Dee Finney's blog

start date July 20, 2011

today's date May 26, 2013


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Some of the pillars were destroyed by farmers trying to get rid of rocks that were in their way to farm their crops.

Göbekli Tepe
Göbekli Tepe
map showing location of site in southeastern Turkey
Location near Şanlıurfa
Region Southeastern Anatolia Region, Turkey
Coordinates 37°13′22″N 38°55′15″E / 37.222777°N 38.920833°E / 37.222777; 38.920833Coordinates: 37°13′22″N 38°55′15″E / 37.222777°N 38.920833°E / 37.222777; 38.920833
Type Temple
Periods pre-pottery Neolithic A–B
Site notes
Condition well preserved
Website references:[1] Megalithic Portal

Göbekli Tepe Turkish: [ɡøbe̞kli te̞pɛ][2] ("Potbelly Hill"[3]) is an early Neolithic sanctuary located at the top of a mountain ridge in the Southeastern Anatolia Region of Turkey, northeast of the town of Şanlıurfa (formerly Urfa / Edessa). It was built of massive carved stones about 11,000 years old, crafted and arranged by prehistoric people who had not yet developed metal tools or even pottery.[4]


It was first noted in a survey conducted by Istanbul University and the University of Chicago in 1964. It recognized that the rise could not entirely be a natural feature, but postulated that a Byzantine cemetery lay beneath. The survey noted a large number of flints and the presence of limestone slabs thought to be grave markers. The hill had long been under agricultural cultivation; generations of local inhabitants had frequently moved rocks and placed them in clearance piles, possibly destroying much archaeological evidence in the process.



German archaeologist Klaus Schmidt, now of the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut, was working as part of a team at a nearby site but at the same time looking for another site to dig leading a team of his own. He reviewed the archaeological literature on the surrounding area, found the Chicago researchers’ brief description of Göbekli Tepe, and decided to give it another look. “Within minutes”, he said, he realized that the flint chips on the surface of the tell were prehistoric.[5] The following year (1995) he began excavating there in collaboration with the Şanlıurfa Museum. T-shaped pillars were soon discovered. Some had apparently undergone attempts at smashing, probably by farmers who mistook them for ordinary large rocks.[6]


Schmidt's view, shared by most experts, is that Göbekli Tepe is a stone-age mountain sanctuary. Radiocarbon dating as well as comparative, stylistic analysis indicate that it is the oldest religious site found to date.[6][7][8] Schmidt believes that what he calls this "cathedral on a hill" was a pilgrimage destination attracting worshipers up to 100 miles (160 km) 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 congregants.[9]


Location and dimensions

The tell has a height of 15 m (49 ft) and is about 300 m (984 ft) in diameter. And some 760 m (2,493 ft) above sea level


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):


Lab-Number Date BP Cal BCE Context
Ua-19561 8430 ± 80 7560–7370 enclosure C
Ua-19562 8960 ± 85 8280–7970 enclosure B
Hd-20025 9452 ± 73 9110–8620 Layer III
Hd-20036 9559 ± 53 9130–8800 Layer III

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.[10]

The complex

View of site and excavation

Layer III


At this early stage of the site's history circular compounds or temenoi first appear. They range from 10 to 30 meters 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 round 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 meters (330 ft) from the hilltop, with workers using flint points to cut through the bedrock.[11]


Two taller pillars are at the centre of each circle. The circles were probably roofed, and the pair of central pillars may have helped support the roof but this is conjectural. Stone benches designed for sitting line the interior.[12] 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 lions, bulls, boars, foxes, gazelles, donkeys, snakes and other reptiles, insects, arachnids, and birds, particularly vultures. (At the time the shrine was constructed, the surrounding country was much lusher and capable of sustaining this variety of wildlife, before millennia of settlement and cultivation led to the near–Dust Bowl conditions prevalent today.)[6] Vultures also feature prominently in the iconography of Çatalhöyük and Jericho; it is believed that in the early Neolithic culture of Anatolia and the Near East the deceased were deliberately exposed in order to be excarnated by vultures and other carrion birds. (The head of the deceased was sometimes removed and preserved—possibly a sign of ancestor worship.)[13] This, then, would represent an early form of sky burial, as still practiced by Tibetan Buddhists and by Zoroastrians in Iran and India.[14]


Few humanoid figures have surfaced at Göbekli Tepe. However, some of the T-shaped pillars have human arms carved on their lower half, suggesting that they are intended to represent the bodies of stylized humans (or perhaps gods). Loincloths also appear on the lower half of a few pillars. The horizontal stone member on top is thought to symbolize a human head. The pillars as a whole therefore have an anthropomorphic identity.[15] Whether they were intended to serve as surrogate worshipers, symbolize venerated ancestors, or represent supernatural, anthropomorphic beings is not clear.

