“This shows sociocultural changes come first, agriculture comes later,” says Stanford University archaeologist Ian Hodder, who excavated Catalhoyuk, a prehistoric settlement 300 miles from Gobekli Tepe. “They had wild sheep, wild grains that could be domesticated—and the people with the potential to do it,” archaeologist Schmidt states. However researchers continue in to be left without answers as the excavations continue. The surprising lack of evidence that people lived right there, researchers say, argues against its use as a settlement or even a place where, for instance, clan leaders gathered. “From here the dead are looking out at the ideal view,” Schmidt says as the sun casts long shadows over the half-buried pillars. Then, Schmidt says, once the stone rings were finished, the ancient builders covered them over with dirt. To carve, erect and bury rings of seven-ton stone pillars would have required hundreds of workers, all needing to be fed and housed. Each ring has a roughly similar layout: in the center are two large stone T-shaped pillars encircled by slightly smaller stones facing inward. He sees it as a key site in understanding the transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture, and from tribal to regional religion. The press locally is fond of calling the site “the Turkish Stonehenge,” but the comparison hardly does justice to this 25-acre arrangement of at least seven stone circles. As one walks around the recently excavated pillars, the site seems at once familiar and exotic. Hauptmann however speculates that an elite class of religious leaders supervised the work and later controlled the rituals that took place at the site. Göbekli Tepe’s circles range from 30 to 100 feet in diameter and are surrounded by rectangular stone walls about six feet high. He sees it as a key site in understanding the transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture, and from tribal to regional religion. Though he has yet to find them, he believes that the first stone circles on the hill of the navel marked graves of important people. This leads him to suspect the pillars represent human beings and that the cult practices at this site may initially have focused on some sort of ancestor worship.

Archaeologists estimate that up to 500 persons were required to extract the heavy pillars from local quarries and move them 100–500 meters (330–1,640 ft) to the site. The site was deliberately backfilled sometime after 8000 BCE: the buildings were buried under debris, mostly flint gravel, stone tools, and animal bones. However, since its discovery surface surveys have shown that several hills in the greater area also have T-shaped stone pillars (e.g. The Ua samples come from pedogenic carbonate coatings on pillars and only indicate the time after the site was abandoned—the terminus ante quem. But the T-shaped pillars, the main feature of the older enclosures, are also present here, indicating that the buildings of Layer II continued to serve as sanctuaries. [citation needed] A 500 years younger site is Nevalı Çori, a Neolithic settlement also excavated by the German Archaeological Institute and submerged by the Atatürk Dam since 1992. He reviewed the archaeological literature on the surrounding area, found the 1963 Chicago researchers’ brief description of Göbekli Tepe, and decided to reexamine the site.

Scientists also remain puzzled by several other aspects of the site, including what method its ancient builders used to move their giant T-shaped pillars to the hilltop. Despite several years digging, his team found no ancient fire pits, trash heaps or dwellings to suggest the site was used as a permanent settlement. During that time, his team uncovered dozens of carved limestone pillars arranged in several different circles. Göbekli Tepe is still not widely known outside of archaeological circles, but that may soon change thanks to the influx of cash from the Şahenk Initiative. Göbekli Tepe was first surveyed in 1963 by University of Chicago archaeologist Peter Benedict, who mistakenly believed its dirt mounds and stone pillars were part of a Byzantine-era cemetery. Banning has argued that the site’s builders were not hunter-gatherers but settlers who used the ruins as houses. Instead, they uncovered evidence of ritual feasting and large stone basins that may have once held beer or water.

“Even one thousand years later, nothing is left of this world,” he said. “Sometimes we wonder, if one of the people from back then were to sit up and talk to us, what would the man say?  “Why should there be anything left six thousand years later?” An extraordinary thought: The people of Göbekli Tepe weren’t wiped out, like other lost civilizations. The workers needed a stable food supply, and the area was rich in wild species like aurochs and einkorn, one of the ancestors of domesticated wheat. Perhaps the most debated composition portrays a vulture carrying a round object on one wing; below its feet, a headless male torso displays yet another erect penis. That Kurdish worker at Göbekli Tepe was right: Neolithic man probably was taller than him. Why would anyone stick with such a miserable way of life? In one square, students were measuring the depth of the layers of backfill; in another, three workers, their heads swathed in purple cloths, hoisted a boulder into a wheelbarrow.