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The archaeological site of Göbeklitepe is located in the north east of the Sanlıurfa city center (southeast Turkey), 18 km away from the city center and close to the village of Örencik. Göbeklitepe is situated on the summit of mountain range, defining the northern border of Harran Plain, and stands out from afar, as a feature dominating the landscape. It is approximately 800 m above the sea level. The size of the mound, which is consisted of man-made remains, is approximately 300x300 m and the rock plateau on which this knoll stands, approximately 1 km long, is full of quarries and workshops of Neolithic Period.
The site was discovered in 1963 and named V52 as a Neolithic settlement, during the surface surveys realized as a part of a Joint Project named "Prehistoric Research in Southeastern Anatolia" by Istanbul University in cooperation with Chicago University. It was first mentioned in Peter Benedict's article "Survey Work in Southeastern Anatolia", in 1980, but not recognized in its importance. In 1994 the site was visited and described by Klaus Schmidt, scientist at the University of Heidelberg. It was only then that the monumental character of the site was recognized and comprehensive archaeological work carried out since 1995, at first as a cooperation between the Sanlıurfa Museum and the German Archaeological Institute (DAI), since 2007 as an excavation of the DAI directed by Klaus Schmidt.
The data, which were obtained as a result of the excavations continued uninterrupted since 1995 show that Göbeklitepe was a cult center, made by mankind and dated to approximately 12,000 years before present. It is composed of approximately 20 round and oval structures, reaching 30 m in diameter. 6 of them have been exposed in excavations and others were identified by surveys in geomagnetic and georadar methods. The results of excavations and surveys showed that Göbeklitepe was a 12,000 years old major meeting centre composed of monumental structures built for ceremonial purposes, instead of spaces of daily life.
There are two T shaped free-standing pillars of 5 meters long, formed throughout limestone, in the center of these round shaped structures. Smaller pillars in the same form were placed on interior walls of structures and directed to the pillars in the center. Animal motifs and various abstract symbols carved on pillars are findings of the remains of some kind of a communication system, a symbolic world, memory and messages of 12,000 years ago. Monumental structures of Göbeklitepe were deliberately filled with soil by the people of Neolithic period who built them. The last hunters, who had begun to change their lifestyle in this period, had covered and left their old identities, important beliefs of their hunter-gatherer lives and symbolic world. Therefore findings have survived without any damage.
Human beings realized the transition from the hunter gatherer lifestyle to agriculture for the first time in world history in the Upper Mesopotamia, around 10th and 9th millennia B.C. Unique temples' mountain Göbeklitepe can be defined as the meeting center of last hunters. Göbeklitepe delivers the data which rewrites the considered models and theories of the time period which is called Neolithic Period in the history of archeological research. Moreover, it conveys the monumental architecture and advanced symbolic world of the last hunter groups who were close to the stage of transition to production and a culture which has reached an unexpected level for this period.
Göbeklitepe is a unique sacred space and sacred meeting center of Neolithic Period in terms of its location, dimensions, dating and monumentality of architectural ruins and sculptural pieces. There are settlement areas dating to the same period with Göbeklitepe and the existence of a cultural communication can be detected through small findings but these settlements are much smaller in scale and have functions different from Göbeklitepe which manifests a differing archaeological record.
Göbeklitepe is a unique archaeological site which has been preserving its existence with an untouched natural environment for 12,000 years while displaying unique archaeological findings. These features make Göbeklitepe incomparable and preferential.
Criterion (i): The monumental architectural examples, construction of sacred space and symbolic motives found in Göbeklitepe are indicators for an advanced social system created by human beings 12,000 years ago. Before the results of Göbeklitepe excavations, the Neolithic lifestyle was interpreted according to simpler criteria. The infrastructure required for creation of large scale sculptural and architectural monuments, the ability to act in large groups, handcrafts and artistic skills of individuals and the ritual impulses and beliefs that should have incited all these mentioned activities show us that the people of the period lived in a complex social life and could organize for a specific purpose. All these indicators appear to be very important steps in the cultural history especially when the particular time period Göbeklitepe people lived in is taken into account. Therefore the cults of Göbeklitepe represent a masterpiece of human creative genious.
