US archaeologists surveying the site of Göbekli Tepe in Turkey's southeastern Anatolia region in the 1960s deemed it unremarkable. Three decades later, the late German archaeologist Klaus Schmidt opted to investigate anyway. What he found beneath the earth was astounding: towering T-shape and spiked limestone pillars with animals carved into them, fashioned in a set of rings. As National Geographic reported in 2011, "the site is vaguely reminiscent of Stonehenge," with a massive exception: it was created some 7,000 years before both that monument and before the pyramids. Indeed, a press release announcing a new $15 million, 20-year investment into Göbekli Tepe calls the 12,000-year-old site the "oldest monument known to mankind"—and one Discovery News notes "has so far received limited attention globally."
Conventional wisdom has it that hunter-gatherers settling down to grow crops spurred civilization. Schmidt argued, however, that the reverse happened, with agriculture emerging as the solution to the problem of how to feed the sizable labor force needed to move "16-ton stones hundreds of feet despite having no wheels or beasts of burden," as National Geographic puts it. The funding, revealed Wednesday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland (accompanied by an ice sculpture recreation), will go toward research and protection: new excavations, fencing, protective canopies, and the construction of a "world-class" visitor center to draw visitors to an area that has seen tourism battered by its proximity to Syria and the refugee crisis, reports National Geographic. (A huge stone monument has been found buried near Stonehenge.)