- Göbekli Tepe
Göbekli Tepe (Turkish for "Hill with a Belly") is a hilltop sanctuary built on the highest point of an elongated mountain ridge about 15km northeast of the town of Şanlıurfa (Urfa) in southeast
Turkey. The site, currently undergoing excavationby German and Turkish archaeologists, was erected by hunter-gatherers in the 10th millennium BC (ca 11,500 years ago), before the advent of sedentism. It is currently considered the oldest known shrineor templecomplex in the world, and the planet's oldest known example of monumental architecture. Together with the site of Nevalı Çori, it has revolutionised the understanding of the Eurasian Neolithic.
Göbekli Tepe had already been located in a survey in 1964, when the American archaeologist Peter Benedict mentioned the site as a possible location of
stone ageactivity, but its importance was not recognised at that time. Excavations have been conducted since 1994 by the German Archaeological Institute( Istanbulbranch) and Şanlıurfa Museum, under the direction of the German archaeologist Klaus Schmidt ( University of Heidelberg). Scholars from the Hochschule Karlsruheare documenting the architectural remains. Before then, the hill had been under agricultural cultivation; generations of local inhabitants had frequently moved rocks and placed them in clearance piles. Much archaeological evidence may have been destroyed in that process. The archaeologists recognised that the prominent rise could not represent a natural hill. Later, they discovered T-shaped pillars, some of which had apparently undergone attempts at smashing.
The massive sequence of
stratificationlayers suggests several millennia of activity, perhaps reaching back to the Mesolithic. The oldest occupation layer (stratum III) contained monolithic pillars linked by coarsely built walls to form circular or oval structures. So far, four such buildings, with diameters between 10 and 30m have been uncovered. Geophysicalstudies suggest 16 further structures.
Stratum II, dated to Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB), revealed several adjacent rectangular rooms with
floorsof polished lime, reminiscent of Roman terrazzofloors.
The most recent layer consists of
sedimentdeposited as the result of erosionand of agricultural activity.
The monoliths are decorated with carved relief of animals or of abstract
pictograms. These signs cannot be classed as writing, but may represent commonly understood sacred symbols, as known from Neolithic cave paintingselsewhere. Some of the pillars, namely the T-shaped ones, have carved arms, which may indicate that they represent stylised humans. The very carefully carved reliefs depict lions, bulls, boars, foxes, gazelles, snakes, other reptiles and birds. Whether their creators wanted to portray simply the local faunaor perhaps mythical beings remains unknown. The meaning of the pictograms is equally unclear.
Lab-Number Date BP Cal BCE Context Ua-19561 8430±80 7560-7370 enclosure C Ua-19562 8960±85 8280-7970 enclosure B Hd-20025 9452±73 9110-8620 Layer III Hd-20036 9559±53 9130-8800 Layer III
The Hd samples are from charcoal in the lowest levels of the site and would date the active phase of occupation. The Ua samples come from pedogenic
carbonatecoatings on pillars and only indicate a time after the site was abandoned- the " terminus ante quem". [ [http://www.canew.org/uppermesop14cbox.html Upper Mesopotamia (SE Turkey, N Syria and N Iraq) 14C databases: 11th - 6th millennia cal BC] ]
The houses or temples are round megalithic buildings. The walls are made of unworked dry stone and include numerous T-shaped monolithic pillars of limestone that are up to 3 m high. Another, bigger pair of pillars is placed in the centre of the structure. The floors are made of
terrazzo(burnt lime), and there is a low bench running along the whole of the exterior wall.
The reliefs on the pillars include
foxes, lions, cattle, wild boars, herons, ducks, scorpions, ants and snakes. Some of the reliefs have been deliberately erased, maybe in preparation for new pictures.There are freestanding sculptures as well that may represent wild boars or foxes. As they are heavily encrusted with lime, it is sometimes difficult to tell. Comparable statues have been discovered in Nevalı Çori and Nahal Hemar.The quarries for the statues are located on the plateau itself, some unfinished pillars have been found there in situ. The biggest unfinished pillar is still 6.9 m long, a length of 9m has been reconstructed. This is much larger than any of the finished pillars found so far. The stone was quarried with stone picks. Bowl-like depressions in the limestone-rocks have maybe been used as mortars in the epipalaeolithicalready. There are some phalloi and geometric patterns cut into the rock as well, and their dating is uncertain.
The buildings are covered with settlement refuse that must have been brought from elsewhere. These deposits include
flinttools like scrapers and arrowheads and animal bones. The lithic inventory is characterised by Byblos points and numerous Nemrik-points. There are Helwan-points and Aswad-points as well.
