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Göbekli Tepe: Site

Göbekli Tepe: Site

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Gobekli Tepe: 15 Things About The Archaeological Site In Turkey (That Remain Unexplained)

Göbekli Tepe in Turkey is one of the most puzzling archaeological finds of all time and even pre-dates the Egyptian pyramids.

Göbekli Tepe is one of the most puzzling archaeological finds of all time and researches have only recently start with proper excavations. This prehistoric site is much older than any other similar stone structure. It was built 5,000 years before the Egyptian pyramids.

Animal bones at the site suggest that the people who built it were hunters and gatherers who had not yet formed settled communities and did not domesticate animals in order to survive. However, it is not clear how and why humans of the stone age decided to take on such a big project. In 2019, Göbekli Tepe became a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it should be on every bucket list of those who decide to visit Turkey.


Göbekli Tepe was built and occupied during the Pre-Pottery Neolithic (PPN)—the earliest division of the Neolithic period in Southwest Asia—which is dated to between 9600 and 7000 BCE. [10] Beginning at the end of the last Ice Age, the PPN marks "the beginnings of village life", [11] producing the earliest evidence for permanent human settlements in the world. [11] [12] Archaeologists have long associated the appearance of these settlements with the Neolithic Revolution—the transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture—but disagree on whether the adoption of farming caused people to settle down, or settling down caused people to adopt farming. [13] Despite the name, the Neolithic Revolution in Southwest Asia was "drawn out and locally variable". [14] Elements of village life appeared as early as 10,000 years before the Neolithic in places, [15] [16] and the transition to agriculture took thousands of years, with different paces and trajectories in different regions. [17] [18] The Pre-Pottery Neolithic is divided into two subperiods: the PPNA, to which the early phases of Göbekli Tepe belong, is dated to between 9600 and 8800 BCE the PPNB, to which the late phases of Göbekli Tepe belong, is dated to between 8800 and 7000 BCE. [12] It was preceded by the Epipalaeolithic and succeeded by the Late Neolithic. [11]

Evidence indicates that the inhabitants were Hunter-gatherers who supplemented their diet with early forms of domesticated cereal and lived in villages for at least part of the year. Tools such as grinding stones and mortar & pestle, found at Göbekli Tepe, were analyzed and suggest considerable cereal processing. Archaeozoological evidence hints at "large-scale hunting of gazelle between midsummer and autumn." [19]

PPN villages consisted of clusters of stone or mud brick houses, [11] and sometimes substantial monumental or 'communal' buildings. [12] The T-shaped pillar tradition seen at Göbekli Tepe is unique to the Urfa region, but is found at the majority of PPN sites there. [23] These include Nevalı Çori, Hamzan Tepe, [24] Karahan Tepe, [25] Harbetsuvan Tepesi, [22] Sefer Tepe, [23] and Taslı Tepe. [21] Other stone stelae—without the characteristic T shape—have been documented at contemporary sites further afield, including Çayönü, Qermez Dere, and Gusir Höyük. [26]

Göbekli Tepe is located in the foothills of the Taurus Mountains, overlooking the Harran plain [27] and the headwaters of the Balikh River, a tributary of the Euphrates. [28] The site is a tell (artificial mound) situated on a flat limestone plateau. [29] In the north, the plateau is connected to the neighbouring mountains by a narrow promontory. In all other directions, the ridge descends steeply into slopes and steep cliffs. [30] On top of the ridge there is considerable evidence of human impact, in addition to the construction of the tell. [ clarification needed ] [ citation needed ]

Excavations have taken place at the southern slope of the tell, south and west of a mulberry that marks an Islamic pilgrimage, [8] but archaeological finds come from the entire plateau. The team has also found many remains of tools. At the western escarpment, a small cave has been discovered in which a small relief depicting a bovid was found. It is the only relief found in this cave. [31]

Like most PPN sites in the Urfa region, Göbekli Tepe was built on a high point on the edge of the mountains, giving it both a wide view over plain beneath, and good visibility from the plain. [20] This location also gave the builders good access to raw material: the soft limestone bedrock from which the complex was built, and the flint to make the tools to work the limestone. [20]

