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Gobekli Tepe

Uncovered Turkish Megalith Has Archaeologists Baffled

By James Donahue

Massive carved stone pillars and rings, some up to 65 feet across, and believed to predate Stonehenge by at least 6,000 years, have been slowly uncovered by Klaus Schmidt, a German archaeologist and his team since discovered in 1994 in southeastern Turkey near a place called Urfa.

The megalith, called Gobekli Tepe, is estimated to be about 11,000 years old and may be the world’s oldest known temple. What boggles the minds of archaeologists working at the site is that the massive stones were carved and obviously moved by a prehistoric people who, according to historians, had not yet developed metal tools or learned to make pottery.

The site is located at the very northern edge of the area known as the Fertile Crescent, where the first great civilizations were believed to have emerged. This area, also called the Cradle of civilization, includes southeastern Turkey, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Kuwait, Israel, Palestine, Jordan and northeastern Egypt. The first great civilization to emerge in this area was Mesopotamia, which was a unification of various city-states in about 2,800 BC, or about 5,000 years ago.

This is what makes Gobekli Tebe such a spectacular discovery. At the time people were carving figures of birds, animals and insects on these massive stones, humans were believed to still be living in a hunter-gatherer period, even before the idea of agriculture and community living was conceived.

The very existence of carved, shaped and positioned megalith rings of this size seems to show that the old theories of human origin and evolution have been wrong. Humans obviously did not emerge from caves and they had some kind of tools in hand even before the Mesopotamian Empire existed, and the desire to create massive monuments, including artistic carvings in the stone.

And Gobekli Tebe is massive. Schmidt says he has mapped the large summit on which he is excavating with ground-penetrating radar and geomagnetic surveys, and found at least 16 other megalith rings within a 22-acre area. His own one-acre excavation, which has been going on for at least a decade, covers less than five percent of what he believes is to be found there. He says archaeologists could dig here for another 50 years and hardly scratch the surface.

From the size of the site, and the massive weight of the stones that not only were cut and carved, but carried to be placed as part of the monument, a very large number of people were involved in creating it. Yet there are no signs of human habitation near the site. The best that can be found are thousands of bones of wild animals and birds indicating that they were hunted, cut apart and cooked at the site to feed the workers.

From his findings, Schmidt is theorizing the almost unthinkable. He is suggesting that people came from miles away to work on the megalith, but never thought of, or chose to, or dared to build a city nearby in which to live.

That the first signs of farming are not found in the earth until after 11,000 years ago, Schmidt also is suggesting that the building of monuments preceded agriculture during human evolution. He notes that all of the bones found at the site are of wild beasts that had to be hunted. There were no bones of domesticated animals like sheep, chickens and cows.

Yet the need to gather so many workers to carry out a task of that magnitude must have caused some of the brighter thinkers of that early crowd to start thinking of better and more efficient ways to feed, house and provide for the needs of masses of people. Farming would have been an obvious first step.

Indeed, at a prehistoric village only 20 miles from Gobekli Tepe, researchers have found evidence of the world’s oldest domesticated strains of wheat. Radiocarbon dating suggests that agriculture developed there about 10,500 years ago, only about 500 years after Gobekli Tepe was erected.

The purpose of such a monument also boggles researchers. The carvings on the pillars include wild and menacing creatures that included lions, spiders, snakes and scorpions. Stanford University archaeologist Ian Hodder suggests that the complex was some kind of spiritual protection for the people, especially since it was located a good distance away from where they lived.

Hodder said the gulf that separates the modern world from the builders of Gobekli Tepe “is almost unimaginable. Indeed, thought I stood among the looming megaliths eager to take in their meaning, they didn’t speak to me. They were utterly foreign, placed there by people who saw the world in a way I will never comprehend.”