Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Scholars Prefer to Research, Teach and Write "Concepts" Rather than Facts: Göbekli Tepe as an Example

 A Berkeley study found that scholars in the humanities prefer to teach "concepts" rather than "facts" - which is all fine and good, but it is a disastrous strategy if the concepts taught do not match the actual facts, which is the present situation in many areas of these academic fields.

The main problem of mainstream Archeology and related disciplines such as Biblical Studies, Near Eastern Studies, Egyptology and Historical Linguistics is indeed that people take arguably objective results and then invariably merge them with fantasy-based interpretations of what they think they have found.

The result is that subjective statements become the "main messages" in the publications of the various disciplines of ancient studies, a development which camouflages many serious errors in basic research.

This can easily be seen by watching typical television "documentaries" (sic) on the ancient world, which often consist to 90% or more of imagined "how it might have been" scenarios, which are later offered as "fact" rather than as the undeniably creative "fiction" they actually represent.

A typical view might be that there are mainstream scholars in the humanities on one side of the fence and esoterics on the other side of the fence, but in fact, we have found that many academics are only educated esoterics. Real fact-finders are few and far between.

As Stanford's Ian Hodder commented not too far back on previously prevailing scholarly archaeological opinion in light of the latest archaeological discoveries in Anatolia:

"All our theories were wrong."

How is that possible if previous research was -- as alleged -- "scientific"?

Hodder's statement clearly points to what we see as the prevailing methodological problem in Archeology and related disciplines, an error from which these disciplines do not learn and an error which they continue to commit, Hodder's comment notwithstanding.

Basic, sound, neutral and objective research publication is neglected in favor of the publication of the pet interpretations viz. theories of scholars. Established often unproven concepts are favored, while probative evidence is ignored.

What should be done, however, is simply to publish the facts, completely separate and free from subjective interpretations. But who does this?

A good example here is Gobekli Tepe [Göbekli Tepe], an ancient "megalithic" site for which a simple, neutral publication providing full photographs of all the standing stones together with a map of their location would seem to be the first thing to provide -- but exactly THAT is not available.

Those who wish to counter that statement should try drawing a map of Göbekli Tepe given the available resources and placing all the respective stones in situ so you can try to judge the significance of each stone in a possible interlocked system. Not possible.

To find at least a rudimentary map and photographs of some of the standing stones, we purchased Klaus Schmidt, Sie bauten die ersten Tempel: Das rätselhafte Heiligtum der Steinzeitjäger.

Already the title of that book, not even to speak of the content, which contains vast amounts of unproven conjecture, contains THREE unproven conclusions not verified by probative evidence:
  1. The title suggests that these were the FIRST temples. Not true. Sites of that size will obviously have had many "temple" precursors, just as a skyscraper is not the first "building". The first temples were surely very small and mundane. Things start small, not large. These are the oldest LARGE sites of this kind thus far found. The title is thus greatly misleading.

  2. The title states that Göbekli Tepe was "a holy place" (Heiligtum). That is an unproven assumption, as Schmidt himself admits on page 246, saying, however, that Göbekli Tepe had to have "a purpose". Yes, that is surely true, but it may not be the purpose that HE assigns to it. If Göbekli Tepe, for example, had an astronomical purpose, then its primary value was "practical". It could ALSO have been a "holy place" -- or not. Just compare Stonehenge, which could have been a holy place, but it might also have simply served astronomical purposes. The declaration that it WAS a holy place has not been proven by means of probative evidence.

  3. The title suggests that the builders of Göbekli Tepe were Neolithic (Stone Age) hunters (Jäger). Given the reliefs on the stones of domestic-type animals, that conclusion is highly suspect, and by no means proven.
But our purpose here is not to select Schmidt out for criticism and we are thankful for his digging up of the site and for the material he HAS provided, thank you. His book is, however, just too typical for the uncritical literature which dominates the archaeological field. There are pages and pages full of conjectures, suppositions and assumptions - some better than others.

If, for example, Göbekli Tepe was astronomical in nature, which Schmidt does not mention as a possibility, then most of what Schmidt has written there is simply wrong. This alternative is arguably not mentioned because the mass of the mainstream archaeological community has no real conception about the ancient period and avoid astronomy like the plague. They think the truth is found in the pot sherds they unearth. The latest dig is the latest truth.

Advice to academics in ancient studies might be to suggest trying avoidance of a repeat of Hodder's "ALL our theories were wrong", by doing the following:
  • FIRST publish what you have found, neutrally and objectively.... in the case of Göbekli Tepe, for example, what standing stones were found? what is pictured on them? how are they located? - exactly by photo.

  • SECOND, you provide a map (video, 3D, online, offline, the modern options are endless) from which the entire site can be viewed and interpreted by anyone with an interest in the topic, including photographs of all standing stones -- from all sides, and without interpretation.

    If one looks at Schmidt's map on page 168 of his book, it is almost useless for finding which pictured stones are where, which stones have which figures, and on which side of the stone, etc., and where those figures are found on the map in the book. That map is just lines and numbers on discontinuous plots -- and is virtually useless for making any sense of it.
After such a publication, only THEN should one go about the job of ASKING questions,  "leaving no stone unturned" and thus also investigating the possibility that the standing stones and figures have something to do with astronomy:
  • What if this site were astronomical?
  • What if the figures on the stones represented groups of stars of the heavens?

  • What would that mean for a possible interpretation of the entire site?
This does not mean that the "scientist" or "scholar" needs to accept the interpretation that the site is astronomical to begin with. But such a possibility must be considered and researched ... along with other optional possibilities. That is what "science" should be.

But that is not what we are getting. We are getting a one-sided view that concentrates only on singular objects rather than the big picture and it does so using the SAME systems of thinking that led to Hodder's comment:

"All our theories were wrong."

Maybe it is time for the people in these disciplines to modernize their approaches and to upgrade their scientific methodology and publication to the current state of the art.

To get a different view, e.g., about Göbekli Tepe, see in this regard:

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