Accidentally discovered by a shepherd 17 years ago, Göbekli Tepe is an 11,600-year-old temple site in southeastern Turkey that predates Stonehenge by roughly 6,000 years. Excavations that immediately followed have revealed monolithic T-shaped pillars erected by prehistoric people that, as far as we know, had not yet developed writing, metal tools or even pottery.
The elaborately-carved stones, believed to be anthropomorphic symbols of human beings containing graphic details of animals, symbols and scenes, are systematically arranged in circles throughout the site, with a taller pair of pillars standing in the center of each circle. At least 20 pillars have been dug out, ranging from 3-6 meters in height and weighing between 6-10 tons each. The ability of this civilization to carry out such a complex project is itself a mystery, and while the evidence of a social hierarchy has not been proven, many archaeologists believe that the people who built Göbekli Tepe were the first advanced civilization on Earth.
The site has been undergoing excavation since 1994, led by the German Archaeological Institute (DAI)s Prof. Klaus Schmidt. As excavations progress and additional features become exposed, a shelter and conservation plan are needed to protect the site from external pressures. In 2011, in partnership with DAI, Global Heritage Fund
(GHF) announced that it will support the first conservation program in Göbekli Tepe's history to ensure long-term protection and ongoing research of the world's oldest site of monumental architecture.
In June 2011, Göbekli Tepe was featured in National Geographic in an article titled The Birth of Religion. The story discussed the significance of the massive pillars that are reshaping todays ideas about the Neolithic Revolution and the dawn of civilization. Professor Schmidt believes that modern accepted theories about the Neolithic Revolutionthat it was driven by the emergence of agriculture, with civilizations and religion followingcan be proven wrong by findings at Göbekli Tepe, which point to the possibility that the ancient ceremonial site was built by existing settled communities and that civilization might actually be a product of the human mind.