Göbekli Tepe, the oldest temple in the world is in Turkey

It is probably the oldest temple in the world: the Göbekli Tepe monumental complex in southeastern Turkey is almost 12,000 years old and marks the time when humanity was discovering the domestication of animals and the cultivation of plants, the basis for its future development.

The arid hill, a dozen kilometers northeast of the city of Sanliurfa, is home to several circular structures made up of ten stone pillars, carved in the shape of T, up to 5.5 meters high. Although only four sets have been excavated to date, georadar analyses indicate that there are still 16 more underground.

But the most striking thing is not the size of the monoliths, but their decoration: reliefs and engravings of foxes, bulls, lions, cranes, ducks, snakes and once human, a fauna carved in limestone in an era without metals. Only with basalt or flint tools.

Last year Unesco registered Göbekli Tepe as a World Cultural Heritage Site and since then the site has been open to visitors and access has been built for visitors and awnings that protect the whole.

The discovery of the sanctuary, which the German Archaeological Institute (DAI) has excavated since 1990, has broken many concepts of archaeology. It shows that the societies of the time, which barely left the hunter-gatherer phase behind, were already able to organize themselves to build huge monuments.

Until now it was thought that at that time humans lived together in groups of about 15 people, without specialization in trades, but to build Göbekli Tepe you need hundreds of well-coordinated people," says Turkish archaeologist Devrim Sönmez, a researcher at the DAI in Istanbul.

Perhaps it was precisely the need to keep a large group of people in the same place for years - essential for cutting stones, transporting them and erecting them - that drove the shift from ancient nomadism to sedentaryism. In any case, just at the time when Göbekli Tepe was erected, from 9,500 BC, there are indications of the domestication of animals and the cultivation of plants in this region of Anatolia, now Turkey.

However, the builders still did not know about ceramics, or rather, they still did not use them to make containers, although they did use figurines, says Sönmez. And they knew textiles, beaded necklaces, and fine bone tools.

People tend to think that humans were primitive at that time, but their brain capacity was similar to today's, they were creative and knew how to solve problems very well," he adds.

Carving monoliths weighing more than ten tons into nearby rock formations, moving them a hundred meters uphill and placing them in a circle required admirable planning and coordination.

"The most mysterious thing is that we do not know where the builders lived: on the hill, there are traces of places of fire and food, which could have been part of a ritual, but not of permanent homes or a continuous settlement. But there are cistern structures to provide water for the place," he says.

Göbekli Tepe has been compared by experts to Stonehenge, but apart from the fact that the anatolian monument is six millennia older, its huge stone pillars may have had a roof and formed a closed enclosure, says Sönmez.

In turn, the archaeologist is skeptical of recent theories that the animal sets on the pillars represented constellations of stars. "Of course, stars were very important to humans at this time and they certainly knew them well, but we have no evidence to say that precisely these reliefs or the alignment of the stones are related to astronomy.

Nevertheless, this site can still hold many surprises: so far it is estimated that only five percent has been excavated.