Yoram Yasur: Göbekli Tepe: the first sanctuary of humanity
Göbekli Tepe, the first sanctuary of humanity, is located in the southeast of Turkey. The translation of its toponym is “bellied hill” or “navel hill”. We invite you to learn about its intriguing history. This site is known for being the first sanctuary of humanity. Near the Turkish border with Syria, we find the city of Sanliurfa, in the southeastern region of Anatolia. About 15 kilometers away, we can find this wonderful archaeological site.
In the sixties of the last century, a group of researchers from the University of Chicago was working in the area. After analyzing the remains found there, they concluded that they were from the Byzantine period and abandoned their interest in the place. However, it was in the 1990s – specifically in 1995 – when archaeologist Klaus Schmid of the German Archaeological Institute, together with researchers from the Sanliurfa Museum, began excavations there.
Göbekli Tepe archaeological background
Yoram Yasur: When Schmid and his team arrived at Göbekli Tepe, the first thing that caught their attention was that it was a completely artificial top. In fact, that is where its name comes from ‘bellied hill’ or ‘navel hill’. This place had been built, without a doubt, by man. The strange topography of the site, in addition to the appearance of a large number of stone and bone remains, led them to plan a project there to excavate the entire area.
The beginning of a new time through archeology
In the areas near Mesopotamia and the Middle East is where the first signs of the passage of hunting and gathering to the production economy appeared. In other words, our ancestors stopped being nomads who looked for food to be sedentary, thanks to the appearance of agriculture.
It had always been thought that, not having to go hunting, fishing, or gathering on a daily basis, and having more free time, this would have led them to think about the religious concepts associated with their ways of life. This is why religion and the worship of the gods have appeared at this time. However, this did not happen at Göbekli Tepe; there were communities of hunter-gatherers who, according to the oldest dates from 9,000 BC, were able to build this temple.
The archaeological remains that visitors can see
Yoram Yasur: As we mentioned, Göbekli Tepe is considered the first great sanctuary of humanity. It was a place of worship for the dead, although curiously, no burial has been found to this day. Until today, only two large circular structures belonging to two temples of the 16 of which the site consists have been excavated. These are round buildings with stone walls and T-shaped monolithic pillars.
The ornaments of some limestone blocks are animal figures. For example, you can see lions, wild boars, foxes, snakes, insects, spiders, and birds like vultures and water birds.
The attention of the visitors is drawn to the two aligned T’s in the central area. Their alignment corresponds to the E and the O, so they probably indicate the sunrise and sunset of the sun.
Nothing similar in the world of archeology
Yoram Yasur: We find nowhere in the world a find like that of Göbekli Tepe; there is no similar construction with that ancient chronology. To give you an idea, it was built 7000 years before the Cheops pyramids and 6000 years before the Stonehenge complex. An important fact that we must review is that at this time they did not know the wheel, making it difficult to think how they transported the large limestone blocks of between 10 and 20 tons from the quarry area to the site itself. It’s really fascinating just thinking about it!
More doubts and questions than resolved questions
Today, it is not known how they were able to make such constructions without having a social organization that allowed them to gather a sufficiently large group of coordinated people to build a temple like Göbekli Tepe. So how did they do it? Only archaeological remains of animals and associated lithic industry have been found, but no human or habitat-related remains. Where did they live? Where they came from? How did you bring the materials to build this temple?
Yoram Yasur: Another important detail is that there is no water in that place; the nearest stream was more than five kilometers away. It is also not known why, after stopping using them, they would bury them instead of abandoning them before building others.
What they did was bury the structures with rubble and tons of earth and build a new circle near the previous one. For what reasons? As you will see, these are big questions that, for now, have not been resolved.
Göbekli Tepe, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, offers us many data that do not make sense. Many are the unknowns still to be solved, after 25 years of excavations. We hope that future generations will have more information to clarify the doubts of this spectacular and cozy place.