Rather than a centuries-long building project inspiring the transition to farming, Clare and others now think Gobekli Tepe was an attempt by hunter-gatherers clinging to their vanishing lifestyle as the world changed around them. Evidence from the surrounding region shows people at other sites were experimenting with domesticated animals and plants – a trend the people of “Belly Hill” might have been resisting.
Clare argues the site’s stone carvings are an important clue. Elaborate carvings of foxes, jaguars, serpents and vultures covering Gobekli Tepe’s pillars and walls “aren’t animals you see every day,” he said. “They’re more than just pictures, they’re narratives, which are very important in keeping groups together and creating a shared identity.”
When I first wandered across the site more than 15 years ago, I remember a feeling of great distance. Gobekli Tepe was built 6,000 years before Stonehenge, and the exact meaning of its carvings – like the world the people there once inhabited – is impossible to fathom.
That, of course, is part of the Gobekli Tepe’s tremendous magnetism. As thousands of visitors marvel at a place most people had never heard of a decade ago, researchers will continue trying to understand why it was built in the first place. And each new discovery promises to change what we now know about the site and the story of human civilisation.
“The new work isn’t destroying Klaus Schmidt’s thesis; it stands on his shoulders,” said Horejs. “There’s been a huge gain of knowledge, in my view. The interpretation is changing, but that’s what science is about.”
Ancient Engineering Marvels is a BBC Travel series that takes inspiration from unique architectural ideas or ingenious constructions built by past civilisations and cultures across the planet.
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