The tell has a height of 15 m (49 ft) and is about 300 m (984 ft) in diameter. It is approximately 760 m (2,493 ft) above sea level. It was first noted in a survey conducted by Istanbul University and the University of Chicago in 1964. The survey recognized that the rise could not entirely be a natural feature, but postulated that a Byzantine cemetery lay beneath. The survey noted a large number of flints and the presence of limestone slabs thought to be grave markers. The hill had long been under agricultural cultivation; generations of local inhabitants had frequently moved rocks and placed them in clearance piles, possibly destroying much archaeological evidence in the process. Klaus Schmidt, chief archaeologist of Göbekli Tepe, is of the view that religion and the mobilization of labor behind the building of religious centers like Göbekli Tepe were the chief factors driving the development of civilization and the transition from the Paleolithic to the Neolithic ages
An idealized view of Gobekli Tepe as it might have looked during construction.
Schmidt, now of the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut, was working as part of a team at a nearby site but at the same time looking for another site to dig leading a team of his own. He reviewed the archaeological literature on the surrounding area, found the Chicago researchers’ brief description of Göbekli Tepe, and decided to give it another look. “Within minutes”, he said, he realized that the flint chips on the surface of the tell were prehistoric. The following year (1995) he began excavating there in collaboration with the Şanlıurfa Museum. T-shaped pillars were soon discovered. Some had apparently undergone attempts at smashing, probably by farmers who mistook them for ordinary large rocks.
A carving of a lion and a boar on the stele at Gobekli Tepe.
David Lewis-Williams, professor of archaeology at Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg, has said, “Göbekli Tepe is the most important archaeological site in the world.” It shows that the erection of monumental complexes was within the capacities of hunter-gatherers and not only of sedentary farming communities as had been previously assumed. As excavator Klaus Schmidt puts it, “First came the temple, then the city.
There are no comparable monumental complexes from its time. Nevalı Çori, a Neolithic settlement also excavated by the German Archaeological Institute and submerged by the Atatürk Dam since 1992, is 500 years later; its T-shaped pillars are considerably smaller, and its shrine was located inside a village. The roughly contemporary architecture at Jericho is devoid of artistic merit or large-scale sculpture, and Çatalhöyük, perhaps the most famous Anatolian Neolithic village, is 2,000 years younger.
At present, though, Göbekli Tepe raises more questions for archaeology and prehistory than it answers. It remains unknown how a force large enough to construct, augment, and maintain such a substantial complex was mobilized and compensated or fed in the conditions of pre-sedentary
In 2010, Global Heritage Fund (GHF) announced it will undertake a multi-year conservation program to preserve Göbekli Tepe. Partners include Klaus Schmidt and the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut, German Research Foundation, Şanlıurfa Municipal Government, and the Turkish Ministry of Tourism and Culture.
The stated goals of the GHF Göbekli Tepe project are to support the preparation of a site management and conservation plan, construction of a shelter over the exposed archaeological features, training community members in guiding and conservation, and helping Turkish authorities secure UNESCO World Heritage Site designation for Gobekli Tepe.