At the time when Göbekli Tepe was occupied, the climate of the area was warmer and wetter than it is today. [29] It was surrounded by an open steppe grassland, [29] with abundant wild cereals, including einkorn, wheat, and barley, [32] and herds of grazing animals such as wild sheep, wild goat, gazelle, and equids. [33] Large herds of goitered gazelle may have passed by the site in seasonal migrations. [34] There is no evidence of substantial woodlands nearby [29] 90% of the charcoal recovered at the site was from pistachio or almond trees. [32] Archaeologists disagree on whether the site provided ready access to drinking water. Schmidt maintained that there was "no access to water in the immediate vicinity", [35] based on the fact that, whilst there are many karstic springs and small streams in the Germuş, [36] [37] the closest today are several kilometres away. [38] However, in the wetter climate of the time, the local water table may have been higher, activating springs closer to the site that are dormant today. [39] Schmidt also noted the presence of several cisterns carved into the bedrock under the site, [38] holding at least 150 cubic metres (5,300 cu ft) of water, [40] and subsequent excavations have a possible rainwater harvesting system. [41]

Before being documented by archaeologists, the hill Göbekli Tepe stands on, known locally in Kurdish as Girê Mirazan or Xerabreşk, was considered a sacred place. [42] [43]

The archaeological site was first noted in a survey conducted by Istanbul University and the University of Chicago in 1963. [44] American archaeologist Peter Benedict identified lithics collected from the surface of the site as belonging to the Aceramic Neolithic, [45] but mistook stone slabs (the upper parts of the T-shaped pillars) for grave markers, postulating that the prehistoric phase was overlain by a Byzantine cemetery. [46] The hill had long been under agricultural cultivation, and generations of local inhabitants had frequently moved rocks and placed them in clearance piles, which may have disturbed the upper layers of the site. At some point attempts had been made to break up some of the pillars, presumably by farmers who mistook them for ordinary large rocks. [4]

In October 1994, [47] German archaeologist Klaus Schmidt, who had previously been working at Nevalı Çori, was looking for evidence of similar sites in the area and decided to reexamine the location described by the Chicago researchers in 1963. [4] [47] Asking in nearby villages about hills with flint, [47] he was guided to Göbekli Tepe by Mahmut and İbrahim Yıldız, the farmers who owned the land the site was situated on. [43] Mahmut Yıldız and his father had previously discovered finds while plowing there, which they reported to the local museum. [43] Having found similar structures at Nevalı Çori, Schmidt recognized the possibility that the stone slabs were not Byzantine grave markers as supposed by Benedict, but the tops of prehistoric megaliths. He began excavations the following year and soon unearthed the first of the huge T-shaped pillars. [4] Yıldız went on to work on the excavations and serve as the site's guard. [43]

Schmidt continued to direct excavations at the site on behalf of the Şanlıurfa Museum and the German Archaeological Institute (DAI) until his death in 2014. Since then, the DAI's research at the site has been coordinated by Lee Clare. [7] As of 2021 [update] , work on the site is conducted jointly by Istanbul University, the Şanlıurfa Museum, and the DAI, under the overall direction of Necmi Karul. [48] [49] Recent excavations have been more limited than Schmidt's, focusing on detailed documentation and conservation of the areas already exposed. [49]

The imposing stratigraphy of Göbekli Tepe attests to many centuries of activity, beginning in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA) period, dated to the 10th millennium BCE. [50] Remains of smaller buildings identified as Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB) and dating from the 9th millennium BCE have also been unearthed. [5]

A number of radiocarbon dates have been published: [51]

Lab-Number Context cal BCE
Ua-19561 enclosure C 7560–7370
Ua-19562 enclosure B 8280–7970
Hd-20025 Layer III 9110–8620
Hd-20036 Layer III 9130–8800

The Hd samples are from charcoal in the fill of the lowest levels of the site and date the end of the active phase of the occupation of Level III – the actual structures may be older. The Ua samples come from pedogenic carbonate coatings on pillars and only indicate the time after the site was abandoned – the terminus ante quem. [52]

Göbekli Tepe follows a geometric pattern. The pattern is an equilateral triangle that connects enclosures A, B, and D. A 2020 study of "Geometry and Architectural Planning at Göbekli Tepe" suggests that enclosures A, B, and D are all one complex, and within this complex there is a "hierarchy" with enclosure D at the top, rejecting the idea that each enclosure was built and functioned individually as less likely. [53]


The plateau has been transformed by erosion and by quarrying, which took place not only in the Neolithic, but also in classical times. There are four 10-metre-long (33 ft) and 20-centimetre-wide (7.9 in) channels on the southern part of the plateau, interpreted as the remains of an ancient quarry from which rectangular blocks were taken. These possibly are related to a square building in the neighbourhood, of which only the foundation is preserved. Presumably this is the remains of a Roman watchtower that was part of the Limes Arabicus, though this is conjecture. [54]

Most structures on the plateau seem to be the result of Neolithic quarrying, with the quarries being used as sources for the huge, monolithic architectural elements. Their profiles were pecked into the rock, with the detached blocks then levered out of the rock bank. [54] Several quarries where round workpieces had been produced were identified. Their status as quarries was confirmed by the find of a 3-by-3 metre piece at the southeastern slope of the plateau. Unequivocally Neolithic are three T-shaped pillars that had not yet been levered out of the bedrock. The largest of them lies on the northern plateau. It has a length of 7 m (23 ft) and its head has a width of 3 m (10 ft). Its weight may be around 50 tons. The two other unfinished pillars lie on the southern Plateau.

