Göbekli Tepe ("Potbelly Hill") is a Neolithic archaeological site near the
city of Şanlıurfa in Southeastern Anatolia, Turkey. It includes two phases
of use, believed to be of a social or ritual nature by site discoverer and
excavator Klaus Schmidt. Its oldest layer dates to around 9000 BCE, the end
of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA). The younger phase, radiocarbon dated
to between 8300 and 7400 BCE, belongs to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B. During
the early phase, circles of massive T-shaped stone pillars were erected,
classified as the world's oldest known megaliths, contemporary with other
nearby settlements such as Nevalı Çori and Çayönü. In 2018, the site was
designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The tell or artificial mound has a height of 15 m and is about 300 m in
diameter, approximately 760 m above sea level. More than 200 pillars in
about 20 circles are known (as of May 2020) through geophysical surveys.
Each pillar has a height of up to 6 m and weighs up to 10 tons. They are
fitted into sockets that were hewn out of the local bedrock. In the second
phase, belonging to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB), the erected pillars
are smaller and stood in rectangular rooms with floors of polished lime. The
site was abandoned after the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB). Younger
structures date to classical times.
The excavations have been ongoing since 1996 by the German Archaeological
Institute, but large parts still remain unexcavated.
Göbekli Tepe follows a geometric pattern. The pattern is an equilateral
triangle that connects enclosures A, B, and D. A 2020 study of "Geometry and
Architectural Planning at Göbekli Tepe" suggests that enclosures A, B, and D
are all one complex, and within this complex there is a "hierarchy" with
enclosure D at the top, rejecting the idea that each enclosure was built and
functioned individually as less likely.
Klaus Schmidt's view was that Göbekli Tepe is a stone-age mountain
sanctuary. Radiocarbon dating as well as comparative stylistical analysis
indicate that it contains the oldest known megaliths yet discovered
anywhere, and that these ruins may constitute the remains of a temple.
Schmidt believed that what he called this "cathedral on a hill" was a
pilgrimage destination attracting worshippers up to 150 km distant.
Butchered bones found in large numbers from local game such as deer,
gazelle, pigs, and geese have been identified as refuse from food hunted and
cooked or otherwise prepared for the congregants. Zooarchaeological analysis
shows that gazelle were only seasonally present in the region, suggesting
that events such as rituals and feasts were likely timed to occur during
periods when game availability was at its peak.
Schmidt considered Göbekli Tepe a central location for a cult of the dead
and that the carved animals are there to protect the dead. Though no tombs
or graves have yet been found, Schmidt believed that graves remain to be
discovered in niches located behind the walls of the sacred circles. In
2017, discovery of human crania with incisions was reported, interpreted as
providing evidence for a new form of Neolithic skull cult. Special
preparation of human crania in the form of plastered human skulls is known
from the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B period at sites such as 'Ain Mallaha, Tell
es-Sultan (also known as Jericho), and Yiftahel.
Schmidt also interpreted the site in connection with the initial stages of
the Neolithic. It is one of several sites in the vicinity of Karaca Dağ, an
area that geneticists suspect may have been the original source of at least
some of our cultivated grains. Recent DNA analysis of modern domesticated
wheat compared with wild wheat has shown that its DNA is closest in sequence
to wild wheat found on Karaca Dağ 30 km away from the site, suggesting that
this is where modern wheat was first domesticated.
With its mountains catching the rain and a calcareous, porous bedrock
creating many springs, creeks, and rivers, the upper reaches of the
Euphrates and Tigris was a refuge during the dry and cold Younger Dryas
climatic event (10,800–9,500 BCE).
Schmidt also engaged in speculation regarding the belief systems of the
groups that created Göbekli Tepe, based on comparisons with other shrines
and settlements. He presumed shamanic practices and suggested that the
T-shaped pillars represent human forms, perhaps ancestors, whereas he saw a
fully articulated belief in deities as not developing until later, in
Mesopotamia, that was associated with extensive temples and palaces. This
corresponds well with an ancient Sumerian belief that agriculture, animal
husbandry, and weaving were brought to humans from the sacred mountain Ekur,
which was inhabited by Annuna deities, very ancient deities without
individual names. Schmidt identified this story as a primeval oriental myth
that preserves a partial memory of the emerging Neolithic. It is apparent
that the animal and other images give no indication of organized violence,
i.e. there are no depictions of hunting raids or wounded animals, and the
pillar carvings generally ignore game on which the society depended, such as
deer, in favour of formidable creatures such as lions, snakes, spiders, and
scorpions. Expanding on Schmidt's interpretation that round enclosures could
represent sanctuaries, Gheorghiu's semiotic interpretation reads the Göbekli
Tepe iconography as a cosmogonic map that would have related the local
community to the surrounding landscape and the cosmos.
