Does anyone know how this ~12,000 year old site relates to the appearance of the first written text, symbols, etc ?
The oldest Gobekli Tepe artifacts – “layer III” dated about 9100 BCE – are much older that what is conventionally considered the earliest unambiguously symbolic phonographic writing, Mesopotamian cuneiform, around 3000 BCE. Long before that – certainly by about 8000 BCE – humans were “writing with symbols”, in the sense of using marks and tokens to count quantities other than in a one-to-one way. The Gobekli Tepe artifacts themselves are “representing”, in the sense of clearly bearing pictures.
So clearly, to usefully define terms like “written text” and “symbols”, we must distinguish between representational pictures, which abound in Gobekli Tepe and earlier artifacts, which most people don’t consider “writing”, and regular marks that represent sounds in spoken language, which are found in cuneiform through modern writing, which practically all people do.
I think it’s clear – as clear as archeology ever is – that written language arose from the need to store and trade commodities – that is the accounting or storable foodstuffs. This doesn’t appear to have been happening at ca 9000 BCE Gobekli Tepe – people weren’t trading there, but engaging in ceremonial construction projects. I can only guess at the “feel” of these events – whether they were like cathedral building, human sacrifice orgies (Gobekli Tepe contains numerous butchered human bones), or Burning Man festivals. I think its clear, though, that they were far from the language breakthrough of representing the sound of language with glyphs that characterizes present day written text, which seems to have appeared around 3000 BCE.
Is there evidence of human written text, etc. before the Gobekli Tepe is estimated to have been constructed
As I allude to above, I don’t think the first Gobekli Tepe constructions have any written text – that is, I think they’re merely representational, essentially sculptures.
Assuming this, there are much older similar objects, such as “Venus” figurines
, which date back at least 35,000 years.
There are clearly some differences between the Venus of Hohle Fels and the bas reliefs on the t-shapes of GT layer III. The GT artifacts are essentially flat 2-dimensional representations of 3-D objects, vs. the much older figurines, which are 3-D representations of 3-D. And the GT artifacts are much larger. The main significance of GT may have been less about what it depicts than as a demonstration of how big humans could build.
I think Schmitt summarizes well in the linkedto paper, calling GT “symbolic” but “pre-literate” – representation, but not yet “writing”.