Table of Contents
- Where and What Kind of a Place is Gobeklitepe?
- How was Gobeklitepe Discovered?
- Is Gobeklitepe a Temple? What is the Importance of Gobeklitepe?
- What We Find in Gobeklitepe and What We Understand
- T-Shaped Obelisks
- Statues, Figurines, Stone plaques, Stone vessels, Arrow/Spearheads, Stone Beads
- Animal Bones
- Human Bones
- Vegetable Residues and Agriculture
- Women in Gobeklitepe
- Gobeklitepe and Beer
- Social Structure in Gobeklitepe
- Visiting Gobeklitepe
- How to Go to Gobeklitepe?
When we say Gobeklitepe, the world’s oldest sanctuary, temple or place of worship comes to mind first. As the excavations progressed, Gobeklitepe became more important and became popular in the past years. So, is Gobeklitepe really the first temple? Or what did ancient people do here? How was Gobeklitepe first discovered? What was found in Gobeklitepe? Are there human remains? What do T-shaped obelisks mean?
We examined in detail Gobeklitepe, which is 7,000 years older than Stonehenge in England, 7,500 years older than the Egyptian Pyramids, and 6,500 years older than the temples on the Island of Malta.
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Where and What Kind of a Place is Gobeklitepe?
Location: Southeastern Anatolia Region, Şanlıurfa
Coordinates: 38º 55′ 24” East, 37º 13′ 24” North.
Gobeklitepe is located 18 km northeast of Şanlıurfa city center, near Örencik Village. Gobeklitepe in Şanlıurfa is dated between 9600 and 8200 BC. This corresponds to approximately 12,000 years ago. Before the excavations were carried out and the ruins were unearthed, people made wishes in this area, which is also called “Ziyaret Tepe”, which is called ‘Gire mraza’ in Kurdish. The area around the hill was used as an agricultural area for years before the excavation.
Gobekli Tepe is a large mound with a diameter of about 300 meters. In this mound there are 20 round or oval structures with a diameter of about 10-20 meters. Only 6 of these 20 round structures were unearthed. In the middle of these structures are two large T-shaped obelisks. On the walls of the buildings, there are smaller T-shaped obelisks. There are 10-15 T-shaped obelisks in each round structure. There are animal reliefs on these large obelisks. There are also human arm and hand reliefs on some of the pillars. Klaus Schmidt (1953-2014), with his excavations, provided the emergence of Gobekli Tepe and showed the importance of this place. Today, it has taken its place among the most important archaeological sites.
Gobeklitepe excavations were conducted under the direction of Şanlıurfa Museum Directorate, by Dr. Lee Clare, Prof. Dr. M. Ozdogan, Prof. Dr. N. Karul and Prof. Dr. Continued by G. Kozbe.
We examined in detail Gobeklitepe, which is 7,000 years older than Stonehenge in England, 7,500 years older than the Egyptian Pyramids, and 6,500 years older than the temples on the Island of Malta.
How was Gobeklitepe Discovered?
Interesting stories about the discovery of Gobeklitepe are widely available on the Internet. These stories are exaggerated on sites like Onedio or in the writings of some columnists. Stories such as Mahmut Yıldız’s uncle, Şavak Yıldız, found the stone he found or took this stone to the museum, but it was not taken care of, were turned into urban legends. This area, which was Şavak Yıldız’s field, was bought by the state, Mahmut Yıldız took part in the excavations, and today he was again in Gobeklitepe and took care of it.
Gobeklitepe is an archaeological site discovered during the surface surveys carried out within the scope of the “Southeast Anatolian Prehistoric Studies” project in the 1960s. Later, Klaus Schmidt started excavations in this area and Gobeklitepe came to light.
The discovery of Gobeklitepe for the first time is based on the surveys conducted by the University of Chicago and Istanbul University in the 1960s. It is recorded as an archaeological site in these years.
It is mentioned in the “Southeast Anatolia Survey” section written by Peter Benedict in the project book titled “Southeast Anatolian Prehistoric Studies-1”, which includes the research results and reports of the mixed project prepared by Halet Çambel and Robert J. Braidwood, published in 1980. Benedict explained in detail how they conducted sampling and surveys in the Southeastern Anatolia region.