Criterion (ii): The Upper Mesopotamian Region witnessed the transition from hunter gatherer lifestyle to agriculture firstly in the world history around 10th and 9th millennia BC. This date is the oldest date for the mentioned progression when universal data is considered. Göbeklitepe states in the center of the region where this cultural progression had took place. The people, who acted the mentioned cultural transition in Göbeklitepe, realized the first built temples of, in the meantime. The architects and construction masters of these temples were raised the world history in the same community. Besides, a rich symbolic repertoire was created in Göbeklitepe, with advanced samples of sculpture and low relief arts. These symbols are not elements done for only ornamentation, but motifs bearing a story, a meaning and/or a message. These symbols, found in Göbeklitepe, were also appeared in the settlement sites of the period with the similar content but in smaller scales. The possibility of comparison reached after the archaeological excavations done in North Iraq and Syria, denotes that Göbeklitepe constituted the center, cultural interaction and exchange of humanitarian values in Neolithic Period.
Criterion (iii): The Neolithic period cult, which was appeared with monumental architectural structures, large scale sculptures, symbolic language of content-rich motifs in relief technique, ended around 8000 BC. After this date, Göbeklitepe abandoned by humans and have not used for similar or different purposes. Thus, Göbeklitepe represents a unique cult center which was created by hunter-gatherer lifestyle and its social system and used only for this period, had no repetition or continuation in the following eras.
Criterion (iv): Göbeklitepe houses the most ancient sacred structures built by human hands. In earlier times, humans had used ritual places for themselves but, in doing so they had used natural shelters like caves. On the other hand the sacred spaces of Göbeklitepe were built by manpower. Architecture at Göbeklitepe is distinctive due to the existence of larger curvilinear and smaller rectangular structures with megaliths in the form of T-shaped stone pillars. It is considered that the T-shaped pillars represent stylized anthropomorphic beings, the horizontal and vertical parts respectively being the head and body. The pillars were anthropomorphic 'beings' of some sort, most probably mythical ancestors or even the first Gods depicted in a monumental way in the history of mankind. Mentioned structures are unique pieces according to their monumental dimensions and the topography they were built on and date.
Criterion (vi): The traces of one of the World of Faith's oldest complex systems in Göbeklitepe prove that humans built monumental structures with the instincts of faith and divineness in the ancient times, unexpectedly. The humans related with Göbeklitepe, who lived all these progressions, were a part of a community that did not know ceramic or metal equipments, commence cereal cultivation, tame animals and start settled lifestyle including the production of food. Nevertheless, they were the creators of an extant and rich symbolic language composed of large scale sculptural monuments, temple structures and relief motifs.
Göbeklitepe Archaeological Site is under protection by the Turkish Legislation for Preservation of Cultural and Natural Property, Law No.: 2863. Sanlıurfa Regional Council for Conservation of Cultural and Natural Heritage has registered the site as 1st degree archaeological site with the decision dated 27.09.2005 and numbered 422.
The site is being surveyed, excavated and published since 1995 by members of the Museum of Sanlıurfa and the German Archaeological Institute. Research not only focuses on excavations but involves researching social traditions and spiritual world of Pre-Pottery Neolithic human groups and anthropological studies. This extensive research has yielded reliable scientific results that rewrite the Neolithic Revolution and its background.
During the Neolithic Period, Göbeklitepe Archaeological Site had abandoned and filled with earth, for unknown reasons. As a result Göbeklitepe's megalithic architecture was sealed and protected until its rediscovery in the mid-1990s. Therefore the impacts of deterioration were limited and Göbeklitepe's unique architecture features are in good condition and naturally protected from adverse effects of development and/or neglect.
Yet, the site has been partly excavated and not been exposed to heavy tourism, which should be seen as a valuable opportunity. Together with the impressive landscape it is embedded in, it still comes across as "untouched" and offers an amazing feeling of discovery to the visitor. In recent years, site conservation applications are accelerated. A temporary roof structure (a metal shelter) was built over several of the excavated areas, a permanent roofing is planned to be built during the following season.
Göbeklitepe belongs to the period when the transition from hunting and gathering societies to food producing early village farming communities took place in South-eastern Anatolia during the 10th and 9th Millennia B.C., much earlier as in any other regions of the world. Today we know a lot about this pivotal period, and several sites are excavated like Çayönü, Nevalı Çori, Hallan Çemi or Körtik Tepe in Turkey, Nemrik and Qermez Dere in Northern Iraq and Mureybet, Jerf el Ahmar, Tell Abr and Tell Qaramel in Northern Syria. But no other site of this period yields all the elements discovered at Göbeklitepe.
