Sometime around the transition to the Neolithic, an extraordinary culture emerged in southeast Turkey. Starting around 12,000 years ago, this pre-pottery culture settled down in villages before the advent of agriculture. On the hilltops in their region of Sanliurfa, they built monumental compounds so extraordinary and labor-intensive that archaeologists didn’t believe, at first, that they had been created by mere hunter-gatherers, who were assumed to be nomadic.
Call them the earliest temples in the world, call them gathering places with possible ritual aspects: their purpose remains unknown, but they changed the paradigm of how civilization as we know it evolved. The first such site to be discovered was Gobekli Tepe, followed by the identification of at least 15 more, including the newly famed Karahan Tepe. These sites are now collectively known as the Tas Tepeler (stone hills), and are characterized by gathering places featuring monumental stylized depictions of people and animals, as well as pillars with a decidedly phallic aspect.