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The Tepe Telegrams
Next in our series about the pillars of Göbekli Tepe (here, and here) is P 66 in Enclosure H, located in the northwestern depression of the tell. The most prominent decoration of this pillar is a large horned beast, likely an aurochs, engraved with rough lines on one broadside. The animal is depicted in side view, its legs are flexed and its tongue is hanging out of the mouth. All this taken together could mean that the animal is depicted dead. Below it a smaller animal is shown, possibly in similar condition.
Pillar 66 in Enclosure H (copyright DAI, photo N. Becker).
Of course this depiction is immediately reminiscent of the two famous paintings from buildings F.V.1 and A.III.1 at Çatalhöyük, showing large cattle surrounded by considerably smaller human figures (e.g. Russell 2012: 79-80, Figure 2). Mellaart’s original interpretation of the depictions as hunting scenes has been widely discussed, and we agree with Russell (2012) who has collected the multitude of different opinions – from hunting or teasing over sacrifice to ritual bull leaping – that chances of arriving at a definite interpretation are low. However, we believe that Rice (1998: 81) has a point when he observes that the tongues hanging out of these animals´ mouths and the positions of their legs may indicate that the animals are depicted dying or dead. Most important, and that is agreed upon in nearly all interpretations, are the differences in size between humans and cattle in the images. The tiny human figures encircling the large (dead?) animals clearly indicate how awe-inspiring big cattle must have been for Neolithic people. The size of the animal is emphasized also in the new depiction from Göbekli Tepe – by the smaller animal depicted alongside the large bull.
The two animals however do not seem to be the original decoration of the pillar. They are scratched into the surface with rough lines, which is usually indicative of preparatory drawings for reliefs at Göbekli Tepe. Moreover, above the large animal´s head a rest of an older relief, maybe of a bird, and several unclear lines are visible. The placement of the pillar deviates from the usual arrangement, it is not ‘looking’ towards the central pillars, but stands parralel to them. Taken together, all clues hint towards a secondary use of an older pillar.
A large worked block was placed on the pillar´s head. This has been observed also for other pillars, especially those of Enclosure B in the main excavation area. A possible explanation could be height compensation, at least in the case that the pillars originally carried a roof.
Rice, M. 1998. The Power of the Bull. New York.
Russell, N. (2012): Hunting Sacrifice at Neolithic Çatalhöyük. In: Porter, A.M. & Schwartz, G.M. (eds.), Sacred Killing. The Archaeology of Sacrifice in the ancient Near East, Winona Lake, 79-95.
What is Göbekli Tepe?
A few decades ago, a German archaeologist by the name of Klaus Schmidt was excavating the Neolithic site of Nevali Çori in Şanlıurfa Province. But when the entire site was flooded by the Ataturk Dam in 1992, Schmidt had to look for new work.
The nearby site of Göbekli Tepe had been known since the 1960s, but the team who studied it determined that it was nothing more than a Byzantine cemetery. But once Schmidt laid eyes upon the hill in 1994, he knew immediately that it was an artificial mound buried thousands of years ago.
Göbekli Tepe turned out to be older than anyone could’ve anticipated. In fact, it’s likely the oldest temple ever discovered, dating back to at least 12,000 years ago. And it remained in continuous use until the 8th millennium BC.
The temple complex consists of numerous circular enclosures formed by standing T-shaped monoliths. Over 200 pillars have been uncovered thus far, with some reaching up to 6 meters and weighing over 15 tons.
And this was all carried out by a culture that had yet to develop pottery.
Interestingly, the site was in use for centuries, and enclosures were commonly buried before new ones were built nearby. The most recent enclosures, therefore, are situated at much higher levels on the hill. But for some reason, the entire site was eventually buried and abandoned.
Before his death in 2014, Schmidt estimated that only 5 percent of the site had been uncovered, with possibly over 16 additional enclosures still underground.A view of Enclosure D
An imagining of how the builders might have transported the pillars
Basalt pounder balls
Göbekli Tepe contains no evidence of having been a settlement, with the nearest water source being around 5 km away. We can conclude, then, that it was purely used for religious purposes.
But this flies in the face of everything we thought we knew about human civilization and Neolithic peoples. It was long believed that agriculture needed to become commonplace before communities could carry out large-scale, organized building projects.
The discovery of Göbekli Tepe reveals that the opposite is true. Ancient humans felt compelled to build large megalithic temples first, resulting in the need for agriculture to sustain big groups of workers.
A collection of various statues found at Göbekli Tepe on display at the Şanlıurfa Museum
We still know little about the mysterious civilization behind Göbekli Tepe, but we now know they’re behind numerous other sites throughout the region. Similar T-shaped pillars have been found at the nearby site of Karahan Tepe, which may even be older!
The same type of pillars were also utilized at Nevali Çori, a settlement and temple complex built a couple thousand years after Göbekli Tepe’s founding.
For lack of a better term, I’ll be referring to this lost civilization as the ‘T-Builders.’
The Tepe Telegrams
Current distribution of sites with T-shaped pillars and with simple limestone stelae (modified after Schmidt 2006 Copyright DAI).
The characteristic element of Göbekli Tepe´s architecture are the T-shaped pillars. In the older Layer III (10th millenium BC) the monolithic pillars weigh tons and reach heights between 4 m (pillars in the stone circles) and 5.5 m (central pillars). The T-shape of the pillars is clearly an abstract depiction of the human body seen from the side. Evidence for this interpretation are the low relief depictions of arms, hands and items of clothing like belts and loinclothes on some of the pillars. Often the pillars bear further reliefs, mostly depictions of animals, but also of numerous abstract symbols.
Layer III is supraposed by layer II, dating to the 9th millenium BC. This layer is not characterised by big round enclosures, but by smaller, rectangular buildings. The number and the height of the pillars are also reduced. In most cases only the two central pillars remain, the biggest measuring around 1,5 m.
T-shaped pillar visible on the surface at Karahantepe (Photo: D. Johannes, Copyright DAI, Schmidt 2006, Fig. 94).
The large pillars are so far only known from Göbekli Tepe. This may change over time however, as there now are several sites that show smaller pillars, resembling those of Göbekli Tepe´s younger layer. T-shaped pillars resembling the smaller examples from Göbekli Tepe’s Layer II were first recorded at the settlement site of Nevalı Çori. Several more sites in the near vicinity of Göbekli – Sefer Tepe, Karahan, and Hamzan Tepe – are known to have similar pillars, but no excavation work has been carried out so far. With the Neolithic site of Urfa-Yeni Yol, which seems to have revealed a small T-shaped pillar in the course of construction work in that area, with Taşlı Tepe, and with Gusir Höyük three more related sites were added to this list recently. A further addition to the sites with T-shapes is the so-called Kilisik statue, that closely resembles the general pillar form but has more naturalistic features [find a text by Marc Verhoeven on this find here – external link].
While most sites concentrate in a rather small radius around Göbekli Tepe, Gusir Höyük in the Turkish Tigris region [more information – external link] has considerably widened the distribution area of circular enclosures, however the pillars discovered there are slightly differently shaped – they seem to be missing the bar of the T. Similar stelae have been discovered in Cayönü and Qermez Dere. As only Gusir Höyük has been excavated, nobody can tell at the moment what the other sites might hide.
Çelik, Bahattin. 2011a. “Karahan Tepe: a new cultural centre in the Urfa area in Turkey.” Documenta Praehistorica 38: 241–253.
Çelik, Bahattin. 2011b. “Şanlıurfa—Yeni Mahalle.” In The Neolithic in Turkey 2. The Euphrates Basin, edited by Mehmet Özdoğan, Nezih Başgelen and Peter Kuniholm, 139–164. Archaeology & Art Publications, Istanbul.
Çelik, Bahattin, Güler, Mustafa, Güler, Gül. 2011. A new Pre-Pottery Neolithic settlement in southeastern Turkey: Taşlı Tepe. Anadolu / Anatolia 37: 225-236.
Hauptmann, Harald. 1988. “Nevalı Cori: Architektur.” Anatolica XV: 99-110.
Karul, Necmi. 2011. “Gusir Höyük.” In The Neolithic in Turkey 1. The Tigris Basin, edited by Mehmet Özdoğan, Nezih Başgelen and Peter Kuniholm, 1–17. Archaeology & Art Publications, Istanbul.
Karul, Necmi. 2013. “Gusir Höyük/Siirt. Yerleşik Avcılar.” Arkeo Atlas 8: 22–29.
Moetz, Fevzi K. and Bahattin Çelik 2012. “T‑shaped pillar sites in the landscape around Urfa.” In Proceedings of the 7th International Congress on the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East, edited by Roger Matthews and John Curtis, 695–703. Harrassowitz Verlag, Wiesbaden.
T-shaped Pillars at Göbekli Tepe - History
Copyright © 2019 by author(s) and Scientific Research Publishing Inc.
This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution International License (CC BY 4.0).
Received: January 10, 2019 Accepted: January 29, 2019 Published: February 1, 2019
Göbekli Tepe is a prehistoric, man-made megalithic hill site in today’s southeast Turkey which is riddled with walled circular and rectangular enclosures lined by and surrounding T-shaped monolithic pillars proposed to represent supernatural humanoid beings. We examined if H-shaped carvings in relief on some of these pillars might have a symbolic meaning rather than merely depicting an object of practical use. On Pillar 18 in Enclosure D, for example, one such “H” is bracketed by two semi-circles. An almost identical symbol appears as a logogram in the now extinct hieroglyphic language of the Bronze Age Luwians of Anatolia and there it meant the word for “god”. Further supporting a linguistic connection between Luwian hieroglyphs and images at Göbekli Tepe are to date untranslated Luwian symbols resembling the T-shape iconography of Göbekli Tepe and an H-like symbol which was the Luwian word for “gate”. We conclude that the T-shaped pillars at Göbekli Tepe were in fact built and symbolically marked to represent a god, possibly a bull-associated being, which guarded the entry to the human and animal afterlife. We propose that this theme may have been inspired by real celestial images of the then prevailing night sky, ritually reenacted and celebrated for centuries by hunter-gatherer pilgrims to this hill and then spread by their descendants across Anatolia still influencing language in the region spoken and written thousands of years later.
