The place is called Gobekli Tepe, and Schmidt, a German archaeologist who has been working there for more than a decade, is convinced it's the site of the world's oldest temple.
The world's oldest monuments may soon get an image makeover. A new project will promote and preserve Gobekli Tepe, home to the most ancient temple structures ever discovered.
Since excavations began in 1995, the site in southeastern Turkey has changed the way archaeologists think about the origins of civilization. Its circular structures, with their elaborately carved stones and distinctive, T-shaped pillars, are more than 12,000 years old, older than the invention of agriculture or even pottery.
The early dates have upended the idea that agriculture led to civilization. Scholars long thought that when hunter-gatherers settled down and started growing crops, the resulting food surplus made it possible for people to organize complex societies.
Göbekli Tepe calls that conventional wisdom into question. Klaus Schmidt, a German archaeologist who led excavations at the site, argued before he died in 2014 that it might have worked the other way around: The vast labor force needed to build the enclosures pushed people to develop agriculture as a way of providing predictable food, and perhaps drink, for workers.
Newly gathered evidence from excavations at the site backs up Schmidt's argument that the beginnings of civilization spurred the invention of farming. In the middle of each monumental enclosure are two tall T-shaped pillars, carved with stylized arms, hands and loincloths. The largest weighs more than 16 tons. Carving and moving them from a nearby quarry must have been a tremendous challenge, requiring hundreds of people and enough food to feed them all.