During the 2001 excavation season at Göbekli Tepe, Enclosure D was in the focus of research. Excavations in area L9-78 soon revealed Pillar 18, the eastern central pillar of the building, as well as some of the pillars in the encircling enclosure wall. At the level at which the fox relief on Pillar 18 was reached, about 2.20m deep within the enclosure´s filling, a small stone object was retrieved in the pillar’s vicinity – the miniature representation of a mask made from limestone. But the next 10 cm of excavated sediment (i.e. Locus 4.7 in excavation area L9-78) held another surprise: a second mask, but this time made from clay.
The fragmentarily preserved object was originally ovaloid in form, the back is concave. It features a very prominent nose and large, nearly open-worked eyes. An indention supposedly depicting the mouth is rather small, on the other hand, and not very deep. The mask measures just 1.3×0.7cm. The surface is darkened-greyish, which indicates burning in reducing conditions. Whether the mask was intentionally burned remains uncertain; a future scientific examination of the find could resolve this issue.
Putting a clear date to the find is not easy as for Enclosure D a multifaceted history of backfilling through erosion and intentional events starts to be revealed by the still ongoing stratigraphic evaluation (Pöllath et al. 2018). The monumental round buildings had long biographies of use, and radiocarbon data may indicate a partial chronological overlap with the younger phase of site use, the rectangular buildings of the so-called Layer II. Within excavation area L9-78, the unit the mask was found in, Locus 4, marks the uppermost layer of the at least in modern times undisturbed Neolithic backfill inside Enclosure D. It was divided by a loamy layer with numerous small stones from the superposing unit, reddish in colour, with fist-sized stones and numerous lithic finds. The excavators described it as “heterogenous”, which may indicate a complex formation process. This layer can possibly be interpreted as the youngest event of the refilling of the enclosure, as after the excavation of this locus, color and composition of the sediment changed, probably indicating another, older backfilling event. Thus, the mask would have been deposited during the last stages of backfilling. The biography of use of the mask thus cannot be reconstructed in detail. However, we consider that a date for its deposition in the backfill not younger than the early PPNB probable.
The group of now five mask depictions leaves room for a wide range of interpretations. Are we dealing with personal, transportable mnemonic devices with a connection to possible ritual performances at the site? Are they insignia of participation in certain rites, of initiation? Other than different anthropomorphic representations, for example stone heads, which were regularly deposited deep in the filling next to the pillars , they do not seem to be linked to the initial biographies of the monumental enclosures, but rather to the final stages of use and their final backfilling. Y. Garfinkel has proposed three principal uses of masks, based on a review of ethnographic literature: performance masks, funerary masks, and protective masks. The last category comprises miniatures, not supposed to be seen by other people than the owner except for special ritual occasions and meant to ward off evil. It is certainly tempting to interpret the Göbekli Tepe mask depiction along similar lines, however, missing a clearer context, this remains speculative.
Dietrich O., Notroff J., and Dietrich L. 2018. Masks and masquerade in the Early Neolithic: a view from Upper Mesopotamia. Time and Mind 11, 1: 3-21.
Garfinkel, Y. 2017. Dancing with masks in the proto-historic Near East. In: C. Renfrew, I. Morley, M. Boyd (eds.), Ritual, play, and belief, in evolution and early human societies: 143-169. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Pöllath N., Dietrich O., Notroff J., Clare L., Dietrich L., Köksal-Schmidt Ç., Schmidt K. and Peters J. 2018 Almost a chest hit: An aurochs humerus with hunting lesion from Göbekli Tepe, south-eastern Tukey, and its implications. Quaternary International 495: 30-48.
Today, Dr Lee Clare and the Göbekli Tepe research team had the great privilege to greet the Turkish Minister of Culture and Tourism, Mehmet Nuri Ersoy, at the Göbekli Tepe World Heritage Site. Our Excavation Director, Celal Uludağ gave a tour of the main excavation area, highlighting the latest research results and briefing the Minister on our continuing conservation works.