Göbekli Tepe, Luwian, Hieroglyphic, Anatolia, T-Shaped Pillar, Pillar 18, Enclosure D, God
Origin of Writing. The invention of writing is commonly attributed to Sumer and Egypt and the earliest evidence of either language dates to the late fourth millennium B.C.E. (Damerow, 2006) . The first alphabet was created from Egyptian hieroglyphs by Canaanite miners in Sinai approximately one thousand years later at the beginning of the second millennium B.C.E. (Goldwasser, 2016) . While the terminus ante quem of the origin of writing in the world can thus be traced to the Chalcolithic Age of Egypt and Mesopotamia, prehistoric civilizations may have expressed thought as recorded symbols long before, but evidence of such early writing may have been lost due to the decay of the medium, due to cultural invasion and replacement, or may yet be discovered. For example, traces of a pictographic script used in predynastic Buto and the region of the Nile Delta at large survived as hieroglyphic symbols in the mixed phonetic and ideogrammic script of dynastic Egypt while the rest of the language was apparently phased out by the time of Horus Den during the First Dynasty ( Helck , 1987 , Chapter 11, page 138).
The oldest recording system to date appears to have been clay tokens used to account for food stores which were discovered at Tell Mureybet by the western Euphrates in that site’s layer III whose beginnings date to circa 9300-8600 B.C.E. (Senner, 1991: pp. 29-30). From this discovery and others, a widely-held model of cultural evolution by 20th century archeologists implies that written language was invented after the development of agriculture based on the domestication of plants and livestock, and thus, like urban living, social stratification, and religion, represents an expression and outgrowth of materialistic culture, the ultimate driving force of cultural change in this model. The two main successive phases of this change from prehistoric hunter-gatherers to ancient historic dynastic city-state or nation dwellers were originally defined as the Neolithic and Urban Revolutions by V. Gordon Childe (Smith, 2009).
Jacques Cauvin (2000), however, who led France’s CNRS-sponsored excavations at Tell Mureybet in the mid-1970s, proposed the antithesis to this model by Childe: That symbolic thought and a belief system did not only predate domestication of food sources and the sedentary life-style of permanent settlements, but that it was instrumental in fostering them. In other words, the Neolithic revolution, according to Cauvin, was first and foremost a prehistoric revolution of the world-view of the people alive in that epoch at the end of the ice age in the 10th millennium B.C.E. It was this new world-view which shaped the insight to cope with a changing environment by employing a new life-style based on farming and settling in larger communities. Thus, ideologic or spiritual belief, first, enabled inventive thinking, second. Prehistoric people needed a reason to congregate. Once that happened, innovation and implementation became more likely when many people, previously physically separated, exchanged ideas, worked together, and shared the toil of living. In modern economics, this phenomenon is called agglomeration. Recorded symbolic language, like world-view and spirituality, could thus also be considered an expression of such new awareness, besides sculpture, architecture, and murals, made long before food was grown and stored and needed to be accounted for. Symbolic, “religious” thinking and expanded awareness may even have been a requisite (Hodder, 2011: p. 112).
Given that the origin of the Indo-European branch of languages can be traced both to Anatolia and to a timeframe which overlaps with the aceramic Neolithic era (Bouckaert et al., 2012), megalithic monuments from this place and time may hold clues as to the need to capture spoken language with symbols and preserve them in stone for later generations (Schoch, 2012: p. 41). This need may have arisen with a desire for permanence beyond death and a sentiment for ancestry evident in the practice of skull removal of the buried dead, artistic modifications to human skulls (as found on human skull fragments at Göbekli Tepe Gresky et al., 2017), and circulating them throughout the community as is evident from the archeological record at Çatalhöyük (Hodder, 2011: pp. 114-116). In this paper, we will present primordial evidence of pre-agricultural symbolic language related to the religious beliefs of an early Neolithic society of so-called “hunter-gatherers”1 in southeast Anatolia at Göbekli Tepe. Our investigation, however, begins with an examination of hieroglyphic Luwian, a language in use across most of Bronze Age Anatolia thousands of years after prehistoric people built Göbekli Tepe.
Luwian Hieroglyphic Script. The Luwian hieroglyphic script, while discovered in the early 19th century, was fully deciphered only in the 1970s and shown to be a close dialect of cuneiform Luwian and a sister language of cuneiform Hittite, the official script of the ruling class of Bronze Age Anatolia during the Empire Period (circa 1200-1000 B.C.E), which it both preceded and survived by centuries (Goedegebuure, 2016, 2107). Thus, Luwian is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, known Indo-European languages and a likely descendant of the hypothetical Proto-Indo-European (PIE) common ancestor of all members of this language family. Current archeological evidence in the form of seals, reliefs, steles, lead strips, and wood panels, across almost one-hundred Anatolian sites, including some within 30 km of Göbekli Tepe, dates the emergence of the hieroglyphic script used to write in Luwian to the late 15th century B.C.E., i.e. a time coinciding with Egypt’s 18th Dynasty of the New Kingdom, when Anatolia and Egypt interacted both in trade, diplomacy, and war. The Luwians, for example, may have been the “Sea People” with whom Ramses III fought, the Trojans with whom the Myceneans fought during Homer’s Trojan War, and the confederate power which brought down the Hittites, all events occurring during the Late Bronze Age when several civilizations collapsed and recorded history entered a so-called Dark Age (Zangger, 2016).
Waal (2013) proposed an even earlier time of development of hieroglyphic Luwian, around 2000 B.C.E. Developed exclusively for the Luwian language, which together with Hittite, Lycian, Lydian, Palaic, and Carian comprises the Anatolian branch of the Indo-European major language phylum, its origins can be traced to both spoken Hittite and Luwian (Figure 1). Some Luwian symbols encode full words in the form of logograms but most encode phonographic sounds. In the latter case, the phonetic values still relate to the pictographic idea of the symbols through acrophony, i.e. the sounds of the script’s phonographic symbols are defined by the beginning of the sound of the words whose ideas they depict. For example, the Luwian word for walk “tia” produces the phonetic syllable “ti” encoded by a foot symbol. The Luwian word for ox “uwa” produces the phonetic sound “u” encoded by an ox head symbol. The Luwian word for donkey “tarkasna” produces the phonetic syllabic sound “ta”. Some Luwian hieroglyphic symbols obtained their phonetic value not from the Luwian spoken language but from Hittite words. It is this bilingual origin of the script which suggests that the region of its invention was in eastern Anatolia where both languages were spoken (Figure 1 Goedegebuure, 2016).
The development of the script over time also suggests that it started with pictographs and that phonograms were gradually added later. This development contrasts with Egypt’s proto-dynastic writing system which incorporated phonograms in its earliest known records discovered in tomb UJ (Baines, 2004). We therefore asked if the Luwian script, at its inception, may have incorporated surviving themes and especially symbols (i.e. iconic pictographs) of the long-gone
Figure 1 . Map of ancient Anatolia showing the locations of Luwian (Luwic) writing discovered from the Empire Period (circa 1480-1200 B.C.E.). Megalithic sites with T-shaped Pillars west and east of the Euphrates River are indicated in black letters. GT: Göbekli Tepe NC: Navali Çori U: Urfa HT: Hamzan Tepe K: Karahan ST: Sefer Tepe TT: Tašli Tepe K: Kilisik. Four language zones are marked. Palaic, Hattic, Hittite, and Luwic (Luwian). The overlap between Hittite and Luwic occurred in the zone approximated by the green circle. Map courtesy of Tayfun Bilgin, https://www.hittitemonuments.com, (v. 1.61), modified.
people who had lived nearby in southeast Anatolia and had built one of the oldest known megalithic complexes in the world from which the Neolithic Revolution expanded across the fertile crescent and eventually further into the continents of Europe, Asia, and possibly parts of Africa and elsewhere.
Göbekli Tepe. Göbekli Tepe Layer III is a Neolithic Pre-Pottery, megalithic phase at a prominent and widely visible location in the upper Euphrates Valley zone, which makes up the northern extent of the fertile crescent marking the transition between ancient Mesopotamia’s plains to the southeast and Anatolia’s mountainous highlands to the northwest. The complex was built on a limestone ridge over a period of about 800 or more years in the 10 th and 9 th millennia, further extended with ancillary structures in Layer II for a period of 1800 years during the 9 th and 8 th millennia, and then completely buried and abandoned by circa 7000 B.C.E. (Schmidt, 2000, 2011, 2012). Originally discovered as a possible site of interest in 1963 by the Universities of Istanbul and Chicago led by Halet Çambel and Robert Braidwood, respectively, it was found to be a very ancient megalithic site in 1994 during initial excavations undertaken by the German Archeological Institute’s late Klaus Schmidt (Schmidt, 2000, 2011). Schmidt’s excavations over the years into this man-made hill unearthed several stone circles surrounding, and lined with, T-shaped pillars (Figure 2) onto which animal figures and, as he had already witnessed at Navali Çori, humanoid features like arms and hands were carved in relief (Figure 3(a)), for example on Pillar 18 at the center of Enclosure D in the hill’s southeast quadrant (Figure 3(b) & Figure 3(c)).
