Gobekli Tepe, the world’s oldest known temple, dates back more than 11,000 years and is located near the ancient city of Şanlıurfa.
The history of Şanlıurfa is recorded from the 4th century BC, but may date back to 9000 BC, when there is ample evidence for the surrounding sites at Duru, Harran and Nevali Cori. It was one of several cities in the Euphrates-Tigris basin, the cradle of the Mesopotamian civilization. According to Turkish Muslim traditions Urfa (its name since Byzantine days) is the biblical city of Ur of the Chaldees, due to its proximity to the biblical village of Harran. However, based on historical and archaeological evidence, the city of Ur is today generally known to have been in southern Iraq, and the true birthplace of Abraham is still in question. Urfa is also known as the birthplace of Job.
The tell has a height of 15 m (49 ft) and is about 300 m (984 ft) in diameter. It is approximately 760 m (2,493 ft) above sea level. It was first noted in a survey conducted by Istanbul University and the University of Chicago in 1964. The survey recognized that the rise could not entirely be a natural feature, but postulated that a Byzantine cemetery lay beneath. The survey noted a large number of flints and the presence of limestone slabs thought to be grave markers. The hill had long been under agricultural cultivation; generations of local inhabitants had frequently moved rocks and placed them in clearance piles, possibly destroying much archaeological evidence in the process.
Klaus Schmidt, chief archaeologist of Göbekli Tepe, is of the view that religion and the mobilization of labor behind the building of religious centers like Göbekli Tepe were the chief factors driving the development of civilization and the transition from the Paleolithic to the Neolithic ages
Schmidt, now of the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut, was working as part of a team at a nearby site but at the same time looking for another site to dig leading a team of his own. He reviewed the archaeological literature on the surrounding area, found the Chicago researchers’ brief description of Göbekli Tepe, and decided to give it another look. “Within minutes”, he said, he realized that the flint chips on the surface of the tell were prehistoric. The following year (1995) he began excavating there in collaboration with the Şanlıurfa Museum. T-shaped pillars were soon discovered. Some had apparently undergone attempts at smashing, probably by farmers who mistook them for ordinary large rocks.
Schmidt’s view, shared by most experts, is that Göbekli Tepe is a stone-age mountain sanctuary. Radiocarbon dating as well as comparative, stylistic analysis indicate that it is the oldest religious site found to date. Schmidt believes that what he calls this “cathedral on a hill” was a pilgrimage destination attracting worshipers up to 100 miles (160 km) distant.
In 2010, Global Heritage Fund (GHF) announced it will undertake a multi-year conservation program to preserve Göbekli Tepe. Partners include Klaus Schmidt and the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut, German Research Foundation, Şanlıurfa Municipal Government, and the Turkish Ministry of Tourism and Culture.
The stated goals of the GHF Göbekli Tepe project are to support the preparation of a site management and conservation plan, construction of a shelter over the exposed archaeological features, training community members in guiding and conservation, and helping Turkish authorities secure UNESCO World Heritage Site designation for Gobekli Tepe.
One theory about Gobekli Tepe is the nearby holes were part of a scenario where statues were placed in the larger holes and small fires were lit in the small holes.”
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