Göbekli Tepe Turkish: [ɡøbe̞kli te̞pɛ] ("Potbelly Hill") is a Neolithic hilltop sanctuary erected at the top of a mountain ridge in the Southeastern Anatolia Region of Turkey, some 15 kilometers (9 mi) northeast of the town of Şanlıurfa (formerly Urfa / Edessa). It is the oldest known human-made religious structure. The site was most likely erected in the 10th millennium BCE and has been under excavation since 1994 by German and Turkish archaeologists. Together with Nevalı Çori, it has revolutionized understanding of the Eurasian Neolithic.
Göbekli Tepe is located in southeastern Turkey. It was first noted in a survey conducted by Istanbul University and the University of Chicago in 1964, which recognized that the hill could not entirely be a natural feature and postulated that a Byzantine cemetery lay beneath. The survey noted a large number of flints and the presence of limestone slabs thought to be Byzantine grave markers. This work was first mentioned in print in Peter Benedict's article "Survey Work in Southeastern Anatolia" (1980). In 1994, archaeologist Klaus Schmidt of the German Archaeological Institute of Istanbul noted Benedict's article and visited the site, recognizing that it was in fact a much older Neolithic site. Since 1995 excavations have been conducted by the German Archaeological Institute of Istanbul and the Şanlıurfa Museum, under the direction of Schmidt (University of Heidelberg 1995--2000, German Archaeological Institute 2001--present). The hill had been under agricultural cultivation before being excavated. Generations of local inhabitants had frequently moved rocks and placed them in clearance piles and much archaeological evidence may have been destroyed in the process. Scholars from the Hochschule Karlsruhe began documenting the architectural remains and soon discovered T-shaped pillars facing south-east. Some of these pillars had apparently undergone attempts at destruction, probably by farmers who mistook them for ordinary large rocks.
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Gobekli Tepe Stone Circles
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Gobekli Tepe (Turkish for "Hill with a potbelly") is a hilltop sanctuary erected on the highest point of an elongated mountain ridge some 15 km northeast of the town of Sanliurfa(formerly Urfa / Edessa) in southeastern Turkey. The site, currently undergoing excavation by German and Turkish archaeologists, was erected by hunter-gatherers in the 10th millennium BC (ca. 11,500 years ago), before the advent of sedentism. Mysteriously, the entire complex of stones, pillars and carvings was then deliberately buried in 8000 BC. Together with Nevalõ Cori, it has revolutionized understanding of the Eurasian Neolithic.
Gobekli Tepe is located in southeastern Turkey. It had already been noted in an American survey in 1964, which recognized that the hill could not entirely be a natural feature, but assumed that a Byzantine cemetery lay beneath. Since 1994 excavations have been conducted by the German Archaeological Institute (Istanbul branch) and Sanliurfa Museum, under the direction of the German archaeologist Klaus Schmidt (1995Ð2000: University of Heidelberg; since 2001: German Archaeological Institute). Schmidt says that the stone fragments on the surface made him aware immediately that the site was prehistoric. 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 the process. Scholars from the Hochschule Karlsruhe began documenting the architectural remains. They soon discovered T-shaped pillars, some of which had apparently undergone attempts at smashing.
Stratum II, dated to Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB) (7500-6000 BC), has revealed several adjacent rectangular rooms with floors of polished lime, reminiscent of Roman terrazzo floors. The most recent layer consists of sediment deposited as the result of agricultural activity.
The monoliths are decorated with carved reliefs of animals and of abstract pictograms. The pictograms cannot be classed as writing, but may represent commonly understood sacred symbols, as known from Neolithic cave paintings elsewhere. The carefully carved figurative reliefs depict lions, bulls, boars, foxes, gazelles, asses, snakes and other reptiles, insects, arachnids, and birds, particularly vultures and water fowl. At the time the shrine was constructed the surrounding country was much lusher and capable of sustaining this variety of wildlife, before millennia of settlement and cultivation resulted in the nearÐDust Bowl conditions prevailing today.
Vultures also feature in the iconography of the Neolithic sites of ‚atalhoyuk and Jericho; it is believed that in the early Neolithic culture of Anatolia and the Near East the deceased were deliberately exposed in order to be excarnated by vultures and other birds of prey. (The head of the deceased was sometimes removed and preserved - possibly a sign of ancestor worship.) This, then, would represent an early form of sky burial.
