CHICAGO, Oct. 7 (UPI) -- Ancient buildings discovered in Turkey thought by some to be the world's oldest temples may not be religious structures at all, a Canadian archaeologist says.
The buildings at Gobekli, a hilltop just outside the Turkish city of Urfa, were found in 1995. The oldest structures are immense, with large stone pillars featuring carvings of snakes, scorpions, foxes and other animals.
The presence of art in the buildings and a lack of evidence for any permanent settlement in the area led many researchers to conclude Gobekli was a sacred place, a destination for pilgrims.
However, in an article published in the journal Current Anthropology, University of Toronto archaeologist Ted Banning argues the buildings found at Gobekli may have been houses for people, not gods.
He points to traces of daily activity at the site such as flint napping and food preparation.
"The presence of this evidence suggests that the site was not, after all, devoid of residential occupation, but likely had quite a large population," Banning said.
Neither the presence of pillars decorated with art nor the massive size of the structures means the buildings could not have been residential space, he said.
"The presupposition that 'art,' or even 'monumental' art, should be exclusively associated with specialized shrines or other non-domestic spaces also fails to withstand scrutiny," he said. "There is abundant ethnographic evidence for considerable investment in the decoration of domestic structures and spaces."