The temple complex that has been unearthed near the central Turkey town of Urfa is the most ancient religious monument that has ever been discovered, predating the Giza pyramids by as much as 7,000 years. The site was erected over 11,000 years ago. It was then suddenly abandoned around 8,000 BC, when the ancient inhabitants purposely buried the site under tons of dirt, creating the artificial hilltop that has preserved it in pristine condition. Each one of the ancient monoliths has been found to weigh between 7 and 10 tons and is elaborately carved with vultures, scorpions and human hands. These could only have been produced by a people with a complex culture and a great deal of knowledge. The people who built Gobekli Tepe had their roots in the Mesolithic yet they represent a turning point in the development of modern man, having been the creators of a distinctly new type of human society.
A society that supported artisans and a priest class capable of building Gobekli Tepe must have had agricultural. With agriculture brought a sedentary lifestyle, one in contrast to the nomadic ones of Mesolithic man. Mesolithic man had been hunters and gatherers, roaming from place to place in search of food and resources. As temperatures began to warm after the last ice age, some groups began to take up the practice of agriculture. With agriculture came excess, trade and the potential for wealth. With his belly full, man began to spend his time in the quest for knowledge, meaning and in the creation of art. The skills needed to master carving the monoliths, for example, was an art form that must have taken at least generations to master. Just to get the stones cut from the bedrock and transported to their final resting places takes a kind of knowledge that does not appear overnight.
The ritual center near Urfa, made from stone and richly carved, is a perfect example of this change in culture that occurred at the end of the Mesolithic. In this new type of society, rite and ritual, ushered in by a new priest class, were practiced. This priest class would have emerged naturally due to the need to study the stars and sky. A study of the stars would have been necessary in order to know the best time to plant and to harvest. In an agricultural based society, calendars are needed and thus agricultural can be seen to be the pillar upon with modern society was built.
The carvings on the pillars at Gobekli Tepe gives us glimpses into their lives, their rituals and their religious beliefs. There are many carvings of vultures, scorpions, wild boars, cattle, lions, foxes and leopards. There is also evidence that the site was used for millennia, and each generation added new pillars to the site. There is some speculation as to the exact nature of the religious rites that went on at Gobekli Tepe. One thought is that Gobekli Tepe may have been a burial site. Carvings found on the pillars show vultures devouring a headless human corpse. In ancient myth, vultures carried flesh to the heavens, to the Gods. Sky burials, where a corpse is hung for the vultures to devour, are still practiced today in Tibet. This ancient ritual may have been practiced at Gobekli Tepe.
It has also been pointed out that the pillars bear the resemblance to the human form. The rectangular head sits upon a thick body. Many of the pillars are carved with arms and jointed fingers, giving further support for this theory. If the pillars to represent Gods, they are in human form. Myths from ancient texts tell us that “God formed Man in His Image.” The carvings at Gobekli Tepe would be evidence of just how ancient this belief is. Whether the pillars were meant to resemble the human form or not, they do show that ancient man held very intense beliefs in something of a religious nature, to the extent that he began to spend great amounts of energy and time into the creation of monuments in order to worship and conduct ritual.
With the advent of agriculture, man began to look up instead of down. Up at the stars to guide him through the seasons and the moon to guide him through the month. Time began to be counted, weeks, months and years were created. From out of the Mesolithic darkness we can see that ancient man began following the light of civilization. The earliest twinklings of modern civilization have been found with the unearthing of the monuments at Urfa.