Pillar 18 rests on a pedestal with bird reliefs on its façade (Figure 3(c)). Besides a foxlike animal on its “torso” (Figure 3(b)), it features a finely carved belt with several “H”-shaped symbols (Figure 3(g) & Figure 3(h)) and a buckle from which an animal hide loincloth hangs (Figure 3(c)). At the top front of the pillar is a set of three symbols composed (from top to bottom) of another “H”-shaped symbol and an umbilicated disc hovering within the concavity of a
Figure 2 . Göbekli Tepe’s Layer III site plan looking west from the east with north to the right in this image. Four enclosures are shown, and their conventional designations A, B, C, and D are indicated above. All eight central pillars and some of the peripheral pillars are marked including all those discussed in this paper. Pillar 33 in Enclosure D is nestled between Pillars 32 and 38 and is not fully visible in this image. Composite image courtesy of Robert Schoch and Catherine Ulissey.
Figure 3 . Central and peripheral pillars, limestone plate, and porthole, Göbekli Tepe, Turkey. (a) Pillar 31 and (b-d g-h) Pillar 18, from Enclosure D (e-f) carved limestone plate found by Pillar 31 showing severed heads (marked in red by D.A.I.) (i) Pillar 28 from Enclosure C (j) Pillar 43 from Enclosure D (k-l, red arrow in (l) by D.A.I.) Porthole stone close-up and in situ from above, Enclosure B (m-n) Pillar 33 from Enclosure D. Images courtesy of Robert Schoch and Catherine Ulissey (b-d, g-i, m-n), Berthold Steinhilber (j) and the German Archeological Institute (D.A.I., a, e-f D.A.I.’s N. Becker, k-l) with permission.
crescent (Figure 3(d)). Of note, the “head” of the pillar is unmarked, though there are other pillars whose topmost parts are ornately carved with animal and geometric motifs. No facial features have been found on any pillar unearthed to date. The significance of the T-shape and its association with humans remain a mystery, but most agree that supernatural beings were meant to be displayed in stone.
Within the back-fill debris surrounding Pillar 31, the other megalith in the center of Enclosure D next to Pillar 18, a limestone plate with reliefs showing severed heads (Figure 3(e) & Figure 3(f) marked with red circles) next to a vulture and also two life-size human limestone heads were discovered demonstrating that the humanoid T-shape of the pillar heads was deliberately chosen to contrast with the realism of the human heads. Seemingly complementing the severed heads by Pillar 31 (see Gresky et al., 2017: p. 5, their Fig. 4a, for a photograph of a decapitated human statue from Göbekli Tepe), a small headless torso is depicted in relief at the bottom of Pillar 43’s west-facing side (at the bottom of the pillar, again next to a vulture Figure 3(j)). Pillar 43 was integrated within the enclosure wall immediately behind Pillar 31 (see Figure 2) to the northwest (the enclosure wall is most likely of a later period―that is secondary―relative to the pillars see Schoch, 2017: p. 458). The headless torso on Pillar 43 appears small next to the much larger animals also shown (Figure 3(j)), for example a vulture immediately next to it. These motifs of vultures and headless human torsos reappear two-thousand years later on murals of a temple-like structure at Çatalhöyük hundreds of kilometers to the west demonstrating their cultural importance (Sandars, 1979).
While the purpose of the entire complex at Göbekli Tepe, still largely unexcavated, continues to be debated, the anthropomorphic yet “alien” character of the over-sized T-pillars suggests that they depict supernatural beings or gods and that the site therefore had a spiritual congregational function though other, possibly more secular, purposes cannot yet be ruled out given, for instance, evidence of feasting and other activities at the site (see, e.g., Banning, 2011). T-shaped pillars have also been discovered at nearby sites east and west of the Euphrates, i.e. Navali Çori, Urfa, Hamzan Tepe, Karahan, Sefer Tepe, Tašli Tepe, and Kilisik, with Göbekli Tepe assuming the central focus of this cultural zone (Figure 1).
Symbolism and Meaning. The meaning of the animal depictions and other relief markings on the T-pillars, as well as the pillars themselves and the circles they form, remain a mystery to date and while several theories have been proposed, such as relating them to Orion’s belt stars (Schoch, 2012: pp. 54-55), to stars in the north (Deneb Collins, 2014: pp. 80-82), Sirius (Magli, 2013, 2016), or foreign symbols (e.g. Putney, 2014), unequivocal proof remains elusive. The fact that dwellings at Çatalhöyük were found to contain adult burials always on the north side of the living space (Hodder, 2012: p. 305) sometimes marked by aurochs skulls and often by vulture paintings with headless corpses (Hodder, 2012: p. 306), lends support to the hypothesis that the approximate north-south orientation of most of Göbekli Tepe’s T-pillar circles may be integral to the ideas which inspired their construction. The central T-pillars themselves may represent a god or gods “looking” out to the sky at a bull (for instance, Taurus) or associated with a bull (for instance, Orion, who is in the same general portion of the sky as Taurus see Schoch, 2012: p. 55). Virtually all the other animals depicted on the pillars and associated stone carvings, i.e. snakes, lizards, spiders, scorpions, foxes, boars, lions, leopards, and various birds including a vulture, cranes, and an eagle were indigenous to the regional fauna of Holocene southeast Anatolia (Schmidt, 2011, 2012).
Klaus Schmidt interpreted Göbekli Tepe as a ritual center to which hunter-gatherers from surrounding settlements congregated to feast and commemorate or even bury some of their significant dead but did not rule out a shamanic purpose (Schmidt, 2011, 2012). He read the pillar carvings as a form of storytelling while the high-relief animal sculptures had a symbolically protective function. He emphasized the significance of the symbolic dominance of the human features of the megaliths over those of the fear-instilling animals and singled out Göbekli Tepe as unique in this respect among other contemporary Neolithic sites. To Schmidt, Göbekli Tepe’s main theme was the conquest by man-like gods of the wilderness world and this spiritual theme unmistakably predated the pragmatically driven transition from hunting and gathering for food to growing and storing it as the changing environment after the Younger Dryas may have dictated.
Here, we present new evidence that one, especially peculiar, carving may represent a written symbol, as previously suspected (Ercan, 2015), which identifies one of the most prominent and central of the T-pillars as a deity and thus supports the idea that Göbekli Tepe was in fact a temple complex2 dedicated to at least one god which formed perhaps a symbolic gateway to the afterlife as well as protecting the still living. We discuss the possible origins of this symbol, its significance within the ritual context of the entire site, which may have its origins in imagined celestial images.
One often-appearing Luwian symbol is the word for “god”, Laroche #360 “DEUS3” (Figure 4 Laroche, 1960). Many examples can be observed at the almost one-hundred sites from which written records were discovered. This symbol depicts an oval with two opposing semi-circles and two vertical parallel lines between them. For example, it is well shown on rock inscriptions in Develi by Fraktin (Figure 5) and from Arslan Tepe (Figure 6) and several instances of it can be seen on a storm god stele from Aleppo (Figure 7). At Hanyeri, a symbolic association can be observed between “DEUS” and “MONS”, where both are used on the same line of text translated as “king of the mountain god” (Figure 8). Close inspection of “MONS” (Figure 9), reveals that the only difference to “DEUS” are the long converging lines in “MONS” separating its opposing semi-circles as opposed to the two parallel vertical lines separating them in “DEUS”.
The “H”-shaped Luwian symbol is the logogram for PORTA (“gate” Petra Goedegebuure, personal communication) and is seen in detail for example in an inscription from Arslan Tepe (Figure 10). There are “T”-shaped Luwian symbols, the meaning of which still eludes translation. One such symbol, Laroche #457 (2) (Figure 11) shows a “T” on a steep mount. An example can be seen in situ at Sivasa (Figure 12).
Linguistic link between Luwian and Göbekli Tepe’s Iconography. It appears that when the Luwian script was invented, it adopted some Anatolian icons predating its inception (between 2000 and 1400 B.C.E.) by thousands of years. Since
Figure 4 . Laroche #360 Luwian hieroglyph denoting “god”. From Laroche (1960: p. 187).
Figure 5 .Luwian rock inscription, Gümüşören (Fraktin) village of Develi, circa 1300-1200 B.C.E. The “god” symbol Laroche #360 is shown at the top next to the head of the figure on the left. Image courtesy of Tayfun Bilgin, https://www.hittitemonuments.com, (v. 1.61).
Figure 6 . Luwian rock inscription from Arslan Tepe at the Anatolian Civilizations Museum in Ankara, Turkey circa 900 B.C.E. The “god” symbol Laroche #360 is shown at the top next to the head of the storm god (Tešup) figure on the left. Immediately below is the logogram for “lightning”, Laroche #199. Image courtesy of Tayfun Bilgin, https://www.hittitemonuments.com, (v. 1.61).
Figure 7 . Storm God Relief and Stele from Aleppo, Istanbul Archeology Museum. Marked with red circles are instances of Laroche #360 on the stele and its transcription. Images courtesy of Tayfun Bilgin, https://www.hittitemonuments.com, (v. 1.61), modified.
Figure 8 . Luwian rock inscription at Hanyeri, circa 1300-1200 B.C.E. The three-part relief is shown on the left and the magnified left part on the top right. Below is the transcription. The top row of symbols reads from right to left: “King of the Mountain god, Sharruma” (REX MONS DEUS.SARMA) and the second row reads “Sword, the divine mountain” (ENSIS DEUS.MONS). Images and graphic courtesy of Tayfun Bilgin, https://www.hittitemonuments.com, (v. 1.61), modified.
