World’s First Temple? Gobekli Tepe

Göbekli Tepe, located in contemporary Turkey, is one of the world’s most important archaeological sites. The discovery of this remarkable 10,000-year-old site in the 1990s shocked the archaeological world and beyond. Some scholars even believe it was the biblical Garden of Eden. The numerous sculptures and megalithic constructions comprise what is possibly the world’s earliest temple. At Göbekli Tepe, predating pottery, metallurgy, the development of writing, the wheel, and the start of agriculture.

The ability of hunter-gatherer peoples to arrange the construction of such a complex site as early as the 10th or 11th millennia BC revolutionizes our knowledge of hunter-gatherer culture. However, it also poses a severe challenge to the accepted view of Civilization’s rise.

A Description of the Göbekli Tepe Site

Göbekli Tepe (Turkish for “hill of the navel”) is a 1000-foot-diameter mound located on the highest point of a mountain ridge. It is also approximately 9 miles northeast of the town of anlurfa (Urfa) in southeastern Turkey.

Since 1994 CE, excavations at the site have been carried out by Klaus Schmidt of the German Archaeological Institute’s Istanbul department. With the participation of the anlurfa Museum. To yet, the results have been amazing. Especially given that the excavators estimate they have only excavated 5% of the site.

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Göbekli Tepe is made up of four groups of Monolithic pillars connected by pieces of coarsely built dry stone walls, forming a succession of round or oval buildings. However, each complex has two massive pillars in the middle that are surrounded by slightly smaller stones facing inward. Archaeologists believe these pillars were used to support roofs. The constructions range in size from 33 to 98 feet in diameter and have Terrazzo floors (burnt lime).

The Megaliths at Göbekli Tepe

The megaliths themselves, 43 of which have been discovered so far. They are mostly T-shaped pillars of soft limestone up to around 16 feet tall. Also mined and carried from a stone quarry on the hill’s lower Southwestern slope. Geophysical surveys on the hill show that there are up to 250 more megaliths buried surrounding the site, implying that Göbekli Tepe once housed another 16 complexes.


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Although some of the standing stones at Göbekli Tepe are empty. Others feature intricately carved foxes, lions, bulls, scorpions, snakes, wild boars, vultures, waterfowl, insects, and arachnids. There are additional abstract shapes and one relief of a naked woman in a seated position placed frontally.

A few of the T-shaped stones have what appear to be armed at their sides. Suggesting that the stones represent stylized humans or gods. Although the pictograms at Göbekli Tepe are not a type of writing, they may have served as religious symbols whose meanings were known implicitly by local communities at the time.

Vulture depictions at Göbekli Tepe are similar to those found at other Anatolian and Near Eastern sites. Many of the shrines at the huge Neolithic village of atal Höyük in south-central Turkey (which existed from roughly 7500 BCE to 5700 BCE) were embellished with gigantic skeletal depictions of vultures.

Similar Sites in the Area

One explanation proposed to explain the presence of vultures in early Anatolian Neolithic times is in the context of potential excarnation activities, showing a mortuary cult. After death, victims would have been purposefully left outside and exposed. Possibly on a wooden frame. Where their Skeletons would have been stripped of flesh by vultures and other birds of prey.

The Skeletons would then be reburied elsewhere. Perhaps the rite of excarnation was the center of a cult of the dead shown by the people of Göbekli Tepe. As it appears to have been elsewhere in Anatolia and the Near East throughout the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period.

Ronnie Jones III (CC BY- NC-SA)

Göbekli Tepe is a fairly remarkable site due to the presence of many massive complexes at such an early date. However, there are some parallels with the early Neolithic settlement of Neval Or on the middle Euphrates River in Eastern Turkey, which is about 12.5 kilometers north of Göbekli Tepe.

The main temple of Neval Or was built around 8,000 BCE, maybe a thousand years after Göbekli Tepe. The settlement’s cult complexes shared several characteristics with Göbekli Tepe. They include a terrazzo-style lime cement floor and monolithic T-shaped pillars constructed into dry stone walls. There are also two free-standing pillars in the complex area.

Nevali Origami

The reliefs on the T-shaped pillars look like human hands. Unfortunately, Nevali Origami is no longer visible, having been submerged beneath a lake formed by the Atatürk Dam in 1992 CE.

Excavators at Göbekli Tepe believe that about 8,000 BCE, the people at the site purposefully buried the monuments beneath mountains of soil and settlement rubbish brought from afar. They used items such as flints and animal bones.

This backfilling is the primary reason the site has survived thousands of years. Why the residents of Göbekli Tepe abandoned the site is unclear. Although the monuments had certainly lost their significance, which may have had something to do with the altered way of life that accompanied the growth of agriculture and animal husbandry about this time.

The final architectural phase of Göbekli Tepe dates to around 8000 BCE, according to both typological dating (of stone implements) and radiocarbon dates. However, the precise date of its first habitation is unknown. Nonetheless, radiocarbon dates (from charcoal) The focus is about 9,000 BCE for the most recent part of the site’s layer (stratum III).

Klaus Schmidt and his colleagues believe that the stone monuments at Göbekli Tepe are of this era. Although the buildings have not been properly dated. Excavators estimate Göbekli Tepe’s origins are around 11,000 BCE. Maybe earlier based on current evidence, which is very early for such a sophisticated series of monuments.

An Organized Society?

The planning and construction of a monument like Göbekli Tepe would have needed a level of organization and resources previously unknown in hunter-gatherer societies. Schmidt has said that rather than creating temples and other religious structures after learning to cultivate and live in established communities. The area’s hunter-gatherers first built megalithic monuments like Göbekli Tepe, which laid the groundwork for the later formation of sophisticated societies.

Ronnie Jones III (CC BY-NC-SA)

The function of the Megalithic constructions at Göbekli Tepe is perhaps the most enigmatic feature. Why would hunter-gatherers build such magnificent monuments? Schmidt believes the site was needed for the worship of the dead. While no burials have not been covered thus far. He expects they will be discovered beneath the floors of the monuments.

The Garden of Eden?

It’s hard to believe that the bleak semi-desert where Göbekli Tepe stands was once a place of green meadows, woodlands, and wild barley and wheat fields. The area would have also been teeming with large herds of gazelle, as well as flocks of geese and ducks.

Indeed, the animal and plant remnants suggest such a lush and ideal setting that Göbekli Tepe has been associated with the biblical tale of the Garden of Eden. For those who take the tale literally, the biblical location of Eden is clear. At the confluence of four rivers—has been interpreted as being within the Fertile Crescent.

Other experts argue that the biblical Eden tale should be read as an allegory for the change from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to a culture. Despite the fact that Biblical texts were written millennia after this transformation occurred. Interestingly, Klaus Schmidt believes that the area’s transformation from hunting to farming contributed to the lowest of Göbekli Tepe.

With the intensive labor required for agricultural communities to prosper. There was no longer time or possibly needed for the Göbekli Tepe monuments. Trees were cut down in the surrounding area, soils became drained. The terrain eventually evolved into the parched wasteland we see today.

Unfortunately, as word spread about Göbekli Tepe, art thieves and illegal antique traders were notified. A 1.3-foot-high T-shaped stele adorned with a human head and an animal figure was stolen from the site towards the end of September 2010 CE. Since the robbery, security at the site has been enhanced by the installation of a locking gate and a CCTV system. It now deters future criminals.