Startling Archaeological Discovery, Göbekli Tepe

Six miles from Urfa, an ancient city in southeastern Turkey, Klaus Schmidt has made one of the most startling archaeological discoveries of our time: massive carved stones about 11,000 years old, crafted and arranged by prehistoric people who apparently had not yet developed metal tools or even pottery.

Göbekli Tepe (Turkish for “Potbelly hill”) is a hilltop sanctuary erected on the highest point of an elongated mountain ridge some 15 km northeast of the town of ?anl?urfa (formerly Urfa / Edessa) in southeastern Turkey. The site is currently undergoing excavation by German and Turkish archaeologists.

Until excavations began, a complex on this scale was not thought possible for a community so ancient. The massive sequence of stratification layers suggests several millennia of activity, perhaps reaching back to the Mesolithic. The oldest occupation layer (stratum III) contains monolithic pillars linked by coarsely built walls to form circular or oval structures. Göbekli Tepe has revealed several adjacent rectangular rooms with floors of polished lime, reminiscent of Roman terrazzo floors.

At present, Göbekli Tepe raises more questions for archaeology and prehistory than it answers. We do not know how a force large enough to construct, augment, and maintain such a substantial complex was mobilized and paid or fed in the conditions of pre-Neolithic society. We cannot “read” the pictograms, and do not know for certain what meaning the animal reliefs had for visitors to the site; the variety of fauna depicted, from lions and boars to birds and insects, makes any single explanation problematic.

The reason the complex was eventually buried remains unexplained. Until more evidence is gathered, it is difficult to deduce anything certain about the originating culture.


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