Figure 9 . Laroche #207 Luwian hieroglyph denoting “Mountain”. From Laroche (1960: p. 112).
Figure 10. Luwian rock inscription from Arslan Tepe at the Anatolian Civilizations Museum in Ankara, Turkey circa 1100-1000 B.C.E. The “H”-shaped symbol is shown marked in red. Image courtesy of Tayfun Bilgin, https://www.hittitemonuments.com, (v. 1.61), modified.
Figure 11 . Laroche #239, 261, 263, and 457. #457 (1) has the phonetic value of “li”. #239 translates into “Gate” and #263 and #457 (2) are unknown (Petra Goedegebuure, personal communication). #261 is uncertain. From Laroche (1960: pp. 129, 137, 237) modified.
Figure 12 . Transcribed Luwian rock inscription from a rock still in situ at Sivasa/Suvasa/Gökçetoprak. Laroche #457 (2) is marked with the red arrow. Graphic courtesy of Tayfun Bilgin, https://www.hittitemonuments.com, (v. 1.61), modified.
Luwian contains, by our survey, at least four symbols directly related to iconography found at Göbekli Tepe, we think random chance is unlikely. However, even if Luwian adopted symbolic themes from its distant ancestors, we have to consider the more trivial scenario that people who lived in southeast Anatolia during the Bronze Age may have discovered decorated T-shaped pillars, ascribed importance to the symbolism of the pillars and some of the reliefs found on them, and consequently attached a meaning to these icons unrelated to that intended by the builders of Göbekli Tepe, which itself may be a trivial depiction of the details of a hunter’s belt. The main reasons why we think this is unlikely are that: 1) the “H” symbols occur both as part of the belt bracketed by semi-circles on Pillar 18 of Enclosure D, as a part of an apparently purely symbolic element on the front of Pillar 18 along with a disk inside a crescent, alone on the front of Pillar 28 in Enclosure C bracketed by two semi-circles (Figure 3(i)), and as a focal point for the direction of where animals are heading as shown on Pillars 43 and 33 in Enclosure D (Figure 3(j), Figure 3(m) & Figure 3(n)), and 2) that this idea of a focal point is consistent with the concept of a gate, the meaning given to the “H”-shaped symbol in Luwian. Therefore, it is possible that the original meaning behind Göbekli Tepe’s iconography was verbally preserved in Anatolia’s prehistoric and ancient legends and myths until a written script was made incorporating those prehistoric symbols along with their archetypal meaning.
The Luwian “god” symbol is not perfectly identical though close to the “H”-shaped symbol inside two semi-circles as seen on the belt of Pillar 18 (Figure 3(g)) and the chest of Pillar 28 (Figure 3(i)). The main difference is that the cross bar is missing, and the two vertical bars are closer together. Nevertheless, we think this Luwian iconography still preserves the concept of a passage, originally depicted blocked, then open in the Luwian symbol. The common position of Laroche #360 in Luwian texts is at the top of a column of symbols within a row of text suggesting that the god so named was in the sky. One way to interpret the idea of a gate inside a circle in the sky is a passage through a vortex such as the celestial north pole of the night sky around which the circumpolar stars slowly wander each night and whose focal point gradually shifts due to the combined effects of axial and apsidial precession.
Our analysis does not reveal if the Luwian T-shaped symbols, Laroche #261, 263, and 457 (2) (Figure 11) are words or sounds. However, the fact that an aurochs’ cranium is depicted on the front of Pillar 31 in Enclosure D (Figure 3(a)), on top of the porthole of Enclosure B (Figure 3(k) & Figure 3(l)), and on later Anatolian pottery decorations where the T-shape is evidently part of a bull head (Figure 13 and Figure 14) suggests that they represent the prehistoric word for “bull” or a syllable sound related to that word.
Spiritual Theme. Taken together, this evidence suggests that the T-shaped pillars at Göbekli Tepe were likely meant to represent a god in the form of a bull-like being. But what was its power or function within the context of circles? The answer to this question may come from the lay-out of the dwellings found at Çatalhöyük. There, the adult dead were commonly buried on the northeast side of the homes and sometimes marked with bucrania (Figure 15). This suggests the god in question was a guardian of the dead. In the same context, the vulture with the headless torso marked the north side of the dwelling. At Göbekli Tepe the general orientation of most circles unearthed so far is approximately south to north (Figure 16). The animals are shown to seemingly migrate towards the
Figure 13 . Terracotta vase from southwest Turkey at Haçilar, late 6 th millennium B.C.E. National Museum of Oriental Art, Rome, Italy. Photo courtesy of MM-Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29823064.
Figure 14 . Decorated pottery from southwest Turkey at Haçilar, late 6 th millennium B.C.E. Ankara Anatolian Civilizations Museum, Ankara, Turkey. Image courtesy of Dick Osseman, with permission: http://www.pbase.com/dosseman/profile.
Figure 15 . Northeast platform burial site in building 77 of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B settlement in south Turkey at Çatalhöyük, 8 th to 7 th millennium B.C.E. Image courtesy of Verity Cridland-Çatalhöyük, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7429553.
Figure 16 . Aerial view of Enclosures A-D from the south looking north. Image courtesy of the German Archaeological Institute’s (D.A.I.) E. Kücük, with permission.
bull-like god represented, we argue, by the gate symbol “H”, and on the north side of Enclosure D, a vulture is shown next to a headless torso (i.e. the limestone plate found by Pillar 31, Figure 3(e) & Figure 3(f), and Pillar 43 immediately northwest, Figure 3(j)) in analogous fashion as to what is seen on north-wall murals inside dwellings at Çatalhöyük (Figure 17). Therefore, the view of the world suggested by this iconography could be interpreted as revolving around the inevitability of the death of all creatures, animals and humans, symbolized by the vulture and the headless torso, and that this passage from life to death involves an encounter with a god who stands at the gate of a passage (Collins, 2015) between life and death 4 . The discovery of limestone heads by Pillar 31, decorated fragments of human skulls at Göbekli Tepe, and plastered skulls at Çatalhöyük suggests that this word-view also made room for the notion of coming back to life (also suggested by Collins, 2014) and that this resurrected life spiritually resided inside of the head of the dead.
Astronomical Imagery. This idea of an H-shaped gateway to the afterlife and the head as the seat of the life force may originate from what was visible in the night sky of the time. During the 10th Millennium B.C.E., the north pole was occupied by the H-shaped constellation Hercules near the bright star Vega in the constellation Lyra next to Cygnus (Figure 18). We think this iconography of a rotating, never-setting “H” in the night sky next to a bright point source of light, therefore, may have been interpreted as a headless being with its detached head next to a vulture-like figure nearby and its eternal life related to the fact that it, unlike most other stars, was visible every night. An alternative interpretation of either Vega or the star Deneb (in Cygnus) suggests that it may have inspired the “H”-symbol (Sweatman & Tsikritsis, 2017: p. 239) though Collins has suggested that Deneb was instead represented by the “Soul Holes” found in two of the enclosures (see Figure 9 and Figure 10 in Collins, 2015). The celestial torso from which the head (i.e. Vega in our interpretation) was severed may also have been inspired by the constellation Orion, also possibly imagined as a headless humanoid figure (Schoch, 2012: p. 55).
The snake-like constellation Draco (Figure 18) may explain the iconography of the many snakes on the T-shaped pillars and on the back of a limestone head found at Nevalı Çori and their seeming migration depicted on some pillars towards the “H” symbol (e.g. Figure 3(m)) is neatly explained by Draco’s and Boötes’ (possibly imagined as a scorpion) proximity to Hercules. The vulture “flying” and “chasing” after the “torso” of Hercules during the hours of the night could have been seen in Cygnus (represented on Pillar 43 Collins, 2017) and we agree that this is more likely than another interpretation which suggests it was meant to represent Sagittarius (Sweatman & Tsikritsis, 2017: p. 237), as the
Figure 17 . Recreation of a typical wall mural on the north wall of a dwelling at Çatalhöyük showing a vulture and headless human torsos reminiscent of a T-shape with arms and legs. Çatalhöyük site museum, Turkey. Image (2013) courtesy of Robert Schoch and Catherine Ulissey.
Figure 18 . View of the northern star zone from the perspective of Göbekli Tepe in 9600 B.C.E. (Julian year-9599) recreated using Stellarium (version 0.14.3). In the center is the constellation Hercules. The brightest star in the northern star zone Vega is highlighted. The circumpolar region was then populated by the constellations Hercules, Draco, Cygnus, Aquilla, Lyra, and Boötes.
former view is better anchored in our own reconstruction of prehistoric Anatolia’s imagined afterlife and better supported by the evidence from Çatalhöyük as Collins (2017) has also noted. This astronomical interpretation is also consistent with the general north-south orientations of enclosures A-D, but the exact positions of Hercules and Vega and the circumpolar constellations in remote times need to be confirmed using astronomical software which can recreate remote periods of time (e.g. the Carte du Ciel star mapping project see Conclusion in De Lorenzis & Orofino, 2015).
Another confounding variable may be introduced by tectonic plate movement. Göbekli Tepe is located northwest of the East Anatolian Fault on the Anatolian plate and rotates counterclockwise due to northward push from the Arabian Plate on its eastern end (Cavalié & Jónsson, 2013, see Figure 1 of citation). This means that the perspective from Anatolian monuments on the ground very slowly rotates west of north relative to the stars in the night sky. The extent to which this may affect alignments to certain stars measured today should be confirmed to be negligible, but it cannot be ignored a priori.
