"This place is a supernova," said Schmidt "Within a minute of first seeing it I knew I had two choices: go away and tell nobody, or spend the rest of my life working here."
Compared with Stonehenge (Why doesn’t cite Carnac or Avebury for once!) , they are humble affairs. None of the circles excavated are more than 30 metres across. T-shaped pillars like the rest, two five-metre stones tower at least a metre above their peers. What makes them remarkable are their carved reliefs of boars, foxes, lions, birds, snakes and scorpions, and their age. Dated at around 9,500BC, these stones are 5,500 years older than the first cities of Mesopotamia, and 7,000 years older than Stonehenge.
The people who erected them did not have pottery or domesticated wheat. They lived in villages but they were hunters, not farmers. "Everybody used to think only complex, hierarchical civilisations could build such monumental sites, and that they only came about with the invention of agriculture", said Ian Hodder, a Stanford University professor of anthropology. "Gobekli changes everything. It's elaborate, it's complex and it is pre-agricultural. That alone makes the site one of the most important archaeological finds in a very long time."
With only a fraction of the site opened up after a decade of excavation, Gobekli Tepe's significance to the people who built it remains unclear. Some think it was the centre of a fertility rite, with the two tall stones at the centre of each circle representing a man and woman. Schmidt is sceptical. He agrees Gobekli Tepe may well be "the last flowering of a semi-nomadic world that farming was just about to destroy", and points out that if it is in near perfect condition today, it is because those who built it buried it soon after under tons of soil, as though its wild animal-rich world had lost all meaning.
"I think here we are face to face with the earliest representation of gods," he said Schmidt "They have no eyes, no mouths, no faces. But they have arms and they have hands. They are makers.In my opinion, the people who carved them were asking themselves the biggest questions of all. What is this universe? Why are we here?"