Although this History Channel video is a popular (and useful) rendition, the five part National Geographic documentary (referenced below) is narrated by a University of Birmingham archaeologist.
Following the five part National Geographic video is a 25 minute YouTube audio file by a German scholar speaking in a scholarly way.
At the bottom of this post is the Wikipedia entry for Göbekli Tepe.
The 1994 discovery of Göbekli Tepe is startling in that its 12,000 year pre-history is far more ancient than the foundation of Israel by Abraham no earlier than 2000 B.C. For additional perspective, consider that Moses was born around 1600 B.C. or c. 1400 B.C. (in the Land of Goshen) with the latter date now considered more accurate.
The Jewish Calendar puts the age of the world -- indeed The Universe -- at 5773 years.
The earliest Egyptian pyramid (of a total number of 138 Egyptian pyramids) was built between2630 B.C.–2611 B.C.
The upshot of this prehistoric review is realization that Göbekli Tepe is more than twice as old as the oldest pyramids and was built when the world was emerging from the last ice age.
Lost Civilization: Gobekli Tepe
Engendered 12,000 years ago
5 Part National Geographic Study
Published on Feb 22, 2013
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.
Thetellhas a height of 15 m (49 ft) and is
about 300 m (984 ft) in diameter. It is approximately 760 m
(2,493 ft)above sea level.
It was first noted in asurveyconducted byIstanbul Universityand theUniversity of Chicagoin 1964. The survey recognized that the rise could not
entirely be a natural feature, but postulated that aByzantinecemetery lay beneath. The survey noted a large number offlintsand the presence oflimestoneslabs thought to begrave 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.
Klaus Schmidt, chief archaeologist of Göbekli
Tepe, is of the view that religion and the mobilization of labor behind the
building of religious centers like Göbekli Tepe were the chief factors driving
the development of civilization and the transition from thePaleolithicto the Neolithic ages.
Schmidt, now of theDeutsches 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.The following year (1995) he began excavating
there in collaboration with the Şanlıurfa Museum. T-shaped pillars were soon
discovered. Some had apparently been subjected to attempts at smashing,
probably by farmers who mistook them for ordinary large rocks.
Schmidt's view, shared by most experts, is
that Göbekli Tepe is a stone-age mountain sanctuary.Radiocarbon datingas well as comparative, stylistic analysis indicate that
it is the oldest religious site found to date.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
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 frompedogeniccarbonatecoatings on pillars and only indicate a time after the
site was abandoned—theterminus ante quem.
At this early stage of the site's history
circular compounds ortemenoifirst 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.
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.Many of the pillars are decorated withabstract,
enigmaticpictogramsandcarvedanimalreliefs. The pictograms may represent commonly
understood sacred symbols, as known fromNeolithiccave paintingselsewhere. 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 Bowlconditions prevalent today.)Vultures also feature prominently in the
iconography ofÇatalhöyükandJericho; it is
believed that in the early Neolithic culture ofAnatoliaand theNear Eastthe deceased were deliberately exposed in
order to beexcarnatedby vultures and other carrion birds. (The
head of the deceased was sometimes removed and preserved—possibly a sign ofancestor worship.)This, then, would represent an early form ofsky burial, as
still practiced by TibetanBuddhistsand byZoroastriansin Iran and India.
Pillar 27 from Enclosure C (Layer III) with the sculpture of a predatory
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.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 division of labor again surprising in a
hunter-gatherer society. (Pillar 27, Enclosure 2, Layer III).
Some of the floors in this, the oldest layer,
are made ofterrazzo(burnt lime), others are bedrock from which pedestals to
hold the large pair of central pillars were carved in high relief.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.
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.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.Layer II is assigned toPre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB). The several adjoining
rectangular, door- and windowless rooms have floors of polished lime
reminiscent ofRomanterrazzofloors. Carbon dating has yielded dates between 8800 and
8000 BC.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.Here too is found aVenus accueillantefigure 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".
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.
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.In addition toByblospoints (weapon heads, i.e. arrowheads etc.)
and numerousNemrikpoints,Helwan-points andAswad-points
dominate the backfill's lithic inventory.
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).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 beenhunters and gathererswho nevertheless lived in villages for at least part of
the year.So far, very little evidence forresidentialuse has been found. Through theradiocarbonmethod, 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
the invention ofwritingor thewheel; they were built before the so-calledNeolithic Revolution,
i.e., the beginning ofagricultureandanimal husbandryaround 9000 BCE. But the construction of Göbekli Tepe
implies organization of an advanced order not hitherto associated withPaleolithic,PPNA, orPPNBsocieties. Archaeologists estimate that up to 500 persons
were required to extract the heavy pillars from localquarriesand move them 100–500 meters
(330–1,640 ft) to the site.The pillars weigh 10–20 metric tons (10–20long tons; 11–22short tons),
with one still in the quarry weighing 50 tons.It is generally believed that an elite class
of religious leaders supervised the work and later controlled whatever ceremonies
took place. If so, this would be the oldest known evidence for a priestly
caste—much earlier than such social distinctions developed elsewhere in the
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.Why the enclosures were buried is unknown,
but it preserved them for posterity.
Schmidt considers Göbekli Tepe a central
location for acult 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.Schmidt also interprets it in connection with
the initial stages of an incipientNeolithic.
It is one of several sites in the vicinity ofKaraca Dağ, an
may have been the original source of at least some of our cultivated grains
DNA analysis of modern domesticated wheat compared with wild wheat has shown
that its DNA is closest in sequence to wild wheat found onMount Karaca Dağ20 miles (32 km) away from the site, suggesting that
this is where modern wheat was first domesticated.Such scholars suggest that theNeolithic 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). Wildcerealsmay have
been used for sustenance more intensively than before and were perhaps
deliberatelycultivated. 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"
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 assumesshamanicpractices and suggests that the T-shaped pillars may
represent mythical creatures, perhapsancestors,
whereas he sees a fully articulated belief in gods only developing later inMesopotamia,
associated with extensivetemplesandpalaces. This corresponds well with an ancientSumerianbelief that agriculture, animal husbandry,
and weaving were brought to mankind from the sacred mountainDu-Ku, which was inhabited byAnnunadeities, very ancient gods without individual
names. Schmidt identifies this story as a primeval oriental myth that preserves
a partial memory of the emerging Neolithic.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.
Göbekli Tepe is regarded as an archaeological
discovery of the greatest importance since it could profoundly change the
understanding of a crucial stage in the development of human society. Ian
Hodder of Stanford University said, "Göbekli Tepe changes everything".And David Lewis-Williams, professor of
archaeology at Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg, has said,
"Göbekli Tepe is the most important archaeological site in the world."It shows that the erection of monumental
complexes was within the capacities ofhunter-gatherersand not only of sedentary farming communities as had been
previously assumed. As excavator Klaus Schmidt puts it, "First came the
temple, then the city."
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 theGerman Archaeological
Instituteand submerged by theAtatürk Damsince 1992, is 500 years later; its T-shaped pillars are
considerably smaller, and its shrine was located inside a village. The roughly
contemporary architecture atJerichois devoid of artistic merit or large-scale sculpture, andÇatalhöyük, perhaps the most famous Anatolian
Neolithic village, is 2,000 years younger.
At present, though, Göbekli Tepe raises more
questions forarchaeologyandprehistorythan it answers. It remains unknown 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. Scholars 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 is 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.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."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.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.
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 secureUNESCO World Heritage Sitedesignation for GT.