20 Historical Facts about Gobekli Tepe – The World’s Oldest Temple

If you think Stonehenge is ancient, Turkey’s archeological site called Gobekli Tepe will surprise you even more. Hunter-gatherers once roamed in the territory of present-day turkey built the world’s oldest known temple 6000 years before the construction of Stonehenge and 5000 years before the first known civilizations of mankind.

Today we recognize that temple as Gobekli Tepe. Unfortunately, we can’t tell whether it was a temple or something else with 100% confidence.  

The mystery surrounding its purposes makes the Gobekli Tepe interesting topic for everyone. Historians are vigorously trying to unravel the puzzles of this ancient structure. 

Despite the on-going excavations and purposed theories, there is a definite answer to why it was built, who built it, and how they constructed it.

However, there are somethings we do know and I am going to share them with you, so you will have a general knowledge about Gobekli Tepe. 

1. Gobekli Tepe means hill with belly in the Turkish language.

Some people interpret it as “a hill with a belly” or “a potbelly hill”. Its name is inspired by the location and shape of the site.

2. Gobekli Tepe locates on an artificial mound.

In the Turkic world, artificial mounts are pretty common and those mounds are locally known as Tepe.

Man-made mounds were also popular in other parts of the world. Archeologists discovered several earthen mounds in North America built by Native Americans. Some of those mounds were reached 100 ft. (30.5 m) in height and were built during 5000 years.

In most cases, mounds were built as burial grounds, religious and ceremonial centers, and the place of gatherings and governing points. 

One of those purposes may apply to Gobekli Tepe as well, although no one can exactly tell which one.

3. Gobekli Tepe was discovered by German archeologist Klaus Schmidt in 1994.

Klaus Schmidt

Although Schmidt was the lead archeologist to study the site, locals knew the presence of the site even earlier. But they dismissed it as the broken gravestone of the medieval cemetery.

For instance, the site was mentioned in one of the surveys conducted by Istanbul University and the University of Chicago.  

Concisely, Klaus Schmidt was the person who excavated and studied the site until he died from heart-attack while swimming in Germany in 2014. 

Nevertheless, the excavations are still ongoing in Gobekli Tepe and archeologists believe that more excavations are needed to unravel its mysterious past.

4. Gobekli Tepe was constructed after the Ice Age.

More specific measurements put its date somewhere between the 10th and 8th millennium B.C. (10,000 and 8,000 BC.). As a result of radiocarbon dating, archeologists determined its age be around 12,000 years.

The estimations are amazing because it is even 5000 years older than the first known civilization of mankind, which was found in Mesopotamia.  

5. When its age was estimated, scientists were very much surprised.

The first question was how could a hunter-gatherer society build such sophisticated buildings with their primitive tools.

Originally, historians did not believe people of that period could make wonders such as Gobekli Tepe. It appears that some historians misjudged the capabilities of hunter-gatherers and some even admitted it.

6. Gobekli Tepe showed the world that history is not fully understood yet.

Archeologists scratched their heads with amazement. Historians were already puzzled with the techniques used to build Stonehenge. And, now comes the Gobekli Tepe, which was built even 6000 years before the Stonehenge.

This leads to the next fact. The world is not discovered yet. No one knows how much mystery is buried under our feet.

7. Klaus Schmidt stated that the discovery of Gobekli Tepe opens up a new chapter in world history.

The course of history changes quite regularly. In fact, changes are happening as discoveries are being made. That means the history we vigorously trying to explain is not accurate as we think.

One example, as we mentioned, is that modern historians did not believe that hunter-gatherer societies are capable of building sophisticated structures without having proper tools and engineering knowledge. But inhabitants of Gobekli Tepe destroyed those assumptions.

8. Before the excavations, Gobekli Tepe was covered with agricultural fields.

Locals were planting crops without knowing what laid underneath those fields. According to one source, it was a local farmer who found the Gobekli Tepe.

One day when a farmer was cultivating his field, he uncovered limestone block poking up in his field. He tried to remove it by digging but couldn’t.

Finally, he understood that it must be a pillar of something bigger, so he contacted the local museum, which in turn contacted Schmidt.   

9. Gobekli Tepe locates in fertile grasslands.

Most historians are agreeing that pre-historic people were always on the move. They looked for favorable weather conditions and fertile grounds.

Gobekli Tepe is one of those ideal places. The location has favorable weather conditions and rich soil. Therefore, the inhabitants might have decided to settle there and claim the land building their permanent structures.

10. Circles and pillars were the main frameworks of Gobekli Tepe.

There is something magical and mysterious about circles and pillars. Prehistoric people used those shapes pretty commonly in their structures.

