"Now seen as early evidence of prehistoric worship, the hilltop site was previously shunned by researchers as nothing more than a medieval cemetery." Göbekli Tepe in November 2008. Image Source: Berthold Steinhilber via The Smithsonian.
In recent years, startling archaeological discoveries have indicated that human civilization is millennia older than we have long thought it is. Case in point: Göbekli Tepe, a Neolithic santuary perched atop a hill in southeastern Anatolia in Turkey. This sacred place, with its megaliths and strange animal carvings, is 6,000 years older than Stonehenge. That makes Göbekli Tepe 11,000 to 12,000 years old. Wiki: "The site was most likely erected by hunter-gatherers in the 10th millennium BC and has been under excavation since 1994 by German and Turkish archaeologists. Together with Nevalı Çori, it has revolutionized understanding of the Eurasian Neolithic." It is considered by scholars to be one of the most, if not the most, important archaeological site in the world.
Göbekli Tepe comprises twenty round structures - stone circles made up of edifices weighing dozens of tonnes - which took enormous effort to build. Then, strangely, the entire complex was buried by local people 2,000 years after it was constructed, around 8,000 BCE. This is somewhat equivalent to ancient Egyptians burying the pyramids. That act adds to the questions and a dark mystery surrounding the site's purpose. Why cover up something so spiritually significant? To our mindset, it would suggest the site was cursed; some have linked it to the Garden of Eden and Cain and Abel stories in the bible. Its lead archaeologist has called Göbekli Tepe not the 'Garden of Eden,' but the 'Temple of Eden.' One theory suggests that the burial reflected a great conflict between the dying hunter-gatherer society and a rising agricultural society, indicated by evidence of mass human sacrifices in the nearby Stone Age village of Caynou. If the place was cursed, what does it mean that it is now being unearthed around the turn of the Millennium?
Only four of the site's monolithic circles have been excavated. The German archaeologist who has worked the site since the mid-1990s is Klaus Schmidt of the German Archaeological Institute (Deutsches Archäologisches Institut); he believes these structures constituted the world's oldest known, and possibly first, temple. He calls it, "the first human-built holy place." He bases this conclusion on the fact that there is no evidence that people lived at the site, even though it looked over what was once a fertile valley:
In other words, Schmidt hypothesizes that religious worship came before agriculture in the development of civilization. It was worship that impelled people to settle in order to build holy sites. And out of that settlement came domesticated animals and agriculture, the need to have captive and controlled sources of food. Thus, Stone Age peoples did not foresake hunting and gathering simply in order to settle down. They did so for a greater goal of appealing to their gods, of giving deities physical form and building a place where spirits could live, and be visited by passing hunter-gatherer bands.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."
Schmidt says the monuments could not have been built by ragged bands of hunter-gatherers. To carve, erect and bury rings of seven-ton stone pillars would have required hundreds of workers, all needing to be fed and housed. Hence the eventual emergence of settled communities in the area around 10,000 years ago. "This shows sociocultural changes come first, agriculture comes later," says Stanford University archaeologist Ian Hodder, who excavated Catalhoyuk, a prehistoric settlement 300 miles from Gobekli Tepe. "You can make a good case this area is the real origin of complex Neolithic societies."
What was so important to these early people that they gathered to build (and bury) the stone rings? The gulf that separates us from Gobekli Tepe's builders is almost unimaginable. ... The [standing stones are] utterly foreign, placed there by people who saw the world in a way ... [we] will never comprehend. There are no sources to explain what the symbols might mean[, according to] Schmidt ... . "We're 6,000 years before the invention of writing here," he says.
The carved beasts in this complex are not the ones associated with farming, but rather frightening creatures: lions, boars, spiders, vultures, snakes and scorpions. Perhaps it was a location where prehistoric peoples could conquer their fears. It might be a burial mound for as-yet-undiscovered warriors, or the centre for a death cult.
This interpretation means that Göbekli Tepe was a spiritual waystation, a holy pit stop on a nomadic circuit. It is as startling a vision of the deep past as it is revolutionary. It means that prehistoric human worship, the need to capture the unknown, may be the oldest of higher human impulses. That impulse may even predate spoken language, let alone written language, by several millennia.
"According to archaeologist Klaus Schmidt, 'this is the first human-built holy place.'" Göbekli Tepe in November 2008. Image Source: Berthold Steinhilber via The Smithsonian.
Because this is a civilized, non-settled Stone Age site which predates the invention of agriculture and writing (normally taken as the civilization's starting points), Göbekli Tepe is a magnet for Millennial mythology-mongers and conspiracy theorists.
Göbekli Tepe particularly lends itself to the Millennial alien astronaut concept. American journalist Linda Moulton Howe just visited the site. She marries Schmidt's stunning archaeological work to Internet-driven Millennial crypto-mystery-making. The Examiner reports that Moulton Howe thinks that structures at the site were parts of an alien machine, incredibly surrounded by vibrating pillars. Her wild theories are an example of the current symbols and metaphors which people use to make the inexplicable make sense.
"An arm, a fox and other strange carvings adorn stones at Turkey's Gobekli Tepe."
"A key to the megaliths' purpose may be their elaborately carved bestiary."
"Carved vulture with a scorpion. Some peoples have revered vultures for carrying the flesh of the dead to the heavens." Göbekli Tepe in November 2008. Image Source: Berthold Steinhilber via The Smithsonian.
"A carved fox in Gobekli Tepe." Göbekli Tepe in November 2008. Image Source: Berthold Steinhilber via The Smithsonian.
"Gobekli Tepe was crafted and arranged by prehistoric people who had not yet developed metal tools or even pottery." Göbekli Tepe in November 2008. Image Source: Berthold Steinhilber via The Smithsonian.