Civilization’s Untold Story Göbeklitepe

GöbekliTepe Is forcIng us to rethInk everythIng we knew up to now about human hIstory. BuIlt exactly 12,000 years ago, GöbeklİTepe Is the fIrst temple In the world to survIve to the present In Its orIgInal state.

Göbekli Tepe proves that the people of today and the people of that time had the same model of thought and behavior. The site also shows that temples were built before cities during man’s transition from the nomadic to the sedentary way of life.

Changing what we know
Some one thousand years after it was built, Göbeklitepe was completely buried beneath tons of earth and rubble. For what purpose the temple was buried is another subject of research. These architectural ruins and megaliths - obelisks carved with reliefs of wild plants and animals from the 10th millennium B.C.E. belonging to ceremonial sites intended for worship - literally dazzle the eye. Yet another remarkable characteristic of the complex is that it is the most extensive worship site unearthed to date.

Not intended for settlement
What was found at Göbeklitepe, literally ‘belly hill’ in Turkish, was a large number of round structures, which, archaeologically speaking, belong to Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (9,600 to 7,300 B.C.E.). Based on finds made during the excavations, which got under way in 1995, these structures were not intended to be used for settlement.  Not all these Stone Age structures have been brought to the light of day so yet. But it is already clear that these open-top structures, of which there are twenty in total, were intended for religious purposes.

T-shaped obelisks
Clearly and simply, these Stone Age structures could be said to be the first temples to come down to our day in their original condition. A common feature characterizes their construction: two T-shaped obelisks stand opposite each other at the center of each of the temples, which are encircled by more such obelisks.

Stylized human figures
Prof. Dr. Schmidt and his dig team believe that the T-shaped obelisks, which range from three to six meters in height, are stylized human figures. The reason for this is that arms and hands are depicted on the sides of the obelisks. They are also noteworthy for the abstract symbols and animal figures they exhibit, images perhaps of little consequence in themselves but which contain important data about the beliefs, fears and way of life of early man.

A variety of images
In addition to the animal figures carved into the stones, there are also other images in the form of three-dimensional reliefs. The most important among them are the reliefs of lions depicted down the side of one of the T-shaped obelisks. The weight of the obelisks, which represent stylized human figures, varies between 40 and 60 tons.

Who were these people?
It is not yet known who designed and built the temples at Göbeklitepe. Nor has the mystery been solved of how these structures were conceived 12,000 years ago in an age when humans were hunter-gatherers and the concepts of settlement and agriculture were as yet unknown. Some archaeologists speculate that this hunter-gatherer community was organized around a shamanic order, in other words, that a shaman or religious leader was behind the entire organization. Another view is that the existing shamanistic leaders had already been transformed into a special priestly class like that we know from Ancient Egypt. This view holds that socialization took place far earlier than the scientific data have indicated up to now and that human beings were organized according to specific classes in a hierarchical order. Göbeklitepe is one of the most momentous discoveries in the world of archaeology, the first site to show that hunter-gatherer societies believed not yet to have made the transition to urban life nevertheless built temples. It is also a revolutionary find in the history of urbanization, in other words, civilization. Says Prof. Dr. Klaus Schmidt, who undertook the excavation expressly because of this discovery: “The temple came first, then the city.” In the process, Schmidt has opened up a new chapter in the history of early civilization. Who knows? Perhaps human history will be written all over again once answers are found to these questions.

Göbeklitepe is 20 km from Şanlıurfa near the village of Örencik. Excavations at the site first got under way in 1995 in a collaboration between the German Archaeological Institute and the Şanlıurfa Department of Museums. Heading the team, German archaeologist Prof. Dr. Klaus Schmidt conducts excavations here every year for ten weeks in September and October.

An image of a bald ibis has also been found in the excavations. Göbeklitepe, where relief images of a variety of animals were found in earlier digs, is in many ways a place like no other in the world.

The world's ten oldest temples

1. Göbekli Tepe, Turkey: 10,000 B.C.E.
2. Hypogeum: Malta, 3,600 B.C.E.
3. Ggantija Temples: Malta, 3,600 B.C.E.
4. Hagar Qim Temples: Malta, 3,200 B.C.E
5. Stonehenge: England: 2,500 B.C.E.
6. Knossos Palace Temple: Crete, 1,700 B.C.E.
7. Amada Temple: Egypt, 1,500 B.C.E.
8. Temple of Hatshepsut: Egypt, 1,479 B.C.E.
9. Temple of Luxor: Egypt, 1,400 B.C.E.
10. Temple of Seti I: Egypt, 1,279 B.C.E.

Şanlıurfa is extremely rich in terms of faith tourism. Fish Lake and its environs are among the city’s symbols.

Şanlıurfa cuisine is legendary. The kebab, raw kofta and other delicacies eaten to the strains of local music on ‘sıra’ nights are a must-try.

Rumkale and the other cultural treasures at Halfeti take visitors on a journey to the splendor of the past.

The conical houses reflecting traditional architecture at Harran, cradle of history and civilization, attract wide interest.

Rumkale and the other cultural treasures at Halfeti take visitors on a journey to the splendor of the past.

The bald ibises also encountered in the ancient Egyptian sources are among Şanlıurfa’s natural treasures and therefore under protection.

A cultural and religious venue, the site of the Prophet Job ensures that Şanlıurfa is called the city of prophets.

Harran, Birecik, Halfeti, Ceylanpınar and the scores of historic sites large and small at the city center head the list of must-see sights in Şanlıurfa.

T-SHAPED Obelisks
The T-shaped  obelisks symbolizing human beings in stylized form weigh between forty and sixty tons. Uncertainty still persists concerning how these obelisks were transported and erected with nothing but simple hand tools, and the question as to how such structures were even conceived in an era long before the emergence of agrarian society has not yet been answered.

Prof. Klaus Schmidt
Prof. Dr. Klaus Schmidt explains that the excavations begin every year in September and run for about 10 weeks. Says Schmidt, “Through the discoveries we made in the excavations at Göbeklitepe we revealed that one of the world’s oldest known centers of worship was in this region. In the most recent excavations, however, we determined that this worship center is the biggest in the world. The images and reliefs on the obelisks also give us an idea about the arts of the people who lived at that time. The temple here has the distinction of being the biggest known temple in the world.”

Six temple sites have been unearthed so far at Göbeklitepe. There are believed to be some twenty temples in the area.

The fact that Göbeklitepe has been preserved extremely well up to now offers academics an enormous opportunity in terms of archaeology and art history.

Artist and sculptor Erdinç Bakla’s sculpture exhibition, ‘Winds of Göbeklitepe’, opened on March 20 and can be visited at Galeri İşık in Istanbul’s Nişantaşı district through April 14.

Images of bulls, wild boar, foxes, cranes, bald ibis and wild duck are among those most frequently seen in the excavations. In addition to these animal images worked in stone, other figures carved in three-dimensional relief have also been found.