Home » What is Göbekli Tepe: Klaus Schmidt at TEDxPrague (Transcript)

What is Göbekli Tepe: Klaus Schmidt at TEDxPrague (Transcript)

Klaus Schmidt at TEDxPrague

Klaus Schmidt – TEDx Talk TRANSCRIPT

Ladies and gentlemen, now we are going a little bit under the surface, we are coming to archeology and to a project which is one of the most important projects of the last years.

Those are not only my words – I am the director of this project – but it is internationally told like this. It’s a project in southeastern Turkey, the site called Göbekli Tepe.

Göbekli Tepe means ‘mound with belly.’ It’s just its name, an old name from the map. We didn’t invent this name, but it shows a little bit, or it’s recognizable – we’ve some natural limestone plateau here and all this mound which is not a natural mound but an artificial mound, this is the belly on the mound explaining the name.

The project is done by the German Archeological Institute where I come from too, but in close cooperation with the local authorities, especially the General Directorate for Antiquities in Ankara, and the University of Sanliurfa, the Harran University, and some other institutions, mainly responsible for the conservation and the restoration of the site.

For the scientific work, we have financing mainly from the German Research Foundation which is financing the project, which is a long-term project. We are now in the 20th year of work, and we hope to continue for many, many years in the future.

Okay, that’s the framing. I have to say all this: who are the institutions and who is giving money for our work at the site.


At first, I already showed you this location. It’s a huge limestone ridge, and this artificial mound is on top of it. Such artificial mounds are very common in the Near East. They are called ‘tell’ in Arabic language or ‘tepe’ or ‘höyük’ in Turkish language. I think some will know ‘Çatalhöyük, ‘ an old Neolithic site in central Anatolia, and Göbekli is a site like this, but it has some specifics, it’s a unique site because it’s much older than all the other ones. It belongs to the 10th and 9th millennium BC.

So, it means, roughly spoken, some monuments there are 12,000 years old, 12,000 before today, or 10,000, the 10th millennium BC. That’s just after the Ice Age. Who knows a bit about geology, knows that the Ice Age was a global phenomenon.

Now, with the ice corings in Greenland, we can date it very, very exactly. It was not a long process, the end of the Ice Age. It was what we call a rapid climate change. A very rapid development, around 9,600. And that’s the time when the building activity at Göbekli started.

I told you, an artificial mound made by humans by erecting buildings, walls, and other things above each other. So, the mound was created. This is not so special in the Near East, but, as I told you, the time frame, 10th-9th millennium, that’s very strange.

We didn’t expect it in this time, when all over the world, people were still hunter-gatherers, that they had been able to produce such buildings, to do such huge work and much more.

We will see some examples of the world of Göbekli Tepe, which is such an unexpected and unknown world before. Many say Göbekli Tepe is changing the history. That’s not true, it’s not changing it, but it’s adding a very important chapter to the history of humanity, a chapter we didn’t know that it existed before.

And this chapter is about the transition from hunter-gatherer societies to farming, to food-producing societies. This is a form of subsistence that our basis agrarian societies are still based on, and this was invented in this region at this time.

This region is the Near East. We will see some maps later. And here, about the mound, an aerial view.

When we started the project in ’95, what we could see was nearly nothing, just trees and fields. It was used for agriculture by the local people, but the surface findings had been showing us very clearly the importance of the site, and the dating by diagnostic flint tools and other tools. Pottery is not existent, not yet invented.

So, we call this stage in archeology the pre-pottery Neolithic culture, before the invention of pottery, but it’s the beginning of the Neolithic.

The Neolithic period means food producing period in our terms. To understand the importance of Göbekli Tepe we have to enlarge our frame to a global view.

On this map in red you see all the regions in the world where this transition from hunter-gatherer cultures to food-producing cultures happened independently from each other. We have some regions in Meso-America, South America, in the South-East, and, of course you are right, this are the numbers BC written about some.

In Africa very late in comparison to this core area in the Near East where the transition happened around 9,000, or late 10th, early 9th millennium. The region, in the long time, we call the Fertile Crescent of the Near East because in the South we have the Arabian desert, to the North the Mountains of the Taurus and the Zagros Mountains.

This is the area with the most favorable climatic conditions, the most favorable geographic conditions: the Fertile Crescent. For a long time, we thought that the western wing was important regarding the development of earlier agrarian civilizations, but now we understand, through research not only by our team, but by many teams, and in the national groups of American, French, British, Turkish, Italian, Japanese, German, and other archaeologists working in this region, we understand that there is something like a Golden Triangle within this Fertile Crescent where the most important things are going on.

And Göbekli Tepe is located in the Golden Triangle, and it has a very important role. We will see some of the monuments that we are excavating there. The other sites marked here in red belong to this time, to the 10th-9th millennium, but these are settlements of this period. Settlements of settled hunters-gatherers.

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