The bull-like T-shaped god statues of Göbekli Tepe are not facing toward the north and the circumpolar region, but are rather turned toward the south. It is possible that the southeastern night sky with the constellation Taurus and Orion’s belt asterism, previously suggested by one of us (Schoch, 2012: p. 55), may have been associated with the T-shaped anthropomorphic pillars, and with the cranium of an aurochs. Indeed, the god in question (represented by the central pillars of Enclosure D) was facing toward the region of the sky containing Orion―with its strong belt stars, perhaps represented by the belts on the pillars―and Taurus, the bull or aurochs, on the vernal equinox during Göbekli Tepe times (Schoch, 2012).
It is also possible that prehistoric sky watchers associated either the bull, or the T-shape, or both with the southern hemispheric cross-shaped constellation Crux, which was visible in Anatolia during the 10th Millennium B.C.E. Likewise, the nearby constellation Centaur’s inverted “U”-shape may have inspired the same symbol on the belt buckle of Pillar 18, the circular shape of Enclosures A-D, and the “U”-shaped stone entrance to Enclosure C to its south. The Milky Way, on which Crux can be seen, forms a starry path to the circumpolar region and this may have been symbolized as the path to the afterlife in the north. T-shaped megalithic pillars on the southern side of the island of Menorca called Taulas surrounded by horseshoe-shaped enclosures built by the Talayotic (Talaiotic) Civilization (circa 1300-800 B.C.E.) were also likely oriented to the low altitude constellations Crux and Centaur (Hoskins et al., 1990) and the sites were abandoned at the same time when Crux disappeared in the northern hemisphere due to Earth-axial precession hinting at a causal connection5. The Taulas are a compelling example of an ancient monumental recreation of starry images imagined in the night sky (Figure 19).
Animal Imagery. We may ask if it is necessary to invoke an association with celestial images in order to explain the ancient worship of animal-like gods or gods associated with certain animals. From the perspective of ancient people, the wild aurochs must have been an imposing and ferocious animal (Figure 20)
Figure 19 . Above, a Taula on Menorca, Spain. Below, a screenshot view of the southern star zone in 1301 B.C.E. (Julian year-1300) from the perspective of Menorca recreated using Stellarium (version 0.14.3). In the center is the Constellation Crux (gamma Crux is highlighted), the southern cross. The constellation Centaur featuring the bright stars Alpha and Beta Centauri forms a horseshoe-like enclosure around Crux and this starry image may have concretely inspired the Taulas. Image (modified) courtesy of Shutter stock, Standard License #672366646 (January 2, 2019).
perfectly suited to symbolize power and this association continued into the Bronze Age when the Anatolian storm god Tešup is seen with a bull (Figure 6 and Figure 8). The vulture could have been uniquely associated with death as this bird could have commonly been witnessed consuming the carcasses of dead animals and humans, unlike other meat-eating animals which eat freshly killed prey. In ancient Egypt, as today, lions bask in the sun, baboons cheer at sunrise, falcons perform acrobatics in front of the glowing sun disk (Robert Bauval, personal communication), and scarab beetles emerge from the sands. Is it the behavior of these animals which turned them into Tefnut, Mehit, Horakhty, Babi, Horus, and Kheper, or was it their imagined likenesses in the starry night sky, that place no ancient human could ever reach, which made them god-like? We think one must consider both aspects of animals, how they behaved and how their likenesses might have been recognized in prominent groups of stars, to reconstruct what likely mattered in each case to ancient peoples’ worship of animal-like gods. However, caution must be exercised when attempting to reconstruct what animal or human shapes different ancient cultures at different times imagined certain groups of stars to represent. The ancient Egyptians of the New Kingdom, for example, likely saw the hippopotamus goddess “reret”, the scorpion goddess “serket”, the falcon god “anu”, and the ox thigh “mesekhtiu” in the circumpolar star group, while Claudius Ptolemaeus’ Almagest (Alexandria, 2 nd century C.E.) listed Draco, Ursa major and minor, and Boötes (Lull & Belmonte, 2009, Chapter 6, pp. 164-168).
Conclusions. In summary, we have drawn a semantic link between the dominant symbolism of Göbekli Tepe, T-pillars and H-symbols, and the words for god and gate in the Luwian script. Thus, the central pillars inside Göbekli Tepe’s enclosures were meant to be gods, or one god, associated with bulls and the H-symbols on them were meant to explicitly mark them as such, i.e. beings, or one supreme spiritual being, presiding over the imagined path from life to death in the form of a symbolic gateway. This link confirms what others have long suspected: That Göbekli Tepe, at least in part, served as a temple site. The details of the rituals practiced there (as well as other activities) may not come to light, if ever, until the remaining circles are excavated however, our analysis suggests that a passage rite involving decapitation of the deceased, and thus resurrection from the realm of the dead, may have been involved. The role of the god associated with a bull was that of the gatekeeper between the realms of the living and the dead and so it is possible, we might speculate, that resurrection in the form of decapitation required a price to be paid, possibly a sacrifice which was enacted inside of the circles. This may have been a spectacle watched by pilgrims to the site, and the incentive to make the long journey to Göbekli Tepe from the surrounding camps would have been the feasts held made from the animals sacrificed on these prehistoric altars.
From these early beginnings, the essential elements of this ritual would have eventually been “domesticated” at the later settlements of the region in a more ritualized form of skull preservation and reverence as part of staying connected to ancestors. The roots of this ancestral worship however bear the marks of hunters and nomadic gatherers, not settled farmers. Only later, when edible plants were cultivated, a more relevant to farming, likewise astronomically inspired, shift of focus from the stars in the north and south to the Sun and Moon in the east and west may have occurred explaining the variant circle orientations of Enclosures A and F, the latter of which 14Carbon-dates to the late 9th Millennium B.C.E. (De Lorenzis & Orofino, 2015: pp. 43-47). A similar more symbolic, and less actual, reenactment of a primeval, more physical, ritual would be the Mouth Opening Ceremony of Dynastic Egypt as the stylized version of the Statuette Making Ritual or the ritual killing and revival of an Egyptian king during the Heb-Sed festival as the stylized, i.e. more civilized, version of the actual killing of an ageing chieftain having to prove that he can still lead a hunt to procure food for his tribe or else be killed (Helck, 1987, Chapter 2, page 5).
The advent of the Neolithic Revolution in this model rested on a unifying concept of a superhuman, yet both human-like and bull-like spiritual being, a god, which brought otherwise scattered people into one location to build a monument for worship, perform rituals for the afterlife, and feast. Why this unifying spirituality arose during and after the end of the Younger Dryas in southeast Anatolia and was eventually buried together with the monumental creations expressing it remains unknown. It may have been epic ecological changes caused by a wide-spread catastrophe (Schoch, 2012: p. 99-103 Sweatman & Tsikritsis, 2017: p. 243), it may have been a charismatic shaman or tribal leader, and even distant origin cultural transfer has been proposed including from Australia (Fenton, 2017)6. Whatever inspired it―fear, charisma, or cultural transfer from elsewhere―the congregation it catalyzed made innovation7, division of labor, and team work more likely, eventually (circa 8th millennium B.C.E. or earlier) setting the stage for the domestication of plants (Demiral, 2016: pp. 131-133) and animals by larger groups of people united by the same beliefs conveyed by its powerful spiritual symbolism. This, then, may have been the real catalyst in Cauvin’s model of the origins of agriculture: The communal spirit of interacting in a large group captivated by iconic symbols recognized by many as opposed to hunting in the isolation of small bands composed only of a few closely-nit family members. It is this power of symbols which we think was the driving force behind the desire to record them in stone and the word for God fittingly would be the first such symbol recorded, making it the first word in recorded history.
We would like to dedicate this paper to Professor Dr. Klaus Schmidt, the discoverer of Göbekli Tepe’s megalithic stone circles, who tragically passed away on 20 July 2014.
The authors declare no conflicts of interest regarding the publication of this paper.
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1 It should be noted that “hunter-gatherers” may be a misnomer, because the builders of Göbekli Tepe were probably not equivalent to modern “hunter-gatherers” as discussed in the general anthropological literature if anything, the Göbekli Tepe people may have been closer to so-called “complex hunter-gatherers” such as the Northwest Coast cultures of North America (see, for instance, Ames, 1994).
2 Whether solely a “temple complex”, as Göbekli Tepe is often referred to, or something more, such as the equivalent of a center of learning, ritual, teaching, and protecting traditions and knowledge, is a subject that is up for discussion based on further evidence.
3 Luwian logograms are translated into Latin by convention.
4 Andrew Collins has interpreted the meaning of a bone plaque found at Göbekli Tepe to show a path taken by a person in between two T-shaped pillars and towards the “soul hole”, opening through limestone slabs placed at the north ends of Enclosures C and D (Collins, 2015). A similar passage-like iconography is shown in Laroche #207 (Figure 9), a ligature of “god” and “path” which was the Luwian word for “mountain”.
5 Klaus Schmidt did not believe that the Bronze Age Menorcan Taulas had any relationship to the similarly T-shaped pillars at Göbekli Tepe because they were made from two stone elements instead of one monolith (Schmidt, 2012, Q & A session). However, it is not clear if Schmidt had considered that both, despite different manufacture, may have been inspired by the same imagined celestial image or by objects in the sky at all.
6 Bruce Fenton has suggested a close match between the H-symbols carved onto Pillars 18 and 28 at Göbekli Tepe and an Australian Aboriginal symbol for exchanging knowledge seen on some Churinga stones.
7 For example, stone cutting and transporting technology and the insight by accidental discovery that the seeds of edible wild grasses could be planted in the soil in the spring to produce a new edible plant in the fall, thus providing a renewable food source.