The discovery of a predator—a crocodile, perhaps, built low to the ground, very muscular, shown with teeth bared and distinguished by a long tail that nearly doubles back on itself—has excited particular interest for being carved almost in the round, hinting at a degree of artistic training and social diversification again surprising in a hunter-gatherer society. (Pillar 27, Enclosure 2, Layer III).


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.[16] Radiocarbon dating places the construction of these early sacred circles in the range of 9600 to 8800 BC; carbon dating suggests that (for reasons unknown) the enclosures were also 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 are often associated with the emergence of the Neolithic.[17] But the T-shaped pillars, the main feature of the older enclosures, are also present here, indicating that the buildings of Layer II continued to serve as sanctuaries.[18] Layer II is assigned to Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB). The several adjoining rectangular, door- and windowless rooms have floors of polished lime reminiscent of Roman terrazzo floors. Carbon dating has yielded dates between 8800 and 8000 BC.[19] Several T-pillars up to 1.5 meters occupy the center of the rooms. A pair decorated with fierce-looking lions is responsible for the name "lion pillar building" by which their enclosure is known.[20] Here too is found a Venus accueillante figure roughly incised on the surface of a bench between two interior pillars. Comparing it with the careful execution of the bas-reliefs found on the pillars, Schmidt characterizes it as "graffiti".[21]


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 cult center.


gobekli tepe
Pillar 2 from Enclosure A (Layer III) with bull, fox, and crane rendered in low relief


The site was deliberately backfilled sometime after 8000 BCE: the buildings were buried under debris, mostly flint gravel, stone tools, and animal bones that must have been imported from elsewhere.[22] In addition to Byblos points and numerous Nemrik points, Helwan-points and Aswad-points dominate the backfill's lithic inventory.


Chronological context


All statements about the site must be considered preliminary, as less than 5% of the site has so far been excavated, and Schmidt plans to leave much of it untouched to be explored by future generations (when archaeological techniques will presumably have improved).[6] While the site formally belongs to the earliest Neolithic (PPNA), up to now no traces of domesticated plants or animals have been found. The inhabitants are assumed to have been hunters and gatherers who nevertheless lived in villages for at least part of the year.[23] So far, very little evidence for residential use has been found. Through the radiocarbon method, the end of Layer III can be fixed at c. 9000 BCE (see above) but it is believed that the elevated location may have functioned as a spiritual center c. 11,000 BCE or even earlier.


The surviving structures, then, not only predate pottery, metallurgy, and the invention of writing or the wheel; they were built before the so-called Neolithic Revolution, i.e., the beginning of agriculture and animal husbandry around 9000 BCE. But the construction of Göbekli Tepe implies organization of an advanced order not hitherto associated with Paleolithic, PPNA, or PPNB societies. Archaeologists estimate that up to 500 persons were required to extract the heavy pillars from local quarries and move them 100–500 meters (330–1,640 ft) to the site.[24] The pillars weigh 10–20 metric tons (10–20 long tons; 11–22 short tons), with one still in the quarry weighing 50 tons.[25] It is generally believed that an elite class of religious leaders supervised the work and later controlled whatever ceremonies took place here. If so, this would be the oldest known evidence for a priestly caste—much earlier than such social distinctions developed elsewhere in the Near East.[6]


Around the beginning of the 8th millennium BCE "Potbelly Hill" 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. But 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 consisting mainly of small limestone fragments, stone vessels, and stone tools; many animal, even human, bones have also been identified in the fill.[26] Why the enclosures were buried is unknown, but it preserved them for posterity.




