7,000 years before Stonehenge

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by Patrick Symmes
“Six miles from Urfa, an ancient city in southeastern Turkey, Klaus Schmidt has made one of the most startling archaeological discoveries of our time: massive carved stones about 12,000 years old, crafted and arranged by prehistoric people who had not yet developed metal tools or even pottery. The megaliths predate Stonehenge by some 7,000 years. The place is called Gobekli Tepe, and Schmidt, a German archaeologist who has been working here more than a decade, is convinced it’s the site of the world’s oldest temple.
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The oldest structure attributed to man

They call it potbelly hill, after the soft, round contour of this final lookout in southeastern Turkey. To the north are forested mountains. East of the hill lies the biblical plain of Harran, and to the south is the Syrian border, visible 20 miles away, pointing toward the ancient lands of Mesopotamia and the Fertile Crescent, the region that gave rise to human civilization. And under our feet, according to archeologist Klaus Schmidt, are the stones that mark the spot – the exact spot – where humans began that ascent.

Standing on the hill at dawn, overseeing a team of 40 Kurdish diggers, the German-born archeologist waves a hand over his discovery here, a revolution in the story of human origins. Schmidt has uncovered a vast and beautiful temple complex, a structure so ancient that it may be the very first thing human beings ever built. The site isn’t just old, it redefines old: the temple was built 11,500 years ago – a staggering 7,000 years before the Great Pyramid, and more than 6,000 years before Stonehenge first took shape. The ruins are so early that they predate villages, pottery, domesticated animals, and even agriculture – the first embers of civilization. In fact, Schmidt thinks the temple itself, built after the end of the last Ice Age by hunter-gatherers, became that ember – the spark that launched mankind toward farming, urban life, and all that followed.

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