Few humanoid forms have surfaced at Gobekli Tepe but include a relief of a naked woman, posed frontally in a crouched position, that Schmidt likens to the Venus accueillante figures found in Neolithic north Africa; and of at least one decapitated corpse surrounded by vultures. Some of the pillars, namely the T-shaped ones, have carved arms, which may indicate that they represent stylized humans (or anthropomorphic gods). Another example is decorated with human hands in what could be interpreted as a prayer gesture, with a simple stole or surplice engraved above; this may be intended to represent a temple priest.
The reliefs on the pillars include foxes, lions, cattle, wild boars, wild asses, herons, ducks, scorpions, ants, spiders, many snakes, and a very few anthropomorphic figures. Some of the reliefs have been deliberately erased, maybe in preparation for new designs. 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 at Nevali Cori 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 may already have served as mortars or fire-starting bowls in the epipalaeolithic. There are some phalloi and geometric patterns cut into the rock as well; their dating is uncertain.
While the structures are primarily temples, more recently smaller domestic buildings have been uncovered. Despite this, it is clear that the primary use of the site was cultic and not domestic. Schmidt believes this "cathedral on a hill" was a pilgrimage destination attracting worshipers up to a hundred miles distant.
Butchered bones found in large numbers from local game such as deer, gazelle, pigs, and geese suggest that ritual feasting (and perhaps sacrifice) were regularly practiced here.
The site was deliberately backfilled sometime after 8000 BC: the buildings are covered with settlement refuse that must have been brought from elsewhere. These deposits include flint tools like scrapers and arrowheads and animal bones. The lithic inventory is characterized by Byblos points and numerous Nemrik-points. There are Helwan-points and Aswad-points as well.
Archaeologist Ofer Ben-Yosef of Harvard has said he would not be surprised if evidence surfaces proving slave labor was involved which would also represent something of a first, since hunting-gathering communities are traditionally thought to have been egalitarian and to predate slavery. At any rate, it is generally believed that an elite class of religious leaders supervised the work and later controlled whatever ceremonies took place here. If so, this would be the oldest known evidence for a priestly caste - much earlier than such social distinctions developed elsewhere in the Near East.
Schmidt considers Gobekli Tepe a central location for a cult of the dead. He suggests that the carved animals are there to protect the dead. Though no tombs or graves have been found so far, Schmidt believes they remain to be discovered beneath the sacred circles' floors. Schmidt also interprets it in connection with the initial stages of an incipient Neolithic. It is one of several neolithic sites in the vicinity of Mount Karaca Dag, 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 Gobekli 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").
Not only its large dimensions, but the side-by-side existence of multiple pillar shrines makes the location unique. There are no comparable monumental complexes from its time. Nevali Cori, a well-known Neolithic settlement also excavated by the German Archaeological Institute, and submerged by the Ataturk Dam since 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 Jericho is devoid of artistic merit or large-scale sculpture; and Catalhoyuk, perhaps the most famous of all Anatolian Neolithic villages, is 2,000 years younger.
Schmidt has engaged in some speculation regarding the belief systems of the groups that created Gobekli 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 an ancient Sumerian belief that agriculture, animal husbandry and weaving had been brought to mankind 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 give no indication of organized violence, i.e., there are no depictions of hunting raids or wounded animals, and the pillar carvings ignore game on which the society mainly subsisted, like deer, in favor of formidable creatures such as lions, snakes, spiders and scorpions.
At present, Gobekli Tepe raises more questions for archaeology and prehistory than it answers. We do not know how a force large enough to construct, augment, and maintain such a substantial complex was mobilized and paid or fed in the conditions of pre-Neolithic society. We cannot "read" the pictograms, and do not know for certain what meaning the animal reliefs had for visitors to the site; the variety of fauna depicted, from lions and boars to birds and insects, makes any single explanation problematic.
As there seems to be little or no evidence of habitation, and the animals depicted on the stones are mainly predators - with the exception of gazelles, wild asses, insects and fowl - the stones may have been intended to stave off evils through some form of magic representation. Alternatively, they may have served as totems. It is not known why more and more walls were added to the interiors while the sanctuary was in use, with the result that some of the engraved pillars were obscured from view. Burial may or may not have occurred at the site. The reason the complex was eventually buried remains unexplained. Until more evidence is gathered, it is difficult to deduce anything certain about the originating culture.
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In the News ...
'World's Oldest Temple' May Have Been Cosmopolitan Center Live Science - March 16, 2012
Ancient blades made of volcanic rock that were discovered at what may be the world's oldest temple suggest that the site in Turkey was the hub of a pilgrimage that attracted a cosmopolitan group of people some 11,000 years ago.
