By Alton Parrish.
Gobekli Tepe, the world’s oldest known temple, dating back more than 10,000 years is located near the ancient city of Şanlıurfa.
Göbekli Tepe 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 includes massive stones carved about 11,000 years ago by people who had not yet developed metal tools or even pottery
Overview of the Gobekli Tepe archaeological site.
The history of Şanlıurfa is recorded from the 4th century BC, but may date back to 9000 BC, when there is ample evidence for the surrounding sites at Duru, Harran and Nevali Cori. It was one of several cities in the Euphrates-Tigris basin, the cradle of the Mesopotamian civilization. According to Turkish Muslim traditions Urfa (its name since Byzantine days) is the biblical city of Ur of the Chaldees, due to its proximity to the biblical village of Harran. However, based on historical and archaeological evidence, the city of Ur is today generally known to have been in southern Iraq, and the true birthplace of Abraham is still in question. Urfa is also known as the birthplace of Job.
Location of Gobekli Tepe and Urfa
The tell has 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 a survey conducted by Istanbul University and the University of Chicago in 1964. The survey 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.
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 the Paleolithic to the Neolithic ages
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. 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.
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. Schmidt believes that what he calls this “cathedral on a hill” was a pilgrimage destination attracting worshipers up to 100 miles (160 km) distant.
A carving of a lion and a boar on the stele at Gobekli Tepe.
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
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”.
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 of hunter-gatherers and 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.
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.
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 Gobekli Tepe.
One theory about Gobekli Tepe is the nearby holes were part of a scenario where statues were placed in the larger holes and small fires were lit in the small holes.”