© Wikimedia Commons
Göbekli Tepe, showing sites A through D.
Located in the southeastern region of Anatolia in Turkey is an archaeological site known as Göbekli Tepe. Deemed "unremarkable" when the site was first discovered in the early 1960s, Klaus Schmidt thought otherwise, and we should be glad he did.

Were someone to ask you what is the oldest monument known to mankind, most people would say the Pyramids of Egypt or perhaps, Stonehenge. However, Gobekli Tepe predates Stonehenge by 7,000 years and Egypt's pyramids by 7,500 years.

The site was first excavated in 1963 by Istanbul University and the University of Chicago. American archaeologist Peter Benedict thought it might be Neolithic, and proposed the upper layers were topped by Byzantine and Islamic cemeteries.

And because the hill where the site was located had been under agricultural cultivation for generations, the site was dismissed because of the number of rocks that had been moved by the area's inhabitants.

When German archaeologist Klaus Schmidt began excavating the site in 1994, he really didn't know what he would eventually find. But until his death in 2014, he uncovered six temple-like structures built on top of each other, spanning a time period of 1,000 years.

The temple-like structures are astounding, consisting of towering cleanly carved T-shaped and spiked limestone pillars with bas-reliefs of animals — a cavalcade of gazelles, snakes, foxes, scorpions, and ferocious wild boars, according to National Geographic.

Göbekli Tepe is the world's oldest known example of monumental architecture. It is the earliest structure built by man that was more complicated than a hut, indeed, it is a remarkable accomplishment. As far as we know, when the pillars were erected, there was nothing on Earth comparable to them.

Şahenk Initiative announced at World Economic Forum

The Gobekli Tepe archaeological site is getting an investment of over $15 million over the next 20 years. The Sahenk Initiative, the main sponsor, and the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism will be working hand-in-hand to promote the site, and the funding will support new excavations, build a world-class visitor center and encourage tourism.
© World Economic Forum
Gobekli Tepe was recreated in ice for the the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
The Şahenk Initiative is an international social impact organisation founded in 2014 by Ferit F. Şahenk to impact the lives of the people of Turkey and the world in a meaningful way, according to a press release from Davos, Switzerland, dated Jan. 21, 2016.

Speaking about the project, Ferit F. Şahenk, Chairman of Doğuş Group, said: "We have placed this Turkish treasure at the heart of the World Economic Forum because I want the whole world to know about it. Göbekli Tepe, a common value of humanity, is our zero point in time."

Our zero point in time

Gobekli Tepe is about 12 km or 7-miles northeast of the city of Şanlıurfa (Urfa). The location is in what is known as the "Fertile Crescent," and along with the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, is a part of Mesopotamia. The "Fertile Crescent"not only was the site of the first city in history, but was the starting point of writing, and the seed of civilization.
© Ordercrazy/Wikipedia
Dr. Klaus Schmidt speaking in Salzburg on Jan. 16, 2014.
When construction of Gobekli Tepe began, most of the human race was still nomadic, living in bands, foraging and hunting wild animals. What is interesting is that construction would have required people to come together, likely for the first time.

Amazingly, people were somehow able to cut, shape, and transport 16-ton stones hundreds of feet, even though they had no wheels or beasts of burden to aid them. At that time, there was no writing, metals or pottery. Yet pilgrims coming upon the site from afar would have seen the looming pillars against the sky, like huge giants, the animals carved on their sides shimmering in the light of the fires.
© Zhengan
Göbekli Tepec - Site 2.
Could the lifelike figures on the pillars have been emissaries from a spiritual world? Archaeologists at Göbekli Tepe are still debating what the site means and what it was used for. What is known for sure is that the site has overturned what we believed about the so-called Neolithic revolution.

The Neolithic revolution was a transitional time period when we saw the birth of agriculture when humans turned from being hunter-gatherers to living in farming villages. It was from this time that humanity started its leap forward to the creation of technically sophisticated societies.

We soon saw the building of great temples and monuments, priests and kings, the advent of the written word, the creation of classes, and the division of labor. Archaeologists have surmised the sudden "blooming" of civilization could have been because of environmental changes brought on by the gradual warming after the Ice Age.
© Teomancimit
Pillar in layer 3 at Gobekli Tepe, Note the carved animals.
Schmidt thought differently from almost the start when he began excavating the site. He argued that instead of a "revolution," the opposite had happened, with agriculture emerging as the solution to the problem of how to feed the sizable labor force needed to build the monument.

Now, with the evidence that has been accumulating from the Gobekli Tepe site, researchers are rethinking the Neolithic revolution. One train of thought suggests the revolution was carried out by many bands of people over a vast area and over thousands of years. And it may have been something entirely different than the environment that started it.
© Rolfcosar
Göbekli Tepe (Turkey): a panoramic view of the southern excavation field.
One question has yet to be answered about the site. There is no water source, with the nearest stream being three miles away, and excavation has found no evidence of habitation near or around the site. There is no trace of early agriculture around the site, either. So was the site only a pilgrimage site?

Schmidt commented on the lack of supplies and water: "They cannot make big permanent structures, we thought, because they must move around to follow the resources. They can't maintain a separate class of priests and craft workers because they can't carry around all the extra supplies to feed them. Then here is Göbekli Tepe, and they obviously did that."

Gobekli Tepe still has a lot to tell us, and what is found could change how we have viewed our past. Perhaps we have not given early man the full credit he deserves.

Note: The accompanying BBC Documentary is only nine minutes, but well worth watching.