June 2, 2021, 3:59 p.m. by David Hilton ( 494 views)
When talking about ancient historical sites we often think of well known structures such as the pyramids of Egypt, Angor-Vat, Machu Pichu the Colosseum of Rome and others. However one of the most important archaeological excavations in the world, a site called ‘Gobekli Tepe’ in Turkey is often unknown to the general public. The findings at Gobekli Tepe or at least the portion that has been excavated thus far are mysterious and breathtaking in equal proportions. The discoveries made to date have the potential to question and even re-write the fundamentals of human history.
Gobekli Tepe meaning ‘Potbelly Hill’ in Kurdish is a barren hill mound that was relatively unnoticed for centuries till 1994. The hill located in Southern Turkey did have some spiritual significance in the local villages. This could be attributed to either periodic archaeological finds or mythical traditions that had been passed down over centuries. Regardless most credit for popularizing the site goes to German Historian Klaus Schmidt who was conducting research in the area at the time and the Kurdish landowner who led him to the site.
Caption: Kurdish Landowner at the mound before excavation
After visiting the site, Klaus Schmidt understood that this wasn’t any ordinary mound and the few broken ruins and stones visible could just be the tip of something larger. Indeed till then, most historians attributed the site to a small stone-age settlement with a few early Ottoman Era graves present. Initial diggings revealed a set of now famous ‘T’ shaped pillars. The entire mound is estimated to be 50 ft high from the ground, 1000 ft wide and has up to 200 known ‘T’ pillars. Laser Technology aided scans have shown even larger structures buried much deeper into the ground.
Caption: T shaped pillars found across the site
Caption: The pillars contain detailed and often inexplicable carvings
To this date, as this article is written, the entire scale and true extent of Gobekli Tepe is still not known and active exploration is ongoing. The mound or hill wasn’t a natural structure but a careful burial of a complex, multi-storied network of large stone carvings, settlements and statues. It contains some of the world's oldest megalithic structures, dating back to beyond 12,000 BC. This is almost 7000 years older than the peak of the Mesopotamian Civilization which is often attributed to being the first major human civilization, at least in the wider region.
At 12,000 BC humans were mostly hunter-gatherers living in small settlements. Agriculture if existent would have been extremely primitive and limited is what fundamental understanding of Human History tells of the time. So how were simple hunter-gatherers living in surrounding villages capable of building a complex of the extent that is Gobekli Tepe. It has been said that the current excavations as stunning as they are, account for only 5 % of the entire site, with the majority still forming the mound which has now been determined to be entirely artificial. Furthermore, what would motivate a primitive hunter-gatherer society to firstly construct such a site and then meticulously bury it, as if to hide its existence
Caption: Birds Eye view of the entire mound, with only the few exacated areas being visible
Gobekli Tepe is several thousand years older than places like Stonehenge and even the pyramids of Giza. The architectural and engineering workmanship of Gobekli Tepe can be compared to that seen in the Pyramids. The pillars and concrete stone blocks are not any rough-cut pieces that have been propped up on the ground. They are 10-20 foot smoothly cut blocks of rock with intricate and delicate three-dimensional carvings on them. Even after years of digging, historians still haven’t found any significant tools that could explain the intricate and extensive stonemanship on display. Nor are there extensive agricultural settlements to be found in the surrounding area.
So what really was Gobekli Tepe, who built it, how did they build it and what was their motivation? There have been a number of simplistic explanations aimed to answer these questions, that have more to do with keeping history as we know it intact rather than anything. A prominent skeptic of the implications of the findings Michael Schramer says:
‘The site can be explained by hunter-gathering communities around the region building a shrine in their leisure.’
Other explanations along similar lines are it being a temple or the world's first astronomical observatory. Whilst the site most probably had religious and astrological significance like many megalithic structures akin to it, there is still no complete explanation around its construction and significance. How could hunter-gathering societies whose prime motivation is food and survival dedicate energy and resources to a site of this scale? What is the symbolism behind the strange carvings found in the columns?
Besides the scale, how could the finish on the rocks and structural layout of the site be so precise, a standard that modern-day rock-cutters would abide by. Also, how did these so-called hunter-gatherers have detailed astronomical knowledge and use this as an architectural feature while constructing the site?
Caption: Sections of the complex are said to align with specific constellations and stars. Particularly it has been proven that pillars, columns and geometric alignment of the site is heavily centered around the star Sirius.
Even with a degree of skepticism, it must be acknowledged that the community behind Gobekli Tepe was organized enough to have detailed knowledge of stone-masonry, large-scale logistics, civil engineering, astronomy and such related skills. It compels us to rethink the beginnings of civilization and acknowledge that our predecessors were much more advanced than history books give them credit for. Moving forwards though if we do accept that there was some form of advanced civilization responsible, questions still remain. What happened to the builders of the complex? Why were there no other civilizations for thousands of years?
The answers might lie in the time period 12,000 BC. Author and ancient civilization researcher Graham Hancock claims that the period coincided with the end of the last ice age and a series of extreme solar flares. These could have caused large-scale worldwide floods which would have erased most traces of civilization if present. The precursors or remnants of such a flood may have built Gobekli Tepe as a monument to preserve the memories of their civilization and culture. Remarkably Gobekli Tepe is within the proximity of the wider region where agriculture is attributed to have begun. And the dates for the birth of agriculture in the region can be argued to be after the construction of Gobekli Tepe. Mr. Hancock argues that after the last successors of the old pre-flood civilization died out, regular less advanced hunter-gathering villagers from the region took over the site and used it as shrines or places of inhabitation, gradually obscuring the true origins of the site. In conclusion, though, Gobekli Tepe is and will continue to be shrouded in mystery till a much larger scale excavation of the entire mound is carried out. The current Turkish government has been quick to advocate for the tourism potential in the site. Banners and exhibitions explaining the significance of this site can be found in Turkish Airports and Cultural Centers across the country. Given the relative instabilities in Egypt and the commercialization around the Giza pyramids, more discerning tourists of late have been diverting their travels to Gobekli Tepe.
- David Hilton
-He is a Bachelors (Hons) in History and Religious Studies.
-He currently works as a vertical lead for Advertising and Marketing firm in the U.K. Outside of work he still maintains a keen interest in history and current affairs
-Alternative History and Modern Geo-Political trends are his two main research interests.
-Besides this he is also passionate about brand management and increasing engagement with digital audiences.