Ancient Temple of the Stars

Gobekli Tepe and the Forgotten Resurrection of Civilization

“Those at the top of the mountain didn’t fall there.”



Around 12,900 years ago, at the end of the Pleistocene period, which corresponds to the end of the Paleolithic Age, temperatures had been steadily rising and ice caps had been melting for 10,000 years. Then, Earth suddenly and dramatically dipped into a mysterious mini ice age. The Northern Hemisphere saw temperatures nearly as cold as the peak of the Glacial Maximum. The change was relatively sudden, taking place in decades, and resulted in the extinction of most of the large mammoths and saw the rapid demise of the North American Clovis culture. In Europe, the period was characterized by advancing glaciers and a vegetation shift to cold-tolerant plants. Called the Younger Dryas, named after an alpine tundra wildflower that flourishes in cold conditions, the mini ice age lasted for about 1,200 years from 12,900 -11,700 BP before the climate warmed again.

According to one increasingly tenable hypothesis, comet fragments striking Earth triggered the sudden climate change. What is termed the Younger Dryas Impact Hypothesis is a comprehensive effort to explain the cause of the cold period. Collaborating as the Comet Research Group, the project is the work of sixty-three, highly qualified scientists from fifty-five universities in sixteen countries and is headed by physicist Richard Firestone. The theory radically changes the long-held traditional view of a slow and gradual development of Earth’s relatively recent geology. According to the Younger Dryas Impact Hypothesis, dust and gasses caused by the explosion, or the impact of a comet or meteorite in Earth’s atmosphere, absorbed sunlight, causing the American continent to cool dramatically. The heart of the explosion also melted parts of the Laurentide ice sheet that covered parts of North America. As a result, fresh water flowing into the Atlantic Ocean caused shifts in marine currents, slowing down the warm Gulf Stream.

The hypothesis has caused the debate between gradualism and catastrophism to reach a fever pitch. Catastrophism holds that Earth has been shaped by sudden and violent events that might have been global in scope. Gradualism contends that Earth has developed in slow incremental changes, such as erosion. We now realize it’s ridiculous to believe that the cosmos revolves around us, but it was serious business in the seventeenth century that resulted in Galileo’s house arrest. The argument of a sudden catastrophe nearly 13,000 years ago is of no less significance in the evolution of knowledge than the Copernican revolution, and the scientists who are in opposition to the mounting evidence appear as dogmatic as the church fathers of Galileo’s time.

The team’s evidence focused on sediment samples that contained several different types of debris that could only have come from an extraterrestrial source, such as a comet or an asteroid. The debris included nano diamonds, created by the shock and heat of impacts, tiny carbon spherules that form when molten droplets cool rapidly in air, and carbon molecules containing the rare isotope helium-3, far more abundant in the cosmos than on Earth. The team believes the agent of destruction was probably a comet, since the key sediment layer lacks both the high nickel and iridium levels that are characteristic of asteroid impacts.

Adding to the excitement of shattering paradigms, Gobekli Tepe, a remarkable site in southeastern Turkey, has upended the conventional view of the beginnings of civilization. Dubbed the “oldest temple in the world,” the site is 6,000 years older than the accepted age of Stonehenge and pre-dynastic Egypt. The traditional view of prehistory asserts that civilization arose roughly 6,000 years ago around the fertile crescent of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The complex site of Gobekli Tepe, also located between the two great rivers, has been reliably dated to 11,700 years ago. This corresponds with remarkable “coincidence” to the end of the Younger Dryas.

Now considered to be one of the most important ancient sites discovered so far, Gobekli Tepe is located some six miles from Urfa, an ancient city in modern Southeastern Turkey close to the border of Syria. Pious Muslims believe this is Ur of the Chaldeans and the birthplace of the patriarch Abraham. A large fishpond is a refreshing gathering spot today, but in local lore, it is where King Nimrod attempted to burn Abraham on a pyre. His plan was foiled when God turned the fire to water and the coals to fish, and it’s believed they remain in place as a reminder of this early miracle and a testament to the power of faith. However, it’s tempting to see this story as a mythic description of the end of the fiery age of Aries and the beginning of the age of Pisces, the Fishes.

Archaeologist Klaus Schmidt worked at Gobekli Tepe until his untimely death in 2014. Dr. Schmidt mapped the entire summit using ground-penetrating radar and geomagnetic surveys, charting where at least sixteen other megalithic rings remain buried across twenty-two acres. The one-acre excavation area covers less than five percent. Professor Schmidt said archaeologists could dig for another fifty years and barely scratch the surface, but what has already been uncovered is stunning. Archaeologists believe the site was active for almost three millennia before being deliberately backfilled and abandoned about 9,000 years ago.

Schmidt believed that Gobekli Tepe was like a pilgrimage site, since there isn’t evidence of a major permanent populace. By contrast Catal Huyuk is a thirty-two acre Neolithic site in south-central Turkey, dated to circa 8,500–7,700 years before the present, just at the time Gobekli Tepe was abandoned. Catal Huyuk is about 300 miles west of Gobekli Tepe. The site has been described as “one of the first true cities,” and is characterized by fully developed agriculture and extensive trading, particularly in obsidian, frescoed temples, mud-brick fortifications and houses, and mother-goddess figures. Perhaps Catal Huyuk was the next evolution after Gobekli Tepe had been abandoned. Although the Minoan culture on the island of Crete is dated much later, the iconography and appearance of the two cultures bears a striking similarity. It’s possible earlier versions of that culture will be unearthed at some point.