Göbekli Tepe is regarded by some as an archaeological discovery of great
importance since it could profoundly change the understanding of a crucial
stage in the development of human society. Some researchers believe that the
construction of Göbekli Tepe may have contributed to the later development
of urban civilization, or, as excavator Klaus Schmidt put it, "First came
the temple, then the city."
It remains unknown how a population large enough to construct, augment, and
maintain such a substantial complex was mobilized and compensated or fed in
the conditions of pre-sedentary society. Scholars have been unable to
interpret the pictograms, and do not know what meaning the animal reliefs
had for visitors to the site. The variety of fauna depicted – from lions and
boars to birds and insects – makes any single explanation problematic. As
there is little or no evidence of habitation, and many of the animals
pictured are predators, the stones may have been intended to stave off evils
through some form of magic representation. Alternatively, they could have
served as totems.
The assumption that the site was strictly cultic in purpose and not
inhabited has been challenged as well by the suggestion that the structures
served as large communal houses, "similar in some ways to the large plank
houses of the Northwest Coast of North America with their impressive house
posts and totem poles." It is not known why every few decades the existing
pillars were buried to be replaced by new stones as part of a smaller,
concentric ring inside the older one.
Why Göbekli Tepe Changes the Historical Mainstream Narrative
The site is unlike anything else out there, so we can't really compare it to
anything. There's nothing as old and as complex anywhere else in the world.
If you ask anyone which ancient monument impresses him the most, chances are
she or he will say the pyramids. It doesn’t have to be the Great pyramid,
but pyramids in general. That’s because pyramids are considered some of the
greatest achievements of humankind.
Pyramids were built on nearly all continents throughout our history. The
most famous pyramids are those in Egypt, where the Great Pyramid is
considered the jewel of Egyptian architecture.
Many other pyramids exist in Egypt. That of Saqqara–the
Step Pyramid–is considered the oldest, while the pyramids at Meidum and
Dahshur are considered of great importance since they represent the
evolution of the Egyptian pyramid form.
Northern America is home to more than one thousand pyramids of different
sizes. The Great Pyramid of Cholula, located in present-day Mexico, is the
largest in the world in terms of volume.
The Asian pyramids are perhaps the most shrouded in mystery, and
Europe (Greece) has some of the least known pyramids on Earth.
But in addition to pyramids, many other monuments are just as stunning.
In present-day Turkey rest the ruins of an ancient site that is unlike
anything we have ever found.
There’s nothing like it in the world, and we can’t compare it to any known
monuments in terms of size and history.
Göbekli Tepe is ancient
Built around 12,000 years ago, Göbekli Tepe lies mainly hidden beneath the
surface after it was buried–for reasons unknown–by its builders thousands of
years ago. The best part is that there are some parts of Göbekli Tepe that
appear to be even older than the proposed 12,000 years.
The site is composed of megalithic stones; there are some 16 stone
circles that have been discovered to date inside which the ancients placed
massive t-shaped stones, most of which weigh around 10 tons. These
structures are intricately aligned and display advanced forms of geometry.
Dating back to the last Ice Age
This was done when our planet’s northern hemisphere was covered in massive
amounts of Ice Age glaciers. During this time, experts say that a group of
hunter-gatherers began building what is now defined–for reasons I still
can’t entirely understand–the first megalithic temple on Earth.
We’ve uncovered only 5%
The site has been undergoing archaeological excavations for more than 26
years since the first survey in 1994. So far, we’ve uncovered no more than 5
percent, and experts say that it will take us decades before we uncovered
the entire complex.
Strange carvings and a strange society
As we’ve explored Göbekli Tepe throughout the years, we’ve encountered some
pretty strange things; not only did we find massive, megalithic stones, we
have also come across strange carvings of humanoid figurines and animal
carvings, as well as symbols.
Despite this, we have still not explained who built the site–was it really
hunter-gatherers?–and why it was built.
There are two leading hypotheses when it comes to Göbekli Tepe; it was
either a massive temple or an astronomical observatory. The inability to
explain its purpose, exact age and building technique has led to a
widespread public debate about Göbekli Tepe. Countless theories have been
woven around the site, from aliens to
advanced, long-lost civilizations.
