Göbekli Tepe

Professor Klaus Schmidt was one of the most distinguished German archeologists to have worked on Turkish sites. One day he was informed that at Göbekli Tepe, not far from Urfa in southern Turkey, a gang of laborers had uncovered a large monolith. They were making preparations to destroy it so they could continue their work and not be delayed by archeological inquires and examinations.

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View of the site, one can easily see the imposing size of the monoliths.

The professor had previously heard of Göbekli Tepe, it was estimated that the area might house Byzantine remains. Schmidt soon arrived in Göbekli Tepe, and upon seeing the monolith quickly proceeded to excavate the rest of it. It measured 3 meters tall, it’s sides adorned with bas-relief depictions of animals. After examining the monolith for sometime, Schmidt found himself before a troubling dilemma. He could rebury the monolith, leaving it unseen and unknown as it had been for millennia, or he could excavate the surrounding area, a decision that would ultimately make Göbekli Tepe the focus of the rest of his life’s work. For Professor Schmidt, the choice was rather simple; he began making the necessary preparations.


The excavation site, showing the walls and the monoliths.

Klaus Schmidt knew at once that the monolith was from a most ancient era. Carbon dating would eventually reveal the monolith to be some eleven-thousand years old. Now, the oldest testaments of known civilization, either in Egypt or Mesopotamia, date to only five or six thousand years.

So for twenty years the professor slowly and methodically excavated Göbekli Tepe. In time, he would uncover a circular wall, in the middle of which rose a number of tall monoliths surrounding two larger monoliths at the center of the circle, ornamented with depictions of animals in bas-relief, like the first, as well as human forms. What was to be made of this rather strange construction? Schmidt thought it likely that what he had uncovered was a tomb of some sort, yet no human remains were found.

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A bas-relief of an animal on one of the monoliths, the oldest sculpture ever discovered.

It was hypothesized that shortly after its completion, the monument had been buried. No humans were meant to visit site, Schmidt posited, only the spirits of the dead. The discovery of the monoliths marked the beginning of the archeological work to be done at Göbekli Tepe. Certainly there must be future discoveries to made in the surrounding areas.

Professor Schmidt concluded that Göbekli Tepe was home to the creation of architecture, as theses were the first known monuments erected by mankind. And it is likely, given the ancient cultures that inhabited the area, that Göbekli Tepe and the environs also witnessed the birth of agriculture.


The only statue of the era, nearly eleven thousand years old, found at a neighboring site.

Göbekli Tepe, which has only just begun to speak, is undoubtedly a total revolution of our understanding of history, for the simple reason that because of these discoveries we now know that human civilization began millennia earlier than previously thought.


Professor Klaus Schmidt talking to me about Göbekli Tepe.

A few weeks after our visit, I learned of the sudden death of Professor Schmidt. The loss for Göbekli Tepe, and for archeology in general, is tremendous. He was truly cut from the same cloth as the giants of his field, which is unfortunately an increasingly rare quality nowadays.

by  Prince Michael of Greece