At the western edge of the hill, a lionlike figure was found. In this area, flint and limestone fragments occur more frequently. It was therefore suggested that this could have been some kind of sculpture workshop. [55] It is unclear, on the other hand, how to classify three phallic depictions from the surface of the southern plateau. They are near the quarries of classical times, making their dating difficult. [31]

Apart from the tell, there is an incised platform with two sockets that could have held pillars, and a surrounding flat bench. This platform corresponds to the complexes from Layer III at the tell. Continuing the naming pattern, it is called "complex E". Owing to its similarity to the cult-buildings at Nevalı Çori it has also been called "Temple of the Rock". Its floor has been carefully hewn out of the bedrock and smoothed, reminiscent of the terrazzo floors of the younger complexes at Göbekli Tepe. Immediately northwest of this area are two cistern-like pits that are believed to be part of complex E. One of these pits has a table-high pin as well as a staircase with five steps. [56]

Layer III

At this early stage of the site's history, circular compounds or temene first appear. They range from 10 to 30 metres in diameter. Their most notable feature is the presence of T-shaped limestone pillars evenly set within thick interior walls composed of unworked stone. Four such circular structures have been unearthed so far. Geophysical surveys indicate that there are 16 more, enclosing up to eight pillars each, amounting to nearly 200 pillars in all. The slabs were transported from bedrock pits located approximately 100 metres (330 ft) from the hilltop, with workers using flint points to cut through the limestone bedrock. [58]

Two taller pillars stand facing one another at the centre of each circle. Whether the circles were provided with a roof is uncertain. Stone benches designed for sitting are found in the interior. [59] Many of the pillars are decorated with abstract, enigmatic pictograms and carved animal reliefs. The pictograms may represent commonly understood sacred symbols, as known from Neolithic cave paintings elsewhere. The reliefs depict mammals such as lions, bulls, boars, foxes, gazelles, and donkeys snakes and other reptiles arthropods such as insects and arachnids and birds, particularly vultures. At the time the edifice was constructed, the surrounding country was likely to have been forested and capable of sustaining this variety of wildlife, before millennia of human settlement and cultivation led to the near–Dust Bowl conditions prevalent today. [4] Vultures also feature prominently in the iconography of Çatalhöyük and Jericho.

Few humanoid figures have appeared in the art at Göbekli Tepe. Some of the T-shaped pillars have human arms carved on their lower half, however, suggesting to site excavator Schmidt that they are intended to represent the bodies of stylized humans (or perhaps deities). Loincloths appear on the lower half of a few pillars. The horizontal stone slab on top is thought by Schmidt to symbolize shoulders, which suggests that the figures were left headless. [60] Whether they were intended to serve as surrogate worshippers, symbolize venerated ancestors, or represent supernatural, anthropomorphic beings is not known.

Some of the floors in this, the oldest, layer are made of terrazzo (burnt lime) others are bedrock from which pedestals to hold the large pair of central pillars were carved in high relief. [61] Radiocarbon dating places the construction of these early circles around 9000 BCE. Carbon dating suggests that (for reasons unknown) the enclosures were backfilled during the Stone Age.

Layer II

Creation of the circular enclosures in layer III later gave way to the construction of small rectangular rooms in layer II. Rectangular buildings make a more efficient use of space compared with circular structures. They often are associated with the emergence of the Neolithic, [62] but the T-shaped pillars, the main feature of the older enclosures, also are present here, indicating that the buildings of Layer II continued to serve the same function in the culture, presumably as sanctuaries. [63] Layer II is assigned to Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB). The several adjoining rectangular, doorless and windowless rooms have floors of polished lime reminiscent of Roman terrazzo floors. Carbon dating has yielded dates between 8800 and 8000 BCE. [64] Several T-pillars up to 1.5 meters tall occupy the center of the rooms. A pair decorated with fierce-looking lions is the rationale for the name "lion pillar building" by which their enclosure is known. [65]

