2019 year of Gobekli Tepe:
Tepe is a recently discovered historical sight in northern Anatolia in
southeastern Turkey, located in the region of Sanliurfa. The significance of
the site is many fold, however mainly attributable to its antiquity; and has
led to 2019 being called the 'year of Gobekli Tepe' by president Erdogan, due
to the world-changing significance of such an ancient site. Radiocarbon dating
of uncovered artefacts from Gobekli Tepe has placed the site at approximately
11,600 years of age (or around 9,500 BC), with still the vast majority deep
underground still a lot if yet to be discovered. This makes it around 7,000
years older than Stonehenge, a monument of similar megalithic proportions that
previously set the bar for age and scale of such ruins. On the historical
timeline, this era exists right at the beginning of the Pre Neolithic period-
which is the beginning of agriculture for the human race. Gobekli Tepe was
first recognized by UNESCO’s world heritage site in 2017, and in 2018 was moved
up to the main list, and is Turkey’s current most important touristic
attraction given the gravity of the findings unearthed there. In expectation of
a large tourist influx, development around the site has boomed. Last year there
was an average of 5,000,000 daily visitors and 1,000,000 visitors that stayed
for more than 1 day in the area. By and large, the purpose and means by
which the huge project was constructed are still unknown, and the
archaeological team formerly lead by german professor Klaus Schmidt who managed
the site since its discovery in 1995 up until his death in 2014 managed to
unearth many pieces of the puzzle using the latest in geomagnetic, geo sensing
and radiocarbon dating equipment. Gobekli Tepe challenges the mainstream model and is what could turn out to be the biggest discovery of the decade, if not
the century. Whether this is simply an instance of a lost civilization,
misunderstood hunter-gatherers, or even a missing piece of history is yet to be
established. One of the controversial aspects regarding the debate of the site
is that of the motivation of the people who built it. Was it a place of
congregation? If so, what was the purpose? A project of this scale leaves for a
lot to be desired and a huge amount of interest for what still remains to be
discovered as the current understandings of adaptation 11,500 years ago do not
adequately fit the bill. We do however know a lot contextual information that
could help solve the mystery, or possibly cause more controversy, such as the
time and place coinciding with the end of the Ice age (called the Younger
Dryas), as well as the very beginning of Agriculture.
Geography, Implications of findings
Situated in the Germush mountains at relatively high altitudes between the ancient Mesopotamian rivers of the Tigris and Euphrates, in the foothills of the Taurus mountains, Gobekli Tepe gets its name from the unique characteristic of an artificial mound atop a natural limestone plateau giving it its distinct shape which first caught the eye of Professor Schmidt. The dig-site consists of 3 levels in-depth, the oldest and deepest pertaining to circular or oval enclaves, built of an average of 10-12 T-shaped pillar stones, surrounding the common characteristic of 2 larger free-standing central columns also called megaliths, which are intricately decorated and carved out of huge limestone blocks. The surrounding pillars as well as the central megalithic pillars, intriguingly are all T-shaped, with carvings depicting arms and fingers on flat-reliefs, making them human-like. The pillars get their T-shape from huge headstones (with small indents for eyes), weighing up to 15 tons which sit atop the pillars underneath them which weigh twice or even up to four times as heavy (up to 60 tons). The constructs are thought to be depicting highly stylized but human-like, supernatural beings that Klaus Schmidt has described to be taking the shape of humans; in other words the first religious monuments. The symbolism of these T-shaped pillars represents the oldest statues ever found. The site is thought to be a size of 12 hectares, with the current dimensions of the dig site being of 300 by 300 meter ( which is estimated to be just 5-10% of the total size). With an expected 50 years left of excavation left to unearth the entire site, many mysteries are left to be uncovered. The region plays an important role in deciphering the cultural significance and meaning of such a discovery for the global community, as neighbouring archaeological sites such as Catalhoyuk in southern Anatolia (7500 BC to 5700 BC) pertained to a similar architectural style (albeit much younger). Comparable properties include Jerf el Ahmar (in modern-day Egypt), Nevali Cori (also situated in Sanliurfa province and famous for monumental sculptures) and Cayonu (Neolithic settlement in southeastern Turkey inhabited between 7200 BC to 6600 BC) none of which rival Gobekli Tepe in size and scale.