As you may already know, the Stonehenge also used similar structures although they located thousands of miles from the Gobekli Tepe. 

Some suggest circles and pillars were mostly used to worship gods and conduct rituals.

11. Gobekli Tepe has many T shaped pillars and none exactly knows their purpose.

Gobekli Tepe T shaped pillar

According to Schmidt, T shaped pillars represent the humans or the dominance of humans in the area.

Some other suggestions state that inhabitants might have used them as guardians to scare unwanted guests from the area. Or they may have used them as symbols of superior gods to held collective ceremonies and worships.

12. Inhabitants abandoned Gobekli Tepe for unknown reasons.

The reason why they deserted the place still remains a mystery. However, archeologists found scattered bones inside the site and the site was totally buried with dirt.

That hints either natural or human causes may have pressured the sudden disappearance of inhabitants. 

Some of the possible causes are sudden disputes among the population, outside attacks, disease, or unfavorable weather changes.

13. The discovery of Gobekli Tepe showed that the constructions of monuments and creations of artwork did not start with the development of agriculture.

Previously, historians thought that full-time professions such as masonry, priesthood, and construction began when agricultural societies emerged.

When people started working collectively in the agricultural fields, it boosted food surplus. And some people no longer need to work in food production. So, other professions emerged.

Interestingly, Gobekli Tepe defies those assumptions. Although the inhabitants were hunter-gatherers, they created outstanding stone structures as professional craftsmen. 

Builders of Gobekli Tepe chipped the large blocks of limestone and then carved them with symbols and shapes.

14. Pieces of evidence show that Gobekli Tepe was not a residential site but it may have been a temple where rituals and worships took place.

Klaus Schmidt personally believed that it might have been a temple. Because during the excavations, archeologists did not find remnants of everyday life such as a fireplace, pits, trash, or any other evidence that could suggest people lived there long-term.

15. Gobekli Tepe was buried before it was abandoned.

The question that boggles every historian’s mind is why. Archeologists explain that either inhabitants of Gobekli Tepe loved the place so much and buried the place to preserve for the young generation or they might have deserted the temple by converting to a new religion.

16. Some pillars of Gobekli Tepe weigh about 20 tons and have strange carvings on them.

Stone carvings are not something unusual but carvings in that day and age definitely surprise many. 

The majority of Gobekli Tepe carvings depict birds, insects, cattle, vultures, foxes, snakes, and other animals.

More mysterious among them are the depictions of some humanoid forms that nobody understands the meaning.

Inhabitants probably tried to transmit a message through shapes since they did not have a writing system. 

The first writings emerged 6000 years after the Gobekli Tepe.

17. Every pillar, every shape, and every carving have been done just with stone tools.

Gobekli Tepe Carvings

At that time, people did not have sharp iron tools. It is amazing to realize how those people turned giant blocks of rock to the evenly-shaped stones with one chip at a time.

Apart from great craftsmanship, the project may have required collective effort of inhabitants given the size of blocks and extend of work.

That also means that something bonded those people together. They worked together not only one day but for years. 

One theory suggests that collective feasts and ceremonies might have attracted those people to work together.

18. There is also an alien theory about Gobekli Tepe.

Alien theorists claim that Gobekli Tepe, as well as other mysterious ancient structures, was built by the lost civilizations of mankind.

They believed that highly developed civilizations have existed in the past, but the majority of them went extinct due to a natural catastrophe such as large asteroid coming down to earth.

According to them, that catastrophic event took place right after the ice age. And now people are discovering constructions built by them or by their surviving colonies.

Of course, it is an interesting theory but the majority of historians do not support those explanations.

19. Gobekli Tepe is open for the tourists.

Turkey organized an outstanding exhibition center in Gobekli Tepe to showcase the planet’s oldest temple to both local and international tourists.

If anyone interested in visiting Gobekli Tepe, they need to visit Turkey first. And Gobekli Tepe is not the only interesting place Turkey offers.

If you are a history enthusiast like me, you will find the historical landscape of Istanbul and the amazing architecture of the city very amusing.

20. Gobekli Tepe might have been a temple but it led to the appearance of civilizations.

Schmidt once famously said, “first came the temple, then the city”. That statement summarizes how first people bonded around the religion and built ceremonial and worship sites. That type of socialization, later on, led to the appearance of cities with more complex societies.

By Arslan Batyrovich

Founder of
Writer, Researcher, Fact-finder, and All-in-one
Loves nature, Likes history, and Adores anything interesting
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