Schmidt considers Göbekli Tepe a central location for a cult of the dead. He suggests that the carved animals are there to protect the dead. Though no tombs or graves have been found so far, Schmidt believes that they remain to be discovered in niches located behind the sacred circles' walls.[6] Schmidt also interprets it in connection with the initial stages of an incipient Neolithic. It is one of several sites in the vicinity of Karaca Dağ, an area which 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 Mount Karaca Dağ 20 miles (32 km) away from the site, suggesting that this is where modern wheat was first domesticated.[27] Such scholars suggest that the Neolithic revolution, i.e., the beginnings of grain cultivation, took place here. Schmidt and others believe that mobile groups in the area were compelled to cooperate with each other to protect early concentrations of wild cereals from wild animals (herds of gazelles and wild donkeys). Wild cereals may have been used for sustenance more intensively than before and were perhaps deliberately cultivated. This would have led to early social organization of various groups in the area of Göbekli Tepe. Thus, according to Schmidt, the Neolithic did not begin on a small scale in the form of individual instances of garden cultivation, but developed rapidly in the form of "a large-scale social organization"[28]


Pillar 27 from Enclosure C, Layer III with a predatory animal (crocodile?) carved in high relief.



gobekli tepe


gobekli tepe


gobekli tepe





Schmidt has engaged in some speculation regarding the belief systems of the groups that created Göbekli Tepe, based on comparisons with other shrines and settlements. He assumes shamanic practices and suggests that the T-shaped pillars may represent mythical creatures, perhaps ancestors, whereas he sees a fully articulated belief in gods only developing later in Mesopotamia, associated with extensive temples and palaces. This corresponds well with an ancient Sumerian belief that agriculture, animal husbandry, and weaving were brought to mankind from the sacred mountain Du-Ku, which was inhabited by Annuna deities, very ancient gods without individual names. Schmidt identifies this story as a primeval oriental myth that preserves a partial memory of the emerging Neolithic.[29] It is also 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 ignore game on which the society mainly subsisted, like deer, in favor of formidable creatures like lions, snakes, spiders, and scorpions.[6][30][31]




Göbekli Tepe is regarded as an archaeological discovery of the greatest importance since it could profoundly change our understanding of a crucial stage in the development of human society. "Göbekli Tepe changes everything" (Ian Hodder of Stanford University). In the view of David Lewis-Williams (Professor of Archaeology at Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg), "Göbekli Tepe is the most important archaeological site in the world." It seems that the erection of monumental complexes was within the capacities of hunter-gatherers and not only of sedentary farming communities as had been previously assumed. In other words, as excavator Klaus Schmidt puts it, "First came the temple, then the city."[32]


Not only its large dimensions, but the side-by-side existence of multiple pillar shrines makes the location unique. There are no comparable monumental complexes from its time. Nevalı Çori, a Neolithic settlement also excavated by the German Archaeological Institute and submerged by the Atatürk Dam since 1992, is 500 years later, its T-shaped pillars are considerably smaller, and its shrine was located inside a village; the roughly contemporary architecture at Jericho is devoid of artistic merit or large-scale sculpture; and Çatalhöyük, perhaps the most famous Anatolian Neolithic village, is 2,000 years younger.


At present, though, Göbekli Tepe raises more questions for archaeology and prehistory than it answers. We do not know how a force large enough to construct, augment, and maintain such a substantial complex was mobilized and compensated or fed in the conditions of pre-sedentary society. We cannot "read" the pictograms, and do not know for certain 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 seems to be little or no evidence of habitation, and the animals pictured are mainly predators, the stones may have been intended to stave off evils through some form of magic representation; alternatively, they could have served as totems.[33] The assumption that the site was strictly cultic in purpose and not inhabited has also been challenged 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."[34] 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.[35] Human burial may or may not have occurred at the site. The reason the complex was carefully backfilled remains unexplained. Until more evidence is gathered, it is difficult to deduce anything certain about the originating culture or the site's significance.




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.[36]


In 2010, Global Heritage Fund (GHF) announced it will undertake a multi-year conservation program to preserve Göbekli Tepe; partners include Klaus Schmidt and the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut, German Research Foundation, Şanlıurfa Municipal Government, and the Turkish Ministry of Tourism and Culture.[37]


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.[1]