Some might say this is far-fetched, and I agree that we need not involve
aliens in this.
Humankind has been innovative, advanced, and complex for far longer than we
have been willing to accept. This leads me to believe that the culture that
built Göbekli Tepe was not a society of hunter-gatherers. No, they were far
more advanced than that, and the sole existence of Göbekli Tepe backs up
The site is unlike anything else out there, so we can’t really compare it to
anything. Furthermore, there’s nothing as old and as complex anywhere else
in the world, which makes it pretty difficult to study.
Whatever the case, many people believe that Göbekli Tepe was not just a
temple and may have been used as a massive astronomical observatory. In
fact, two things link Göbekli Tepe to celestial objects; one theory argues
that there’s a deeply rooted connection between Göbekli Tepe and the stars
in the night sky, particularly Sirius. This is mostly because local
populations worshiped the stars for several thousand years after.
Another claim, as revealed by best-selling author Graham Hancock, argues
that there are carvings at Göbekli Tepe, which are linked to a comet that
may have impacted our planet at the end of the last ice age.
If any of these claims are true, it would mean Göbekli Tepe was indeed a
site deeply connected to the stars and hence served as a kind of ancient
We can’t know what it served as
It may very well have been an ancient astronomical observatory. However, in
the same way, Göbekli Tepe could also have served as a temple. So there’s
also a great chance that neither one of those theories is correct and that
Göbekli Tepe was something entirely different.
For example, if experts find that the stone circles at the site were once
roofed, it would make them unsuitable for astronomical observations.
Also, archaeological excavations of the site suggest that some of the
pillars of the site were “recycled” and transported elsewhere. Also, we
can’t know to what extent later societies may have rearranged some of the
uppermost parts of the site. In other words, we can’t conclude how much the
site was altered in the not-so-distant past.
This has been explained by researchers:
“The original layout of Göbekli Tepe’s monumental round-oval buildings (none
of which have been entirely excavated) is still the subject of ongoing
research. One should be aware that many of the T-pillars incorporated into
the enclosures at Göbekli Tepe are not standing in their original positions,
and the buildings underwent significant modification during their
What we do know confuses us
The imposing stratigraphy of Göbekli Tepe attests to millennia of activity.
Many structures identified to this day have been found to date back at least
12,000 years, with evidence of even older parts of the site. This is
precisely where the importance of Göbekli Tepe resides in. Göbekli Tepe
predates, among other things, pottery, metallurgy, the invention of the
wheel, writing, but, more importantly, agriculture.
We thought until very recently that people were incapable of constructing
megalithic, complex sites until the appearance of agriculture and farming.
This is obviously not the case with Göbekli Tepe. The site’s existence tells
us that already 12,000 years ago; an organized, complex society lived in the
region. This society was far more advanced than just hunter-gatherers.
So far, archaeological excavations have revealed important clues about
Göbekli Tepe, including facts such as;
Göbekli Tepe is the oldest monument of its kind.
It predates everything we know about complex societies and their abilities
to build megalithic structures.
It has not been excavated entirely.
The society that built it was far more advanced, and they very unlikely a
mere hunter-gatherer society.
To build Göbekli Tepe, around 1000 people were needed, at least. This tells
us that, in addition to an organized workforce, people needed to sleep and
eat. In other words, Göbekli Tepe could not have been built without the
support of a developed city or settlement. No such city has so far been
discovered at or near the site.
Symbols found across the world
One of the most fascinating things about Gobekli Tepe, in addition to the
massive stones, is the symbology present on the massive T-Shaped stone
One specific pillar–number 43–from enclosure D is particularly rich in
decorations. On it, we have depictions of animals, such as scorpions and
vultures, but more importantly, the bag symbolism.
The “handbag of the gods,” as I like to refer to it, has been found on
reliefs in Mesoamerica and Mesopotamia, making it one of the strangest
symbols out there. What did ancient cultures in Mesoamerica have in common
with hunter-gatherers in Turkey 12,000 years ago?
Apparently, nothing but some of Gobekli Tepe’s symbols have been found on
ancient sites across the globe.
Whether these are random coincidences or if there is a higher “purpose” is
something I look forward to learning..
Hi, my name is Ivan and I am the founder of Curiosmos, Ancient Code and
Pyramidomania. I've been writing passionately about ancient civilizations,
history, alien life and various other subjects for more than eight years.
You may have seen me appear on Discovery Channel's What On Earth series,
History Channel's Ancient Aliens, and Gaia's Ancient Civilizations among