Rather than a centuries-old building project inspiring the transition to agriculture, Clare and others now believe Gobekli Tepe was an attempt by hunter-gatherers to cling to their endangered way of life as the world changed around them. Evidence from the surrounding area shows that residents of other sites were experimenting with domesticated animals and plants – a tendency the residents of “Belly Hill” might have resisted.
Clare maintains that the stone carvings at the site are an important clue. Elaborate carvings of foxes, jaguars, snakes and vultures covering the pillars and walls of Gobekli Tepe “are not animals you see every day,” he said. “These are more than just pictures, they are stories, which are very important in keeping groups together and creating a shared identity.”
When I first walked the site over 15 years ago, I remember a feeling of great distance. Gobekli Tepe was built 6,000 years before Stonehenge, and the exact significance of its sculptures – like the world people once inhabited there – is impossible to understand.
This, of course, is part of the formidable magnetism of Gobekli Tepe. As thousands of visitors marvel at a place most people had never heard of a decade ago, researchers will continue to try to understand why it was built in the first place. And each new discovery promises to change what we now know about the site and history of human civilization.
“The new work does not destroy Klaus Schmidt’s thesis; it rests on his shoulders,” Horejs said. “There has been a huge gain in knowledge, in my opinion. The interpretation is changing, but that is the purpose of science.”
Join over three million BBC Travel fans by liking us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter and Instagram.
If you liked this story, subscribe to the weekly newsletter on bbc.com features called “The Essential List”. A hand-picked selection of stories from BBC Future, Culture, Worklife and Travel, delivered to your inbox every Friday.