Sean Thomas

Is an unknown, extraordinarily ancient civilisation buried under eastern Turkey?

Karahan Tepe site (Photo: iStock)

I am staring at about a dozen, stiff, eight-foot high, orange-red penises, carved from living bedrock, and semi-enclosed in an open chamber. A strange carved head (of a man, a demon, a priest, a God?), also hewn from the living rock, gazes at the phallic totems – like a primitivist gargoyle. The expression of the stone head is doleful, to the point of grimacing, as if he, or she, or it, disapproves of all this: of everything being stripped naked under the heavens, and revealed to the world for the first time in 130 centuries.

Yes, 130 centuries. Because these penises, this peculiar chamber, this entire perplexing place, known as Karahan Tepe (pronounced Kah-rah-hann Tepp-ay), which is now emerging from the dusty Plains of Harran, in eastern Turkey, is astoundingly ancient. Put it another way: it is estimated to be 11-13,000 years old.

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The penis chamber (photo: iStock)

This number is so large it is hard to take in. For comparison the Great Pyramid at Giza is 4,500 years old. Stonehenge is 5,000 years old. The Cairn de Barnenez tomb-complex in Brittany, perhaps the oldest standing structure in Europe, could be up to 7,000 years old.

The oldest megalithic ritual monument in the world (until the Turkish discoveries) was always thought to be Ggantija, in Malta. That’s maybe 5,500 years old. So Karahan Tepe, and its penis chamber, and everything that inexplicably surrounds the chamber – shrines, cells, altars, megaliths, audience halls et al – is vastly older than anything comparable, and plumbs quite unimaginable depths of time, back before agriculture, probably back before normal pottery, right back to a time when we once thought human ‘civilisation’ was simply impossible.

After all, hunter gatherers – cavemen with flint arrowheads – without regular supplies of grain, without the regular meat and milk of domesticated animals, do not build temple-towns with water systems.

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