A stone pillar resembling totem pole designs was discovered at Göbekli Tepe, Layer II in 2010. It is 1.92 metres high, and is superficially reminiscent of the totem poles in North America. The pole features three figures, the uppermost depicting a predator, probably a bear, and below it a human-like shape. Because the statue is damaged, the interpretation is not entirely clear. Fragments of a similar pole also were discovered about 20 years ago in another site in Turkey at Nevalı Çori. Also, an older layer at Gobekli features some related sculptures portraying animals on human heads. [66]

Layer I

Layer I is the uppermost part of the hill. It is the shallowest, but accounts for the longest stretch of time. It consists of loose sediments caused by erosion and the virtually-uninterrupted use of the hill for agricultural purposes since it ceased to operate as a ceremonial center.

Around the beginning of the 8th millennium BCE Göbekli Tepe lost its importance. The advent of agriculture and animal husbandry brought new realities to human life in the area, and the "Stone-age zoo" (Schmidt's phrase applied particularly to Layer III, Enclosure D) apparently lost whatever significance it had had for the region's older, foraging communities. However, the complex was not simply abandoned and forgotten to be gradually destroyed by the elements. Instead, each enclosure was deliberately buried under as much as 300 to 500 cubic meters (390 to 650 cu yd) of refuse, creating a tell consisting mainly of small limestone fragments, stone vessels, and stone tools. Many animal and even human bones have been identified in the fill. [67] The site was deliberately backfilled sometime after 8000 BCE: the buildings were buried under debris, mostly flint gravel, stone tools, and animal bones. [68] In addition to Byblos points (weapon heads, such as arrowheads etc.) and numerous Nemrik points, Helwan-points, and Aswad-points dominate the backfill's lithic inventory.

Estimated labour

Schmidt maintained that "the work of quarrying, transporting, and erecting tons of heavy, monolithic, and almost universally well-prepared limestone pillars [. ] was not within the capability of a few people". [69] Using Thor Heyerdahl's experiments with the moai of Rapa Nui as a reference, he estimated that moving the pillars alone must have involved hundreds of people. [39] Specifically, according to figures later cited by Dietrich and Notroff, carving one moai of similar size to a T-shaped pillar from Göbekli Tepe would haven taken 20 people a year of "spare time", and 50–75 people a week to transport of 15 km. [5] Schmidt, Dietrich and Nortroff also cited a 1917 account of the construction of a megalith on the Indonesian island of Nias, which took 525 people three days. [39] [5] These estimates underpin their interpretation that the site was built by a large, nonresident workforce, [70] coerced or enticed there by a small religious elite. [71] [72]

In contrast, based on studies of the construction of monuments such as Stonehenge, Banning calculated that 7–14 people could have moved the pillars using just ropes and water or another lubricant. [39] Putting aside the pillars, experiments conducted at the site have also shown that all the PPNB structures currently exposed could have been built by 12–24 people in less than four months, allowing for time spent quarrying stone and gathering, and preparing food. [73] These labour estimates are thought to be within the capability of a single extended family or village community in the Neolithic, [39] and also fits with the number of people that could have comfortably been inside one of the buildings at the same time. [74]

Klaus Schmidt's view was that Göbekli Tepe is a stone-age mountain sanctuary. Radiocarbon dating as well as comparative stylistical analysis indicate that it contains the oldest known megaliths yet discovered anywhere, and that these ruins may constitute the remains of a temple. [4] [75] Schmidt believed that what he called this "cathedral on a hill" was a pilgrimage destination attracting worshippers up to 150 km (90 mi) distant. Butchered bones found in large numbers from local game such as deer, gazelle, pigs, and geese have been identified as refuse from food hunted and cooked or otherwise prepared for the congregants. [76] Zooarchaeological analysis shows that gazelle were only seasonally present in the region, suggesting that events such as rituals and feasts were likely timed to occur during periods when game availability was at its peak. [34]

Schmidt considered Göbekli Tepe a central location for a cult of the dead and that the carved animals are there to protect the dead. Though no tombs or graves have yet been found, Schmidt believed that graves remain to be discovered in niches located behind the walls of the sacred circles. [4] In 2017, discovery of human crania with incisions was reported, interpreted as providing evidence for a new form of Neolithic skull cult. [10] Special preparation of human crania in the form of plastered human skulls is known from the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B period at sites such as 'Ain Mallaha, Tell es-Sultan (also known as Jericho), and Yiftahel.

