The oldest known temple on earth is located beneath Göbekli Tepe (“Potbelly Hill”), 17 km (10.6 miles) northeast of the center of Şanlıurfa (map).
First noticed in 1963, excavation was initated in 1996 by archeologist Klaus Schmidt, Ph.D. (1953-2014), who led the German archeological team until his death.
Schmidt had earlier worked at the nearby early Neolithic site of Nevalı Çori where he saw what were then thought to be humans’ oldest carved-stone shapes and structures. He recognized similar structures at Göbekli Tepe, and discovered that they were even older, dating from about 11,000 years ago.
Göbekli Tepe amazes: before agriculture, metal tools, the wheel or written language, before even pottery-making, the hunter-gatherers around Göbekli Tepe used flint tools to hack huge 10- to 20-ton limestone blocks from the rock, carve animal figures in relief on them, and erect them on a hilltop in ceremonial formations thought to have religious significance.
Limestone pillars up to 5 meters (16 feet) tall, fitted into sockets carved in the bedrock, are arranged in rings up to 20 meters (65 feet) in diameter. The archeologists have identified more than 16 such rings.
Neolithic peoples gathered around Göbekli Tepe, then the center of a land rich in game for hunting and plants from which to gather food. It is thought that within about 500 years of the first temple’s construction, the people here had begun domesticating sheep, cattle and pigs, and begun breeding einkorn grass to develop wheat—the beginnings of agriculture.
This is the Göbekli Tepe revolution in archeological theory. Whereas archeologists used to believe that settled communities (such as at Çatalhöyük, the 9000-year-old site near Konya) came first and produced the surplus food that allowed non-farm workers to build temples, Göbekli Tepe appears to show just the opposite: that the temples came first and the effort to organize workers and feed them so that temple construction could progress may have been the start of organized farming communities.
—by Tom Brosnahan
|History of Anatolia|