Delegation of the Turkish Minister of Culture and Tourism, Mehmet Nuri Ersoy (4th from left) at Göbekli Tepe; Excavation Director Celal Uludağ, 3rd from right; DAI-Göbekli Tepe project coordinator Lee Clare 1st from left. (Photo: Hasan Yildiz, DAI)
With “Religion, History, and Place in the Origin of Settled Life” (Boulder, Colorado 2018) [external link] recently a new volume edited by Ian Hodder, Dunlevie Family Professor in the Department of Anthropology at Stanford University and best known for his groundbreaking research at Neolithic Çatalhöyük in Turkey, has been published by University Press of Colorado on the role of religion and ritual in the Middle East, focusing on the repetitive construction of houses and cult buildings.
Göbekli Tepe research staff gladly provided some new insights into ongoing research on the site and its interpretation to this volume with a contribution on “Establishing Identities in the Proto-Neolithic: ‘History Making’ at Göbekli Tepe from the Late Tenth Millennium cal BCE” by Lee Clare, Oliver Dietrich, Jens Notroff, and Devrim Sönmez (pp. 115-136):
“Göbekli Tepe in southeast Turkey is a long recognized key site for the study of socio-ritual components of transitional Neolithic communities living in Upper Mesopotamia, a core zone of Neolithization, in the late tenth millennium cal bce. In addition to the construction of the large monumental buildings with their T-shaped monoliths, these groups can be credited with early domestication activities involving wild plant and animal species, which from the mid-ninth millennium cal BCE began to show characteristic morphological changes associated with the emergence of identifiable domesticated forms. Ritual practices and belief systems identified at Göbekli Tepe provide unprecedented insights into the worldview of these ‘proto-Neolithic’ communities at this important juncture in world history. Not only this, the site offers explanations as to how these groups could have overcome various challenges presented by ‘Neolithization’ processes, including demographic growth, increasing competition over biotic and abiotic resources, and a more pronounced vertical social differentiation, with division of labor and craft specialization. In this contribution, it is posited that ‘history making’ at Göbekli Tepe, as reflected, for example, through repititive building activities at the site, could have been used to encourage group identity and to promote a sense of belonging to a common ‘cultic community’, so important in the face of these challenges. Furthermore, it is proposed that these same ‘history making events’ might also have been harnessed by individuals and sub-groups in an attempt to legitimize social status and local, perhaps even regional political influence.”
Sadly, we have to pass the news that on August 2, Prof. em. Harald Hauptmann passed away. Professor Hauptmann was the former director of the Istanbul Department at the German Archaeological Institute, and, what many people may not be aware of, played a unique role in the initiation of excavations and research at Göbekli Tepe. For this reason, he remained a valuable friend and special mentor over the years.
Following the completion of his PhD in Prehistoric and Protohistoric Archaeology (Ur- und Frühgeschichte) at Heidelberg University, which focused on the early Neolithic in Thessaly, Hauptmann was made research lecturer at the Istanbul Department of the German Archaeological Institute, a position that he held for five years, until 1971. During this time, he was involved in excavations at such renowned sites as Boğazköy and Norşuntepe. Subsequently, he accepted the call to Heidelberg University, where he held the chair for Pre- and Protohistory and Near Eastern Archaeology until 1994. In these years, he initiated field research at two notable sites in Southeastern Turkey, at Lidar Höyük and Nevali Çori. This latter site would not only be of major significance for Anatolian Neolithic research, but it was also the first site at which T-shaped limestone pillars were revealed in an architectural context.
Returning to the German Archaeological Institute as head of the Istanbul Department in 1994, Hauptmann continued to focus on the Neolithic in Southeastern Turkey. Together with his former student Klaus Schmidt, who already assisted at Nevali Çori, he initiated field research at Göbekli Tepe, which to this day remains a crucial site for the study of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic and early monumental architecture. Over the first two decades of research at Göbekli Tepe, Hauptmann remained a prominent figure for the excavation project. A constant source of knowledge and inspiration, especially following the untimely death of Klaus Schmidt in 2014, he always had an open ear and was keen to discuss latest finds and new developments.
