Göbekli Tepe is a Neolithic site in Şanlıurfa, Turkey. Dated between 9600- 8200 BC, it is the oldest known temple in the world. The excavation of the site was conducted by German archeologist Klaus Schmidt between 1996 and 2014.
During excavations, Schmidt discovered more than 20 circular stone enclosures. The largest one was 20m across with two 5.5m tall pillars weighing up to 10 tons at its center. The stone pillars had carvings of stylized human figures with folded hands on them. The structures were at least 11,000 years old which makes them the oldest known monumental structures in the world.
The actual size of T pillars from enclosure D at Gobekli Tepe.
Several pieces of evidence including the stone tools found at the site showed that the circular structures had been built by hunter-gatherers. As the technology of the period was limited in terms of transportation, Schmidt thought that the hunter-gatherers carved these T-shaped pillars from the limestone (a relatively softer stone that could be carved with flint or wooden tools) layers of the hill’s bedrock. After a pillar was carved out, it was transported a few hundred meters across the hilltop, using rope, log beams, and manpower.
According to Schmidt, Göbekli Tepe (Turkish for “Belly Hill”) could help understand the reason humans started farming and adopted a settled life.
There was no evidence of domesticated grains on the site. The animal bones which were thousands in number also belonged to wild species. For this reason, Schmidt thought the site was a cult complex rather than a settlement. He thought that small nomadic groups from across the region would temporarily gather on the hilltop for periodic building projects and holding feasts.
Göbekli Tepe rewrites the history of civilization.
Before the discovery of Göbekli Tepe, archaeologists had thought that organized religion was a luxury that developed only after the domestication of crops and animals, a transition period known as the Neolithic. However, Gobekli Tepe turned this claim upside down. According to the radiocarbon dating, the stone tools at the site belong to the pre-Neolithic era. That is, the complex ritual and organized religion actually came before settlement and agriculture.
Under the direction of Schmidt’s successor, Lee Clare, a team dug numerous “keyhole” trenches down to the site’s bedrock. What the team found also changed a great deal about previous speculations on the site. They revealed evidence of year-round settlement, suggesting that Gobekli Tepe was more of a village than an isolated temple.
The team also found a large cistern for collecting rainwater for supporting a settlement on the dry mountain top as well as thousands of grinding tools to process grain for cooking porridge and brewing beer.