Afterwards, the work in Gobeklitepe did not continue. However, salvage excavations in areas that will be under the dam such as Nevali Çori have intensified. After these surveys, Klaus Schmidt was the first to excavate Gobeklitepe. Before Klaus Schmidt started his excavations at Gobeklitepe, Prof. He took part in the excavations in Nevali Çori with Harald Hauptmann. There are also T-shaped pillars in Nevali Çori settlement, as in Gobeklitepe.
Klaus Schmidt researched the Gobeklitepe region based on the early Neolithic finds unearthed by previous studies (Benedict’s surveys). He noticed the tops of the T-shaped pillars protruding above the ground and predicted that structures similar to those at Nevali Çori would emerge.
Is Gobeklitepe a Temple? What is the Importance of Gobeklitepe?
Gobeklitepe is referred to as the first temple, the first religious center or the first place of worship in many sources. It is clear that it is a religious cult, but we have not yet fully understood how and why it was used.
The T-shaped pillars in Gobeklitepe and the way these pillars are placed have a special architectural form. This architectural feature and the figures depicted suggest that this place was used for special purposes. However, it is a place where animal symbolism is high. This suggests that this place may have been used for ritual purposes. However, we do not know exactly what the rituals are and how they are performed.
While Klaus Schmidt was doing his excavations, he suggested that this place was a religious center and that death-related events such as funerals might have been arranged. However, no human bone remains were found when Schmidt was the head of the excavation. Schmidt predicted that human bones could be found behind walls or in wall fillings. The remains of human bones excavated in later years and the markings on these bones confirm Schmidt’s prediction.
As we mentioned before, it is not the only place with T-shaped stylized stones. For example, Nevali Çori is one of them. There are also T-shaped posts in Nevali Çori. However, while Nevali Çori was a village, that is, there were living quarters of people, no finds belonging to the context of the house were found in Gobeklitepe. In other words, people do not spend their daily lives in Gobeklitepe. This shows that Gobeklitepe is a special purpose place. However, there were no signs of supernatural beings related to God or belief that exceeded the limits of consciousness. In other words, there were no signs of an abstract god at Gobeklitepe.
It is clear that the T-shaped pillars, on which there are accessories such as loincloths and belts, and reliefs on which hands and arms are embroidered, represent human beings. Considering these anthropomorphic T-shaped obelisks, it is thought that rituals related to respect for ancestors may have been performed here.
Therefore, Gobeklitepe is a special place that hosts religious rituals, but sufficient evidence has not yet been obtained to mention that it is a place of worship or temple for worshiping the gods.
What We Find in Gobeklitepe and What We Understand
For Gobeklitepe, especially as the area became popular, some columnists did not hesitate to make exaggerated definitions. It’s common to hear exaggerated definitions like “history ground zero”. Because, in order to build a large structure like Gobeklitepe, there must be human communities with a certain knowledge, social organization or construction capability beforehand.
Some authors write that Gobeklitepe is still not dated, and the age of Gobeklitepe is unknown. However, such speculative statements do not contain correct information about Gobeklitepe. Because dating studies were carried out using the carbon-14 method with organic finds taken from various trenches and layers of Gobeklitepe.
Gobeklitepe is not a detached area from its surroundings and other prehistoric settlements in the vicinity. Findings that can be associated with other regions, whether T-shaped obelisks or similar animal symbolism, were obtained. Along with Ayanlar Höyük, Yeni Mahalle (Balıklıgöl Mound), Taşlı Tepe, Harbetsuvan Hill, Sefer Hill, Hamzan Hill, Kurt Hill, Karahan Hill and Nevali Çori, 10 settlements with T-shaped pillars were identified. Some of these settlements have been destroyed by illegal excavations. In order to reduce this destruction and protect it, some salvage excavations were carried out and then they were taken under protection. It is not known whether it is contemporary with Gobeklitepe, as some of these areas have not yet been explored with regular excavations. In settlements such as Nevali Çori, cult structures with T-shaped pillars are found together with areas of human settlement. In Gobeklitepe, on the other hand, no finds were found showing that people lived as settled.