Hauptmann’s contributions to the Neolithic and Bronze Age archaeology of Anatolia are meanwhile considered essential and pioneering work. In particular, we at the Göbekli Tepe research project are thankful for the exchange with Harald Hauptmann. We have not only lost an esteemed colleague, but also a close friend.
Since recently there has been renewed interest in the results of geophysical survey undertaken at Göbekli Tepe in the years 2003, 2006, 2007, and 2012 we put together this short overview on these works and their results – which helped to understand the extension of the Neolithic site and its monuments even in those parts of the tell not yet excavated.
Without a doubt, the most widely known features of the Göbekli Tepe archaeological site are the monumental buildings, which, due to their ‘outstanding universal value’, were recently inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Notably, since the very early years of excavations, one of the most pressing questions has been whether these structures, with their characteristic T-pillars, were restricted to certain parts of the mound (where revealed through excavation and suggesting a unique agglomeration of this particular building type) or whether they existed all over the tell.
Archaeological survey methods have changed significantly over the last years. One innovation which has dramatically changed the way field archaeologists work are ground-based physical sensing techniques (for a short introduction into this technology and its application see, e.g. here [external link]). This technology provides us with images of possible archaeological features beneath the surface without even taking a shovel to hand. In 2003, a geophysical survey was undertaken at Göbekli Tepe with the help of GGH – Solutions in Geoscience GmbH. In a first step, large parts of the tell were subjected to extensive magnetic prospection, and later selected areas were studied using georadar and geoelectric tomography.
As already noted by Klaus Schmidt in his 2003 field report which was published the same year (Schmidt 2003, 5), first results already provided a better understanding of the site and served to confirm earlier observations:
“More than ten large enclosures could be located in the geomagnetic map, and some more can be expected. As four enclosures are under excavation (Anlage A-D), in total a minimum of 20 enclosures seem to exist inside the mound of Göbekli Tepe. At every enclosure a number of 12 megalithic pillars can be expected. So, in total more than 200 pillars can be calculated.”
Subsequent surveys which were undertaken in the years 2006, 2007, and 2012 also confirmed the earlier predictions based on archaeological surface investigations, i.e. that the monumental circular enclosures were not restricted to a specific part of the mound but existed all over the tell (cf. Dietrich et al. 2012, 675).
Map of Göbekli Tepe excavation and surveys by ground-penetrating radar (Photo: DAI).
Survey-work also provided a useful tool in the planning of field research strategies, with operations focused in areas of particular interest as indicated by survey results. From 2007, excavations were also conducted in other parts of the site where more monumental structures were suspected, e.g. in the Northwest-Hollow. Here, georadar results showed a large, cloverleaf-shaped accumulation comprising of what appeared to be several circular structures. It is in this part of the site that excavations led to the discovery of Enclosure H. Although fieldwork is still not completed in this part of the site, the current state of excavation already confirms the geophysical-geoelectric results (Dietrich et al. 2016, 56).
References and further reading:
O. Dietrich, M. Heun, J. Notroff, K. Schmidt, M. Zarnkow, The Role of Cult and feasting in the Emergence of Neolithic Communities. New Evidence from Göbekli Tepe, South-eastern Turkey, Antiquity 86, 2012, 674-695. [external link]
O. Dietrich, J. Notroff, L. Clare, Chr. Hübner, Ç. Köksal-Schmidt, K. Schmidt, Göbekli Tepe, Anlage H. Ein Vorbericht beim Ausgrabungsstand von 2014, in: Ü. Yalcin (ed.) Anatolian Metal VII – Anatolien und seine Nachbarn vor 10.000 Jahren / Anatolia and Neighbours 10.000 years ago. Der Anschnitt Beiheft 31 (Bochum 2016), 53-69.
K. Schmidt, The 2003 Campaign at Göbekli Tepe (Southeastern Turkey), Neo-Lithics 2/2003, 3-8. [external link]
(After the announcement of the forthcoming decision on the World Heritage status of the site, culturalheritage.news, the Archaeological Heritage Network’s (ArcHerNet) [external link] blog, has just published another article by Eva Götting [external link] on the final addition of the archaeological site of Göbekli Tepe to UNESCO’s World Heritage List. We are gladly sharing it here.)
