Göbekli Tepe just doesn’t make sense. The neolithic archaeological ruins were first uncovered in the '60s, but their significance wasn’t truly realized until 1994. The site is located in southeastern Turkey - although it predates the establishment of the country by a significant amount of time. In fact, Göbekli Tepe is so old and complex that it is rewriting our understanding of not just Turkish history, but the entire history of humanity. Based on everything we know about how modern civilization got its start, Göbekli Tepe should not exist. However, exist it does, and has for nearly 12,000 years.
Archaeological study of Göbekli Tepe has been going on for quite some time—even though the modern political climate in Turkey has made matters slightly more difficult. Some sections are even in the process of being restored. The site has become a tourist attraction and a source of local pride, and there are plenty of good reasons for that. Göbekli Tepe is, after all, the oldest site of significance created by human beings, and that makes it one of the most important archaeological discoveries ever made.
Göbekli Tepe is notable for multiple reasons, but they all tie back in to its excessive ancientness. The construction at Göbekli Tepe dates back almost 12,000 years, placing it in a time period that is generally considered to be pre-civilization. It was built right around the same time that the last ice age ended. Göbekli Tepe then went on to be an active civilization for nearly three millennia before being abandoned under mysterious circumstances around 9,000 years ago.
Göbekli Tepe is a site that practically begs for archaeological study. The structures that make up the site are amazingly well-preserved, allowing archaeologists to study them in something similar to their original state. Part of the reason for the remarkable preservation of Göbekli Tepe is due to the climate in Turkey, but another major factor is the fact that many of the temple sites appear to have been backfilled before being abandoned.
This allowed the structures to remain protected from the elements as the centuries wore on, preserving their history for modern humans to discover.
One of the best ways to comprehend just how ancient Göbekli Tepe is, is to compare it to other things that are considered incredibly ancient. Göbekli Tepe predates Stonehenge, one of the most famous prehistoric construction feats in human history, by over 6,000 years. The site predates the era of Sumer, considered one of the earliest true civilizations, and the invention of writing, by a similar, 6,000-ish year margin.
To really put things in perspective, there was about as much time between the construction of Göbekli Tepe and the construction of Stonehenge as there was between the construction of Stonehenge and today.
The fact that Göbekli Tepe is so old isn’t the only significant thing about it. The skilled architectural style seen in the construction of its many “temples” is seriously impressive, and would be in any era. The combination of the site’s age and construction quality, however, is what makes it such an earth-shaking revelation for the archaeological world. The craftsmanship seen at Göbekli Tepe is thousands of years ahead of its time, and dates back to long before such construction should have been possible.
The manpower, engineering, and project managing required for such an endeavor all seem unfeasible, given where human civilization was understood to be at the time. The very existence of Göbekli Tepe has forced archaeologists to re-think the dawn of civilization.