Göbeklitepe is a Neolithic sanctuary built at the top of a mountain ridge in the Southeastern Anatolia region of Turkey, 15 kilometers northeast from the town of Şanlıurfa. It is said that Göbeklitepe is the oldest known human-made religious structure.
Göbeklitepe is a series of mainly circular and oval-shaped structures set on the top of a hill. Excavations have revealed that Göbeklitepe was constructed in two stages. The first stage was built as early as 9,000 B.C. The first excavation was conducted by Istanbul University and the University of Chicago in 1964, and recognized that the hill could not entirely be a natural feature and postulated that a Byzantine cemetery lay beneath. In 1994, archaeologist Klaus Schmidt, who worked at the German Archaeological Institute of Istanbul, visited the site and recognized that it was, in fact, a much older Neolithic site. Since 1995, excavations have been conducted by the German Archaeological Institute of Istanbul and the Şanlıurfa Museum, under the direction of Schmidt (University of Heidelberg 1995–2000, German Archaeological Institute 2001-present).
Each round structure has a diameter of between 10 and 30 meters and all are decorated with massive, mostly T-shaped, limestone pillars with heights ranging from 3 to 6 meters, and which face southeast. The limestone slabs were quarried from bedrock pits located around 100 meters from the hilltop, with Neolithic workers using flint points to carve the bedrock. Two pillars are at the center of each circle, possibly intended to help support a roof, and up to eight pillars are evenly positioned around the walls of the rooms. The spaces between the pillars are lined with un-worked stone and there are stone benches between each set of pillars around the edges of the wall.
Many of the pillars are decorated with carved reliefs of animals and of abstract enigmatic pictograms such as lions, bulls, wild boars, foxes, gazelles, donkeys, snakes and other reptiles, insects, including ants and scorpions, arachnids, and birds like cranes and vultures. During the most recent excavation season, archaeologists uncovered a statue of a human, and sculptures of a vulture’s head and a boar. Archeologists interpret those T-shapes as stylized human beings, mainly because of the depiction of human extremities that appear on some of the pillars. Few humanoid figures have surfaced at Göbeklitepe, but they include the engraving of a naked woman posed frontally in a crouched position that Schmidt likens to the Venus accueillante figures found in Neolithic North Africa, and a decapitated corpse surrounded by vultures in bas-relief.