There is no evidence of habitation; the structures are interpreted as
temples. After 8000 BC, the site was abandoned and purposely covered up with soil.
While the site formally belongs to the earliest Neolithic (PPN A), up to now no traces of domesticated plants or animals have been found. The inhabitants were
hunters and gatherers. Schmidt speculates that the site played a key function in the transition to agriculture; he assumes that the necessary social organization needed for the creation of these structures went hand-in-hand with the organized exploitation of wild crops.
Recent DNA analysis of modern domesticated wheat compared with wild wheat has shown that its DNA is closest in structure to wild wheat found in a mountain (Karacadağ) 20 miles away from the site, leading one to believe that this is where modern wheat was first domesticated. [ Heun et al., "Site of Einkorn Wheat Domestication Identified by DNA Fingerprinting", Science, 278 (1997) 1312-1314.]
All statements about the site must be considered preliminary, as only about 1.5% of the site's total area have been excavated as yet; floor levels have only been reached in the second complex (complex B), which also contained a terrazzo-like floor.
Excavations so far have revealed very little evidence for
residentialuse. Through the radiocarbon method, the end of stratum III could be determined at circa 9,000 BC (see above); its beginnings are estimated to 11,000 BC or earlier. Stratum II dates to about 8,000 BC.
Thus, the complexes originated before the so-called
Neolithic Revolution, the beginning of agricultureand animal husbandry, which is assumed to begin after 9,000 BC. But the construction of the Göbekli Tepe complex implies organisation of a degree of complexity not hitherto associated with pre-Neolithic societies. The archaeologists estimate that up to 500 persons were required to extract the 10-20 ton pillars (in fact, some weigh up to 50 tons) from local quarries and move them 100 to 500m to the site. For sustenance, wild cerealsmay have been used more intensely than so far; perhaps they were even deliberately cultivated. Residential buildings have not been discovered as yet, but there are some "special buildings" which may have served for ritual gatherings.
Around the beginning of the 8th millennium BC, "Navel Mountain" lost its importance. The advent of agriculture and animal husbandry brought new circumstances to human life in the area. But the complex was not gradually abandoned and simply forgotten, to be obliterated by the forces of
natureover time. Instead, it was deliberately covered with 300 to 500 cubic metres of soil. Why this happened is unknown, but it preserved the monuments for posterity.
At present, the complex raises more questions to
archaeologyand prehistorythan it answers. For example, we cannot tell why more and more walls were gradually added to the interiors while the sanctuary was in use.
Interpretation and Importance
Göbekli Tepe can be seen as an archaeological discovery of the greatest possible importance, since it profoundly changes our understanding of a vital point in the development of human societies. Apparently, the erection of monumental
cultcomplexes was within the capacities of hunter-gatherers and not only of sedentary farming communities as had been assumed hitherto. In other words, as Klaus Schmidt put it: "First came the temple, then the city". This revolutionary hypothesiswill have to be supported or modified by future research. Schmidt considers Göbekli Tepe as a central place serving a cult of the dead. He suggests that the carved animals are there to protect the dead. However, no tombs or graves have been found so far. Schmidt sees the site in connection with the initial stages of an incipient Neolithic. It is one of several neolithic sites in the vicinity of Mount Karaca Dağ, an area where geneticists suspect the origins of at least some of our cultivated grains (see Einkorn). Such scholars suggest that the Neolithic revolution, i.e. the beginnings of grain cultivation, took place here. Schmidt and others believe that mobile groups in the area were forced to cooperate with each other to protect early concentrations of wild cereals from wild animals (herds of gazelles and wild donkeys). This would have led to an early social organization of various groups in the area of Göbekli Tepe. Thus, according to Schmidt, the Neolithic did not begin at a small scale in the form of individual instances of garden cultivation, but started immediately as a large scale social organisation ("a full-scale revolution'"' [Klaus-Dieter Linsmeier: "Eine Revolution im großen Stil." Interview mit Klaus Schmidt. In: "Abenteuer Archäologie. Kulturen, Menschen, Monumente." Spektrum der Wissenschaft, Heidelberg 2006, 2, ISSN|1612-9954] ).
Not only its large dimensions, but the side-by-side existence of multiple pillar shrines makes the complex unique. There are no comparable monumental complexes from its time. Nevalı Çori, a well-known Neolithic settlement also excavated by the
German Archaeological Institute, and submerged by the Atatürk Damsince 1992, is 500 years later, its T-shaped pillars are considerably smaller, and its shrine was located inside a village; the roughly contemporary architecture at Jerichois devoid of artistic merit or large-scale sculpture; and Çatalhöyük, perhaps the most famous of all Neolithic villages, is 2,000 years later.
