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31 January 2011
Professor Klaus Schmidt's views on Gobekli Tepe

German archaeologist Professor Klaus Schmidt first came to Turkey in 1978 for research but it wasn't until 1994 that he realized the importance of Göbekli Tepe, an early Neolithic site in the southeast of Turkey. "It would be better to call it the 'oldest yet found and excavated' place of cultic activity," he underlines. So how did the site's significance come to light? "One large piece of limestone [on this site] resembled the T-shaped head of pillars I knew from Nevali Çori, an Early Neolithic place some kilometers to the north. But unlike Nevalı Çorı, where they were found only in the context of several special buildings, those pillars seemed to appear everywhere at Göbekli Tepe, which made it stand out as something unique. Although there are other sites with T-shaped pillars in the region, Göbekli Tepe is totally unique in its monumentality. To date, none of the other sites in the area have been researched to the same extent as Gobekli Tepe." The German Archaeological Institute (DAI) supported him when he requested to start a dig at the site in 1994.
     For Professor Schmidt, Göbekli Tepe allows us an insight into the organization of hunter-gatherer groups. "The major discoveries as a result of work at the site are the realization that there must have been a very complex degree of organization in hunter-gatherer societies and that non-sedentary groups like those were building such monumental constructions," he explains. "To build those gigantic circular arrangements would have required a certain degree of cooperation between groups as well as some organization to coordinate work like this. Coordinating and supplying larger groups of people might also be the key to the early motivation behind sedentism."
     But could Göbekli Tepe have been a place of worship? "Since there are no finds hinting at regular living activity at the places, it must have been used for different activities and among those, cultic and ritual practices have to be mentioned prominently," he highlights. Another theory is that it could have been a burial ground but if so, where are the bones? "This cannot be excluded from current research," he says, adding: "Work is still going on and of course a possible connection to burial ritual has to be considered. Bones could be situated in some of the areas not excavated yet, for example within the 'banks' between the pillars."
     So how old is the site? "Finds at Göbekli Tepe and natural scientific age determination place the site in the 10th millennium BCE" he says, highlighting, "It appears that building activity at Göbekli Tepe ended at the end of the 9th millennium BCE."
     "Göbekli Tepe is approximately 300 meters wide and 15 meters high," he explains, with only roughly five percent of the site being excavated thus far. Unlike 100 years ago, today's archaeologists have access to a wide variety of technology to help them with their work. "The mound was examined in a geomagnetic survey which showed that there are many more circular arrangements of pillars buried there," he explains. "A 3D-laser scan was done recently to document the excavated areas in their current state. Several pillars have also been scanned and documented in detail. Judging by the dimensions of the whole mound and the results of the geomagnetic survey - indicating that there are more enclosures waiting to be uncovered; only a small area of the whole complex has been excavated so far," Professor Schmidt says. "It's hard to give a detailed schedule on how long further excavation will take," he points out and notes, "There's work for more than one generation of archaeologists at the place, without question."
     Unfortunately, Göbekli Tepe hit the news late last year because a 40-centimeter-high, T-shaped stela with a human head above and animal figure below was stolen from the site. The site was briefly closed to the public but security has been improved: there's now a gate to the site and also a camera system in place. As a result of increasing interest in Göbekli Tepe, there are plans for a visitor's center and a presentation of the site for the general public.
Edited from Todays' Zaman (28 January 2011)

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