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Six miles from Urfa, an ancient city in southeastern Turkey is an archaeological site atop of mountain ridge known as Gobekli Tepe. Predating Stonehenge by some 6000 years, it has often mystified the researchers as to its origin. Urfa, also known as the ‘City of Prophets’ has a rich religious history, though just how far this religion went remained unclear until the discovery of Gobekli Tepe. What makes this place unique is the date it was built which is roughly twelve thousand years ago, around 10,000 B.C.
It consists of dozens of massive stone pillars arranged in rings, one standing up against the next. Each ring has a similar layout i.e. there are two large T shaped stone pillars surrounded by smaller stones facing inward. The tallest pillar is approximately 5 m tall and weighs about 7 to 10 tons. Some of the pillars are blank while others are elaborately carved with sketches of some wild animal as well as some abstract symbols. Most common are foxes, vultures, lions, wild ducks and boars. The tell has a height of 15 m and is about 300 m in diameter. This site is about 760 m above sea level.
It is also known as Potbelly Hill because of its gently rounded top that rises 15 m above the surrounding area. This site first came into the notice of anthropologists of Istanbul University and University of Chicago in 1963. They visited the region as part of survey, saw some broken slabs of limestone and assumed it was nothing more than a part of some ancient cemetery. In 1995, this site came into the notice of Klaus Schmidt of German Archaeological Institute when he was doing his own survey of the region. After going through the report of Chicago’s researchers, he concluded that the site was more than just a part of gravesite.
He began excavating the site in collaboration with the Urfa Museum. Huge T shaped pillars, which were previously considered to be just rocks, were soon discovered.
It has been classified as Pre Pottery Neolithic Period (9600 – 7300 B.C.). Schmidt and his team found no evidence of settlement at Gobekli Tepe. There is archaeological proof that the site was not used for domestic purposes as there were no cooking hearths, trash pits or houses found. The site was predominantly used for ritual or religious reasons. Further research showed that Gobekli Tepe consists of not one but many Stone Age temples. Many bone fragments of wild animals were found which shows that the inhabitants of Gobekli Tepe were animal hunters rather than farmers who kept domesticated animals.
The question which has mystified the researchers is that why was such an elaborate monument constructed. Schmidt found no evidence that people actually lived on this ancient hill. The large numbers of animal bones suggest that animal sacrifice took place here. This was basically a place of worship for the people and a pilgrimage destination which attracted worshippers from lands far away. The findings here are so extensive that archaeologists believe that even after digging for 50 years, they would only have touched the surface.