A Lost Civilization

Beyköy is a hamlet sitting on the lonely edge of the world — in the highlands of Phrygia in western Turkey, hundreds of kilometers away from either city or coast. In 1876, a local peasant made a remarkable discovery in these forsaken backwoods — one that ranks today as the world's most important unreported story.

This farmer's pasture extended along the foot of a low but extensive mound, believed to hold the remains of an ancient city. While working his ox and plow along the base of the hill, the farmer struck some objects in the furrow which gave off a metallic noise. After picking up and scrutinizing the large pieces of metal which he had accidentally unearthed, the peasant noticed they were covered with script.

Several years later, the American scholar William M. Ramsay passed through the village. Speaking with some local people, Ramsay inquired if they possessed any coins and artifacts picked up off the ground, with the intention of finding a bargain. Among the pieces offered to him was a tiny fragment containing a short inscription. Wondering aloud about its original location, the locals pointed towards the knoll. After further inquiry, Ramsay found out about the series of spectacular bronze tablets which had also been found there. Unfortunately, they were gone and nobody was able to say where.

As it turned out, the Beyköy bronze tablets had made their way into the archives of the Ottoman empire. Recognizing their possible significance, the curator in charge did not hesitate in contacting the world's foremost authority, German-born Anatolia expert Albrecht Goetze, in order to publish the finds. In the late 1950's, this professor of Yale University began to investigate the texts. For over ten years, he examined, translated and interpreted them. Then, he informed another colleague of their existence. Goetze completed his investigations and manuscript shortly before he died in 1971. Owing to the subsequent death of his editor, the monograph, however, has never been published and the Beyköy tablets remain completely unknown. Goetze had found that they contained lists of Anatolian states, kings, and military actions from as early as the fourth millennium BC up until the eighth century BC. These texts proved conclusively that today's Turkey was once the home of a civilization older and more important to European history than Pharaonic Egypt. Yet, this civilization has remained virtually uninvestigated to the present today.

Now, why should the discovery of the Beyköy tablets be considered the world's most important unreported story? After all, archaeological discoveries — like that of the man in the ice — have often surprised the general public and upset established scholarship. The discovery of the Beyköy tablets, however, is of a different order of magnitude. It shows that the center of European history is to be found way outside the frontiers of the hitherto Old — and accepted — World. Therefore, its impact equals a scientific revolution similar to those caused by Nicolas Copernicus, Charles Darwin and Siegmund Freud. Copernicus' work generated an upheaval, since it demonstrated that humankind is not at the center of the universe. Darwin's research demonstrated that humans do not stand at the ultimate zenith of Creation; instead they are more or less an accidental product of a million years-long evolutionary process. And Freud showed that we are not even in full command of our own mind, our inner selves.

The publication of the Beyköy tablets will take this sequence of upheavals in western thought one step further. It will demonstrate — once and for all — that "western culture" is an arbitrary, abstract concept resting upon the wishful thinking of certain eighteenth century members of the educated class. Old world civilizations, especially that of ancient Greece, evolved from frontier outposts of much older Asian civilizations in the adjacent Orient. The practices characterizing western civilization — domestication of animals and plants, agriculture, husbandry, permanent homes, life in village communities, metallurgy, politics and cosmology — all clearly originated in Asia.

After this paradigm shift, only one even greater upheaval remains — proving that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe.