Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Gobekli Tepe: The Buried Temple

 By Bethany Youngblood
Gobekli Tepe 

The semi-deserts of southeastern Turkey seem very uninviting. Yet archaeologists flock there like the sheep that graze the valleys between the dusty plateaus, to feast their eyes on something that has changed their view of humanity’s advancement. A gently rounded hill rises above the surrounding landscape. What lies within this hill is what has attracted all the attention. A shepherd was the first to discover the top of a pillar jutting up out of the dirt and introduced the site to archaeological curiosity. But it was a German archaeologist named Klaus Schmidt in 1994 who ‘unveiled’ the incredible importance of this hill known as Gobekli Tepe. [1]

The "Naval of the World" 

Gobekli Tepe means “Hill with a Belly” or “Naval Mound”.[2] Locally the hill was believed to be a sacred site for generations: the “naval of the world”. After spending the past nineteen years excavating it, Schmidt has finally begun theorizing an explanation for why. 

Gobekli Tepe

Through the use of ground-penetrating radar and geomagnetic surveys, what lies buried in the belly of the hill was revealed: at least twenty megalithic stone rings. Their layouts are similar; one circle is built within another and lined with towering T-shaped limestone blocks, each eight feet tall and weighing in around seven tons. These pillars face inward to the center of the circle where the two tallest pillars stand. These megaliths are between sixteen and eighteen feet high and can weigh from seven to ten tons. [3]

Not every circle has been excavated, however. Out of the twenty-two acres that make up Gobekli Tepe only one-acre of excavation - revealing four circles - has given us a physical glimpse of this site.

A walk down into one of these circles opens our eyes to more than just the megaliths. Most of the limestone pillars are smooth and bare, but others bare the relief carvings of leopards and wild boars. A host of other predators such as lions, foxes, vultures and scorpions crawl over the stone. The images of herons and geese, as well as the forms of men have been found as well. Gobekli Tepe forms a mysterious place from ancient times and its existence has blown the minds of archeologists.

What seems so Surprising…

Archaeology, put very loosely, is digging up remnants of the past. So then why are the findings at Gobekli Tepe such a surprise? Because it shatters the previously held timeline for how ancient man evolved.

Secular archaeology labels Prehistoric (pre-writing) Cultures based on their level of human development as characterized by the creation and use of stone tools. Through the use of carbon dating of organic matter on and around the megaliths as well as dating animal bones and stone tools on the site, a wide range of possible ages have been presented by secular archeologists. They theorize a 10,000-9,000 BC date range[4] for construction - this would put the four circles of Gobekli Tepe that are available to test in the Early Neolithic (according to mainstream science - not the biblical timeline). According to mainstream science, this period was populated only by primitive hunter-gatherers. [5]

That means, according to the secular calendar, Gobekli Tepe was built thousands of years before the first Mesopotamian cites and the pyramids of Egypt. If this really were a 12,000 year-old complex, then it would predate not only pottery and agriculture, but also settled human life as archaeology has defined it. (According to the biblical timeline the site would be much younger. It would have been constructed sometime after the flood probably between 2300-2100 BC.)

For the secular world, the idea that early Neolithic hunter-gatherers built something like this is world changing. One documentary put it this way: “It’s like discovering that a three-year-old child’s made the Empire State Building out of toy bricks – How’d they do it?”[6]

Leopard Relief

…Actually Isn’t.

Operating under the pre-supposition that man was created around 6,000 years ago, not evolved, this “surprise” is no longer that big of a shocker. Commentators ask themselves if hunter-gatherers were advanced enough to organize a project like Gobekli Tepe. Dr. Elizabeth Mitchell (writer for Answers in Genesis) voices this alternative:

“Evolutionary anthropologists generally consider the “hunter-gatherer” to represent the more “primitive” condition of evolving humanity. But this view is false. Biblical history describes Adam’s first “job” to be tending the garden that God provided, and Adam’s sons kept flocks and tilled the ground (Genesis 4:2–3). Genesis chapter 4 describes the establishment of a city, so we see that the hunter-gatherer lifestyle was not the original condition of mankind. Following the global Flood, farming resumed as Noah planted a vineyard (Genesis 9:20). We learn of a hunter named Nimrod (Genesis 10:9) about the time of the building of the Tower of Babel, and it is likely that once people dispersed from Babel the foraging/hunting lifestyle became a necessary expedient for many. But such a lifestyle was not a symptom of evolutionary or intellectual inferiority”[7]

Hunter-gatherer does not have to translate into “primitive”. It’s a lifestyle, often times just a temporary one. People have lived according to this lifestyle throughout the years of history - they are not confined to a certain period and cannot be called "less intelligent" because of it.  

Just Hunter-gatherers?

So what sort of environment were these ancient people up against when tackling the construction of Gobekli Tepe? It was certainly not the barren valleys surrounding the site today.

