A Visit to “the World’s First Temple” as Turkey-Syria Border Tensions Erupt

An errant Syrian mortar on October 3, 2012, brought death to a Turkish mother and her 4 children and focused world attention on the Turkish town of Akçakale, nestled up against the Syrian border. Turkey quickly retaliated by shelling military targets just across the border in Syria, killing several soldiers who were there defending the swaying Assad regime.


“War Crosses the Line,” reads the headline in a Turkish daily after the deadly Syrian shelling.

Only the week before and 20 miles away from Akçakale, we had bumped over gravel roads to a site that receives much less of the world’s fractured attention. Known as Göbekli Tepe, “Potbelly Hill,” this active archeological dig features circular arrays of massive standing stones with finely carved animal and human-like figures that have been dated to more than 11,000 years old, some 8,000 years older than England’s Stonehenge and 7,000 years older than the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt.

Both Smithsonian Magazine and National Geographic have dubbed Göbekli Tepe “the world’s first temple.”  National Geographic goes on to say,”Indeed, Göbekli Tepe is the oldest known example of monumental architecture—the first structure human beings put together that was bigger and more complicated than a hut. When these pillars were erected, so far as we know, nothing of comparable scale existed in the world.”

German archeologist Karl Schmidt began exploring and excavating the area in the 1990s, after other archeologists had given it short shrift.  The discoveries there have set many a hoary archeological theory on its ear.

We were lucky to visit during the two-month period of the year when the area is an anthill of careful continuing excavation.  We were moved and humbled to stand so close to such ancient and finely rendered artifacts and hope that the tensions and retaliations along the Turkey-Syria border do not damage this incredible site.

Archeologist Karl Schmidt supervises the meticulous work of the Turkish and German archeology teams.

Schmidt and team members inspect a new discovery unearthed during our visit.


1 thought on “A Visit to “the World’s First Temple” as Turkey-Syria Border Tensions Erupt

  1. What a fantastic site. Thanks so much for sending the email so I can see this. What beautiful, detailed carving–makes Stonehenge look crude indeed.

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