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But the site is devoid of the fertility symbols that have been found at other Neolithic sites, and the T-shaped columns, while clearly semi-human, are sexless. "I think here we are face to face with the earliest representation of gods", says Schmidt, patting one of the biggest stones. "They have no eyes, no mouths, no faces. But they have arms and they have hands. They are makers."
Göbekli Tepe (Turkish for "Hill with a Tummy") is a hilltop sanctuary built on the highest point of an elongated mountain ridge about 15km northeast of the town of Şanlıurfa (Urfa) in southeast Turkey.
The site, currently undergoing excavation by German and Turkish archaeologists, was erected by hunter-gatherers in the 9th millennium BC (ca 11,500 years ago), before the advent of sedentism. It is currently considered the oldest known shrine or temple complex in the world, and the planet's oldest known example of mounumental architecture. Together with the site of Nevalı Çori, it has revolutionised the understanding of the Eurasian Neolithic.
To Schmidt and others, these new findings suggest a novel theory of civilization. Scholars have long believed that only after people learned to farm and live in settled communities did they have the time, organization and resources to construct temples and support complicated social structures. But Schmidt argues it was the other way around: the extensive, coordinated effort to build the monoliths literally laid the groundwork for the development of complex societies.