World’s oldest temple sheds light on human history

World’s oldest temple sheds light on human history

Since 1996, the site has been excavated under the direction of Klaus Schmidt. (Photo: Sunday's Zaman)

December 15, 2013, Sunday/ 00:00:00

Göbekli Tepe, located in the Turkey's Southeast region, offers clues to the many unsolved mysteries of civilization, and some secrets of human development have been uncovered here at the world's oldest temple.

Being a pre-pottery Neolithic center of worship, Göbekli Tepe was built 12,000 years ago. Excavations suggest that ancient people used to gather and worship at the Göbekli Tepe.

Sitting atop a tepe, or mound, and spreading over 80 decares, Göbekli Tepe is 17 kilometers east of Şanlıurfa province and three kilometers northeast of Örencik village. It lies 8,000 meters above sea level.

It is considered to be the oldest temple in the world and was added to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's (UNESCO) World Heritage Temporary List in 2011. “The traces of one of the World of Faith's oldest complex systems in Göbeklitepe [sic] prove that humans built monumental structures with the instincts of faith and divineness in the ancient times, unexpectedly. The humans related with Göbeklitepe, who lived all these progressions, were a part of a community that did not know ceramic or metal equipments, [did not] commence cereal cultivation, tame animals [or] start [a] settled lifestyle including the production of food,” the UNESCO website says.

Story of Göbekli Tepe

The discovery of Göbekli Tepe is quite interesting. According to a book published by the Göbekli Tepe Promotion Project (GTTP) titled “The World's First Temple: Göbekli Tepe,” in 1983, a farmer was working on his land when he found an object carved out of stone. He told the Şanlıurfa Museum about it and this led to Professor Halet Çembel and Professor Robert Braidwood's official discovery of Göbekli Tepe. Çembel is the head of the prehistory department at İstanbul University and Braidwood is from the University of Chicago. The latter was performing "surface surveys" as part of a joint project named "Prehistoric Research in the Southeastern Anatolia." Since 1996, the site has been excavated under the direction of Klaus Schmidt.

Göbekli Tepe was declared a first-degree protected site by the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism. The book on the site indicates that "geomagnetic and geo-radar surveys made in a 5,000 square-meter area in Göbekli Tepee revealed 20 circular enclosures, six of which have thus far been unearthed."

According to Nezih Başgelen, who is an editor of material on the Neolithic Period, "the geographical location of Turkey played an important role in each period of civilization, hosted many ancient civilizations and left numerous historical traces," the GTTP's book says. “Especially the recent research shows that Anatolia has a privileged [place] in the heart of human history in the Neolithic Period."

Doğuş Group, the main sponsor of the GTTP, published its book on the site in an effort to increase people's awareness of the valuable historical heritage in Turkey's backyard and also to create international awareness of the incredible site. “The most interesting findings in Göbekli Tepe are the T-shaped monumental pillars with reliefs of animals, some carved in great detail and with artistic sophistication. The central pillars standing in parallel to each other are surrounded by additional pillars, building a circular or oval-shaped indoor temple. The T-shaped and 'reversed L' pillars are thought to symbolize humans," the book says.

Near the grounds of Göbekli Tepe is an ancient mulberry tree that stands on its own. The GTTP's book describes it as a "silent witness to human history. Local people call the tree the wishing tree. The hill where the tree is located is like a pilgrimage for old people. The local people visit the tree, tie a [piece of] fabric [on it] and make a wish."

Various animal depictions discovered at Göbekli Tepe

Göbekli Tepe is home to various kinds of animals. Sculptures with the heads of wolves, wild boars, cranes, bulls, wild ducks, storks, snakes, scorpions, wild sheep, lions, spiders; headless human body engravings; and depictions of male organs of exaggerated dimensions have been unearthed so far by the archeologists, according to the GTTP's book.

The director of Şanlıurfa Museum, Müslüm Ercan, said that the excavations in Göbekli Tepe will continue for at least another 80 years, as there are many parts of the settlement still to be unearthed. “Human history is being rewritten and people are amazed by this settlement when they visit,” Ercan says.

In November, a popular photo exhibition was opened in Şanlıurfa presenting 25 photos from Göbekli Tepe taken by photographer Zekai Demir. Labor and Social Security Minister Faruk Çelik recently said that peace in the Şanlıurfa province dates back to Göbekli Tepe, and millions of people will flock to Şanlıurfa as Göbekli Tepe continues to be discovered.

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