See also


  1. ^ a b "GHF - Gobekli Tepe, Turkey - Overview", globalheritagefund.org: GHF3.
  2. ^ reference of entry added to Forvo website by User:kubra on 2010-01-13
  3. ^ "History in the Remaking". Newsweek. Feb 18, 2010. 
  4. ^ http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/gobekli-tepe.html#ixzz2UEOYK3Sa Gobekli Tepe: The World’s First Temple?
  5. ^ Mann, “The Birth of Religion”, p. 40.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Curry, Andrew (November 2008). "Göbekli Tepe: The World’s First Temple?". Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 2009-03-14. 
  7. ^ "The World's First Temple". Archaeology magazine. Nov/Dec 2008. p. 23. 
  8. ^ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r8DOjnZu8H4
  9. ^ Peters & Schmidt 2004, 207
  10. ^ Upper Mesopotamia (SE Turkey, N Syria and N Iraq) 14C databases: 11th–6th millennia cal BCE
  11. ^ Schmidt 2000b, pp. 52–53
  12. ^ Mithen 2004, p. 65
  13. ^ Mithen 2004, pp. 93–96.
  14. ^ Peters & Schmidt 2004, p. 214
  15. ^ Schmidt 2010, pp. 244, 246
  16. ^ Schmidt, 2010, p. 251.
  17. ^ Flannery and Marcus, The Creation of Inequality, p. 128
  18. ^ Schmidt 2010, pp. 239, 241.
  19. ^ Schmidt 2009, p. 291
  20. ^ Schmidt 1990, p. 198
  21. ^ Schmidt (2010), p. 246.
  22. ^ Schmidt 2010, p. 242
  23. ^ The Guardian report 23 April 2008
  24. ^ "Which came first, monumental building projects or farming?". Archaeo News. 14 December 2008. 
  25. ^ Taracha, Piotr (2009). Religions of second millennium Anatolia. Eisenbrauns. p. 12. ISBN 978-3-447-05885-8. 
  26. ^ Schmidt 2010, pp. 242—243, 249.
  27. ^ Heun et al., Site of Einkorn Wheat Domestication Identified by DNA Fingerprinting, Science, 278 (1997) 1312–14.
  28. ^ Klaus-Dieter Linsmeier: Eine Revolution im großen Stil. Interview mit Klaus Schmidt. In: Abenteuer Archäologie. Kulturen, Menschen, Monumente. Spektrum der Wissenschaft, Heidelberg 2006, 2, ISSN 1612-9954
  29. ^ Schmidt 2006, pp. 216–221
  30. ^ Schmidt 2006, pp. 193–4; 218.
  31. ^ Peters & Schmidt 2004, p. 209
  32. ^ K. Schmidt 2000: “Zuerst kam der Tempel, dann die Stadt.”
  33. ^ Peters & Schmidt 2004: pp. 209–212
  34. ^ Banning 2011
  35. ^ Mann, June 2011, p. 48
  36. ^ K. Schmidt in Schmidt (ed.) 2009, p. 188.
  37. ^ "GHF - Göbekli Tepe - Turkey", globalheritagefund.org, web: GHF2.


External links


gobekli tepe

  • By Andrew Curry
  • Photographs by Berthold Steinhilber
  • Smithsonian magazine, November 2008

    Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/gobekli-tepe.html#ixzz2UPIYRrDt
  • Six miles from Urfa, an ancient city in southeastern Turkey, Klaus Schmidt has made one of the most startling archaeological discoveries of our time: massive carved stones about 11,000 years old, crafted and arranged by prehistoric people who had not yet developed metal tools or even pottery. The megaliths predate Stonehenge by some 6,000 years. The place is called Gobekli Tepe, and Schmidt, a German archaeologist who has been working here more than a decade, is convinced it's the site of the world's oldest temple.

    "Guten Morgen," he says at 5:20 a.m. when his van picks me up at my hotel in Urfa. Thirty minutes later, the van reaches the foot of a grassy hill and parks next to strands of barbed wire. We follow a knot of workmen up the hill to rectangular pits shaded by a corrugated steel roof—the main excavation site. In the pits, standing stones, or pillars, are arranged in circles. Beyond, on the hillside, are four other rings of partially excavated pillars. Each ring has a roughly similar layout: in the center are two large stone T-shaped pillars encircled by slightly smaller stones facing inward. The tallest pillars tower 16 feet and, Schmidt says, weigh between seven and ten tons. As we walk among them, I see that some are blank, while others are elaborately carved: foxes, lions, scorpions and vultures abound, twisting and crawling on the pillars' broad sides.

    Schmidt points to the great stone rings, one of them 65 feet across. "This is the first human-built holy place," he says.

    From this perch 1,000 feet above the valley, we can see to the horizon in nearly every direction. Schmidt, 53, asks me to imagine what the landscape would have looked like 11,000 years ago, before centuries of intensive farming and settlement turned it into the nearly featureless brown expanse it is today.