The excavator, Klaus Schmidt, has engaged in some speculation regarding the belief systems of the groups that created Göbekli Tepe, based on comparisons with other shrines and settlements. He assumes shamanic practices and suggests that the T-shaped pillars may represent mythical creatures, perhaps
ancestors, whereas he sees a fully articulated belief in gods only developing later in Mesopotamia, associated with extensive temples and palaces. This corresponds well with the Sumeriantradition of an old belief that agriculture, animal husbandry and weaving had been brought to humankind from the sacred mountain Du-Ku, which was inhabited by Annuna-deities, very ancient gods without individual names. Klaus Schmidt identifies this story as an oriental primeval myth that preserves a partial memory of the Neolithic. It is also apparent that the animal and other images are peaceful in character and give no indications of organised violence.
* Badisches Landesmuseum Karlsruhe (ed.): "Vor 12.000 Jahren in Anatolien. Die ältesten Monumente der Menschheit." Begleitbuch zur Ausstellung im Badischen Landesmuseum vom 20. Januar bis zum 17. Juni 2007. Theiss, Stuttgart 2007, ISBN 978-3-8062-2072-8
** DVD-ROM: MediaCultura (Hrsg.): "Vor 12.000 Jahren in Anatolien. Die ältesten Monumente der Menschheit." Theiss, Stuttgart 2007, ISBN 978-3-8062-2090-2
* David Lewis-Williams and David Pearce, "An Accidental revolution? Early Neolithic religion and economic change", "Minerva", 17 #4 (July/August, 2006), pp. 29-31.
* Klaus-Dieter Linsmeier and Klaus Schmidt: "Ein anatolisches Stonehenge." In: "Moderne Archäologie." Spektrum-der-Wissenschaft-Verlag, Heidelberg 2003, S. 10-15, ISBN 3936278350
* K. Pustovoytov, Weathering rinds at exposed surfaces of limestone at Göbekli Tepe. Neo-lithics 2000, 24-26 (14C-Dates).
* K. Schmidt, Göbekli Tepe and the rock art of the Near East, "TÜBA-AR" 3 (2000) 1-14.
* Klaus Schmidt: "Sie bauten die ersten Tempel. Das rätselhafte Heiligtum der Steinzeitjäger". München 2006, ISBN 3-406-53500-3
* Klaus Schmidt: "Göbekli Tepe, Southeastern Turkey. A preliminary Report on the 1995–1999 Excavations." In: "Palèorient" CNRS Ed., Paris 26.2001,1, 45–54, ISSN|0513-9345
* Klaus Schmidt: "Frühneolithische Tempel. Ein Forschungsbericht zum präkeramischen Neolithikum Obermesopotamiens." In:
Mitteilungen der deutschen Orient-Gesellschaft130, Berlin 1998, 17–49, ISSN|0342-118X
* K. Pustovoytov: "Weathering rinds at exposed surfaces of limestone at Göbekli Tepe". In: "Neo-lithics." Ex Oriente, Berlin 2000, 24–26 (14C-Dates)
* J. E. Walkowitz: "Quantensprünge der Archäologie". In: "Varia neolithica IV." Beier und Beran, Langenweissbach 2006, ISBN 3-937517-43-X
* [http://www.landesmuseum.de/website/Deutsch/Sonderausstellungen/Aktuell/Vor_12.000_Jahren_in_Anatolien_-_Die_aeltesten_Monumente_der_Menschheit/Ausstellung.htm Temporary exhhibition in the "Badisches Landesmuseum",
Karlsruheuntil summer 2007 ]
* [http://www.dainst.org/index_642_de.html Ein frühneolithisches Bergheiligtum im südosttürkischen Taurusvorland (DAI)]
* [http://www.gik.uni-karlsruhe.de/projekte/urfa/sld001.htm GÖBEKLI-TEPE Südanatolien/Türkei]
* [http://www.gik.uni-karlsruhe.de/projekte/urfa/sld018.htm Pictures of the excavations]
* [http://www.theiss.de/AiD/2002/5/report.php Der Steinzeit-Tempel vom Göbekli-Tepe]
* [http://www.dainst.org/index.php?id=642&sessionLanguage=en Main site]
* [http://www.thefirstpost.co.uk/index.php?menuID=2&subID=1007 Did we plough up the Garden of Eden?]
* [http://www.thefirstpost.co.uk/index.php?menuID=2&subID=1049 Frequently asked questions about Göbekli Tepe]
* [http://www.andrewcollins.com/page/articles/Gobekli_Tepe_interview.htm Interview with Andrew Collins]
* [http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2008/apr/23/archaeology.turkey "The Guardian" report 23 April 2008]
ource of translation
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