Why did our Ancient Ancestors Build Such Huge Monuments?
More than 10,000 years ago, in the ancient city of Gobekli Tepe in Turkey, nomadic people worked endlessly in the construction of huge stone temples. This was long before cities or even substantial permanent houses. While many marvel at the huge monuments left behind by the ancient civilizations of China, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Indus Valley and the Maya, few step back and ask the question, Why?
Richard Hansen, director of the Pre-Classic Maya site of El Mirador, said: “Somehow we’re all wired to put a major emphasis on labor and resources at the very beginning of a society,”
Renee Friedman of the British Museum and director of excavations at Hierakonpolis in Egypt pointed out that it’s not just at the beginning that a civilization constructs such huge monuments. 2000 years after the pyramids, the Ptolemaic kings were building huge monumental temples. “It’s just a different form,” she said, but “it’s still plenty of monumentality.” In particular, “when they were trying to reassert their power, there was again a big push to build these huge stone temples…trying to bind society together again.”
Friedman suggests that societies trying to “reassert” their power are similar to those that are just getting started and so we see the construction of monumental structures during both stages of a society. The mass effort serves to bring people together and strengthens the solidarity and therefore the power of the civilization. Nowadays, the emphasis is on producing as many things as possible in the shortest period of time with an ‘every man for himself’ mentality, perhaps that is why we do not see such spectacular civilizations as those that existed in our ancient past.