Mesopotamia, which are regarded as the cradle of civilizations. Anatolia's heritage made it a source of cultural inspiration, and the motherland of Europe. Uhlig is neither the first nor the last to express a truth that has been recognized for a long time.

Archaeological excavations and studies have continually expanded the body of evidence showing that Anatolia is indeed the mother of civilization. Gobeklitepe, Kaletepe, Cayonu, Catalhoyuk, Troy, Hattusas and numerous other ancient sites have revealed remarkable new insights into the past. Some of these sites are world famous while others are hardly known outside the realm of archaeology, but all are glittering stones in the fascinating mosaic making up the history of civilization. Gobeklitepe is one such site where around eleven thousand years ago people who lived by hunting and gathering created an awesome temple on a mountain top. With extraordinary skill and organization, they created this unique place of worship, carving and raising standing stones weighing many tons. Gobeklitepe near Sanliurfa was evidently a meeting place.

The spectacular location of this mountain temple towering over Harran Plain, the plateaus stretching towards Mesopotamia and the hills around it; its huge scale, the way the buildings were deliberately buried, and the standing stones adorned with reliefs depicting wild animals, reveal how much is not yet known and understood about prehistory. What prompted people who lived the lives of wanderers and did not yet cultivate their own food to carry gigantic stones weighing 50 tons to a mountain summit? Did the tribes and groups who met here become the pioneers of settled life? An obsidian workshop discovered at Kaletepe at the foot of Mount Gollu in the volcanic region of Cappadocia represents another innovation; this time the mass production of stone tools eleven thousand years ago. Here we find a degree of standardization so remarkable that it is comparable to today's machine production.

Kaletepe obliges us to revise our knowledge about relations between prehistoric cultures, their social organization, technology, and trade. At a time when animals capable of carrying loads had not yet been domesticated, obsidian tools and unworked obsidian were exported from here to lands as far away as Cyprus and Palestine. This trade and mass production at Kaletepe are proof that social organization achieved a complex structure far earlier than previously thought. To observe the stages of the first productive village communities, we must now travel to the northern extremity of the region known as the Fertile Crescent; to Cayonu near the town of Ergani in the Turkish province of Diyarbakýr. This settlement, which was inhabited continuously until the iron age (1000 BC), is noted particularly for the way its architectural remains and diverse artifacts depict step-by-step the development and transformation of early human settlements between ten and eight thousand years ago, making it a key site in the prehistoric map of the Near East.

Cayonu is the largest settlement of this period ever excavated, and the copper and malachite artifacts uncovered here are precursors of the technological development which would later give rise to the ages of metalworking. Before farming had become a way of life, the world's oldest town and largest Neolithic settlement made a precocious appearance on Konya Plain. With its murals on the house walls, figures of the mother goddess, the cult of the bull and other splendors, Catalhoyuk was a settlement of sophistication quite unexpected for a people who lived nine thousand years ago. Another striking characteristic was the non-hierarchic social structure exhibited here, contrary to that of its contemporaries. We now move forward in time to the bronze age, when the urban system was becoming well established.

The port city of Troy emerged in 3000 BC at Hisartepe in the province of Canakkale, a strategic point between the continents of Asia and Europe. According to some archaeologists, Troy is the world's oldest known trading city and customs post. The city features extensively in Homer's Iliad, the starting point of western literature, and its fame reverberated down the ages as the most renowned city of antiquity. Founders of Anatolia's first centralized state, the Hittites, drew up the world's first peace treaty, wrote the first autobiography, and first granted queens equal powers with kings. Like the Hittites, many other Anatolian cultures made remarkable contributions to the development of human civilization, and it is here that some of the brightest stones in its mosaic have been discovered and the process of discovery still continues.