A Shocking and Groundbreaking discovery
The controversial debate stems from the belief that at this point in time for evolution, Homo Sapiens were not yet capable of the division of labour, and societal organization necessary for the task. The question is are the historic definitions of evolution not giving the people of that time the credit they deserve? Perhaps they had the ability to produce monumental constructs way before we believed they could, and this means they had the technologies, tools and techniques necessary to do so. Ground-penetrating radar has mapped hundreds of megalithic pillars still underground, that makes progress thus far just the tip of the iceberg. This could be the largest megalithic site ever created on Earth! And yet we still do not know the answers to the big questions such as ‘Why?’ and ‘How?’. The established norm before this astounding discovery was that megalithic structures existed no later than 5-6 thousand years ago, in places like the Easter Islands, Malta and the Stonehenge which previously held the record. Gobekli Tepe sets the bar when it appears suddenly over 6,000 years older than all of the above and dwarfs them in size, creating a huge amount of interest, quite understandably. The two outstanding theories are; one that our understanding of hunter-gatherers is wrong, or two, and this is the more interesting one, that there is an entirely new civilization that is emerging that we had no idea about. One proposed explanation goes that since the ability to build monumental megalithic structures and agriculture couldn’t coincidently occur simultaneously, rather there was an exchange of technology from a third party, a force of knowledge that mobilized information and passed it on. There are many ongoing hypotheses yet to be disproven, including that it could be the location of the garden of Eden referred to in the Bible. There even exists a mainstream theory that proclaims this could even be the work of extraterrestrial beings or aliens! In any case, all the evidence is pointing towards this being the very beginning of the inquiry, as similar T-shaped pillars are popping up all over Turkey from farmers backyards to remote arid plains, and seem to be connected somehow to each other. Only time will tell the answer to these mysteries, as the research teams at Gobekli Tepe piece the evidence together.
Potentially the birthplace of Innovation
Moreover, there are numerous intriguing revelations that have already come up from the work of Klaus Schmidt and his team. Some of these include interesting astronomical alignments, stone circles, the world's first north-south aligned buildings, and the first site of worship impressive reputation. An important aspect of Gobekli Tepe is the meaning derived from the implied cultural, social and communal integrity that was required to erect such monumental architecture. This, says Schmidt, has far-reaching consequences into the development of the human brain, in particular in relation to its size. As we transitioned from a hunter-gatherer subsistence way of life to a farming or agricultural way of life, (through a scientific term for becoming food-producers called Neolithisation) our brains and social patterns had to adapt in tandem. Due to the complexity and effort of organized social behaviour, our brains evolved to maintain the capabilities to function in hierarchical and structured societies that function on the basic principle of shared beliefs and accepted norms. Additionally, Klaus Schmidt adamantly believes the site was deliberately backfilled or buried, making the mound-shaped distinctive hill of the site that gives it its Turkish name of “Hill with a belly” or “belly hill”. He called it the ‘Center of Innovation’ of the Fertile Crescent. Being an area of high biodiversity, the ancient land must have been full of natural competition from competing tribes, and full of dangerous predators which are also richly depicted on the monolithic pillars and walls. Schmidt referred to the site as the first evidence of consistent organized and unnecessary effort, in other words, effort not related to survival and pertaining more to the abstract realm of art and mythology. This is seen in the large array of up to 50 different animal species including notable significance attributed to dangerous predatory animals that are often depicted in aggressive stances. Some such animals include; panthers, arthropods (scorpions), large birds of prey (eagles, aurochs and condors), bears, wild boar and hyenas. Apart from animal symbology, portraits thought to contain mixed meanings can be found on some of the walls there, that in one instance showed a large bird devouring the sun, and in another a large bird eating a snake.
