Turkey: Ancient Pagan Temmple Site Yields New Clues On Origins Of Farming
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Itís the last day of the excavating year at Gobekli Tepe, the hill-top neolithic site whose circles of huge decorated T-shaped stones are at least 5,000 years older than any other monumental structure ever found.
Workmen have already buried the bases of the stones in rubble to protect them from the winter rain. Now they are laying raised walkways into the centre of a site that was previously off-limits to visitors.
In between shouted instructions, the German archaeologist who has been excavating the site since 1994 sums up four more months of digging. "This is not like an ordinary excavation, uncovering a wall here and the corner of a house there," Klaus Schmidt says, standing at the highest point of a 15-metre high artificial mound that covers nine hectares.
"In 14 years, we have uncovered barely five percent of what is here. There are decades of work ahead."
Apart from a new transverse cut to the left of the main dig, and the excavation of a small, late circle that probably dates from about 8,500 B.C., little appears to have changed since March. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
But there have been striking discoveries: a U-shaped stone sculpted with leopards and a boar that Schmidt compares to the Lion Gate at Mycenae; two almost life-size sculptures of a boar and wild cat found embedded within the rubble walls surrounding one early enclosure.
Schmidt and his team have also uncovered a hollowed-out stone, roughly four-foot square, lying cracked in the middle of one of the circles.
"We found similar stones in other enclosures, and we assumed they are some sort of door", Schmidt says. "The position of this one makes us wonder whether the circles werenít vaulted," like the trulli of southern Italy, or the famous bee-hive houses at Harran, just south of Gobekli Tepe.
Potentially much more significant, although almost invisible to the untrained eye, archaeologists have also uncovered evidence that the builders of at least one of the oldest circles had dug roughly five meters down through the mound before erecting the standing stones on the bedrock.
"For the time being this is just hypothesis, but this leaves us wondering whether the site dates back to before [c. 9500 b.c.], when the earliest circles were built," Schmidt says. "Piling up a five-meter mound is not the work of one night."
Whatever the carbon-dating eventually shows, Gobekli Tepe stands at the cusp of what is arguably the biggest social revolution in human history - the transformation of semi-nomadic hunters into settled farmers.
Archaeologists now know a great deal about the whens and wheres of the birth of agriculture.
DNA tests on wild wheat growing on Karacadag, a mountain just east of Gobeklitepe, suggest it may have been the source of early cultivated strains. At Nevali Cori, a neolithic village 40 miles northwest of Schmidtís site, archaeologists found seeds of domesticated einkorn wheat dating from 9000 b.c.