Schmidt also interpreted the site in connection with the initial stages of the Neolithic. [4] It is one of several sites in the vicinity of Karaca Dağ, an area that geneticists suspect may have been the original source of at least some of our cultivated grains (see Einkorn). Recent DNA analysis of modern domesticated wheat compared with wild wheat has shown that its DNA is closest in sequence to wild wheat found on Karaca Dağ 30 km (20 mi) away from the site, suggesting that this is where modern wheat was first domesticated. [77]

With its mountains catching the rain and a calcareous, porous bedrock creating many springs, creeks, and rivers, [21] the upper reaches of the Euphrates and Tigris was a refuge during the dry and cold Younger Dryas climatic event (10,800–9,500 BCE). [ citation needed ]

Schmidt also engaged in speculation regarding the belief systems of the groups that created Göbekli Tepe, based on comparisons with other shrines and settlements. He presumed shamanic practices and suggested that the T-shaped pillars represent human forms, perhaps ancestors, whereas he saw a fully articulated belief in deities as not developing until later, in Mesopotamia, that was associated with extensive temples and palaces. This corresponds well with an ancient Sumerian belief that agriculture, animal husbandry, and weaving were brought to humans from the sacred mountain Ekur, which was inhabited by Annuna deities, very ancient deities without individual names. Schmidt identified this story as a primeval oriental myth that preserves a partial memory of the emerging Neolithic. [78] It is apparent that the animal and other images give no indication of organized violence, i.e. there are no depictions of hunting raids or wounded animals, and the pillar carvings generally ignore game on which the society depended, such as deer, in favour of formidable creatures such as lions, snakes, spiders, and scorpions. [4] [79] [80] Expanding on Schmidt's interpretation that round enclosures could represent sanctuaries, Gheorghiu's semiotic interpretation reads the Göbekli Tepe iconography as a cosmogonic map that would have related the local community to the surrounding landscape and the cosmos. [81]

Göbekli Tepe is regarded by some as an archaeological discovery of great importance since it could profoundly change the understanding of a crucial stage in the development of human society. [2] Some researchers believe that the construction of Göbekli Tepe may have contributed to the later development of urban civilization, or, as excavator Klaus Schmidt put it, "First came the temple, then the city." [82]

It remains unknown how a population large enough to construct, augment, and maintain such a substantial complex was mobilized and compensated or fed in the conditions of pre-sedentary society. Scholars have been unable to interpret the pictograms, and do not know what meaning the animal reliefs had for visitors to the site. The variety of fauna depicted – from lions and boars to birds and insects – makes any single explanation problematic. As there is little or no evidence of habitation, and many of the animals pictured are predators, the stones may have been intended to stave off evils through some form of magic representation. Alternatively, they could have served as totems. [83]

The assumption that the site was strictly cultic in purpose and not inhabited has been challenged as well by the suggestion that the structures served as large communal houses, "similar in some ways to the large plank houses of the Northwest Coast of North America with their impressive house posts and totem poles." [39] It is not known why every few decades the existing pillars were buried to be replaced by new stones as part of a smaller, concentric ring inside the older one. [84]

Future plans include construction of a museum and converting the environs into an archaeological park, in the hope that this will help preserve the site in the state in which it was discovered. [8]

In 2010, Global Heritage Fund (GHF) announced it will undertake a multi-year conservation program to preserve Göbekli Tepe. Partners include the German Archaeological Institute, German Research Foundation, Şanlıurfa Municipal Government, the Turkish Ministry of Tourism and Culture and, formerly, Klaus Schmidt. [85]

The stated goals of the GHF Göbekli Tepe project are to support the preparation of a site management and conservation plan, construction of a shelter over the exposed archaeological features, training community members in guiding and conservation, and helping Turkish authorities secure UNESCO World Heritage Site designation for GT. [86]

The conservation work caused controversy in 2018, when Çiğdem Köksal Schmidt, an archaeologist and widow of Klaus Schmidt, said the site was being damaged by the use of concrete and "heavy equipment" during the construction of a new walkway. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism responded that no concrete was used and that no damage had occurred. [87] [88]


View of site and excavation

The imposing stratigraphy of Göbekli Tepe attests to many centuries of activity, beginning at least as early as the epipaleolithic, or Pre-Pottery Neolithic A(PPNA), in the 10th millennium BC. The PPNA buildings have been dated to about the close of the 10th millennium BCE. There are remains of smaller houses from the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB) era and a few epipalaeolithic finds as well.

There are a number of radiocarbon dates (presented with one standard deviation errors and calibrations to BCE):

The Hd samples are from charcoal in the lowest levels of the site and would date the active phase of occupation. The Ua samples come from pedogenic carbonate coatings on pillars and only indicate a time after the site was abandoned—the terminus ante quem.

