Megaliths at the Göbekli Tepe site probably once supported roofs.
It’s sometimes called the "Turkish Stonehenge,” but archaeologists now believe the Neolithic temple at Göbekli Tepe in southeastern Turkey dates to as early as 10,000 BC, or about 7,000 years earlier than its more famous British counterpart.
According to Archaeology magazine, Göbekli Tepe is the oldest manmade place of worship yet discovered. Its most striking features are dozens of megalithic pillars placed in circles. The megaliths, which may have once supported roofs, are about nine feet tall.
Göbekli Tepe's circles range from 30 to 100 feet in diameter and are surrounded by rectangular stone walls about six feet high. Many of the pillars are carved with elaborate animal figure reliefs, including bulls, foxes, cranes, lions, ducks, scorpions, ants, spiders, and snakes. Other freestanding sculptures depicting the animals have also been found within the circles. During the most recent excavation, archaeologists uncovered a statue of a human, as well as sculptures of a vulture's head and a boar.
The oldest structures belong to what archaeologists call the early Pre-Pottery Neolithic A period, which ended around 9000 B.C. Strangely enough, the later remains, which date to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B period, or about 8000 B.C., are less elaborate. The earliest levels contain most of the T-shaped pillars and animal sculptures.
Archaeologist Klaus Schmidt and his colleagues estimate that at least 500 people were required to hew the 10- to 50-ton stone pillars from local quarries, move them from as far as a quarter-mile away, and erect them, a process that would have required a level of organization previously not believed of Stone Age people.
Before the discovery of Göbekli Tepe, archaeologists believed societies in the early Neolithic were organized into small bands of hunter-gatherers and that the first complex religious practices were developed by groups that had already mastered agriculture. They thought that the earliest monumental architecture was possible only after agriculture provided Neolithic people with food surpluses, freeing them from a constant focus on day-to-day survival.
A site of unbelievable artistry and intricate detail, Göbekli Tepe has turned this theory on its head, according to Archaeology magazine.
Click here for the Archaeology magazine article.
Most of the carvings show dangerous animals, such as this lion.