View of Göbekli Tepe’s so-called main excavation area, Enclosure D in the front. (Photo: Nico Becker, DAI)
On July 1 the World Heritage Committee in Bahrain added the Stone Age site of Göbekli Tepe to the World Heritage List.
On the hill of Göbekli Tepe, stone pillars stand tall against the Turkish summer sky. People first came here more than 11.000 years ago. These men and women, who lived as hunters and gatherers, achieved a great deal with very little. Without metal tools, the highly skilled artisans of Göbekli Tepe carved the T-shaped pillars from the local limestone. These pillars – some of which were up to 5.5 metres high and weighed several tons – then found their way from the nearby quarry to the site, where the communities incorporated them into round-oval, semi-subterranean stone buildings. Fox, crane, boar, snake and scorpion arise from the light-coloured stone, leaving a vivid testimony of Neolithic art. For thousands of years, the monumental structures were forgotten, covered by a mound of earth and rubble. However, in 1994 researcher Klaus Schmidt recognised the importance of the place. A Turkish-German collaboration of archaeologists undertook first excavations at Göbekli Tepe. Today, the stone buildings still stand where they were once erected – in the hilly landscape of south-eastern Turkey.
The mound of Göbekli Tepe. View from south. (Photo: Klaus Schmidt, DAI)
In a climatised hall in Bahrain, archaeologist Dr Lee Clare of the German Archaeological Institute [external link] awaits the verdict of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee [external link]. Every year the Committee selects the sites to be included in the World Heritage List. In 2018 the representatives from 21 State Parties meet for the 42nd time. Dr Clare coordinates the international team of archaeologists that investigate Göbekli Tepe and has worked together with the State Party of Turkey on the application process. Over the past two decades, research at Göbekli Tepe has seen the successful collaboration of German archaeologists with the Turkish authorities, first and foremost the General Directorate of Cultural Heritage and Museums, Ministry of Culture and Tourism of Turkey and the Şanlıurfa Museum. Current research at the site is undertaken in the frame of a DFG [Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft] long-term funding project.
“We’re extremely pleased that we can make an active contribution to the Turkish UNESCO nomination of Göbekli Tepe. The significance of the site for our understanding of the Neolithic transition in this key area of the Fertile Crescent can’t be stressed enough,” says Lee Clare.
Göbekli Tepe – A site of Outstanding Universal Value
Dr Clare knows that it is a long process to build a good case that stands up to scrutiny. The ‘Outstanding Universal Value’ of a cultural heritage site must be recognisable. A convincing management plan is also one of the criteria of the UNESCO [external link]. World Heritage Committee. During the last 20 years, the team of archaeologists has carefully uncovered just enough of Göbekli Tepe to gain an insight into the possible functions of the site and its significance for contemporaneous hunter-gatherer communities. Two permanent shelters now protect the Neolithic T-pillars, walls and terrazzo floors from wind and weather. The aim of the archaeologists is not only to gain a better understanding of the past but to preserve the site for future generations.
Pillar 56 from Göbekli Tepe’s Enclosure H. (Photo: Nico Becker, DAI)
Detail of Pillar 27 in Enclosure C: high relief of a snarling predator.(Photo: Dieter Johannes, DAI)
The efforts first paid out in 2011, when UNESCO included Göbekli Tepe in the World Heritage Tentative List. Now it will be decided if the application of the Turkish State Party is successful. A site benefits from the World Heritage status in various ways. The prestige often helps raise awareness for heritage preservation, resulting in a higher level of protection and conservation at the site. The State Party of Turkey might also receive financial and consulting assistance from UNESCO to support activities for the preservation of Göbekli Tepe.
