Barnaby Rogerson visits the 10,000-year-old temple site to find out what is new
Gobekli-Tepe fits like a glove into a historical tour of southern Turkey. It is just a half day's eastward travel from the Zeugma mosaic museum at Gaziantepe and only half an hour away from Urfa (ancient Edessa) which has now been embellished by a vast new museum (the size of a shopping complex), built to house the recent archaeological discoveries. In the heyday of Klaus Schmidt's work at Gobekli-Tepe, a stream of magazine articles, inspired over 200,000 visitors to make the pilgrimage to see these early temples. So the site increasingly needed protection not just from the elements, but also from the passionate curiosity of foreign travellers.
With the early death of Klaus Schmidt in 2014, the charismatic German archaeologist and discoverer of Gobekli-Tepe, the digging came to a halt. It was also a bad time for Turkish tourism with terrorist bombings putting off all but the hardiest visitors. But behind the scenes there was plenty of work to be done, consolidating the scholarship and the discoveries of ten years of excavation. Control of the site was given to the Turkish regional director of the Urfa museum, who continued to make use of Klaus’s team assembled from a highly professional network of German archaeological institutes long involved in the discovery of early Neolithic sites in southern Turkey.
Dr Lee Clare was also appointed as the new Chair Co-ordinator of the site, as a central academic figure to liaise with the dozens of interested universities, be they in Denmark, the USA, Germany and Turkey. Fortunately the charitable foundation of a big Turkish corporation, the Dogus Group, also emerged as a crucial new member of the Gobekli-Tepe support team. They recognized that the museum collection in Urfa had to remain the intellectual centre of the region, but they were also determined to create something worthy of the worldwide importance of Gobekli-Tepe.
To this end the Dogus Group has created a brand new visitor centre just out of sight of the dig. An elegant pair of low circular halls – partly constructed from rammed earth recovered from the dig's spoil heaps, now greets the visitor. Here they park, can take some coffee and their ease. You can then absorb the Anatolian landscape and information display boards about the site (and a rather intense rave-like audio-visual) before being bussed or take a 10-minute stroll on a new cobbled track that leads to the bottom of Gobekli-Tepe hill. An impressive canvas and steel dome now protects the dig, but is cleverly designed so that the sail-like panels on the lowest level still let in the light and wind. This walkway allows visitors a birds-eye view of the enigmatic ritual stone circles, without getting in the way of the continuing work of the archaeologists. On July 1st, GobekliTepe formally joined the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites and a Tepe Telegram website has been established to provide an up-to-date news feed of recent discoveries from accredited academics.
The new dome that protects the site
A reconstruction of the site at the new visitor's centre