The artifacts and finds unearthed in Gobeklitepe have been dated to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A period using the radiocarbon method. In Gobeklitepe, large pillars with a height of about 4 to 6 meters and weighing 10-14 tons, some bone remains, various figures and plant remains were found. However, no cultured plant remains were found in Gobeklitepe. Animal bones are mainly composed of game animals and wild animals such as gazelle, wild cattle, fallow deer and wild boar. These bone and plant remains reveal that the people who used this place were hunters and gatherers. In other words, this community does not carry out agricultural activities. It is also clear that this is not an archaeological site for residential purposes. In other words, the ancient people who built this place gave feasts here, spent time, but did not continue their lives.
The most important finds at Gobeklitepe are the T-shaped obelisks measuring 3-6 meters, the largest of which is 16 tons. These T-shaped stelae are made in the human form (anthropomorphic). The upper part of the T shape corresponds to the human head, and the descending extension of the T corresponds to the human body. These obelisks were excavated in one piece. So they are monolithic. T-shaped monoliths were brought from the quarry at a distance of about 2 km. There are still T-shaped cavities or incompletely extracted T-shaped stones in this quarry.
Some of these T-shaped obelisks have arm and hand reliefs. In some, accessories such as belts or loincloths are embossed. There are many animal depictions in relief on the obelisks. There are animal reliefs such as lion, fox, gazelle, wild boar, aurochs, snake, bird, insect and spider. It is thought that these animal reliefs contain a narrative narrative.
In each column there are motifs of interesting and different levels of complexity. The headless male depiction in column 43 is interesting. Especially cases such as headless statues or leaving statue heads next to these pillars contain clues about death or ancestor cult. It also provides a context for human skulls found in recent studies.
These anthropomorphic monoliths, which are T-shaped and represent humans, are arranged to form a round or oval shape, and two T-shaped monoliths, which are larger than the surrounding ones, were erected in the middle of this round structure. There are 20 known circular structures in the area. However, not all of them have been excavated yet. There are 10-15 T-shaped obelisks in round structures. The obelisks in the center face the entrance of these round structures. The obelisks that make up the round around are connected to each other by the walls and stones. These round structures do not have a roof. However, one of the most interesting points is that these round structures were closed after being used for a certain period of time by filling the soil.
It is possible to understand from the structure of the earth filling that comes out of the round structures that they are consciously covered with earth. The soil coming out of these round structures is quite homogeneous. The limestone rubble was covered with a homogeneous soil composed of small amounts of stone artifacts or flint flakes and bone fragments. Around 8000 BC, Gobeklitepe was abandoned.
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Statues, Figurines, Stone plaques, Stone vessels, Arrow/Spearheads, Stone Beads
Structures consisting of only large stone blocks were not found in Gobeklitepe. However, many animal statues, human statues, stone plaques, arrow and spearheads, stone beads, grinding and grinding stones, figurines, and totems were unearthed.
In animal sculptures, animals with visible teeth are usually expressed. This suggests that animals were expressed in an aggressive way and were built for protective purposes for their habitat. Approximately 84 animal sculptures were excavated. One of the interesting points is that there are no unreal motifs in the form of hybrids of different animals in both the sculptures and other depictions. All of the depicted animals consist of the fauna of the region and are made in a very naturalistic manner.
The human sculptures, and especially the life-size sculptures of human heads, which were plucked from the body and placed next to the obelisks, are striking. 43 different human statues were found. But here an interesting question arises, are large T-shaped uprights anthropomorphic. That is, it represents man. So who are these near human-size statues made other than these T-shaped struts? Or who are those expressed in the large T-shaped pillars? Klaus Schimdt puts his finger on this point in detail. The stone sculptures made in realistic sizes obviously express the strong individuals in that society. So there are references to real people.
Large T-shaped anthropomorphic sculptures do not have faces, but we can tell from the other shapes on them that they are human representations. It is clear, however, that the large T-shaped pillars represent larger and more important figures than the more natural human statues made of real people. The persons they represent may be abstract persons who did not exist or did not exist in the world at that time. However, the comparison of these two different human depictions makes a great contribution to the faith-related context of the building.