Göbekli Tepe is a World Heritage Site
Finally, it is announced: Göbekli Tepe is added to the World Heritage List! The representatives of the Turkish State Party and Lee Clare are pleased. The UNESCO acknowledges that Göbekli Tepe “represents a masterpiece of human creative genius”. The site “exhibits an important interchange of human values” and “is an outstanding example of an architectural ensemble which illustrates a significant stage in human history.”
“When Klaus Schmidt initiated excavations at Göbekli Tepe in the mid-1990s, there was practically no indication of the significance that this site held for us and future generations. The OUV [outstanding universal value] of Göbekli Tepe is undisputed. But it’s not only an important site for us archaeologists. It’s a crucial site in World history, and its inscription on the World Heritage List will underline this fact”.
What has been evident to archaeologists and thousands of visitors to the site for a long time is now official: Göbekli Tepe is of outstanding universal value to the shared cultural heritage of all people.
(CulturalHeritage.news is connected to the Archaeological Heritage Network’s (ArcHerNet) which brings together German expertise in the field of cultural preservation and heritage protection. ArcHerNet is coordinated by the German Archaeological Institute and promoted by the Federal Foreign Office.)
The Göbekli Tepe Research Team would like to congratulate the State Party of Turkey on the inscription of Göbekli Tepe on the prestigious list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. At the 42nd Session of the World Heritage Committee, currently underway in Bahrain (Manama), the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the site has been underlined. Accordingly, Göbekli Tepe fulfils three of the selection criteria:
i) represents a masterpiece of human creative genius,
ii) exhibits an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design, and
iv) is anoutstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates (a) significant stage(s) in human history.
Our research continues at full pace, and the inscription of the site on the UNESCO World Heritage List is an additional incentive. Our work at Göbekli Tepe would not be possible without the continuous support of the General Directorate of Cultural Heritage and Museums, Ministry of Culture and Tourism of Turkey and the Şanlıurfa Museum. Further, we most gratefully acknowledge funding of excavations and research at Göbekli Tepe in the frame of the German Research Foundation (DFG) long-term project, The Prehistoric Societies of Upper Mesopotamia and their Subsistence.
Finally, we would like to take this opportunity to remember Klaus Schmidt, whose tireless efforts from the mid-1990s until his untimely passing in 2014, led to the recognition and excavation of this truly spectacular site.
In the name of the entire Göbekli Tepe Research Team.
Göbekli Tepe is one of the most impressive Stone Age sites in the world. On June 24 the World Heritage Committee will decide if the site is going to be included in the World Heritage List. Find out more about recent developements at Göbekli Tepe!
(This text by Eva Götting was first published June 22nd 2018 at Culturalheritage.news [external link], a platform to report about projects aiming at the protection, preservation and promotion of cultural heritage. CulturalHeritage.news is connected to the Archaeological Heritage Network (ArcHerNet) [external link] which brings together German expertise in the field of cultural preservation and heritage protection. ArcHerNet is coordinated by the German Archaeological Institute and promoted by the Federal Foreign Office.)
Göbekli Tepe is unique not only and in its monumental Stone Age architecture, but also its art. The site is located in the south-east of turkey is one of the greatest archaeological sensations of recent times. The famous monumental T-shaped pillars are probably the most characteristic features of Göbekli Tepe. The impressive architecture is interpreted as a temple complex and dates back to the 10th-9th mill. BCE to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic. More than 200 such pillars were found at the site. Each one can be up to 6 m high and weights up to 20 tons. The pillars were cut with great precision from blocks of quarried stone without the use of metal tools, and decorated with relief carvings of animals. The monuments on Göbekli Tepe are a testimony on the history of the transition from hunting communities to agrarian societies
Aerial view of Göbekli Tepe’s Enclosure C (Photo: K. Schmidt, DAI).
The hill was first surveyed in the 1960s. In 1994, archaeologist Klaus Schmidt was the first to recognize just how extraordinary the place was. Since then, archaeologists excavated at Göbekli Tepe. The research project is conducted by the German Archaeological Institute [external link] as part of a joint German-Turkish collaboration. The project is supported by the General Directorate of Cultural Assets and Museums, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of Turkey and the Şanlıurfa Museum.