Earliest Religious Site?

Newly gathered evidence from excavations at the site backs up Schmidt’s argument that the beginnings of civilization spurred the invention of farming. In the middle of each monumental enclosure are two tall T-shaped pillars, carved with stylized arms, hands and loincloths. The largest weigh more than 16 tons. Carving and moving them from a nearby quarry must have been a tremendous challenge, requiring hundreds of people and enough food to feed them all.

But archaeologists have yet to find evidence of permanent settlement at Göbekli Tepe. One recent suggestion is that the site was a regional gathering place. It’s perched on top of a bone-dry peak, with a commanding view of the surrounding mountains and the plains to the south.

“Back then people would have to meet regularly to keep the gene pool fresh and exchange information,” says Jens Notroff, a German Archaeological Institute archaeologist who works on the site. “It’s a landmark. It’s no accident they gathered there.”

In fact, smaller versions of the pillars, symbols and architecture carved into stone at Göbekli Tepe have been found in settlements up to 125 miles away. It’s as though Göbekli Tepe were a cathedral and the others local churches hunter-gatherers might have traveled long distances to meet, worship and help build new monumental structures, sponsoring feasts to display their wealth.

“The feasting aspect is the easiest explanation for attracting a labor force to construct the enclosures,” Notroff says.

As they’ve dug deeper into the hilltop, archaeologists have found other evidence for feasting: After they were built, the stone enclosures were filled in with dirt, stone, and animal bones. Over the course of centuries, new structures were built on top of the backfill, creating a man-made mound. The debris includes tens of thousands of broken animal bones, including gazelles and aurochs, a type of wild cow that’s now extinct. There are also huge stone vessels, big enough to hold more than 40 gallons of liquid—perhaps early beer.

Dating back over 12,000 years ago, archeologists are in the process of restoring the incredible temple. Restoring the temple to its former glory will give tourists and historians a better idea of what this prehistoric place of worship looked like as they continue to find more artifacts. Just imagine what some of these archeological discoveries are worth!

Upon finding broken pieces of limestone in Turkey's sand and dirt, experts believed the area was a graveyard of sorts a place to bury the dead. The pieces of limestone were headers or markings for where the bodies were. After digging below the tops of the stones, however, they realized the stumbled upon something much bigger.

Gobekli Tepe

Six thousand years older than Stonehenge, seven thousand years older than the Great Pyramids and a thousand older than the walls of Jericho, formerly believed to be the world’s most ancient monumental structure, Göbekli Tepe in south-eastern Turkey close to the city of Sanliurfa has literally rewritten human history.

Thanks to this sensational twelve thousand year old discovery by a team from the German Archaeological Institute led by Professor Klaus Schmidt, Göbekli Tepe is regarded as a find of such profound importance that it may well change our current understanding that agriculture and permanent settlements came first then religion followed, a paradigm shift in the knowledge of a crucial stage of our societal development.

Academics are calling Göbekli Tepe the ‘world’s first temple’ and it’s an example that huge complexes were well within the capabilities of early hunter-gatherers, an assumption never previously considered. Göbekli Tepe may very well be the very first thing human beings every built. It pre-dates pottery, domesticated animals and agriculture and Professor Schmidt postulates that Göbekli Tepe was the catalyst for these things to follow. He called it ‘the Rome of the Ice Age’. The discovery is that important.

There are at least 20 installations each enclosed by a wall as well as T-shaped pillars between three and six metres high weighing 40-60 tons, some with human-like appendages and some with carvings of animals such as foxes, snakes, boars and ducks.

Similarly to Stonehenge, questions remain as to how the huge monoliths got to their locations, how intricate carvings were made when even rudimentary hand tools were rare, how they were stood up on end when complex engineering of that type was centuries away, as was farming, the ability to create blueprint for construction and even permanent settlements. The next temples of this size and complexity date from five thousand years after Göbekli Tepe.

Göbekli Tepe – The Archeological Site That Will Change Everything

For millennia we have been enamored by the mega projects of the past. The great wall of china, the pyramids of Giza and Chichén Itzá have led archeologists on life-long journeys of discovery. Until recently Stonehenge was regarded as the oldest megalithic structure in the world. However, when Göbekli Tepe was unearthed our perceptions of human history were challenged.