The main part of the Gobekli Tepe site consists of twenty, round enclosures that are up to twenty meters (65 feet) in diameter with low stone walls. Two hundred T-shaped pillars that average twenty feet in height and weigh up to twenty tons are embedded in the walls of the enclosures. Larger T-shaped pillars, consisting of a large, rectangular piece of stone with another smaller stone balanced on top, stand in the center. The larger stone blocks weigh about seven tons. One pillar that is still attached to the native rock where it was being quarried would have been thirty tons and seven meters (30 feet) high.

Within enclosure D, which is the oldest, the sides of the pillars are elaborately carved with images of animals, people, and geometric designs. Most carvings represent wild animals such as felines, foxes, boars, vultures, spiders, snakes, and scorpions. Pillar #43, called the Vulture Stone, has become famous because of its reliefs. Using astronomy software, researchers have realized that 11,700 years ago the summer solstice Sun was in what we now call the constellation of Scorpio. A scorpion on pillar #43 raises the question of the antiquity of some zodiac symbols. The mostly-circular enclosures can be thought of as “circles of animals,” reminding us that the English word zodiac comes from the Greek zoidiakos, meaning “cycle or circle of animals.” Perhaps elements of the zodiac had a much earlier origin than we recognize.

Some of the interior pillars are topped, or otherwise adorned, with carved animal statues that include lizards and lions. The large central pillars have hands and “belts.” Archaeologists believe the enclosures were not covered and were open to the sky. Researchers can only speculate, but many of the speculations are compelling, based on astronomy, and strongly suggest that Gobekli Tepe was an observatory—a star temple.

If indeed the site functioned as an observatory, how was it oriented, and where did they primarily direct their gaze? It’s beyond the scope of this article to discuss the scholarly opinions in detail. However, researchers have analyzed sky-ground relationships with astronomy software, shifting the view of the sky back in time to look at possible connections to the figures on the pillars and potentially match them to stellar asterisms. Their opinions also link the origin of Gobekli Tepe to the time frame of the Younger Dryas.

Graham Hancock, in Magicians of the Gods, notes that the alignment of true north, not magnetic north, is a significant detail of Gobekli Tepe that is agreed upon by mainstream scientists and is not in dispute. Hancock says, “For the ancients to know about the spinning axis of the earth and construct a site in sync with the stars classifies it as legitimate knowledge of astronomy and should be considered more than just mere coincidence.” He favors an astronomical orientation to the southern sky as he feels a northern view would be obstructed by the hill.

Robert Schoch, in Forgotten Civilizations, also looks south and finds a correlation to the rising of Orion’s Belt in the southeast. Italian archaeo-astronomer Guilio Magli sees an intriguing connection to the reappearance of the helical rising of Sirius after a long absence due to precession.

M.B. Sweatman and D. Tsikritsis of the School of Engineering at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland have provisionally matched animals on Pillar #43, the Vulture Stone in Enclosure D, with stellar asterisms. Their abstract in Mediterranean Archaeology and Archaeomety titled “Decoding Gobekli Tepe with Archaeoastronomy: What Does the Fox Say?” outlines their theory that the Vulture Stone is a date stamp for 10,950 BC ± 250 years, which corresponds closely to the proposed date of the onset Younger Dryas.

Andrew Collins, in his book Gobekli Tepe: Genesis of the Gods, looks north instead and draws a powerful connection to the setting of Deneb, the alpha star in Cygnus the Swan. He bases his opinion in part on the positions of the hands on the large central T-shaped pillars in enclosure D. Both face south toward the entrance and not each other. His rationale is that someone entering the enclosure from the south would face, and be faced by, the large pillars in the center. If the central pillars are seen as “deities,” Collins likens this to a church or temple where the focus of attention would be in the opposite direction of the entrance, in this case north.

Who built this amazing site and tended it for three thousand years? Did they bury Gobekli Tepe as a “message in a bottle” for a future time on the other side of the wheel of precession? Graham Hancock posits that Gobekli Tepe was constructed by survivors of a high civilization (that we call Atlantis), which was lost to a cosmic impact event. Hancock suspects that a transfer of technology and/or knowledge occurred at this site between hunter-gatherers and survivors of a lost culture, mainly because agriculture sprang up in the same time period and area of the world.

The antiquity of Gobekli Tepe provides a context that makes the question the actual age of the pyramids of Egypt, theorized by alternative scholars such as John Anthony West, Graham Hancock, and Robert Bauval, open to reexamination. Likewise, sites like Pumapunko in Bolivia are pushing back the origin stories. Clearly, humans were performing amazing feats far earlier than has been credited by academia.

Atlantis is indeed rising and Gobekli Tepe is a powerful example, albeit filled with mystery. Other antediluvian sites likely remain buried that will help offer more puzzle pieces of humanity’s past. If a global seafaring civilization, which mythic tales remember as Atlantis, was destroyed by cataclysm 12,000 years ago, survivors would be vigilant. Since destruction came from the sky in the form of a comet, it would be natural to watch for signs of its return. Prediction of cycles is the very heart of astrology, and watching the sky is the surest and most ancient of ways.

By Julie Loar