Göbekli Tepe – World Heritage
A convincing preservation plan is one of the criteria for a site’s inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List [external link] . Göbekli Tepe was included in the UNESCO’s World Heritage Tentative List in 2017. The 42nd session of the World Heritage Committee will take place between June 24 and July 4 in Bahrain. Then it will be decided, if Göbekli Tepe is going to be a World Heritage site.
T-shaped stone pillars at Göbekli Tepe (Photo: N. Becker, DAI).
Conserving the site and opening it up for sustainable tourism has been central to the work carried out by the German Archaeological institute at Göbekli Tepe. The activities range from cleaning and restoring the pillars and the stone-and-mud walls to the erection of protective shelters over the most important architectural features.
A Protective Roof for Göbekli Tepe
Since 2011, the Global Heritage Fund in cooperation with Brandenburg Technical University (BTU) [external link] in Cottbus and the DAI excavation team has been working on a comprehensive site management and conservation plan. The experts aim to allow visitors to explore the unique site, while at the same protecting the archaeological remains. In 2013, a temporary protective shelter was erected over the principal excavation area. Since 2016 two protective roofs have been constructed, protecting the site against climatic conditions. The building work was implemented within the framework of the EU funded project “Revitalisation of History in Şanlıurfa”.
Protective roof at Göbekli Tepe (Photo: DAI).
Preserving a Neolithic Site
The construction works of the past years have been accompanied by meticulous analysis and the repair of the walls and monoliths. The archaeological features were left as far as possible in their original condition upon exposure. During the excavation phase, pillar re-erection has only taken place in exceptional circumstances. Only when toppled or leaning monoliths obstructed further excavation work and hence prevented further discoveries about a unique phase in human history were they moved.
Reopening to the Public
After being closed for construction works the past 18 months, the official reopening of Göbekli Tepe is scheduled in summer 2018. The touristic development of the impressive Neolithic site was expedited during the past years, too.
Göbekli Tepe visitor center (Photo: Doğuş Group & MF Barranco).
Drawing inspiration from the circular layouts of the world’s first temples the Doğuş Visitor Centre [external link] was build. In a state-of-the-art animation centre the guests can find out more about the site using multi-media installations. The story of the possibly oldest cult structure of human history is projected on 200m-surfaces that allow visitors to circulate throughout the space and interact freely. Overall, we are looking forward to an exciting and eventful summer at Göbekli Tepe.
Plant food is a factor so far slightly neglected in research about Göbekli Tepe. We are now aiming to close this gap [read more here and here]. Preliminary results on grinding equipment from Göbekli Tepe and experimental approaches will be presented at this year´s Awrana (Association of Archaeological Wear and Residue Analysts, external link) conference at University of Nice Côte d’Azur on May 31, in a collaborative paper by Laura Dietrich, Oliver Dietrich, Julia Heeb and Nils Schäkel.
During the 10th and 9th millennia BC, at Göbekli Tepe in southeastern Anatolia, hunter-gatherers constructed the first monumental architecture of mankind. In an older phase, circular enclosures made up of up to 5.5m high pillars decorated richly, mainly with animal motifs, were erected, while in a younger phase rectangular buildings with smaller pillars were in use. Important questions regarding this site concern the way in which small-scale groups joined their forces for the massive construction work, creating a place strongly connected to their worldview, and how they secured their subsistence during the prolonged work at the site.
Until now, the focus was on the numerous finds of animal bones and hunting as subsistence strategy. This image may be biased by bad preservation conditions for plant remains, as more than 10.000 grinding stone were discovered at the site, reaching from flat slabs over deep bowls to mortars, pestles and handstones. At least in the younger phase of the site, a number of the square rooms could be interpreted as storage facilities, as they also contain large limestone vessels with capacities of up to 200 liters. Macroscopic and microscopic use wear hint at the use of the grinding stones for massive plant food processing. This interpretation is based on a comparison with experimentally manufactured objects. During the experiments, use-wear was related to shapes and to the grinding motions as important analytical parameters.
