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Razib Khan's Unsupervised Learning

Jul 9, 2021

By popular demand, Samo Burja is my first repeat guest on this podcast. You’ve been asking for him, so when he wrote a great piece in Palladium MagazineWhy Civilization Is Older Than We Thought, I had to ask him back on. Much of the piece is specifically about Göbekli Tepe, an ancient site in Turkey that predates the Neolithic, dating to 11,600 years ago.

Burja focuses on how our preconceptions shape how we understand the world and interpret data. For example, at first, archaeologists thought that the site must date to the Byzantine period, 1,000 years ago, based on the nature of the monumental objects. Their artistry and grandeur seemed beyond the ability of ancient people, let alone Paleolithic ones.

The bigger picture is that perhaps we misunderstand our Paleolithic past because we assume that Pleistocene hunter-gatherers were similar to relict populations in the Kalahari, the Congo and the Andaman Islands. The reality is that during the Pleistocene, hunter-gatherers occupied the rich, fertile lands now occupied by farmers. Their societies and cultures may have been much more sedentary than we can imagine today. Burja suggests that the elements of agriculture and complex society may be much older than we today assume. They might even go back to the beginning of modern humans outside of Africa, 50,000 years ago.

Get ready to challenge your priors!