Discover more from The Palladium Letter
Palladium Book Club; Samo Burja's Expedition to Göbekli Tepe
New discoveries are adding millennia to our past. The implications should change our future.
Next month, the editors of Palladium Magazine and Samo Burja, founder of Bismarck Analysis and a Palladium correspondent, will be running a book club in downtown San Francisco. We welcome you to come join us in reading and discussing The Forgotten Revolution: How Science Was Born in 300 BC and Why it Had to Be Reborn by Lucio Russo.
It is commonly understood that technological progress occurs in a linear fashion, with some allowance for long periods of “forgetting.” Astrological computers from the Hellenistic period went unmatched for over a thousand years, while steam engines from that period were merely looked at as toys.
But through reading about the lost technologies of Alexandria, we can learn about the difficulty of transmitting knowledge across many centuries, be it through material objects or cultural institutions.
We will be hosting the book club in the Mechanics Institute, one of San Francisco’s oldest institutions for learning. It originally began in 1854 to host evening classes for workers, and remains an accessible community center that holds two libraries, a chess club, movie nights, and various book clubs. We encourage you to join the Institute as a member.
Space is very limited. Sign up now to reserve your spot.
Thanks for reading The Palladium Letter! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support our work.
To continue the theme of ancient civilizations, check out Samo’s 2021 report from the Neolithic site of Göbekli Tepe, which is currently believed to have some of the world’s oldest megaliths. Samo’s first-hand experience of the site as well as his rich background in history lead him to conclude otherwise—how old is civilization, actually? It is normally pegged to the invention of agriculture 10,000 years ago, but a host of sites like Göbekli Tepe teach us that large-scale human organization does not require sedentary farming:
A recently-built walkway circles the excavated portion of the site. Three concentric stone walls enclose spaces sometimes dotted with towering 18-foot tall T-shaped pillars. For such pillars, each weighing about ten to twenty tons, no method of construction can do without a significant amount of human labor. No one can say with confidence what construction techniques were used, and what timelines were considered acceptable for their completion. Medieval cathedrals famously took decades or even centuries to finish. Decade-long planning and consistent construction would be quite the discovery in its own right, forcing us to reevaluate our conception of Neolithic society. Tellingly, estimates by archaeologists put the human labor requirement for extracting the pillars and moving them from local quarries to be about five hundred people. Assuming usual estimates of Neolithic population density, this would have been quite the organizational feat.
The most startling aspect of these ruins is their age: that they are old enough to predate the consensus origin of human agriculture.
How were hundreds of laborers fed if not through agriculture? And how was it organized? How should we best describe such a society? The Sumerian city-states of what is today Iraq, such as Eridu, are typically considered to be the origin of civilization. But these cities are four thousand years younger than our radiocarbon dates for Göbekli Tepe. The walled complex forces us either to push the origin of agriculture much further into the past or else reconsider whether agriculture is necessary for such complex human societies. Either possibility yields important information about humanity’s extended phenotype.
Across the Atlantic, we are given a clue:
The Calusa of southwestern Florida might provide a natural experiment for thinking about our Turkish neolithic site: a complex hierarchical society that built mounds, towers, and wide canals, yet engaged in no agriculture. A grand temple—if that is what Göbekli Tepe was—wouldn’t have been beyond their abilities. Instead of the granaries posited by conventional accounts of the origin of civilization, they built “watercourts” to store the rich catches of fish they harvested from the waters of the Florida Keys. The Calusa were a relatively advanced society built on aquaculture instead of agriculture.
The implications of this natural experiment are dizzying when we consider it together with discoveries made on the island of Crete in 2009. The stone tools found there were dated to be at least 130,000 years old. Even with lower sea levels at the time, the Mediterranean island could only have been reached by boat. The tools are so old that they are attributed to Homo erectus, a species of our genus Homo that first emerged 2 million years ago.
That fishing, hunting, or gathering could sustain complex societies means that social technology, rather than the discovery of farming, is the key bottleneck of civilization. Furthermore, while we might debate how farmable temperate regions might be during an ice age, no one disputes that hunting and fishing could be bountiful in such times. This means we have no reason to assume complex societies can only be found after the last ice age. Rather, they may have been with us for a very long time—perhaps from our very beginning.
You can read the rest of Samo’s piece here.
Here’s what’s been on the front page lately:
Germany Is Losing the Electric Vehicle Transition by Evan Zimmerman. Germany is renowned for its automotive engineering. But its historic car industry is getting left behind in the electric vehicle transition, calling the country’s entire economic model into question.
Yamagami Tetsuya’s Revenge by Dylan Levi King. In 2022, Yamagami Tetsuya assassinated Japan’s former leader in revenge for his ties to the Unification Church. But Japan’s cults look to become more powerful as its social order decays.
The Censor Who Ended the Soviet Union by Alexander Gelland. After learning the truth about Stalin in 1956, Soviet propagandist Alexander Yakovlev became disillusioned with the communist project. Decades later, he helped end it.
How America Lost the Atomic Age by Benjamin Leopardo. Seventy years ago, nuclear power was poised to launch us into an energy-rich future. Why didn’t that happen?
Vietnam’s Red Napoleon by Avetis Muradyan. The early years of Vietnam’s legendary general Võ Nguyên Giáp show the power of a competent lieutenant working in close trust with a sovereign leader.
That’s all for now.