Traditional thought outlines the dawn of civilization from nomad groups to city builders over the course of thousands of years. Humankind began in hunter-gatherer societies travelling around vast stretches of land gathering edible plants and hunting for food. Eventually, these early people groups branched out into small agricultural communities. From there modern civilization was born. The most successful of these early civilizations built impressive structures for social or religious use.

In 1963 the oldest megalithic structure was discovered, however it would not be studied for approximately 30 years. Originally archeologists believed the structure discovered at Göbekli Tepe was cemetery from the Byzantine era. It wasn’t until researchers began to dig into the earth below that the scope and exact age of the site was made clear. Clearly, this archeological site was the oldest standing structure on earth.

What is Göbekli Tepe?

The site located in the Southeastern Anatolia Region of modern day Turkey is known as Göbekli Tepe. The entertaining phrase translates to “Potbelly Hill” due to is uncanny resemblance to a refined beer belly. The structure is roughly 1,000 feet in diameter and is made up of more than 200 pillars standing at up to 20 feet tall forming an estimated 20 circles, similar to that of the famous Stonehenge. This circular structure, however, predates Stonehenge by an estimated 8000 years. You read that right, eight thousand years.

A Note on the Unimaginable Age of Göbekli Tepe

Those who built Stonehenge might have thought of Göbekli Tepe in a similar way that we consider Stonehenge today. Yet, the time scale is still not entirely accurate as the amount of time between the two groups endeavors is equal to the time span between Stonehenge’s construction and today… Twice. Another way to grasp the age of Göbekli Tepe is to consider the time span between the Great Pyramid of Giza and the modern era. All of written history between the Egyptian great dynasties and today could have happened three times over since the completion of Göbekli Tepe. This megalithic site is ancient beyond comprehension.

The Findings at the Archeological Site

Archeologists have discovered a curious set of information at the site of Göbekli Tepe. The ancient builders placed T-shaped stone pillars into slots cut out of the bedrock. The large pillars weighed upwards of 10 tons. Many of the pillars featured carvings ranging from rudimentary etchings to sophisticated sculptures. Archeologists discovered many items within the structure including limestone fragments, stone precursors to pottery, stone tools and animal and human bones. It was clear that the site bore some kind of social or religious importance.

There was no clear sign of residence at Göbekli Tepe both in the site itself and in the surrounding area. Domesticated plants and animals were not present at the site. The lack of any domesticated food sources leads researchers to conclude that no residences were present at Göbekli Tepe. It is likely that the builders of the site were a nomadic people group. These people were alive at the dawn of the Neolithic era. Agriculture and civilization was born in the Neolithic era. It is odd for a society that has yet to make the leap into the Neolithic to build such an impressive structure.

The most curious finding at the impressive archaeological site came when digging below the first layer. Göbekli Tepe’s builders built layer by layer over a span of 3000 years. Again to reference the immense age of this structure, Göbekli Tepe was actively under construction for a time span equal to that between today and the Biblical king David of Israel. However, the layers reveal an interesting development of the society that built the megalith.

What Was Going on At Göbekli Tepe?

The newest layers show a sort of technological regression by the later builders at Göbekli Tepe. The deepest layers reveal at the very least a basic understanding of geometry, advanced stone working knowledge, significant artistic ability, and possible an understanding of the astronomical calendar. Strangely the youngest layers do not bear the same understanding. It is as if the builders of Göbekli Tepe forgot the technique’s of their ancestors over time.

The dig site also reveals a careful effort to bury each layer during the construction process. For some unknown reason, the builders of the ancient site repeatedly buried the previous building to construct on top of it rather than tearing it down or building on a new site. The reason for this is currently unknown, but adds to the long list of intrigue surrounding Göbekli Tepe.


Klaus Schmidt is the leading archeologist at Göbekli Tepe. He theorizes that the site is home to the oldest known temple in existence. The presence of animal bones and the lack of any signs of residence leads Schmidt to postulate that is was a ritual center that worshippers of a long dead unknown religion would travel to the site to partake in feasting and other religious activities.

Many other historians have raised theories on the potential uses of such a site and the occasion for building a project larger than anything known in the world at that time. Archeologists have also attempted to understand who these people were and, most interestingly, why did they technologically regress instead of progress. Learn about all these theories and more interesting facts in this episode of Things I Learned Last Night. Watch the video or listen to the podcast to learn even more!

Karahan Tepe Is Said To Be Much Older Than Gkli Tepe

Archaeologists have been working at the Karahan Tepe site, which is often called the sister site of Gkli Tepe , since 1997. The site is located near Yağmurlu and roughly 35 kilometers east of the 12,000-year-old Gkli Tepe site.

