Archaeologists study possible Garden of Eden
An archaeological dig in Urfa could change the way human history is described, experts say.
By Ali Ciftci for SES Türkiye in Urfa and Ankara -- 22/11/12
From Ephesus to Diyarbakir's basalt city walls, Turkey is full of ancient archaeological treasures. And although it only recently made its way into travel guides, Gobekli Tepe ("Potbelly Hill") in Urfa province may well come to top them all.
"All the evidence shows that this is the place where humanity was born," Klaus Schmidt, a German professor of archaeology who is leading the site's excavation, told SES Türkiye.
The 9-hectare dig site's importance was discovered one day in 1994, when a shepherd stumbled upon carvings on rectangular stones while grazing his herd in the Xirabres village about 17 kilometres north of Urfa.
Images of several figures, including animals and hunters, were identified on the 45 T-shaped stone structures that have been excavated to date. Each formation weighs between 40 and 60 tonnes, and archaeologists expect to discover hundreds more as the dig continues.
Historians have maintained that only advanced, sedentary civilisations based on agriculture were capable of building structures on such a scale. However, Gobekli Tepe appears to have been constructed and used as a place of worship thousands of years before the agricultural revolution.
The site is the first evidence that hunter-gathering societies built shrines before establishing permanent settlements, leading Schmidt and other experts to say it represents one of the most significant archaeological discoveries.
"First there was a shrine, and the city followed," Schmidt said as he summarised the finding.
The T-shaped stone figures are thought to portray stylized humans. Archaeologists haven't determined how the stones were carried and erected, considering that only primitive hand tools existed at the time. Nor is it clear how the stones were constructed in a hunter-gathering age.
The discovery, once it is explained, could prompt some changes to prevailing theories.
Ian Hoddler, an archaeology professor at Stanford University, has said that "Gobekli Tepe will change everything we know about history." David Lewis William, a retired archaeologist at South Africa's Witwatersrand University, said "Gobekli Tepe is the biggest archaeological discovery in history," according to media reports.
Schmidt told SES Türkiye that excavations at the site have already turned up significant findings.
"The discoveries we've made in Gobekli Tepe show that this shrine is the oldest and largest center of worship in the world," he said. "Our research here shows that people who lived in that era age tried but were unable to domesticate wild animals including cattle, lions and foxes."
Schmidt added: "The pictures and embossments found on the upright polls give us certain ideas about the arts and lives of people who lived in that age."
But Gobekli Tepe's significance goes beyond academic debates on ancient history.
"The 12,000-year-old Gobekli Tepe is actually the 'Garden of Eden' where Adam and Eve lived," Schmidt said, citing Biblical history, documents in the Torah, and Assyrian tablets.
Meanwhile, local officials hope Urfa's cultural richness could help raise the province's profile.
At a recent symposium on Gobekli Tepe, Urfa Governor Celalettin Guvenc said, "As citizens of Urfa, we're doing everything we can to ensure that people from Turkey and beyond appreciate the global heritage we have here."
Deputy Mayor of Urfa Fevzi Yucetepe described Gobekli Tepe as "ground zero of history."
"Just as people set their clocks according to Greenwich, they also need to orient their historical compass to the 12 thousand-year-old Gobekli Tepe," Fevzi told SES Türkiye.