Göbekli Tepe excavator Klaus Schmidt dead at 61

The Turkish newspaper Hurriyet Daily News reports the death of Professor Klaus Schmidt.

Professor Klaus Schmidt, a pioneer of excavations in Göbekli Tepe, known as the “zero point in history” in the eastern Turkish province of Şanlıurfa, died of a heart attack while swimming in Germany at the age of 61.

Schmidt had been working at Göbekli Tepe for 20 years for the German Archaeology Institute. Through his works, he proved that the Neolithic-age ancient site was the world’s oldest temple.

When Leon Mauldin and I visited Göbekli Tepe in May of this year Schmidt was providing a personal tour for an educational tour group from the United States. He is wearing a light blue shirt and a cap (just right of center). We followed along for a while and listened to his explanations. I thought it might be Schmidt but wasn’t sure until I checked for photos on the Internet at the hotel that evening.

Professor Klaus Schmidt lecturing to an American group at Gobekli Tepe. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Professor Klaus Schmidt lecturing to a group at Gobekli Tepe. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Schmidt explains the site and significance of Göbekli Tepe.

Göbekli Tepe is one of the most fascinating Neolithic sites in the world. It is a tell, an artificial mound dating to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic. It was not used for habitation; it consists of several sanctuaries in the form of round megalithic enclosures. The site lies about 15km north-east of the Turkish city of Sanlıurfa, at the highest point of an extended mountain range that can be seen for many kilometres around. It is a landmark visible from far away…. Its enormous deposition of layers, up to fifteen metres high, have accumulated over several millennia over an area of about nine hectares. Even today, the place has lost nothing of its magic appeal. For example, a wishing tree which stands on top of the ridge is still sought out by the residents of the surrounding area.

Archaeologists found an important piece of the puzzle in the early history of humanity at the site, which contributes to a completely new understanding of the process of sedentism and the beginning of agriculture. The hill, which is strewn with countless stone implements and large-format, regular-shaped ashlars, revealed its secret as a result of the excavations carried out since 1995 by the German Archaeological Institute in cooperation with the Archaeological Museum in Sanlıurfa (Schmidt 1995). (DOI: 10.4312/dp.37-21)

The photo below shows the enclosure protecting the T-shaped monolithic pillars.

The enclosed area of Gobekli Tepe. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The enclosed area of Gobekli Tepe. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A Google search for Göbekli Tepe will produce numerous images of he site before the protective roof was built. A popular article in Actual Archaeology is available at Academia.edu here. It is now difficult to get photos of many of the pillars. See the article by Schmidt here. Some of the pillars are plain, but many of them contain reliefs of animals, birds, and a few humans. The art looks like what we might expect of children, but these pillars are definitely not the work of children.

Some of the T-shaped monolithic pillars. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Some of the T-shaped monolithic pillars. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Göbekli Tepe is no more than 30 or 40 miles north of Harran (or Haran), the ancient home of Abraham (Genesis 11:21). Muslim belief says that Abraham was born at nearby Sanliurfa.

Schmidt explained to the American group that this site marked the change from the time of hunter-gatherers to a time of domestication of plants and animals.

There are many mysteries associated with Göbekli Tepe. The death of Schmidt is a blow to the continued work at the site, but perhaps others will be able to provide helpful information in the future.

Additional Photos (July 23, 2014). Carl Rasmussen has added several photos of Göbekli Tepe prior to the building of the roof over the excavated area. These photos allow you to see the arrangement of the stones. Go to his Holy Land Photos’ Blog here.

HT: Joseph I. Lauer

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