We are in Turkey, where this strange hunter-gatherer architecture believed to be the oldest religious complex known. In 1994, German archaeologist Klaus Schmidt and his team unearthed a handful of findings that continue to revolutionize the way archeologists think about Stone Age man, in fact this important archaeological discovery will probably lead to reconsidering everything that until now had been supposed on the evolution of primitive man. Today’s theories state that only after the advent of agriculture, and subsequent sedentarization, did our Neolithic ancestors come to perform religious practices. The site of Gobekli Tepe (Turkish for “Hill with a Belly”), whose excavations began in 1994, belies these theories. Very suggestive, and vaguely resembling Stonehenge, it was built long before any religious building known to date, with square limestone blocks, adorned with animal bas-reliefs: gazelles, snakes, foxes, scorpions and wild boar. What is almost unbelievable is the time of its construction, which dates back to about 11,600 years ago, about seven thousand years before the Gyza Pyramid! The predominant understanding was that during this time, hunter-gatherers roamed the Earth, never settling, living as each day came. The huge Gobekli Tepe complex, however, brings this view into question.
Inexplicable also how and why it was built: at the time of construction the men lived in nomadic tribes, that lived with hunting and collecting plants. However, the temple builders were able to cut, shape and transport huge blocks of stone, weighing 16 tons, without knowing the wheel, or having beasts of burden. The writing was unknown, as were the metals and ceramics, but the pillars of Gobekli Tepe are carved like rigid profiles of giants, the animals carved in stone, in the light of the fire, become evocative of a spiritual world, which perhaps began to born right here, starting a practice that still lasts: the religious pilgrimage. Equally curious is the fact that before this discovery, there was no evidence of hunter-gatherers ever erecting large monuments and buildings, making this perhaps the world’s oldest known architecture!
The site consists of an artificial hill, 15 meters high, and four circular enclosures, bordered by enormous pillars, which perhaps symbolized assemblies of men, with T-shaped stones embedded in the ground and a vast amount of rectangular rooms, many believed to have religious importance. Also important is that which was not found on the site: no sign of dwellings, nor canteens, this shows that it was exclusively a ceremonial center. “Finding that the hunter-gatherers had built Gobekli Tepe was like finding someone who could build a 747 (a plane) in a basement with a knife,” said Klaus Schmidt. Paradoxically, Gobekli Tepe seems to be both an omen of the civil world to come, and the last and greatest emblem of a nomadic past that was already disappearing.
Nearby the site there is Mount Karaca Dag, a mountain that geneticists believe to be the birth place of many of today’s cultivated grains. So It’s theorized that Gobleki Tepe could be showing us a transition period, depicting nomadic cultures’ first attempt to farm (which would later bring about permanent settlement). The realization was surprising, but it is difficult to understand how it was done, or what it meant. Schmidt also suggests that the human impulse to practice sacred rites arose in our nomadic ancestors to feel part of the natural world, with the intent to master it, and even more revolutionary, that the human mind created civilization, and not the conditions environmental. This excavation site has raised more questions than it has answered, and astoundingly enough, around 8,000 B.C., the site was filled with soil and mysteriously abandoned.