by liberal japonicus
I don't often succumb to the slideshow posts that are often at the bottom of news stories ('see 5 celebs who regretted plastic surgery' was a recent one) so I'm not sure why I clicked on the 'see 6 ancient mysteries', but I'm quite glad I did. The first 4 were pretty ho-hum, Atlantis, Stonehenge, the Pyramids, Nazca lines. (I was maybe 9 or so when I read Chariots of Fire by Eric von Däniken and while it is embarassing to admit to having read such tripe, it either instilled or tapped into a desire I still have to know more about the past) The 5th one was interesting, the Antikythera mechanism, but I had already seen it made out of Legos, so it wasn't like I was unaware of it. (2 part Nature video link and link)
Known as Göbekli Tepe (pronounced Guh-behk-LEE TEH-peh), the site is vaguely reminiscent of Stonehenge, except that Göbekli Tepe was built much earlier and is made not from roughly hewn blocks but from cleanly carved limestone pillars splashed with bas-reliefs of animals—a cavalcade of gazelles, snakes, foxes, scorpions, and ferocious wild boars. The assemblage was built some 11,600 years ago, seven millennia before the Great Pyramid of Giza. It contains the oldest known temple. Indeed, Göbekli Tepe is the oldest known example of monumental architecture—the first structure human beings put together that was bigger and more complicated than a hut. When these pillars were erected, so far as we know, nothing of comparable scale existed in the world.
At the time of Göbekli Tepe's construction much of the human race lived in small nomadic bands that survived by foraging for plants and hunting wild animals. Construction of the site would have required more people coming together in one place than had likely occurred before. Amazingly, the temple's builders were able to cut, shape, and transport 16-ton stones hundreds of feet despite having no wheels or beasts of burden. The pilgrims who came to Göbekli Tepe lived in a world without writing, metal, or pottery; to those approaching the temple from below, its pillars must have loomed overhead like rigid giants, the animals on the stones shivering in the firelight—emissaries from a spiritual world that the human mind may have only begun to envision.
Archaeologists are still excavating Göbekli Tepe and debating its meaning. What they do know is that the site is the most significant in a volley of unexpected findings that have overturned earlier ideas about our species' deep past. Just 20 years ago most researchers believed they knew the time, place, and rough sequence of the Neolithic Revolution—the critical transition that resulted in the birth of agriculture, taking Homo sapiens from scattered groups of hunter-gatherers to farming villages and from there to technologically sophisticated societies with great temples and towers and kings and priests who directed the labor of their subjects and recorded their feats in written form. But in recent years multiple new discoveries, Göbekli Tepe preeminent among them, have begun forcing archaeologists to reconsider.
The place has its own website. The author of this Smithsonian article says that it has been reported extensively in the German media, so maybe our German commentator contingent might have some things to add. Or anyone else on anything else, it's an open thread, so have at it.