Over the years, archaeologists have made a series of amazing discoveries at the Karahan Tepe site. In particular, tons of buried T-shaped obelisks, similar to the ones carved with wild animals at Gkli Tepe, have led researchers to conclude that Karahan Tepe “is much older,” than its “younger sister,” Gkli Tepe.

Archaeologists have already found animal carvings at Karahan Tepe similar to the well-known Vulture Stone and others at Gkli Tepe. (Sue Fleckney / CC BY-SA 2.0 )

Head of excavations at Karahan Tepe, Professor Dr. Necmi Karul, told Hurriyet that � spots estimated to be in the same period as Gkli Tepe are known in the region, one of which is Karahan Tepe.”

Speaking at the 10th International Resort Tourism Congress , Culture and Tourism Minister Mehmet Nuri Ersoy said that an “intensive and rapid excavation program” continues in Karahan Tepe, which to date has yielded � obelisks featuring animal figures.” Ersoy claims the planned excavations will prove the settlement at Karahan Tepe “will be much older that the 12,000 year old Gkli Tepe.”

The ongoing excavations at Karahan Tepe will likely reveal more T-shaped obelisks at the center of the site like these at Gkli Tepe. ( Joaquin / Adobe Stock)

Göbekli Tepe Facts

The exact purpose of Göbekli Tepe remains a profound archeological mystery. Excavations since 1996 have attempted unraveling the mysteries behind the massive megalithic temple, but most of its precious history remains a profound enigma to us.

1) Although excavations have been underway since 1996, archeologists believe that no more than five percent of the entire temple complex has been excavated. (Gobekli Tepe was buried around 10,000 years ago). The site was first registered in an archeological survey of the area by the Universities of Istanbul and Chicago in 1963.

At the time, experts mistook the site and its barely visible stone slabs as grave markers that belonged to the Byzantine period. Little did they know that what lay beneath the surface was a treasure trove of history, one that could alter our understanding of early human societies and when these appeared in the historical timeline.

2) Göbekli Tepe has an imposing stratigraphy attesting to many centuries of activities, the earliest of which have been dated to the 10th millennium BC. The structures at the site predate metallurgy and pottery, the wheel’s invention, and even writing.

Having been built before the Neolithic Revolution, Göbekli Tepe implies that an advanced, hitherto unknown society existed in the region over 12,000 years ago, capable of erecting megalithic temples and complex construction projects.

3) Building such a vast site was no easy task and surely required a great workforce. Archeological estimates tell us that more than 1,000 people were needed to extract, move, and position the massive multi-ton pillars at the site. This, in turn, means that whoever built Göbekli Tepe was part of a well-developed society that could finance the project. Although 12,000 years ago, money as we know it was nonexistent, people still needed to be fed, dressed, and cared for.

This tells us that to build Göbekli Tepe, hunter-gatherers must have settled somewhere in the region where the workers were fed and slept. Although archaeologists have still not found traces of houses or communities at Göbekli Tepe, they did excavate over 100,000 animal bones. Analysis of the bones has revealed that many of the animals were butchered and cooked.

4) The animal bones mostly belonged to wild animals such as gazelles, which accounted for over 60% of the bones. Nonetheless, archaeologists did find other animal bones belonging to boars, sheep, and red deer, as well as different species of birds such as vultures, cranes, ducks, and geese. Since the animals show no signs of domestication, experts have concluded that the site was undoubtedly built by hunter-gatherers and not early farmers, as some have suggested. However, just because the animals were not domesticated does not necessarily mean the society was not a stationary one and that they didn’t settle somewhere near Göbekli Tepe, at least partially.

This tells us that Göbekli Tepe is far more extensive than what we’ve thought until now.

Whatever the case, Göbekli Tepe is the oldest of its kind and attests to a complex society that was more than capable of erecting megalithic temples.

Whether Göbekli Tepe was, in fact, a temple or had a different purpose remains a mystery. Although archeologists believe people pilgrimaged to the site across vast distances, there are some who believe the site may have served as an early astronomical observatory.

5) But no matter what purpose it may have served, Göbekli Tepe is a fascinating example of the level of development of ancient people. Recently, a study published in the Cambridge Archaeological Journal reveals that Gobekli Tepe’s builders were far more advanced than previously believed. The researchers studied three of the oldest stone enclosure of the site (around 12,000 years old) and discovered advanced hidden geometric patterns, specifically an equilateral triangle. This implies that its architects knew early forms of geometry.

Watch the video: Why Is Göbeklitepe More Important Than Pyramids? Turn Subtitles On (August 2022).