Gobekli Tepe translates as "Potbelly Hill" and is one of the greatest archeological discoveries ever made. It is a super ancient Neolithic archeological site in Southeastern Turkey that is believed to date from 9,500 to 8,000 BC. It is regarded as one of the most important archeological discoveries. One that has the potential to profoundly change the way we understand a crucial stage in the development of human society.

Gobekli Tepe is challenging our ideas of how urban civilizations began. For another (not quite as ancient) site in Turkey, see the ruins of the ancient city of Troy from the Iliad on the other side of the country.


The Age Of Gobekli Tepe

Few structures known to man can rival that age. By comparison, the pyramids of Giza are "only" around 4,500 years old having been built between 2550 to 2490 B.C. That makes the construction of the pyramids closer to our time than the 10,000 to 11.500-year-old Gobekili Tepe. The Great Pyramid of Giza should be on everyone's bucket list has it is one of the most stunning structures of the ancient world and visitors can go inside!

National Geographic even says that the pillars are over 12,000 years old.

  • 5,500 to 7,500 Years: Before The Great Pyramids
  • 6,000 Years: Before The Age Of Writing
  • 6,000 Years: Before Stonehenge
  • 6,000 Years: Before Akkadia - The World's First Empire
  • 10,000 to 11,500 Years: Before You Read This Article

It was built as the last of the mammoths were dying out on the mainland (although a population of mammoths continued to live on Wrangel Island until 3,700 years ago).

What It May Have Been Used For

It was built at the time of the first permanent human settlements in this part of the world. But what is strange is that this may not have been built by a permanently settled population. There is no clear evidence of agriculture cultivation and it was far from a known water source. It may have been a kind of "world's first temple" by groups of nomadic or semi-nomadic hunter-gatherers.

Experts continue to debate what the site was used as. Some believe it was a stone-age mountain sanctuary and that is the remains of a temple and it has been called a "cathedral on a hill." Perhaps it was a pilgrimage destination that attracted worshippers from as far away as 150 kilometers or 90 miles.

Related: Everything You Need To Know About Visiting Egypt's Mystical Valley Of The kings

What Has Been Discovered

The tell (or archeological mound) is around 15 meters or 50 feet high. Gobekli Tepe follows a geometric pattern and covers an era of 8 hectares or 20 acres.

The site comprises a number of large circular structures supported by massive stone pillars. They are the world's largest known megaliths. Many of the pillars are richly decorated with anthropomorphic details, clothing, wild animals, and more.

  • Megaliths: The World's Largest Known Megaliths
  • Excavation: As Of 2021 Less Than 5% of the Site Has Been Excavated

Most of the carvings depict animals the most common are foxes, boar, and snakes, but there are also mouflon (wild sheep), onager, cranes, ducks, gazelles, vultures, and aurochs. The depictions all seem to be male and in an aggressive posture. On one pillar is a headless man with an erect phallus. The T-shape of the pillars themselves are believed to be anthropomorphic with the shaft being the body and the top being the head.

There is only one certain representation of a woman who is depicted naked on a slab. A number of smaller carved stones have been discovered as well mostly depicting animals and men - it seems they are also mostly all male.

  • Gazelles: Gazelle Bones Make Up Over 60% of The Total
  • Other Species: Boar, Sheep, Red Deer, Vultures, Cranes, Ducks, Geese

In the excavations that have only excavated some 5% of the site, over 100,000 bone fragments have been examined. They often have cut marks and splintered edges on them - indications that the animals were butchered and cooked. All of the animals were wild and none were domesticated - indicating people had not yet domesticated animals or farmed.

Related: Everything A Traveler Should Know Before Planning A Trip To Turkey

Visiting The Site and The Şanlıurfa Museum

When visiting Gobekli Tepe, pop into the Şanlıurfa Museum nearby in Şanlıurfa. The museum contains findings from the surrounding area including Gobekli Tepe and Harran. The new museum was inaugurated in 2015 and has 3 floors.

One does not need a tour to visit and Turkey is an easy country to explore by oneself. However, if one would like a guided tour, there are tours that will pick one up from the local airport. Eastern Turkey Tours is one company offering tours in this remote part of Turkey and a guide will be helpful to bring the site to life.

  • Price: 1 Car (Up To 3 People) $250, Minibus: (4-7 People) $500

Next: Cappadocia, Turkey: Why You Should Be Booking A Hot Air Balloon Tour (And How To Do It)