Modified Skulls from Gobekli Tepe Provide Evidence of Neolithic ‘Skull Cult’
Three carved skull fragments uncovered at Göbekli Tepe, a Neolithic site in southeast Turkey known for its impressive megalithic architecture with characteristic T-shaped pillars, feature modifications not seen before among human remains of the time. The finds could indicate a new, previously undocumented variation of ‘skull cult’ in the Early Neolithic of Anatolia and the Levant.
Monumental round-oval buildings with their characteristic T-shaped monolithic pillars at Göbekli Tepe, Turkey. Image credit: Nico Becker, Göbekli Tepe Archive, German Archaeological Institute.
Göbekli Tepe (‘Potbelly Hill’ in Turkish) is one of the most significant archaeological discoveries in recent decades.
Its impressive monumental architecture, which features large monolithic T-shaped pillars carved from limestone, numbers among the earliest known examples of man-made megalithic buildings constructed specifically for the ritual requirements of their prehistoric builders.
Göbekli Tepe lies some 15 km east of Şanliurfa in the Germus mountains. It is a large artificial hill (tell) with higher-lying mounds interrupted by lower-lying hollows.
The tell is composed of archaeological deposits, which accumulated on a natural limestone plateau over a period of about 1,600 years (9600-8000 BC).
Two centrally positioned monolithic limestone pillars (up to 5.5 m high) are common to all monumental buildings at Göbekli Tepe.
Three of the megalithic buildings were erected directly upon the natural limestone plateau, which had been carefully smoothed, and the two central monolithic T-shaped pillars were found at the site, that is, slotted into platforms painstakingly carved from the natural plateau.
The two central pillars are surrounded by one or multiple stone walls. The enclosing walls, which can be attributed to different phases of the buildings, were interrupted at regular intervals by inserted T-shaped limestone pillars, although these did not reach the same heights as the two central monoliths.
In addition, Göbekli Tepe is unique because of its rich and distinct collection of artistic representations, primarily images of animals.
The T-shaped pillars themselves are anthropomorphic, as testified in some cases by carvings of low reliefs showing arms, hands, and clothing. The artistic repertoire also includes numerous stone statues and figurines of animals and humans, as well as small finds adorned with manifold depictions and symbols.
Archaeological research at Göbekli Tepe is conducted by German Archaeological Institute researchers in collaboration with the Şanliurfa Museum.
Although excavations have so far failed to reveal any complete human burials, 691 human bone fragments have been recovered from the fill of prehistoric buildings and adjacent areas.
Göbekli Tepe pillars. Image credit: Klaus Schmidt, Göbekli Tepe Archive, German Archaeological Institute / Alex Wang / Klaus-Peter Simon / CC BY-SA 3.0.
Recently, German Archaeological Institute researcher Dr. Julia Gresky and co-authors observed a previously unknown type of modification in three partially preserved human skulls uncovered at Göbekli Tepe.
“Throughout history, people have valued skulls for different reasons, from ancestor worship to the belief that human skulls transmit protective properties,” the archaeologists said.
“This focus on the skull has led to the establishment of the term skull cult in anthropology, and various such cults — each with characteristic modifications to skull bones — have been catalogued.”
Each of the three skulls had intentional deep incisions along its sagittal axes and one of those skulls also displayed a drilled hole in the left parietal bone, as well as red ochre remnants.
“Carvings can be described as deep, mainly sagittally oriented grooves, resulting from multiple cutting activities that run across the forehead, and in one case continuing onto the back of the skull and onto the mandible,” the scientists said.
“In two cases, there are additional carvings oriented at an angle of 43° to 90 degrees to sagittal.”
“Carvings are the result of multiple cutting actions, which reached depths and widths of 0.2 to 4 mm. Minimal lengths of carvings on the three skulls vary between 6 and 45.5 mm, a range imposed by the fragmented and incomplete state of the skulls.”
By using different microscopic techniques to analyze the fragments, the team verified that the carvings were executed using lithic tools, thus ruling out natural causes, like animal gnawing.
In addition, the authors were able to discount scalping as a source of the marks, due to the depth of the carvings however, other minor cut-marks on the skulls show signs of possible defleshing.
More likely, the skulls were carved to venerate ancestors not long after their death, or to put recently ‘dispatched’ enemies on display.
“Ochre traces were detected on fragments of one of the skulls. The placement of this most complete skull, found in a concentration of ochre, indicates the special significance of this object,” Dr. Gresky and her colleagues said.
“Another outstanding feature of the skull is the drilled perforation in the left parietal, the position of which was carefully chosen so that the skull might hang vertically and face forward when suspended.”
“Alternatively, the perforation could have been a fixing point for a mask or other decorative elements,” the archaeologists said.
The findings were published in the June 28, 2017 issue of the journal Science Advances.
Julia Gresky et al. 2017. Modified human crania from Göbekli Tepe provide evidence for a new form of Neolithic skull cult. Science Advances 3 (6): e1700564 doi: 10.1126/sciadv.1700564
4 thoughts on &ldquoImagining Spaces Gobekli Tepe – Spencer Wolfe&rdquo
I agree with you completely. It is extremely difficult to portray the actual artwork through a digital media. One most see the actual piece of art to see the size of the artifact. Although things can be done to get a representation of the size by comparing the sample of the artwork with a scale size of a person to see how it compares, which will give a rough representation of the actual size. Also I do agree that this assignment opens ones eyes to the Neolithic period and how things were done back then.
I agree that we don’t always get a good sense of scale when it comes to representations of art and architecture, whether it’s through a photograph or a 3D model. It can be very helpful to have a physical representation in front of you, like the project we did in the LEADR Lab. But I don’t think it’s an absolute necessity to understanding the scope and scale of something. Just placing a human in the frame, as long as it’s to scale, goes a long way to getting across the idea of how large something is, without going through the trouble of trying to recreate it in real life. I also think it needs to be something physical, rather than an abstraction of size like inches or feet, as humans can more readily identify the size of other humans as opposed to feet or inches.
You raise a good point here. I think I’ve said it in class before, but for many years I spent a lot of time waiting for people to be out of the frame before I took a picture at a site or museum, thinking that the object or monument could be best understood without the distraction of tourists milling about. Only now, the more I teach this stuff to people who have not been to these places, the more I see the value of keeping a person in the frame to give a sense of scale. At the very least, this gives students a sense of whether something is very big or very small.
I’m glad to see that this “low tech” exercise helped to give you a sense of the scale of things. Ideally, we would have been able to stand the thing up, but unfortunately, even the LEADR space isn’t big enough. I like too that you mention the numbers of people that are estimated to have been needed to build something like this. It’s another aspect of the ancient world we sometimes forget. Now that you have a sense of how big this thing was, try to imagine how exactly 500 people would have interacted with it. There’s certainly not enough space for everyone to get a hand on it, so how would something like that have worked?
But Is This A Mere Coincidence?
The Archaeological site of Göbekli Tepe is composed of several temples whose main construction motif are massive stone pillars that range in weight between 30 and 60 tons.
Somehow, thousands of years ago, ‘primitive’ cultures managed to quarry, transport and build something history tells us should not exist.
These enigmatic T-shaped pillars are intricately decorated with depictions of a number of animals such as foxes, lions, snakes, etc.
However, in addition to the various animal depictions at Göbekli Tepe, we see humanoid characteristics depicted on some of the pillars.
Gobekli Tepe holds many secrets. Image Credit
Göbekli Tepe’s T-shaped stela display arms and hands belonging to what many experts believe are depictions of humanoid beings.
The ancient builders of Göbekli Tepe carved on the t-shaped tocks long hands and arms of what could also be representations of their gods.
However, this extremely interesting symbolism is not unique to Göbekli Tepe and is found in various archeological sites across the globe.
If we travel halfway around the globe to Easter Island, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, we see the massive Moai statues and their curious symbolism which is eerily similar to the stone pillars of Göbekli Tepe.
A Statue from Tiahuanaco, Bolivia. Notice the hand posture. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
The massive Moai were intricately carved in a sacred standing position, with hands position on omphalos.
Many authors agree that this posture is meant to portray birth or rebirth.
But how is it possible that such symbolism is present both in Göbekli Tepe and on Easter Island? Is this just a coincidence?
Not likely, as other ancient sites around the globe feature the same thing.
If we take a trip back to Turkey, we will find that the Neolithic settlement of Nevali Cori and Kilisik feature similar design elements.
Statues from Tiahuanaco in Bolivia, and archaeological sites in Mexico, as well as Mesopotamia, feature the very same symbolism: massive stone statues and hands coming together.
The question is… what connects all of these archaeological sites, and, is it possible that somehow, these ancient cultures shared a common designer?
T-shaped Pillars at Göbekli Tepe - History
The 11,000-year-old stone circles of Göbekli Tepe in modern Turkey may have been monuments to a vanishing way of life
More than 20 light-colored limestone structures climb the hill of Göbekli Tepe, a 45-foot-high rise on a rolling plateau in southeastern Turkey. Some of these structures are round or oval spaces enclosed by sturdy walls. Many of them have large T-shaped pillars standing just off-center in the middle and around the edges, incorporated into the walls or into raised stone benches. On a clear, sunny day, the stones are a uniform, dusty brown. At night, when not artificially lit, they disappear into the landscape.
The smallest of the buildings is 20 feet across, with pillars rising to about 10 feet high, while the largest circle, which archaeologists call simply Building D, measures no less than 65 feet across. Building D is punctuated by two 18-foot-tall freestanding limestone central pillars, each weighing an estimated eight tons. The pedestals they rest on are carved directly from the bedrock, as if rising out of the earth. From a distance, the pillars have an abstract appearance, a combination of straight lines and gentle curves. But, moving closer to them, it soon becomes clear that the pillars aren’t simply geometric shapes, but stylized depictions of people. Standing inside the circles, it’s possible to make out finely carved reliefs decorating the massive stones—arms and folded hands, along with fox pelts hung from simple belts to form loincloths.
