Gobekli Tepe: The World’s First Temple?

Predating Stonehenge by 6,000 years, Turkey’s stunning Gobekli Tepe upends the conventional view of the rise of civilization

by Andrew Curry

Six miles from Urfa, an ancient city in southeastern Turkey, Klaus Schmidt has made one of the most startling archaeological discoveries of our time: massive carved stones about 11,000 years old, crafted and arranged by prehistoric people who had not yet developed metal tools or even pottery.

The megaliths predate Stonehenge by some 6,000 years. The place is called Gobekli Tepe, and Schmidt, a German archaeologist who has been working here more than a decade, is convinced it’s the site of the world’s oldest temple.

Beyond, on the hillside, are four other rings of partially excavated pillars. Each ring has a roughly similar layout: in the center are two large stone T-shaped pillars encircled by slightly smaller stones facing inward. The tallest pillars tower 16 feet and, Schmidt says, weigh between seven and ten tons…

(read more: Smithsonian Magazine)

photos by Berthold Steinhilber; Illustration by Fernando Baptista

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