Gobekli Tepe rests on the edge of a lush arc of land known as the Fertile Crescent. From the top of the hill in ancient times a man would have seen paradise in every direction; a bountiful landscape of rivers, fruit-bearing trees, valleys of wild grains and herds of game here and there. A hunter-gatherer lifestyle in this environment is certainly supported by over 100,000 wild animal bones uncovered at the Gobekli Tepe site.[8] 

There is also evidence for ancient farming in the area. A forerunner of modern domesticated wheat known as einkorn wheat grows wild in the area surrounding Gobekli Tepe. Farming this wild grass could help support a growing community. Dr. Mitchell says again:

“The human beings who cultivated the wild plants as crops and domesticated wild plants to better meet their needs were obviously intelligent people. In fact, archaeologist George Willcox notes that the various ancient settlements scattered throughout the Fertile Crescent lack clear evidence to distinguish between the traditional evolutionary classifications of primitive man as foraging “hunter-gatherers” and the more advanced farmers who tilled the ground.”[9]

So could ancient man have possessed the capabilities and resources to accomplish this project? Absolutely! Our remaining question is why.

The First Temple?

As the archaeologist in charge of excavation, Schmidt has presented theories to explain why Gobekli Tepe was built. A reminder here is that Gobekli Tepe is not merely four stone circles; it is a whole man-made hill full of buried stone circles. Several years after the first circles were built they were buried and new circles built atop them. Repeat this process over several times and you have the present-day site of Gobekli Tepe.

Schmidt rules out Gobekli Tepe as a dwelling place or village very quickly and states:
“Gobekli Tepe is not a house or a domestic building. Evidence of any domestic use is entirely lacking. No remains of settled human habitation have been found nearby. That leaves one purpose: religion. Gobekli Tepe is the oldest temple in the world.” (The oldest according to the secular timeline – it may not be according to the biblical timeline.)

There are many points that support Schmidt’s theories. One is that there is no ready water supply located at Gobekli Tepe itself, hinting that its location was less for functional comfort and more for regional importance. There is also evidence for Gobekli Tepe being a cosmopolitan center of the region, supporting it’s use as a temple complex. Obsidian knife points found at the site came from sources almost 300 miles away in each direction. Either through trade or actual pilgrimage, someone was walking the equivalent of New York City to Buffalo, NY to reach Gobekli Tepe. Many possible peoples with their many languages and cultures coming together at a ceremonial center are certainly possible.[10]

Vulture Relief

What Were They Worshiping?

Andrew Curry, in his article on Gobekli Tepe for Smithsonian Magazine in 2008, had this to say when confronted with interpreting Gobekli Tepe.

“Indeed, though 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. There are no sources to explain what the symbols might mean.”[11]

That however cannot stop the urge to explain the unexplainable; theories claiming to sum-up Gobekli Tepe’s hidden meaning abound. Schmidt refers to it as the “Temple of the Hunt” where the hunter-gatherers worshiped their gods, symbolized by the predators and prey etched upon the pillars. Others try to connect Gobekli Tepe with archeoastronomy. (Learn more about archeoastronomy) They propose that either the carvings on the pillars represent an ancient cosmology or the layout of the stone circles themselves are part of a geoglyph depicting a bull, with the stone circles representing the star cluster Pleiades within the constellation Taurus.[12]

But these are only theories, and theories that certainly warrant much research and further examination. Gary Rollefson of Whitman College had this to say on developing theories for Gobekli Tepe:

“Trying to pick out symbolism from prehistoric contest is an exercise in futility.”


I quite agree. If Gobekli Tepe proves anything without a doubt it shows that mankind’s theories, based on mankind’s own wisdom, are very often wrong. The exact function of Gobekli Tepe, the questions of why it was buried and rebuilt, the intricacies of its symbolism…all these mysteries might never be solved. However, the mind-boggling problem of how ‘primitive’ man was capable of producing this structure doesn’t have to remain mysterious. “Historic” man according to the biblical narrative wasn’t primitive but was intelligent and very capable of the design and construction of Gobekli Tepe.

Do you have any theories of your own about this mysterious site?  

Learn about some more ancient mysteries:

[1] National Geographic “Lost Civilization: Gobekli Tepe – 12,000 years ago”.
[2] “Ancient Sites in Turkey”
[3] Curry. Smithsonian Magazine. “Gobekli Tepe: The World’s First Temple?” Tepe: The World’s First Temple?
[4] “Gobekli – Site of Eden?”
[5] Guisepi. “An Overview of the Paleolithic”.
[6] National Geographic “Lost Civilization: Gobekli Tepe – 12,000 years ago”.
[7] Mitchell, “War or Peace? The Evolutionary History of Human Nature
[8] Curry. Smithsonian Magazine. “Gobekli Tepe: The World’s First Temple?” Tepe: The World’s First Temple?
[9] Mitchell. “Archaeologists Find Farming’s Roots All Over The Fertile Crescent”
[11] Curry. Smithsonian Magazine. “Gobekli Tepe: The World’s First Temple?” Tepe: The World’s First Temple?
[12] Herschel  “Gobekli Tepe – Oldest Civilization on Earth…Deciphered! February 2012”

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