Eleven smaller T-pillars form a circle around the central standing figures in Building D. They too are decorated, with carvings featuring a menagerie of crawling, flying, and running wild beasts. Snakes, birds, and foxes dominate the array, but the predators among them are accompanied by gazelles, ducks, and aurochs. Right next to this circular structure is another, with smaller T-pillars at its center and carvings dominated by depictions of snakes. Foxes slink across the pillars of yet another circle just a few feet away. Other motifs mix with the animals—circles, mesh nets, phalluses, and what appear to be disembodied human heads.
When archaeologists first began excavating on this Turkish hilltop 25 years ago, Building D and the other structures they discovered struck them as unusual, perhaps even unique. By comparing the tools found scattered amid the site’s rubble to similar artifacts known from other sites, researchers determined that the largest circles were at least 11,000 years old—and perhaps even older. This made them the earliest known monumental structures built by human hands.
In 2006, after a decade of work at Göbekli Tepe, a team led by German Archaeological Institute (DAI) archaeologist Klaus Schmidt reached a stunning conclusion: The buildings and their multiton pillars, along with smaller, rectangular structures higher on the slope of the hill, were monumental communal buildings erected by people at a time before they had established permanent settlements, engaged in agriculture, or bred domesticated animals. Schmidt did not believe that anyone had ever lived at the site. He suggested that, in the Neolithic period between 9500 and 8200 B.C., bands of nomads had come together regularly to set up stone circles and carve pillars, and then deliberately covered them up with the rocks, gravel, and other rubble he found filling in the various enclosures. Schmidt posited that both the construction and abandonment of what he called “special enclosures” had been accompanied by great feasts of local game washed down with beer brewed from wild grasses and grains. Those who gathered for these periodic monumental building projects scattered before coming back decades or centuries later to do it all again. He called Göbekli Tepe “a cathedral on a hill,” and imagined it might have been a place where hunter-gatherers bid farewell to their dead or staged ceremonies to emphasize their shared identity.
The discovery of Göbekli Tepe promised to change the way scholars understood the Neolithic period. Around the time the earliest stone pillars were being carved, people were beginning to settle down and grow crops in an area stretching from modern-day Israel north to Turkey and east to Iraq. Though modest at first, the advent of farming and settlement paved the way for the development of complex civilizations and the way most of the world lives today. Archaeologists long agreed that only after adopting all the elements of the so-called Neolithic package, including permanent settlements and plant and animal domestication, could societies progress to what they saw as the luxury of creating social hierarchies, constructing monumental buildings, and carrying out complex rituals. The move toward the stratified civilizations of the present could only have begun, the argument went, once people had a surplus of food and a fixed address to call home.
The first finds at Göbekli Tepe soon threw that time line into question. Reinforced by radiocarbon dates taken from bones found amid the rubble, the dates of the stone tools at the site placed its construction firmly at the beginning of the Neolithic period, around 9000 B.C., centuries before the first domesticated grains appeared at settlements in the area. Some of the first evidence of domesticated grain in both the region and the world comes from a site called Nevalı Çori, a few dozen miles to the west of Göbekli Tepe. Founded in 8400 B.C. and abandoned a few centuries later, Nevalı Çori overlaps only with the very latest occupation of Göbekli Tepe.
Schmidt thought this demonstrated that complex social organization and the performance of rituals actually predated permanent settlement and agriculture, and that the people who banded together and built the monumental structures were nomadic hunter-gatherers. He suggested that, eventually, the demands of gathering these nomads together in one place to carve and move the huge T-pillars and build the circular enclosures pushed them to take the next step and begin domesticating plants and animals in order to create a more dependable food supply. These innovations, he argued, spread from the hilltop throughout the region and eventually the globe. Ritual and religion, it seemed, launched the Neolithic Revolution, not the other way around. “First the temple, then the city” was how Schmidt summed it up.
However, new discoveries at Göbekli Tepe and a close examination of the results from the earlier excavations are upending things once again. Archaeologists have uncovered evidence that the site was a settlement after all, and that many of its large ritual structures were used contemporaneously, not built one after another over the course of centuries. At the same time, a growing group of scholars, including the DAI’s Lee Clare, who took over excavations at the site after Schmidt’s death in 2014, argue that Göbekli Tepe’s towering anthropomorphic pillars and powerful animal carvings do not mark the beginning of the Neolithic period. Instead, they contend, the entire site represents a last-ditch attempt to hold onto a vanishing way of life. The people of Göbekli Tepe weren’t driving the Neolithic Revolution forward—they were shoving back against it as hard as they could.
Did Göbekli Tepe start as a hunter-gatherer meeting place and end up as a Neolithic village? Or were its T-pillars defiant monuments to a hunter-gatherer tradition that stretched back thousands of years to the Ice Age? “That,” says Austrian Academy of Sciences archaeologist Barbara Horejs, “is the billion-dollar question.”
When they were first uncovered, the dozens of structures at Göbekli Tepe were filled with rocks, soil, and tens of thousands of wild animal bones. That suggested to Schmidt that the buildings represented a series of sanctuaries or temples built over the course of nearly 1,500 years, one after another. After a century or so of use, he argued, the circles and their pillars were ritually buried, and new structures were sometimes built on top. The animal bones found in the rubble were, he thought, remains of feasts staged to attract workers to the hilltop for periodic building parties, the prehistoric equivalent of barn raisings. Over time, this repeated backfilling and rebuilding created the rounded mound that gives Göbekli Tepe its name, which is loosely translated from Turkish as “Potbelly Hill.” “Klaus’ big statement was this wasn’t a settlement at all, but a ritual site for surrounding communities,” says Douglas Baird, an archaeologist at the University of Liverpool.
That interpretation supported the theory that Göbekli Tepe was built by hunter-gatherers, not settled farmers. But when DAI archaeologist Moritz Kinzel first began examining old excavation reports in 2017, he questioned whether the ritual structures had been built sequentially. Originally trained as an architect, Kinzel found the idea that the rubble filling the monumental buildings had been shoveled in all at once by the site’s builders and topped with the remains of feasts puzzling. “There are a lot of features in the ruins that are strange if the buildings were backfilled,” Kinzel says. For example, if the structures had been filled in all at once, the damage to the walls would be consistent all the way around. Instead, the walls closest to the slope of the hill are in the worst condition. “They show clear signs of slope slide or pressure,” explains Kinzel. “The walls farthest away from the slope are much better preserved.”
And there is further evidence that undercuts the idea that the temples were deliberately filled in and then abandoned. The construction of a swooping roof canopy made of steel and fabric over the site in 2017 gave Kinzel and Clare the opportunity to reexamine a few spots where the roof’s support pillars were to be placed. “It was like keyhole surgery, going straight down through the deposits,” Clare says. “We had a good chance to look at the site’s deepest layers and lowest deposits.” These new excavations offered a way to investigate whether people were living at Göbekli Tepe from the start, or whether it slowly evolved from an isolated religious center to a village. “In deep soundings, we went right down to the natural levels of the mound,” says Clare. “We found middens, fireplaces, hearths, lithics—all smelling very domestic. For me, there was domestic activity from the beginning right to the very end.”
Having dug down until they reached bedrock, Kinzel and Clare noticed that several of the largest buildings had been repaired or rebuilt multiple times. Furthermore, many of the central T-pillars leaned in the same direction, as though knocked off balance by the same event. Kinzel and Clare now think that instead of having been filled intentionally, the circular buildings were instead rocked by earthquakes or buried by landslides over the centuries, and then renovated or reerected over and over again. “Suddenly, we realized that maybe the monumental buildings had a much longer use life than we had thought,” Kinzel says. Clare explains that he now believes that much of the fill is simply debris created by collapsing buildings. “All these bones which were interpreted as feasting deposits are actually the remains of previous phases that slipped in,” he says. New radiocarbon dates obtained from a sampling of the animal bones, meanwhile, suggest that the buildings higher on the hillside were probably in use at the same time as the enclosures farther down the slope.
During the recent excavations, the team recovered organic material, including charred wood and plant remains, along with phytoliths, or mineral residues of plants. This evidence could tell them what was growing and what people were cooking at the site more than 10,000 years ago. Laura Dietrich, a DAI archaeologist, also went back to examine thousands of grindstones, mortars, and carved stone vessels that had been excavated at the site over the years and then ignored. These include vessels large enough to make 43 gallons of beer or porridge. The evidence pointed to large-scale food processing for both special occasions and daily life. “We got an idea of normal household assemblages that actually were not special at all,” Kinzel says. This was yet another indication that Göbekli Tepe was home as well as church.
Another major discovery the team made was a pit 25 feet across and almost eight feet deep carved from the bedrock that could have served as a cistern for people living on the hilltop. Some 150 yards from the main building area, they found a carved channel in the bedrock that they identified as a type of early plumbing likely used for collecting rainwater. “They were harvesting water,” Clare says. “That’s a good indication of domestic settlement.”
What Schmidt thought were smaller rectangular ritual structures built later in the site’s history were actually domestic buildings that existed alongside the large round and oval buildings. The team suspects that the structures would have been covered with flat roofs, with entrances on top, like other houses from the ninth millennium B.C. in Syria and Turkey. Debris inside the houses suggests people were working and eating on the roof, or on an upper floor, which eventually collapsed, leaving grindstones, charred wood from fireplaces, and tools mixed in with the rubble below. Clare, Kinzel, and other members of the team think that Göbekli Tepe was probably a village with large circular buildings in a natural dip at the base of the hillside. Smaller, rectangular houses climbed the slope all around them. “I see this not as a site for cults and death but as a full settlement,” Kinzel says. “There’s a relationship between the special enclosures and daily life. It really tells a much richer story than before.”