Apart from these, many stone vessels were found in Gobeklitepe. Analysis of the remains inside these stone vessels is also carried out. One of the studies related to this is related to beer consumption here. Arrow and spearheads, buttons and beads, animal or human shaped figurines, grinding stones, totems depicting more than one subject were found in Gobeklitepe.
A large number of animal bones were found in Gobeklitepe. All of the animal bones found are wild. More than 42 taxa belonging to around 20 mammal, 20 bird species and 2 fish species have been identified.
Hedgehog, wolf, fox, weasel, marten, badger, wild cat, leopard, wild boar, fallow deer, red deer, wild ass, wild ox, gazelle, wild sheep, wild goat, Thracian marten, Indian gerbil, short-tailed bandikut mouse Thousands of bone remains have been recovered from a wide variety of animal species, such as shrews, hares, meerkats, and many different bird species. Gazelle and wild ox were the most common in the diets of the people in Gobeklitepe.
There are reliefs of many different animals on the T-shaped obelisks at Gobeklitepe. Especially the vulture reliefs are remarkable. For example, the relief of the vulture in the 43rd column in Gobeklitepe has been the subject of many fallacies such as the meteor fall. In addition to the vulture, the crane bird, which draws attention in Çatalhöyük, is also found in reliefs in Gobeklitepe. In addition, it is seen in other birds such as bald ibis and ostrich.
The reliefs of some birds, such as vultures, are distorted and likened to the dodo bird in New Zealand, and mystical meanings are attributed. However, these are not true. Bird species such as vultures, cranes, raptors, magpies, songbirds, and many crow species have been identified in the animal bone remains.
All of the animal remains found in Gobeklitepe belong to wild species. There have been clear studies showing hunting of species such as wild bison. For example, a wild ox bone from which a spear or arrowhead is stuck is one of them.
During the excavation of Gobeklitepe, it was thought that human bones and human burials would also be found. Klaus Schimdt also claimed that rituals related to death were performed here. However, human skeletons and graves were not found in Gobeklitepe for a long time. In this case, it was thought that rituals related to death might not have been performed.
Klaus Schimdt had predicted that human bones could come from inside or behind the walls. After his death, continued excavations confirmed this. In the study published in 2017, human skull bones recovered from Gobeklitepe provided interesting information about the skull cult in the Neolithic. In this study, more than 600 bone fragments recovered from Gobeklitepe were examined. More than 400 of these bones belong to skull bone fragments, while the rest are fragments of body bones.
Detailed studies of the skull bones revealed traces of cutting tools on 40 of them. Of these 40 skull bone fragments, 7 cranial bone fragments were bones belonging to 3 different individuals. In this study, skull fragments belonging to 3 different people were unearthed. It was determined that one of these skulls most likely belonged to a woman. However, the gender characters were not clear in the other two skulls.
These skull bones have carefully made marks and holes. Based on these skull fragments with marks and holes, the researchers revealed that the skulls could be tied and hung with materials such as string. This skull cult gains more meaning when the human sculptures whose heads have been deliberately cut off are evaluated together with the human motifs drawn without a head or a body. In addition, the skull cult is a well-known cult in the nearby geography and in the Neolithic period.
Vegetable Residues and Agriculture
The location of Gobeklitepe is quite interesting. Gobeklitepe is close to the natural distribution area of small red wheat, which was first cultivated in the region, but agriculture was not yet developed when Gobeklitepe was built, and this plant was not cultivated.
Remains of pistachio, almond, wild red wheat, wild wheat, wild rye and wild barley were found during the studies in Gobeklitepe. However, there is no area for the storage of grains collected here. But there are many grinding stones. There are also traces of them brewing beer.
It is assumed that Gobeklitepe may be important in the Neolithic period and in the transition to agricultural society. However, the relationship in the transition from the hunter-gatherer society to the next agricultural society has not been clearly revealed. There are arguments that societies must develop mentally for the Neolithic revolution. Looking at the hierarchy, organization and planning in Gobeklitepe, a highly developed social life can be seen. This reveals that Gobeklitepe may have provided the necessary mental progress. The date Gobeklitepe was abandoned corresponds to around 8200 BC. This period coincides with the date when the surrounding communities hunted less gazelles, but were better able to control other small livestock. In other words, changing economic structures may have caused Gobeklitepe to be abandoned.
Women in Gobeklitepe
There are no feminine traces in motifs such as sculptures, figurines or reliefs found in Gobeklitepe. All of the motifs drawn as both animals and humans bear male traces or are genderless.
There is only one exception to this situation. It is a woman-shaped graffiti known to have been added to a stone from the later period of Gobeklitepe from the Pottery Neolithic B period.
Unlike Gobeklitepe, in Nevali Çori, which has similar structures, male and female figures are almost equal to each other. The absence of female figures in Gobeklitepe does not yet provide sufficient data for us to make an inference about the relations between men and women and their roles in society for that period.
Gobeklitepe and Beer
One of the important points about Gobeklitepe is that this cult building is a place where many people gather and feast.
Mass meals and feasts are political events, especially for prehistoric times. Hierarchy determines situations such as power distribution or gaining power between groups. With great feasts, the political power at hand can be increased or shown to other people. In addition, such big events and feasts help various people in the society to be motivated and participate more actively in the economy.
Studies conducted in Gobeklitepe show that beer can be consumed here. Although agriculture is not yet practiced, grains are used for consumption. Oxalates, which are products of fermentation, were investigated in large bowls found in Gobeklitepe. The results indicate that a beverage such as beer or malt is consumed in Gobeklitepe.
Social Structure in Gobeklitepe
The monolithic stones used in the construction of Gobeklitepe, that is, these large stones, which were taken out of the quarry as a single piece and can reach up to 16 tons in weight, were removed from the surrounding stone quarries and transported to this area. This job requires a lot of work and effort. In order to build Gobeklitepe, a lot of manpower is required.
Researchers also examined the possibility of Gobeklitepe being built with a small number of people over a long period of time. However, research has shown that this is not the case. Gobeklitepe is a structure built by large masses of people. In fact, the density of the animal figures on the structures made us think whether different human groups built different structures.
It is clear that Gobeklitepe was built by many people with great effort. However, it is clear that a complex sequence of events took place, such as the organization of this human community, the planning and maintenance of the construction, and the provision of the necessary logistical support during construction. This shows that the hunter-gatherer people here had a certain organization. In addition, the absence of signs of settled life in Gobeklitepe, but the presence of a large amount of wild game bones indicates that these construction activities may have taken place as a certain ritual.
The round structures formed by two large T-shaped stones in the middle and smaller T-shaped stones around them indicate a hierarchy that already exists in the society.
No agricultural remains were found at Gobeklitepe, indicating that the people here were hunter-gatherers. This large-scale structure in Gobeklitepe has made the social structure and creativity of hunter-gatherer societies reconsidered. However, Gobeklitepe sheds light on the belief world of people before agriculture and the way they built structures that reflect these belief worlds.
Gobeklitepe is a large and important area on the UNESCO World Heritage list. In the past years, work has continued for the construction of protective roofs and the creation of suitable areas for visitors. Dr. Lee Clare and other archaeologists say that work in this area will not focus on large-scale excavations as in the past. Instead, they aim to examine the remains and seek answers to unanswered questions. They also state that they will continue the excavations in small trenches around Gobeklitepe.
How to Go to Gobeklitepe?
Gobeklitepe is open to visitors wherever it is located. To go to there, it is necessary to go to Şanlıurfa city center first. Transportation to Gobeklitepe is provided by Şanlıurfa Metropolitan Municipality buses at 10:00, 13:00 and 16:00 from Abide stop located in the city center. It is possible to return from there to the city center by the same route. Buses depart from Gobeklitepe to Şanlıurfa city center at 12:00, 15:00 and 18:00.
Artifacts from Gobeklitepe are exhibited in Şanlıurfa Archeology and Haleplibahçe Mosaic Museum. The museum is closed on Mondays. On other days, it can be visited between 08:30-17:00 in the winter period and between 08:30-19:00 in the summer period. In 2022, the museum entrance fee is 40 TL (3 €). It is located in the Haleplibahçe neighborhood in the Eyyübiye district of Şanlıurfa.