Source: Terra Antiqvae. Scroll down for English text.
The most important archaeological discovery of our time is only slowly seeping into mainstream awareness.Göbekli Tepe is a gently rounded mound rising 50ft above the surrounding landscape in south-eastern Turkey. Its name means ‘belly hill’ in Turkish.
This gigantic Stone Age site site is an artificial hill containing huge temple structures made of massive stone pillars arranged in circles, much of them elaborately carved with a menagerie of menacing creatures.
Each ring (the largest is 65ft across), has two large T-shaped pillars in the centre; the tallest so far found is 15ft high and weighs 7-10 tons. The site is reliably dated at around 10,000BC.
This makes it the oldest known large-scale human structure and ceremonial site, predating Stonehenge (3000-2000BC) and the building of the Pyramids (which reached its zenith at 2575-2150BC).
Abundant remains of the bones of wild animals (more than 60% gazelles) and no sign of domesticated animals or farming, confirms this site was built by hunter-gatherers.
Only 5% of the site has been excavated to date, by Dr Klaus Schmidt and his team over the last 18 years. They have uncovered or partially-uncovered five ring structures so far. Detailed scans of the 22-acre site reveal at least 16 others buried beneath the surface.
Revealing the full-scope of this extraordinary site may take another 50 years. Understanding why and how Göbekli Tepe was constructed may take even longer.
Göbekli Tepe is not only possibly “the first human-built holy place”, says Schmidt, but also “the real origin of complex Neolithic societies.”
The standard view is that it was only after humans had discovered agriculture and built settled communities that they then had the resources to support the building of temples and complex social structures.
Göbekli Tepe suggests that it was the process of building the temple,which would have required hundreds of workers, that led to settled communities in the surrounding area and the birth of agricultural practices.
Deeper still, believes Schmidt, lies the structure’s real purpose – it was the hunters’ final burial ground or the centre of a death cult.
The basic facts in this intro are drawn from two great magazine pieces which provide a excellent starting point.
Göbekli Tepe: The World’s First Temple? by Andrew Curry (Smithsonian magazine/Sept 2008)
Göbekli Tepe: The Birth of Religion by Charles C. Mann(National Geographic/June 2011). Short extracts from an article that sets GT in a much wider context.
‘Göbekli Tepe is the oldest known example of monumental architecture—the first structure human beings put together that was bigger and more complicated than a hut. When these pillars were erected, so far as we know, nothing of comparable scale existed in the world.’
‘Puzzle piled upon puzzle as the excavation continued. For reasons yet unknown, the rings at Göbekli Tepe seem to have regularly lost their power, or at least their charm. Every few decades people buried the pillars and put up new stones—a second, smaller ring, inside the first. Sometimes, later, they installed a third. Then the whole assemblage would be filled in with debris, and an entirely new circle created nearby. The site may have been built, filled in, and built again for centuries.
‘Bewilderingly, the people at Göbekli Tepe got steadily worse at temple building. The earliest rings are the biggest and most sophisticated, technically and artistically. As time went by, the pillars became smaller, simpler, and were mounted with less and less care. Finally the effort seems to have petered out altogether by 8200 B.C. Göbekli Tepe was all fall and no rise.’
‘In 10 or 15 years," Schmidt predicts, "Göbekli Tepe will be more famous than Stonehenge. And for good reason."
Portrait of Dr Schmidt. Source: Fortean Times
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Gobekli Tepe official site
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This post was triggered by talking with two friends of mine who have just spent a month travelling round Turkey visiting archaeological sites.