The original discovery of Göbekli Tepe prompted other archaeologists to reexamine previously excavated settlements and to search out new ones in hilly areas nearby. A survey conducted by archaeologist Bahattin Çelik of Iğdır University, for example, found at least a dozen sites with similar round buildings, T-pillars, and animal carvings. And ongoing excavations at a site called Karahan Tepe about 30 miles southeast of Göbekli Tepe suggest Göbekli Tepe might not even contain the oldest monumental T-pillar architecture. Göbekli Tepe now appears as if it may actually be a particularly well-preserved example of a widespread cultural phenomenon. The other sites “are homogenous, even when you look at the ritual buildings,” says Istanbul University archaeologist Mehmet Özdoğan. “They’re subterranean, and they all have pillars. It’s standard, like the plan of a church or mosque.”
Göbekli Tepe was constructed in a region and at a time when people were gradually adopting an entirely new way of life. The dates of the larger circular enclosures at Göbekli Tepe coincide with these first stirrings of change. By the time the site was abandoned for good in 8200 B.C., the Neolithic period was in full swing. But the new evidence suggests the site didn’t play the crucial role in the Neolithic Revolution that scholars once thought. “I don’t agree with the idea of Göbekli Tepe as the smoking gun of the Neolithic,” Clare says. Rather than representing the inspiration for agriculture and settlement in this region, he claims, Göbekli Tepe’s communal structures were built as the last stand of the region’s hunter-gatherers. Instead of embracing the changing lifestyles they witnessed in the flatlands to the south, east, and west, Göbekli Tepe’s builders pushed back.
Unlike later Neolithic sites, which feature carvings of domesticated animals, such as bulls, and female animals, as well as possibly fertility-related imagery, the carvings at Göbekli Tepe depict species that seem different—wilder, and somehow more dangerous. Threatening creatures feature prominently, from scorpions and spiders to vipers and vultures. The mixture of animals, phallic and other symbols, and pillars resembling humans does not appear to be random or merely decorative. Some pillars, such as the one that combines a vulture, a fox, and a severed human head, seem to tell a story. “If you look at the symbolism and depictions carved on the pillars, they’re set up as narratives,” Clare says. “These aren’t just animals one sees every day.”
And while Schmidt thought worshippers may have gathered around the T-pillars under open skies, Kinzel and other researchers now think the circular buildings were covered. They base this conclusion on markings on top of the pillars that indicate that they could have supported or anchored roofs. For Thomas Zimmermann, an archaeologist at Bilkent University, these spaces had a very particular character that reflected a male-centric view dominant in hunter-gatherer society. He imagines them as dark and gloomy, with flickering firelight illuminating the carved T-pillars looming over men gathered inside. “It’s all male, male, male. It’s a theater of horror filled with abrasive male animals ready to attack,” Zimmermann says. “It represents a staunch, conservative, male-dominated hunter-gatherer culture.” In this telling, there’s a reason there are no signs of domesticated grains or tools typical of the Neolithic period at Göbekli Tepe—according to Zimmermann and Clare, they were forbidden. The threatening imagery was intended to keep Göbekli Tepe’s residents in line. “Narratives are very important in keeping groups together and creating identity,” Clare says. “This is about the promotion of a group identity in the face of advancing Neolithization.”
Read this way, the evidence suggests it worked, at least for a while. Perhaps the settled hunter-gatherers at Göbekli Tepe relied exclusively on wild grasses and plentiful game from the fertile plains that stretched out below their perch, the way their ancestors had. As communities across the region were adopting new lifestyles and technologies, the people at Göbekli Tepe were “looking back and placing the emphasis on what had been, not what was going to be,” Clare says. Many scholars suggest there may have been good reasons for them to resist across the world, the introduction of farming and sedentary life also introduced overcrowding, more disease, and worse nutrition to the human experience.
Ultimately, though, the shifting world proved too much to withstand. Around 8200 B.C., occupation at Göbekli Tepe completely stopped. There is no evidence that people there slowly adopted domesticated grains or began herding goats and sheep. “All of the art and narratives are there to emphasize this dying hunter-gatherer tradition,” Clare says. “Then it collapsed. That explains why the people there don’t trickle out—they just disappear.”
If Clare and Zimmermann are correct, Göbekli Tepe isn’t the beginning of cities and farming, but the final fight of Ice Age hunters unwilling to accept the changes they saw all around them. “It’s not the beginning of the Neolithic, it’s the end of hunter-gatherers,” Zimmermann says. “The idea of a zero point, or beginning of something—the beginning of agriculture, the beginning of sedentary life, the beginning of religion—we have to abandon it.”
This interpretation is controversial, not least because millennia separate the ideas and worldview of the people who carved the images at Göbekli Tepe and scholars’ modern sensibilities and imaginations. “It’s impossible to understand 12,000-year-old symbols in such a direct way,” says Horejs. For his part, Özdoğan suggests the fierce animal carvings might have been intended to symbolically protect the sanctuaries, not to terrorize celebrants. And although the plant remains suggest crop domestication wasn’t part of the Göbekli Tepe toolkit, grain was clearly an element in their lifestyle and diet. Dietrich has analyzed more than 8,000 grinding tools from the site. She believes their sheer number and their refined, standardized shapes suggest a community of proto-farmers already familiar with the cooking possibilities grain offered. “They’re beyond experimentation,” she says. “Most probably they were cultivators.” Previous research at other sites has shown that it takes centuries of purposeful planting and breeding to reshape wild grains into recognizably domestic varieties. Thus the absence of remains of domestic grain at Göbekli Tepe isn’t conclusive proof that people there weren’t planting crops.
Was Göbekli Tepe a Neolithic site or not? Horejs says that may be the wrong question to ask. “Sociocultural processes like this aren’t either-or—they’re continuous,” she says. “Hunter-gatherer life doesn’t stop immediately because people start cultivating grain.” Those living at Göbekli Tepe may have adopted parts of the Neolithic package while preserving elements of their hunter-gatherer past. Maybe they built houses, but left them regularly to chase the area’s plentiful gazelles.
Only about 10 percent of the site has been excavated thus far, and because these excavations have focused on the T-pillars and monumental buildings, future discoveries may compel further reevaluations. Until then, the monuments of Göbekli Tepe should serve as a reminder that our distant ancestors were, perhaps, not so different from us after all. They, too, were complex, communal, often contradictory, and capable of building great things.
Andrew Curry is a contributing editor at ARCHAEOLOGY.
Alcohol: Social Lubricant for 10,000 Years
As people ring in the New Year with dancing and a bit of bubbly, they can consider themselves part of an ancient human tradition.
Several new archaeological finds suggest that alcohol has been a social glue in parties, from work festivals to cultic feasts, since the dawn of civilization.
In the December issue of the journal Antiquity, archaeologists describe evidence of nearly 11,000-year-old beer brewing troughs at a cultic feasting site in Turkey called Göbekli Tepe. And archaeologists in Cyprus have unearthed the 3,500-year-old ruins of what may have been a primitive beer brewery and feasting hall at a site called Kissonerga-Skalia. The excavation, described in the November issue of the journal Levant, revealed several kilns that may have been used to dry malt before fermentation.
The findings suggest that alcohol has been a social lubricant for ages, said Lindy Crewe, an archaeologist at the University of Manchester, who co-authored the Levant paper.
For bread or beer?
While the cultivation of grain clearly transformed humanity, why it first happened has been hotly contested. [History's Most Overlooked Mysteries]
"This debate has been going on since the 1950's: Is the first cultivation of grain about making beer or is it about making bread?" Crewe said.
Some researchers suggest that beer arose 11,500 years ago and drove the cultivation of grains. Because grains require so much hard work to produce (collecting tiny, mostly inedible parts, separating grain from chaff, and grinding into flour), beer brewing would have been reserved for feasts with important cultural purposes.
Those feasts &mdash and alcohol-induced friendliness &mdash may have enabled hunter-gatherers to bond with larger groups of people in newly emerging villages, fueling the rise of civilization. At work parties, beer may have motivated people to put a little elbow grease into bigger-scale projects such as building ancient monuments.
"Production and consumption of alcoholic beverages is an important factor in feasts facilitating the cohesion of social groups, and in the case of Göbekli Tepe, in organizing collective work," wrote Antiquity paper co-author Oliver Dietrich in an email. Dietrich is an archaeologist for the German Archaeological Institute.
Ancient party sites
The site in Cyprus includes a courtyard and hall, along with jugs, mortars and grinding tools, and crucially, several kilns that Crewe and her colleagues believe were used to toast barley for a primitive beer. To test their hypothesis the team replicated the kilns to produce malted barley and used it in a cloudy and slightly weird-tasting beer, Crewe told LiveScience.
The Göbekli Tepe site in southwestern Turkey, meanwhile, dates to nearly 11,000 years ago. Neolithic hunter-gatherers worshipped ancient deities through dancing and feasting at the temple site, which is filled with t-shaped pillars carved with animal shapes and other ancient cultic designs. The site also had what appears to be a primitive kitchen with large limestone troughs that held up to 42 gallons (160 liters) of liquid. The troughs held traces of oxalates, which are produced during the fermentation of grain into alcohol.
At both sites, the idea of a beer-soaked party must have been a real treat, Crewe said.
"There must have been a real sense of anticipation within the community when you knew a big beer event was coming up," she said.