Gobekli Tepe: Oldest Monumental Architecture of Planet

Predating Stonehenge by 6,000 years, Turkey’s stunning Gobekli Tepe upends the conventional view of the rise of civilization. Located 35 miles north of Turkey’s border with Syria, Gobekli Tepe consists of 20 T-shaped stone towers, carved with drawings of snakes, scorpions, lions, boars, foxes and other animals. The amazing thing about them is they date back to 9,500 BC, 5,500 years before the first cities of Mesopotamia and 7,000 years before the circle of Stonehenge.

Scientists say that back then humans hadn’t even discovered pottery or domesticated wheat. They lived in villages, had no agriculture and only relied on hunting and gathering to survive.

Göbekli Tepe had already been located in a survey in 1964, when the American archaeologist Peter Benedict mentioned the site as a possible location of stone age activity, but its importance was not recognized at that time. Excavations have been conducted since 1994 by the German Archaeological Institute (Istanbul branch) and Sanliurfa Museum, under the direction of the German archaeologist Klaus Schmidt from the University of Heidelberg. We now know that Gobekli Tepe is 7,000 years older than Stonehenge, making more than a site of stone age activity as Benedict characterized it.

Gobekli Tepe changes everything archaeologists discovered so far and it is considered the most important archaeological find in recent history. Klaus Schmidt, the man who first discovered Gobekli Tepe says the carvings might be the first human representation of gods.

Gobekli Tepe Carving

At nearly 12,000 years old, Gobekli Tepe is an enigma to archaeology. Consisting of a series of stone circles, made up of T-shaped pillars bearing exquisite carvings of animals, birds, insects and abstract human figures, this ritual complex was constructed at the end of the last Ice Age by unknown peoples, who rose far beyond the conventional understanding of the hunter-gatherers who occupied the Eurasian continent at this time. Why were these amazing stone circles buried overnight, sometime around 10,000 year ago? It is an enigma that seems to start in Africa some 17,000 years ago, and ends with not only the creation of civilization down in the fertile crescent of Mesopotamia, but also in the sudden emergence of the ancient Egyptian civilization, where the story continues with the discovery in 2008 of a cave underworld beneath the plateau at Giza. Powerful evidence suggests that this underground complex existed ever before even the Pyramid Age, and might well reflect an African origin to the roots of ancient Egyptian religion. It might also hold the key to answering claims that in the vicinity of the Sphinx is a lost Hall of Records.

Gobekli Tepe Carving

The unexplained 12,000 year old underground city, in southeastern Turkey, is made of massive carved stones, crafted and arranged by prehistoric people who apparently had not yet developed metal tools or even pottery. Göbekli Tepe (Turkish for “Potbelly hill”) is a hilltop sanctuary erected on the highest point of an elongated mountain ridge.

Gobekli Tepe Site Reconstruction

Until excavations began, a complex on this scale was not thought possible for such an ancient community so ancient. The massive sequence of stratification layers suggests several millennia of activity, perhaps reaching back to the Mesolithic Period. The oldest occupation layer (stratum III) contains monolithic pillars linked by coarsely built walls to form circular or oval structures. Göbekli Tepe has revealed several adjacent rectangular rooms with floors of polished lime, reminiscent of Roman terrazzo floors.

So, the structures 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 BC. But the construction of Göbekli Tepe implies organization of an order of complexity not formerly associated with Paleolithic societies.

At present, Göbekli Tepe raises more questions for archaeology and prehistory than it answers. We don’t know how a force large enough to construct, augment, and maintain such a substantial complex was mobilized and paid or fed in the conditions of pre-Neolithic society. We can’t “read” the pictograms, and don’t know for certain what meaning the animal carvings had for visitors to the site. The variety of fauna depicted, from lions and boars to birds and insects, makes any single explanation problematic.

The reason the complex was eventually buried remains unexplained. Until more evidence is gathered, it’s difficult to come to any concrete theories about the originating culture.

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2 comments on “Gobekli Tepe: Oldest Monumental Architecture of Planet

  1. Brendan says:

    Excellent survey of the find and its implications.

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