Göbeklitepe is not only unique in its location on top of a huge hill: It is a landmark, overlooking the surrounding plains. The distinct character of the site is underlined by its architecture and diverse set of objects of art, ranging from small stone figurines through sculptures and statues of men and animals to large decorated megaliths. The dimensions of the megalithic stones of Göbeklitepe are similar with Stonehenge, but Göbeklitepe is 6000 years older than the famous British monument, and there is not only one circle, but many.
Göbeklitepe was not a settlement site, it had been a sanctuary. May be some people maintaining it had been living there all the time, but for reasons very different from the causes for early village life. Before the discovery of Göbeklitepe the common believe was that societies in the beginning of the 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. The megalithic sanctuaries of Göbeklitepe, erected within the 10th Millennium B.C. by hunter-gatherers, prove that the earliest monumental architecture was possible before agriculture provided people with food surpluses. The architecture and art of Göbeklitepe, which was not possible without organizers and specialists, demonstrates that in Upper Mesopotamia within the society of early Holocene hunter-gatherers a powerful elite is observable, who is not visible in the former Palaeolithic societies.
Göbeklitepe does not stand alone, the material culture shows strong connections with several other sites of the same date, which are settlements and form a cultic community encircled Göbeklitepe. At Nevalı Çori, a settlement site flooded in 1992 by the Atatürk Dam, for the first time a cult building with T-shaped pillars has been uncovered in 1987. Some of these pillars are comparable with the smaller pillars that are known from the later phase of Göbeklitepe (9th Millennium B.C.), which consists of small rectangular buildings containing often only two small central pillars, or none at all.
In the immediate vicinity of Göbeklitepe there are three more sites with similar, small T-shaped pillars visible on the surface, but neither at Sefer Tepe nor at Karahan or Hamzan Tepe excavations was conducted so far. It is clear, that these places form an inner circle of sites belonging to the cultic community of Göbeklitepe, but this community was not constricted to these sites. Throughout Upper Mesopotamia hints at the religious ideology of Göbeklitepe can be found in the material culture of settlement sites, while the case of another exclusive sanctuary remains unknown. All these sites date to the PPNA/Early PPNB, in the second half of 10th and 9th Millennia B.C. and all can be described as settled hunter-gatherer settlement sites, with a spatial division of residential and specialized workshop areas and a growing importance given to "Sondergebäude" (special buildings) used for communal and ritual purposes, including open courtyards as communal space.
At Göbeklitepe, finds with images of symbolic value are not restricted to the reliefs on the monumental Tshaped pillars or to sculptures. Shaft straighteners, objects used for making arrows, often have incised decorations of animals and various symbols. Several examples from Jerf el Ahmar and Tell Qaramel bear rich combinations of motifs showing groups of animals like snakes and scorpions, quadrupeds, and birds. Very similar motifs and symbols were incised into the so-called plaquettes of Jerf el Ahmar type. In contrast to the shaft straighteners, which have been grooved deeply as a defining functional attribute, the plaquettes (often little more than coin size) show no indication of an obvious use for any specific function.
They probably were produced just for the purpose of bearing the symbols incised on them. These plaquettes have been discovered in significant numbers at Tell Qaramel, Tel Abr, and Jerf el Ahmar; only one example has been found so far at Göbekli Tepe. These images offer a new symbolic world, a symbolic language, which had commonalities among the residents of the PPN sites in Upper Mesopotamia, they are part of a system of symbols, which was crucial to the societies who used it to store there cultural knowledge.
Consequently, Göbeklitepe is a unique site: "unique" in its role as a sanctuary with monumental architecture, but at the same time as a centre of a cultic community, whose traces can be found throughout all Upper Mesopotamia. Therefore it is not an easy task to find comparable properties to illustrate similarities with other sites on the World Heritage List. But after 16 years of excavation it is obvious that this is one of the most important archaeological sites in the world.
While by all means comparable to such other large sites in meaning and cultural importance, the monumental architecture at Göbeklitepe stand out due to their age being the oldest known built sanctuaries in the world and the crucial period of change in human cultural development they mark and make tangible by illustrating a symbolic world and cosmology of hunting and gathering societies at the dawn of the transition to food producing early village farming communities.