Monday, September 22, 2008



As a child, Klaus Schmidt used to grub around in caves in his native Germany in the hope of finding prehistoric paintings. Thirty years later, representing the German Archaeological Institute, he found something infinitely more important -- a temple inland complex almost twice as old as anything comparable on the planet. "This place is a supernova", says Schmidt, standing under a lone tree on a windswept hilltop 35 miles north of Turkey’s border with Syria. "Within a minute of first seeing it I knew I had two choices: go away and tell nobody, or spend the rest of my life working here." Behind him are the first folds of the Anatolian plateau. Ahead, the Mesopotamian plain, like a dust-colored sea, stretches south hundreds of miles to Baghdad and beyond. The stone circles of Gobekli Tepetemple inland are just in front, hidden under the brow of the hill. Compared to Stonehenge, Britain’s most famous prehistoric temple site, they are humble affairs. None of the circles excavated (four out of an estimated 20) are more than 30 meters across. What makes the discovery remarkable are the carvings of boars, foxes, lions, birds, snakes and scorpions, and their age. Dated at around 9,500 BC, these stones are 5,500 years older than the first cities of Mesopotamia, and 7,000 years older than Stonehenge. Never mind circular patterns or the stone-etchings, the people who erected this temple site did not even have pottery or cultivate wheat. They lived in villages. But they were hunters, not farmers. "Everybody used to think only complex, hierarchical civilizations could build such monumental sites, and that they only came about with the invention of agriculture", says Ian Hodder, a Stanford University Professor of Anthropology, who, since 1993, has directed digs at Catalhoyuk, Turkey’s most famous Neolithic site. "Gobekli changes everything. It’s elaborate, it’s complex and it is pre-agricultural. That fact alone makes the site one of the most important archaeological finds in a very long time." With only a fraction of the site opened up after a decade of excavations, Gobekli Tepe’s temple significance to the people who built it remains unclear. Some think the site was the center of a fertility rite, with the two tall stones at the center of each circle representing a man and woman. It’s a theory the tourist board in the nearby city of Urfa has taken up with alacrity. Visit the Garden of Eden, its brochures trumpet, see Adam and Eve.


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