Interesting Astronomical Alignments
Furthermore, one theory goes that the site was not a place for living, but for worship, implying that people flocked to the location for specific predefined purposes (of as of yet unknown intention). The age of the construction aligns with the very beginning of agriculture, meaning that Gobekli Tepe was being constructed at the same time as hunter-gatherers were beginning to organize into communities and cultivate the first crops and harvests of grains such as wheat, Einkorn and ancient varieties of Barley which required significant knowledge of seasonal and temperature changes. Agriculture eventually spread out from this focal point to places like Catalhoyuk, Cayonu, and later further south into the Indus Valley and north into upper Mesopotamia. Just to give some temporal scale, agriculture first reached Europe 5000 years later. An interesting presentation was given at the first symposium of Gobekli Tepe by one professor B. H. Sidharth, an astrologist from the University of Delhi, makes a correlation between the ancient Vedic ideologies and understanding of the night sky. In effect, archaeologists believe Orion's belt was somehow in alignment with the central pillars of the circular enclaves (places of worship) which were purposefully aligned when they were built 11,500 years ago. Professor Sidharth thinks is no coincidence. The ancient civilization that lived there had acquired some knowledge of the night's sky, which seems to have been implemented in the architecture at the site. In particular what comes to question is the number of pillars used, twelve pillars in all the uncovered temples (40+ temples in total most of which are still underground), all in human-like, T-shaped reliefs, facing towards to larger T-shaped pillars which are aligned with Orion's belt. Professor Sidharth makes correlations between the number of pillars and the circumnavigation of our planet around the sun (our 12-month calendar), as well as the 12 zodiac symbols, all depicting constellations in the night sky, which must have been known to the ancient civilization. The ancient community also had a lot of Taurus depictions on their murals, a homage to the now-extinct species of Ox which was once twice to three times the size of the common day cow, and with the horns to match. One can imagine that back then, such a beast was a formidable opponent and could have easily earned its spot on their walls for worship as a symbol of strength and courage on the battlefield. Often depicted with a disc between the horns, symbolizing the sun, the Ox horn crashes in temples also appear in Catalhoyuk some 3,000 years later. What is most impressive is the timing between the end of the last ice age 13,000 years ago, and the appearance of Gobekli Tepe which pops up just around 500 years later, and somehow with the know-how and strength in numbers to build the oldest and largest-to-this-day megalithic construction. Perhaps the hunter-gatherers used the stars to navigate the night's sky and survive the Ice-age somehow, making it through with ancient knowledge that was put into practice in Gobekli Tepe.
The birthplace of religious belief
The area in which Gobekli Tepe is located is also called the 'Golden Triangle', a particularly bountiful subregion of the 'Fertile Crescent' of the Near East. As shown from natural history research done by paleobotanists, which had mapped the distribution of several wild plants that later had been domesticated. There is a common area where all these lands are existing of which Gobekli Tepe is situated at the centre of these distributions. The age of the site falls under the pre-pottery sub-period of the Neolithic (called the PPNA). The habitat, ecological conditions, and archaeological results are showing promising results that did not exist 20 years ago. Before the discovery of Gobekli Tepe, people were not thought capable of producing settlements as they were widely regarded as still being hunter-gatherers - unsophisticated caveman type people. However, the very scale of the site, with huge megalithic stone pillars, as well as dozens of temples and bee-hive like underground enclosures or storehouses, prove otherwise. Not only was the size and scale surprising, but the artistic inscriptions, sculptures, and complex multi-figure narratives depicted on many of the uncovered walls tell a story akin to religious worship, making it the birthplace of religious or even ideological congregation. Numerous fragments of animal bones, human skeletons, and obsidian shards have been found, also point to the possibility of large gatherings, possibly to host feasts or even burial grounds.
Discover this great piece of history!
We offer several day tours and package tours in the region of Southeastern Turkey in Sanliurfa. If you are thinking of visiting Gobekli Tepe or are in the South Eastern area of Turkey or Sanliurfa, have a look at some of our package or day tours which also cover the ancient cities Harran and Sogmatar, Halfeti and Rumkale as well as Gobekli Tepe and Sanliurfa City. Our tours allow you to enjoy the history of the region with professional guides that ensure you are brought up to speed on the latest and greatest of findings.