The researchers matched up about 130 of the blades, which would have been used as tools, with their source volcanoes, finding people would have come from far and wide to congregate at the ancient temple site, Gobekli Tepe, in southern Turkey. The blades are made of obsidian, a volcanic glass rich with silica, which forms when lava cools quickly. he research was presented in February at the 7th International Conference on the Chipped and Ground Stone Industries of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic in Barcelona, Spain.
Only a tiny portion of Gobekli Tepe has been excavated so far, but what has been unearthed has been hailed by archaeologists as astounding for its great age and artistry.The site contains at least 20 stone rings, one circle built inside another, with diameters ranging from 30 to 100 feet (10 to 30 meters). The researchers suspect people would fill in the outer ring with debris before building a new circle within.
T-shaped limestone blocks line the circles, and at their center are two massive pillars about 18 feet (5.5 m) tall. Statues and reliefs of people and animals were carved on these blocks and pillars. "Some of the stones the big pillars are bigger than Stonehenge," said Tristan Carter, one of the obsidian researchers and a professor of anthropology at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada. (Research on the site has been ongoing since 1994 and is led by Klaus Schmidt of the German Archaeological Institute.)
Even more puzzling is what has not been found. The buildings contain no hearths and the plant and animal remains there show no signs of domestication. Also, so far there have been no buildings found that archaeologists can confirm were used for everyday living.
Taken together, the research indicates the site was created by hunter-gatherers, rather than farmers, who came from across a large area to build and then visit the site for religious purposes. This research is backed up by the style of some of the obsidian and stone tools which suggest that people were coming from Iraq, Iran, the Middle Euphrates and the eastern Mediterranean.
The discoveries made at Gobekli Tepe over the past two decades have led to a great deal of debate. Ted Banning, a professor of anthropology at the University of Toronto in Canada recently published a paper in the journal Current Anthropology arguing that interpretations of the site may be off. Banning suggests the stone-ring structures may have been roofed and used as houses, albeit ones filled with art that may have served as both a domestic space and religious area. He also suggests that the people of Gobekli Tepe could have been growing crops, pointing out that some of the stone tools would have been useful for harvesting and that, at such an early point in history, it is difficult to tell the difference between wild plants and animals and those that humans were trying to domesticate.
To try to solve some of the mysteries surrounding the site, Carter's team has used a combination of scientific tests to match up the chemical composition of the artifacts to the volcanoes from which the obsidian originally came. "The real strength of our work is this incredible specificity; we can say exactly which mountain it comes from, and sometimes even which flank of the volcano," Carter told LiveScience in an interview.
At least three of the obsidian sources are located in central Turkey, in a region called Cappadocia, which is located nearly 300 miles (500 km) away from Gobekli Tepe. At least three other sources are from the eastern part of the country, close to Lake Van, about 150 miles (250 km) away from the site. Yet another source is located in northeast Turkey, also about 300 miles (500 km).
Researchers say that what make these results special are not so much the distances involved - 300 miles would be a trip from New York City to Buffalo, N.Y., sans any domesticated horses - but rather the sheer variety of obsidian sources used. "It's an aberration," Carter said. The obsidian finds back up "the idea of many people from many different areas coming to the site," he said.
He cautioned that just because some of the obsidian came from such distant sources, that doesn't mean that people were actually traveling directly from these regions to Gobekli Tepe. The obsidian may have been acquired by way of trade, turned into a tool, and then brought to the site.
To try to resolve this problem, the team is also looking at the way the obsidian tools were made. For example, they found that obsidian artifacts sourced to Cappadocia, in central Turkey, tend to be stylistically similar to artifacts found to the south of Gobekli Tepe in the Middle Euphrates region of Mesopotamia. Also some of the obsidian artifacts sourced to eastern Turkey, the Lake Van region, have similarities to those made in Iraq and Iran. Altogether, these finds suggest that some of the obsidian made its way south and east (possibly through trade) before it was turned into tools and brought to the site, another clue as to where people were coming from.
Though more research is needed to make any conclusive statements, if the team is right, then Gobekli Tepe was indeed something grand, a place of pilgrimage more than 11,000 years old that attracted people from across the region. "If Professor Schmidt is correct, this represents a very cosmopolitan area, this is almost the nodal point of the Near East," Carter said. "In theory, you could have people with different languages, very different cultures, coming together."
The obsidian samples were analyzed at facilities at the MusŽe du Louvre in Paris and McMaster University. In addition to Carter and Schmidt, the team includes Franois-Xavier Le Bourdonnec and GŽrard Poupeau of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique.