Göbekli Tepe, one of the most important places of our trip to Şanlıurfa, has become the most important center of the Neolithic Period culture that was discovered in recent years. Göbekli Tepe is located at the top of a limestone plateau, 13 km from Şanlıurfa city center, and has been named because it looks like a hub. In order to understand Göbekli Tepe, it is necessary to refer to some archaeological and historical knowledge. Göbekli Tepe information is entirely for the enthusiasts. We have benefited from the book of Klaus Schmidt, which we should thank with gratitude. In addition, I would also like to thank to Assoc. Dr. Nezih Aytaç for his lecture and Meki Bel, whom I came across on an Istanbul tour later, for the notes of Göbekli Tepe.
Our world is approximately 4.6 billion years old. In order to understand our world and our past, historians needed to divide historical periods into ages.
The ages before the discovery of the writing are Prehistoric Ages. These ages are classified in two sections, which are also divided within themselves.
A. Stone Age: Paleolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic,
B. Mine Age: Copper, Bronze, Iron
None of these ages can be separated by precise dates, though. For example, there is the use of copper during the Chalcolithic era.
Let us give an example to the Neolithic Age as we will be referring to this on this article. This period is classified as follows.
Neolithic A – Without pottery
Neolithic B – Without pottery
Neolithic A – With pottery
Neolithic B – With pottery
Göbekli Tepe belongs to the Neolithic Period.
The world is thought to have had five Ice Ages. The humanity emerges in the last ice age called Pleistocene, 2.6 million years ago, which ends around 11700. At the end of the last ice age, there is a region that is more productive than the other parts of the earth and where climate conditions are more suitable. For ecological reasons, the inhabitants began to experience the settled life at which they produced food instead of hunting and gathering earlier than the other parts of the earth. This place is Asia Minor, namely Anatolia. There is a region in Anatolia, which is much more remarkable; nave of the Fertile Crescent. This is the Mediterranean coast, the southern skirts of the South East Taurus Mountains and Mesopotamia, which lies between the Euphrates and the Tigris to the west of the Zagros Mountains. North of the region called Fertile Crescent is Northern Mesopotamia.
This region is within the borders of our country; the Southeastern Anatolia. In the Fertile Crescent, there are domestic animals and all the wild species of the cultural plants. Grain cultivation, domestication of sheep, goat, bull and pig, which underlines the essence of neolithic period, is seen here for the first time.
To better understand Göbekli Tepe, let’s briefly talk about other Neolithic settlements. Neolithic settlement, which was found in the excavations made in Eriha in the northern end of Ölüdeniz between 1952-1958, shocked the archaeologists in the 20th century, which would later to be called as “Eriha Shock”. Neolithic age without pottery was not known and not a category of the archaeological researches until then. It was thought that life started from here (Eriha is also part of the Fertile Crescent).
Çatalhöyük, which was excavated between 1961-1965, introduced a new Neolithic settlement to the world. Çatalhöyük is 2000 years younger than Eriha. Çatalhöyük excavations were published by Mellaart in 1967. In the Çatalhöyük project in 1993, the English archaeologist Hodder followed the footsteps of Mellaart. The special place of Çatalhöyük in the Anatolian Stone Age (Neolithic Period) was once again confirmed. (Obsidian stones and salt in the surrounding area played a big role in this). Çatalhöyük dates back to the beginning of Neolithic with pottery. It starts in the second half of 8000 BC and reaches its peak between 7000-6000. In 1963, Halet Çambel excavated on the western wing of the Fertile Crescent. In 1964, Çayönü Neolithic settlement was found. Neolithic A and B without potteries bearing grid planned structures were found in Çayönü. Now Turkey is one of the stakeholders of the colorful world of archaeological scientific publications due to its Neolithic past. No Neolithic research is held in Turkey until the planning stage of the Karakaya and Atatürk Dams on the Euphrates River. As a part of the Dams Project international archaeological rescue works then are initiated. Cafer Höyük (Malatya), Hayaz Höyük, Nevali Çori and Samosata are among the important findings. Nevali Çori, found in 1979 and remained under the waters of Atatürk Dam in 1992, created a revolution for the Pre-Asian Neolithic with its large sculptures and depicted obelisks. After the findings in Nevali Çori, more large statues and depicted obelisks were considered to be present in a vast area between the Euphrates and the Tigris. Then Gürcü Tepe is discovered with its Neolithic without pottery. The excavations therein were carried out between 1995-2000. Gürcü Tepe covers an area of 1.2 square kilometers in Harran Plain. It is believed that there are at least 4 Neolithic settlements here. Neolithic Age findings with pottery were also found above the level of the Neolithic Age without pottery in Gürcü Tepe. Şanlıurfa Neolithic Project comprises of Nevali Çori, Gürcü Tepe and Göbekli Tepe. Gürcü Tepe and Göbekli Tepe are two opposing examples of the first Neolithic. The buildings in Göbekli Tepe are not older than those in Gürcü Tepe. Gürcü Tepe is situated in the valley, while Göbekli Tepe is in the mountain. It is now believed that the earliest Neolithic settlement, which is the earliest inhabited place, is not in Levant (Eastern Mediterranean Coast Region) but in the Upper Mesopotamia. It is emphasized that the Neolithic region, called the Golden Triangle, has properties exceeding the Levant Neolithic.
German archaeologist Klaus Schmidt was interested in the Neolithic Period during the archaeological activities as being the part of GAP Project (The Southeastern Development Project). He went to the neighboring villages in the environs of Şanlıurfa to research the hills that might bear flint hills. He looked for caves that could show the traces of the transition from the Paleolithic Age to the Neolithic Age. He visited Çayönü excavations and stayed in Nevali Çori. In fact, although another archaeologist, Benedict, said in the 1960s that he had seen a tomb in Göbekli Tepe, the spot was not excavated because it was thought to be a Muslim cemetery, which did not draw attention until 1994. When one of the villagers showed Göbekli Tepe to Schmidt, he decided to make an investigation there – especially after having seen the Wishing Tree in the south. Excavations began in 1995.
Even though Göbekli Tepe excavations are not currently active and Schmidt is no more alive, it will probably continue for many years. Schmidt has gained experience in Neolithic settlement in Nevali Çori and then developed it in Gürcü Tepe. He started to work very carefully in Göbekli Tepe. Structures that were examined systematically were archived according to their types.
During the early days of the 1995 excavations, large sculptures that he was familiar in Nevali Çori were found. Due to the weather conditions, the structures on the surface could not be well preserved in Göbekli Tepe. As the work progressed, it was understood that Göbekli Tepe was not one of the known Stone Age settlements with several private buildings due to the geographical location, wild dangerous animal depictions, erectile penis figure, compound animal and human head sculptures, and obelisk fragments spread all over the hill. When compared to the Neolithic places known in Upper Mesopotamia, ritual findings were encountered, which are not known anywhere, even more than those in Nevali Çori. Schmidt and his team concluded that Göbekli Tepe was not a village settlement. This was a majestic sanctuary from the Neolithic Age, located on the mountain. At the bottom of the mound are terraces as in Çayönü and Nevali Çori. Architectural remains date back to Pottery-free Neolithic A; there are also remnants pointing to Neolithic B with pottery. Leaving aside the tents and huts made of mammoth bones in Siberia in the Upper Paleolithic Age, Göbekli Tepe belonged to the era of the oldest architectural monuments of humanity. I.e., between 10000-9000. Human traces were found everywhere in Göbekli Tepe. Along with the ancient period, there are also quarries belonging to the Neolithic period.
The obelisks in Göbekli Tepe are considered to be human forms made of stone (Except for two-faced stone objects). Who were these stone objects portraying? Gods? Bad spirits? Ancestors? For now, there is no answer. The obelisks alone are the most important elements of the buildings, like the core of them. Everything built creates a framework for this center. Geomagnetic surveys show there are around 200 megalithic obelisks in Göbekli Tepe. 43 of them have been revealed yet.
Schmidt acted hesitant when it came to interpret animal figure reliefs and rock paintings. Were they bulls, foxes, snakes or animal tales? Perhaps an emblem… Are the snakes guards against to dangers? The knees of the cranes are different from the natural cranes we know. There is even a crane with human knees in one corner. Maybe it’s a disguised person. Some reliefs were scraped and replaced with others. Perhaps the tradition of erasing the names from the top of the structures in order to curse memories of a person was also present in that age.
In 1995 it was thought that this place marked the beginning period of Neolithic A and Neolithic B without potteries. There are many Stone Age findings such as tools made of flint, stone axes, pestle and mortar stones used for pressing the food as well as stone vessels. However, here there are also door hole stones, large stone rings, small button-like objects, different beads and jewelry forms that are not yet seen in other Stone Age settlements. There are no pictures depicting women and figures made of clay, which are common in Neolithic settlements. Clay figures and female objects are the symbol of fertility in a broad sense. If we combine blessing with life, the absence of these in Göbekli Tepe evokes death. It presents data that this is an area of dead cult monuments.
The relationship between Göbekli Tepe and other interesting spatial structures in the world was tried to be established. There are similarities and differences with other structures. Göbekli Tepe does not look exactly like any of them.
Compared to Eriha, they were both covered with rubble and soil after having been used for a while. There are no obelisks in Eriha while there are no stair-like structures in Göbekli Tepe. When compared with the Dakhmahs we see in Iran (Dakhmah: In Zoroastrian religion, soil, water, air and fire are deemed to be sacred. Zoroastrians leave their dead in high places under the sky where there is no water and plants so that their sacred things are kept pure. The wild animals, wind and sun removes the rotting parts of the dead and the remaining bones are put into pits or stone chests carved into the rock). The necessary conditions needed to build a Dakhmah are also present in Göbekli Tepe. It is a place where birds can see right away and where there is no water. Among the bone findings in Göbekli Tepe, the rate of the crow-like birds eating carrion is 50%. However, these datum are not sufficient to verify the similarity.
Stonehenge could not be proven to be a structure with a special astronomical meaning; just like the Egyptian Pyramids. Stonehenge is completely different from many other prehistoric stone structures in the British Isles. It is believed that the builders came from the Alps, perhaps from Bavaria. That some of the structures in Göbekli Tepe belong to the architectural category of circular structures might be stemming from other factors. Since Göbekli Tepe was underground, it was better protected than Stonehenge that is a few thousand years younger than it. It looks like it will continue to be compared with Stonehenge in the coming years.
The “Urfa Statue”, the oldest statue ever found intact, was found around Balıklı Lake. Since this place is a sacred area (related to the story of the Prophet Abraham) with its dense construction, it is not possible to dig. But there are many sacred places in the environs belonging to the Stone Age like Sefer Tepe, Keçili Tepe and Karahan in Viransehir…
Stone Age people have chosen suitable natural places to survive. Nevali Çori is suitable for this topographically. It is hidden in a small side valley, 2-3 km away from the Euphrates River. As I mentioned before, it is now irreversibly flooded. Approximately 10 km away, there is a large passage that crosses the Euphrates River (Wherever there is a large river, there must be large natural passages that serve as a kind of hunting area. The hunt is not a single event, it is an organized event of a group). Nevali Çori people set up their settlements away from the passage so that the animals could pass without being scared. In 10000 BC hunters knew very well that they had to take nature into account. In addition, Karacadağ was the first possible homeland of the cultured grain. Hunters knew ways to keep animals away from grain to ensure harvest. This could only be achieved by different groups acting jointly. As in the hunt, the construction of the structures and obelisks required the joint action of the large groups. There should have been a joint network of relationships in the region. Although we cannot deduce what we see at Göbekli Tepe today, these pictures and signs point to the social and spiritual relationship network of those who make and visit them.
With regards to the late upper Paleolithic era, between 35000-12000, nothing was obtained from the comparison of the wall painting messages in the caves of the ice age hunters with the symbols in Göbekli Tepe. Animal patterns gradually increase as the Göbekli Tepe excavations progress. Maybe in the future, our knowledge on the signs and symbols of the early Neolithic period will increase. What is certain is that the people of Neolithic Göbekli Tepe did not only have a magnificent architecture, but also a very rich sign language in which they could convey their messages explicitly to their contemporaries and next generations.
This was possible only with an advanced social organization. The reliefs at Obelisk 33 in Göbekli Tepe look like ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. Egyptian hieroglyphic paintings are used as a means of transferring phonetic patterns of sounds, that is, language. It created a language rather than a pictography. Additionally, the concept of hieroglyphics was used in Hittite and Mayan writing systems in Central America. The Egyptian hieroglyphic writing, which reached its peak in 4000-3000 BC, was not for communication purposes, but for storage purposes. It served as an accounting system in palaces and temples for management purposes that could not be overcome with only memory. This enables communication that exceeds time and space. Without writing, communication cannot spread over time and space. The text has a feature that allows the information that transcends the power of the picture to be transmitted. Although we do not expect from the Neolithic Age in Göbekli Tepe, there is a draft hieroglyphic writing. At that time, we cannot expect an article that turned into an alphabet. For example, although the reading and spelling of each language is different today, a pictogram with a walking little green man graphic is internationally understandable. It means “You can cross the street now”. Perhaps the symbols in Göbekli Tepe are the pictograms of the Neolithic Age. However, this idea is avoided when La Pasiega Cave (Late Paleolithic Period) in Northern Spain and Mas d’Azil Cave in Pyrenees are compared with Göbekli Tepe signs. The signs on Göbekli Tepe are not the ones drawn on the rock walls by haste. They consist of concrete and abstract paintings. Their arrangement most likely points to a logical relationship. Phonotization is absent and unexpected. (Göbekli Tepe separates the signs from the hieroglyphic language writing system). But there is a readable message pertaining to the Neolithic Age. It is thought that it would be correct to deem these paintings and reliefs in Göbekli Tepe as a kind of hieroglyph. These are quite different than the signs and pictures in other Neolithic settlements. This is what makes Göbekli Tepe unique. In the Neolithic Period, there is a high culture, the main character of which was hunter in Upper Mesopotamia. This is not surprising. What is surprising is that there is nothing left from this magnificent Late Neolithic Period with Pottery.
The structures unearthed during excavations at Göbekli Tepe are named A, B, C, D,…. The temporal relationship between these structures remains unanswered. These structures may have been built simultaneously or in stages over different time frames. The layers handled in the excavations are classified as I, II, III. (I and II late levels are out of evaluation for the time being; III, the oldest layer, is still being evaluated). During the excavations, 43 T-head obelisks belonging to Level III were found in their original places in a well preserved way. Layer III seems to be filled later. How long could this layer have been visited before being filled? Was the filling process a final? Did this holy sanctuary bid farewell by regular burials? (This last option seems to be more logical) All this is unknown. No sign with a residential function was found in the layer III. Everything here is connected with cultural and religious architecture. The pests in Göbekli Tepe may have been used in the preparation of food, medicine and enjoyable substances.
Do the findings in Göbekli Tepe point to the subject of religion in the prehistoric period? Human communities can have a religious organization since the Upper Paleolithic. The burial of the dead with gifts cannot be evaluated without a spiritual plan towards other world; the existence of the other world should be considered as the part of a religion here.
So far, no tomb or skull have been found in Göbekli Tepe. However, there are monumental megalithic structures. The leading role is played by the magnificent obelisks. We do not know which rituals were performed here. But these structures were not mute monuments during the stone age either. The events carried out here are left to the imagination for now. The ceremonies here are thought to have been impossible without choreography and music. At the same time, what was done here must be a show of strength. But whether this is the show of a single person or a community is not clear. Such a structure cannot be achieved without intense collective work, though. What motivated individuals to make this monumental building? Chieftain? Shamans? A delegation? Is it a social force? The biggest possibility here is that workers took this power from a religious motivation they believed in. At that time, there was no animal taming from which they could take advantage of their power. The construction of this place might have taken long years. Still, it is difficult to explain mathematically the transportation of these stones here, and the construction of this place. This work of the many hunters during an era where hunting was the main occupation of the society may bring up the question to replace the hypotheses believed so far. I am wondering whether Göbekli Tepe was the place where the first society members like masons, builders, workers, collectors and hunters were observed.
Göbekli Tepe should definitely be interpreted as a cult building belonging to the Neolithic Age. Göbekli Tepe showed us that the groups acting independently came together in 10000-9000 BC to provide the necessary manpower for the construction of the structures. In many settlements around this ritual center (such as Nevali Çori, Tell Abr, Müreybet, Tell Qaramel, Jerf el-Ahmar), people may have started the process of settling in. These places are within an area of 200 sq kilometers (77 sq miles). In this region, findings including T-shaped obelisks belonging to the Non-Pottery Neolithic Age continue to emerge.
Construction work and use of structures in Göbekli Tepe has ended in 8000 BC. There has been a transition from the hunter society to the agricultural community, i.e. the settled life. Göbekli Tepe is a land without water and soil, not suitable for cultivation. Gürcü Tepe is a very convenient place, though. People of that period buried the monuments with stone and rubble before leaving this cult place. Hunters have left their sanctuary. Economic activities have changed, hunting has lost its importance, and, with its decreasing importance, religious rituals have lost their meaning, and old cult structures have also disappeared.
We arrived at Göbekli Tepe within 30 minutes after having departed from Şanlıurfa. At the slope are the tea-coffee-souvenir sales facilities of the Ministry of Tourism. There is a minibus continuously running from here to Göbekli Tepe, which is located on the hill; our group preferred to walk, though.
We are at the top of a 770-meter-high limestone plateau in the north of Harran Plain, connected to the Germuş Mountains. The obelisks are covered to be protected against the weather conditions. The sewn stones in Göbekli Tepe are at a height of 1.5-5.5 meters, weighing 30-40 tons. So far, 6 circular or elliptical structures have been unearthed. It is thought that there are at least 20 more of these structures. The structures are named as A, B, C, D, E, F. In the middle of these structures is a double T-shaped monolithic obelisk. There are smaller T or I-shaped obelisks embedded in stone walls that form the outer walls of the building. A large number of symbols and figures are embossed on the obelisks.
Let’s briefly talk about the remarkable ones.
The C structure, which has at least 3 peripheral walls, is the largest structure with a diameter of 25 meters. The outermost wall is the oldest while the innermost one is the last constructed. There are quite a few male wild boar reliefs. Here again, five duck-like birds with a net in front of them, a lion or a leopard relief, fox head relief, and a dog-like unidentified animal whose teeth are outside can be seen. After all, we can define Structure C as an open sanctuary decorated with protective and scary predators on the walls.
Structure D evokes the feeling of walking in the zoo. This is the best preserved building. Snakes, cranes, other birds, circles, half-moon signs (Could it represent the moon and the sun or the woman?), bull, gazelle, asiatic wild ass (onager) and spider are among eye-catching reliefs.
Structure B is referred to as Mesopotamia Stonehenge. It is similar to Stonehenge in England, but there is no apparent connection between them. The two obelisks in the center of the building are larger than the others. It is thought that the 9 obelisks in the walls surrounding the building will increase with the future excavations. There are fox, wild boar and dog reliefs here. The difference of C from D is that its base is covered with mortar called terazzo.
A stone field was made to use the excavated stones in the future restorations. In the Wishing Tree, which has been the space for those who made wishes over the centuries, we also relay our wishes and leave this Ritual Field of the Neolithic Age.
“The most appealing and enigmatic aspect of history is that everything changes completely with changing ages, but nothing changes.”