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Turkish hill where civilization began – Science-Environment News – Report by AFR

Perched on a sun-kissed hilltop in southeastern Turkey, the world’s oldest known religious sanctuary is slowly revealing its secrets.

“When we open a new ditch, we never know what to expect,” says Lee Clare from the German Archaeological Institute, who has been excavating there since 2013.

“It’s always a big surprise.”

Göbekli Tepe, which means “belly belly mound” in Turkish, is arguably the most important archaeological site on earth.

Thousands of our prehistoric ancestors gathered around its ornate T-shaped megalithic columns to worship more than 7,000 years before Stonehenge or the earliest Egyptian pyramids.

“Its importance can hardly be overestimated,” Sean Lawrence, an assistant professor of history at West Virginia University, told AFP.

Academics believe that the history of human habitation in these hills near the Syrian border began around 12,000 years ago, when groups of Stone Age hunter-gatherers came together to establish these sites.

Gobekli Tepe — which some experts believe was never actually inhabited — may be part of a vast sacred landscape that includes other nearby hilly landscapes that archaeologists believe are even older.

– Endless Mystery –

Nobody would have thought before the German archaeologist and prehistorian Klaus Schmidt began to bring the first discoveries to the surface in 1995.

Ever since, German and Turkish archaeologists have been working there in the sun, and ever-longer lines of tourists join them to contemplate the many mysteries.

When exactly it all began is even unclear.

“Exact years are almost impossible to verify,” Lawrence said.

However, the oldest Egyptian monument, the Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara, was built around 2700 BC. B.C.”, more than seven millennia after Göbekli Tepe.

“This was the end of what are often thought of as Stone Age hunter-gatherer societies and the beginning of sedentary societies,” Lawrence added.

“Endless mysteries remain surrounding the site, including how the work is organized and how the sites are used,” he said.

Gobekli Tepe has even inspired the Netflix sci-fi psychological thriller series The Gift, centered around one of the ancient inscriptions on its pillars.

Schmidt – who often wore a white traditional turban during excavations – puzzled over the megaliths, which were carved with images of foxes, wild boar, ducks, lizards and a leopard, for over two decades until his untimely death at the age of 61 in 2014.

– ‘time zero’ –

The site was originally believed to be purely ritual in nature. But according to Clare, there is now “good evidence” for the beginning of sedentary life with some buildings resembling those of the same age found in northern Syria.

Turkey – which has historically not been known for making the most of its vast archaeological heritage – has embraced the discoveries wholeheartedly.

The items unearthed at Göbekli Tepe are displayed in the impressive archaeological museum in the nearby town of Sanliurfa, itself so old that it is believed that Abraham was born there.

In fact, according to its director Celal Uludag, the new museum, built in 2015, has “the most extensive Neolithic collection in the world”. “All the portable artefacts of Göbekli Tepe are on display here.”

“This is a journey into civilization, (to) the zero point of time,” said Aydin Aslan, head of Sanliurfa’s Culture and Tourism Directorate.

“Gobekli Tepe sheds light on prehistory, so it is a common heritage of mankind,” he said proudly.

– ‘Go deeper’ –

Last year, Turkey’s Culture Ministry boosted funding for more excavations in the region as part of its Stone Hills project, including money for the Karahan Tepe hilltop site – some 35 kilometers from Göbekli Tepe – which some suspect is still in existence is older.

“We will now go deeper because Göbekli Tepe is not the only one,” Culture Minister Nuri Ersoy said last year.

The additional funding “gives us a fantastic opportunity to compare our results from Göbekli Tepe with new contemporaneous sites in the Sanliurfa region,” Clare said.

Göbekli Tepe has also breathed new life into a poor and long-neglected region, further hit by civil war just across the border. Syrian refugees now make up a quarter of Sanliurfa’s population.

Over a million tourists visited Sanliurfa in 2019 and the city expects to return to pre-pandemic levels this year.

“Today, Gobekli Tepe has started to directly touch the city’s economy,” said Aslan, who hopes its glorious past could be a key element in the city’s future.

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