    Prehistoric people would have gazed upon herds of gazelle and other wild animals; gently flowing rivers, which attracted migrating geese and ducks; fruit and nut trees; and rippling fields of wild barley and wild wheat varieties such as emmer and einkorn. "This area was like a paradise," says Schmidt, a member of the German Archaeological Institute. Indeed, Gobekli Tepe sits at the northern edge of the Fertile Crescent—an arc of mild climate and arable land from the Persian Gulf to present-day Lebanon, Israel, Jordan and Egypt—and would have attracted hunter-gatherers from Africa and the Levant. And partly because Schmidt has found no evidence that people permanently resided on the summit of Gobekli Tepe itself, he believes this was a place of worship on an unprecedented scale—humanity's first "cathedral on a hill."

    With the sun higher in the sky, Schmidt ties a white scarf around his balding head, turban-style, and deftly picks his way down the hill among the relics. In rapid-fire German he explains that he has mapped the entire summit using ground-penetrating radar and geomagnetic surveys, charting where at least 16 other megalith rings remain buried across 22 acres. The one-acre excavation covers less than 5 percent of the site. He says archaeologists could dig here for another 50 years and barely scratch the surface.

    Gobekli Tepe was first examined—and dismissed—by University of Chicago and Istanbul University anthropologists in the 1960s. As part of a sweeping survey of the region, they visited the hill, saw some broken slabs of limestone and assumed the mound was nothing more than an abandoned medieval cemetery. In 1994, Schmidt was working on his own survey of prehistoric sites in the region. After reading a brief mention of the stone-littered hilltop in the University of Chicago researchers' report, he decided to go there himself. From the moment he first saw it, he knew the place was extraordinary.

    Unlike the stark plateaus nearby, Gobekli Tepe (the name means "belly hill" in Turkish) has a gently rounded top that rises 50 feet above the surrounding landscape. To Schmidt's eye, the shape stood out. "Only man could have created something like this," he says. "It was clear right away this was a gigantic Stone Age site." The broken pieces of limestone that earlier surveyors had mistaken for gravestones suddenly took on a different meaning.


    Schmidt returned a year later with five colleagues and they uncovered the first megaliths, a few buried so close to the surface they were scarred by plows. As the archaeologists dug deeper, they unearthed pillars arranged in circles. Schmidt's team, however, found none of the telltale signs of a settlement: no cooking hearths, houses or trash pits, and none of the clay fertility figurines that litter nearby sites of about the same age. The archaeologists did find evidence of tool use, including stone hammers and blades. And because those artifacts closely resemble others from nearby sites previously carbon-dated to about 9000 B.C., Schmidt and co-workers estimate that Gobekli Tepe's stone structures are the same age. Limited carbon dating undertaken by Schmidt at the site confirms this assessment.

    The way Schmidt sees it, Gobekli Tepe's sloping, rocky ground is a stonecutter's dream. Even without metal chisels or hammers, prehistoric masons wielding flint tools could have chipped away at softer limestone outcrops, shaping them into pillars on the spot before carrying them a few hundred yards to the summit and lifting them upright. Then, Schmidt says, once the stone rings were finished, the ancient builders covered them over with dirt. Eventually, they placed another ring nearby or on top of the old one. Over centuries, these layers created the hilltop.

    Today, Schmidt oversees a team of more than a dozen German archaeologists, 50 local laborers and a steady stream of enthusiastic students. He typically excavates at the site for two months in the spring and two in the fall. (Summer temperatures reach 115 degrees, too hot to dig; in the winter the area is deluged by rain.) In 1995, he bought a traditional Ottoman house with a courtyard in Urfa, a city of nearly a half-million people, to use as a base of operations.


    On the day I visit, a bespectacled Belgian man sits at one end of a long table in front of a pile of bones. Joris Peters, an archaeozoologist from the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, specializes in the analysis of animal remains. Since 1998, he has examined more than 100,000 bone fragments from Gobekli Tepe. Peters has often found cut marks and splintered edges on them—signs that the animals from which they came were butchered and cooked. The bones, stored in dozens of plastic crates stacked in a storeroom at the house, are the best clue to how people who created Gobekli Tepe lived. Peters has identified tens of thousands of gazelle bones, which make up more than 60 percent of the total, plus those of other wild game such as boar, sheep and red deer. He's also found bones of a dozen different bird species, including vultures, cranes, ducks and geese. "The first year, we went through 15,000 pieces of animal bone, all of them wild. It was pretty clear we were dealing with a hunter-gatherer site," Peters says. "It's been the same every year since." The abundant remnants of wild game indicate that the people who lived here had not yet domesticated animals or farmed.


