Biblical Archaeology Review 39:1, January/February 2013

In the Beginning: Religion at the Dawn of Civilization

By Ben Witherington III

Some call it Turkey’s Stonehenge. In fact, the circles of massive stones standing high on a hill are more than 5,000 years older than Britain’s famous megaliths. From Göbekli Tepe (“Potbelly Hill”) in southeastern Turkey, you can see 50 or more miles in all directions, including the sites where some of the earliest evidence of agricultural plant domestication has been discovered. Now, these stone circles may be turning the established theory about the origins of religion and civilization on its head.

Since 1995, German archaeologist Klaus Schmidt and his archaeological team have been excavating at Göbekli Tepe, 7 miles east of Urfa (the Hellenistic city of Edessa). Thus far, at least four monumental stone circles have been uncovered (as well as three smaller, later enclosures). In each circle, ten to twelve pillars are connected by walls of quarry stone surrounding a pair of taller pillars in the middle.1 Radiometric studies indicate more than a dozen such circles are still buried in the hill.

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