    But, Peters and Schmidt say, Gobekli Tepe's builders were on the verge of a major change in how they lived, thanks to an environment that held the raw materials for farming. "They had wild sheep, wild grains that could be domesticated—and the people with the potential to do it," Schmidt says. In fact, research at other sites in the region has shown that within 1,000 years of Gobekli Tepe's construction, settlers had corralled sheep, cattle and pigs. And, at a prehistoric village just 20 miles away, geneticists found evidence of the world's oldest domesticated strains of wheat; radiocarbon dating indicates agriculture developed there around 10,500 years ago, or just five centuries after Gobekli Tepe's construction.


    To Schmidt and others, these new findings suggest a novel theory of civilization. Scholars have long believed that only after people learned to farm and live in settled communities did they have the time, organization and resources to construct temples and support complicated social structures. But Schmidt argues it was the other way around: the extensive, coordinated effort to build the monoliths literally laid the groundwork for the development of complex societies.

    The immensity of the undertaking at Gobekli Tepe reinforces that view. Schmidt says the monuments could not have been built by ragged bands of hunter-gatherers. To carve, erect and bury rings of seven-ton stone pillars would have required hundreds of workers, all needing to be fed and housed. Hence the eventual emergence of settled communities in the area around 10,000 years ago. "This shows sociocultural changes come first, agriculture comes later," says Stanford University archaeologist Ian Hodder, who excavated Catalhoyuk, a prehistoric settlement 300 miles from Gobekli Tepe. "You can make a good case this area is the real origin of complex Neolithic societies."


    What was so important to these early people that they gathered to build (and bury) the stone rings? The gulf that separates us from Gobekli Tepe's builders is almost unimaginable. Indeed, though I stood among the looming megaliths eager to take in their meaning, they didn't speak to me. They were utterly foreign, placed there by people who saw the world in a way I will never comprehend. There are no sources to explain what the symbols might mean. Schmidt agrees. "We're 6,000 years before the invention of writing here," he says.


    "There's more time between Gobekli Tepe and the Sumerian clay tablets [etched in 3300 B.C.] than from Sumer to today," says Gary Rollefson, an archaeologist at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, who is familiar with Schmidt's work. "Trying to pick out symbolism from prehistoric context is an exercise in futility."


    Still, archaeologists have their theories—evidence, perhaps, of the irresistible human urge to explain the unexplainable. The surprising lack of evidence that people lived right there, researchers say, argues against its use as a settlement or even a place where, for instance, clan leaders gathered. Hodder is fascinated that Gobekli Tepe's pillar carvings are dominated not by edible prey like deer and cattle but by menacing creatures such as lions, spiders, snakes and scorpions. "It's a scary, fantastic world of nasty-looking beasts," he muses. While later cultures were more concerned with farming and fertility, he suggests, perhaps these hunters were trying to master their fears by building this complex, which is a good distance from where they lived.


    Danielle Stordeur, an archaeologist at the National Center for Scientific Research in France, emphasizes the significance of the vulture carvings. Some cultures have long believed the high-flying carrion birds transported the flesh of the dead up to the heavens. Stordeur has found similar symbols at sites from the same era as Gobekli Tepe just 50 miles away in Syria. "You can really see it's the same culture," she says. "All the most important symbols are the same."


    For his part, Schmidt is certain the secret is right beneath his feet. Over the years, his team has found fragments of human bone in the layers of dirt that filled the complex. Deep test pits have shown that the floors of the rings are made of hardened limestone. Schmidt is betting that beneath the floors he'll find the structures' true purpose: a final resting place for a society of hunters.


    Perhaps, Schmidt says, the site was a burial ground or the center of a death cult, the dead laid out on the hillside among the stylized gods and spirits of the afterlife. If so, Gobekli Tepe's location was no accident. "From here the dead are looking out at the ideal view," Schmidt says as the sun casts long shadows over the half-buried pillars. "They're looking out over a hunter's dream."


    gobekli tepe


    Andrew Curry, who is based in Berlin, wrote the July cover story about Vikings.

    Berthold Steinhilber's hauntingly lighted award-winning photograhs of American ghost towns appeared in Smithsonian in May 2001.

    Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/gobekli-tepe.html#ixzz2UPKrXHyu
    Follow us: @SmithsonianMag on Twitter


    Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/gobekli-tepe.html#ixzz2UPKYgDR3
    Follow us: @SmithsonianMag on Twitter




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