The paper aims to reveal the role of plant food at Göbekli Tepe, and linked with this, economic and social factors related to the construction and maintenance of this important site.
(A longer and more extensive version of this text was originally published recently: O. Dietrich, J. Notroff, L. Dietrich, Masks and Masquerade in the Early Neolithic: A view from Upper Mesopotamia, Time and Mind 11:1, 2018, 3-21 [external link].)
Among early prehistoric masks, those from the Judean Hills and Desert [external link] can be considered the most prominent examples. These masks, made of stone and weighing up to approximately 2 kg, strike the modern observer with their almost expressionistic facial features – each is individual, as if depicting specific individuals or beings. Some have holes around the rim, probably to allow attaching them to something, or to actually wear them (although they are fairly heavy). Chronologically, the oldest of these Southern Levantine masks belong to the Pre-Pottery-Neolithic B, i.e. the mid 9th and 8th millennia BC. Since specimens excavated in the Nahal Hemar cave (Israel) in the early 1980s were found within an assemblage interpreted as ‘cultic’ a ritual use of these masks was assumed (Bar Yosef & Alon 1988). The Southern Levantine examples are special and important, but not unique in their period. Within the rich repertoire of sculpture from several contemporary sites in this region, a few artefacts with concave or flat rear backs stand out that could be interpreted as depitions of masks.
Figure 1: Miniature mask from Nevalı Çori (Drawing: K. Schmidt, courtesy of H. Hauptmann).
From Jerf el Ahmar, a PPNA A/transition to PPN B site in northern Syria (characterised by round and rectangular buildings with limestone foundations) two little stone heads are reported which show a conspicuous concave cavity on their backside (Jammous & Stordeur 1999; Stordeur & Abbès 2002). They are made from pebbles, only about 4 cm high and show eyes, a nose, and mouth. The backside of one of these objetcs is grooved, the other one concave. Another miniature stone mask of similar size is known from Nevalı Çori (Figure 1) in southeastern Turkey (Badisches Landesmuseum 2007, 292, nr. 110, Fig. 110; Hauptmann 2011, Fig. 17). Again eyes, nose, and mouth are depicted, the back is concave. From its find context, a middle-PPN B date can be assumed for this mask. Nevalı Çori furthermore has become well known as the first place there a characteristic element of PPN architecture of the region was discovered: T-shaped, apparently anthropomorphic, pillars which link it to another site nearby which also has produced a number of comparable masks: Göbekli Tepe.
Figure 2: Larger than life-sized mask from Göbekli Tepe (Photo: K. Schmidt, DAI).
A first, larger than life-sized (height: 42 cm) and complete human mask (Figure 2) made from limestone was found during clearance work before beginning of excavations in 1995 (Schmidt 1996: 2-3, Fig. 1). The depiction of the face is minimalistic, almost abstract. They eyes are very faint and the mouth is absent. Forehead and nose are carved in a geometrical manner, almost resembling a ‘T’. This manner of portraying the human face is characteristic also for three-dimensional anthropomorphic sculpture at Göbekli Tepe and thus a clear indicator that a human face is depicted here. Due to its height it seems too large to be actually worn, but could have been intended to be fixed to a wall or another kind of support.
Figure 3: Miniature mask from Göbekli Tepe (Photo: K. Schmidt, Drawing: Ç. Köksal-Schmidt, DAI).
The second example is another miniature (height: 5.7 cm), also made from limestone (Badisches Landesmuseum 2007: 275, No. 29, Fig. 29). It was found in the upper layers of the filling of Enclosure D in 2001 (Figure 3). With a concave rear like the specimen reported from Nevalı Çori, it follows the same minimalistic principle as the large mask from Göbekli Tepe. Again, it is clear that a human face is depicted, but individual characteristics are not given. The eyes are not even suggested here, a mouth is absent again.
Figure 4: Miniature mask from Göbekli Tepe, made from a flint cortex (Photo: N. Becker, DAI).
The third mask, a miniature again (height: 4.7 cm) is of a different type (Figure 4). Not only was it made from a flint cortex, it also is much more expressive, due to curved chevrons engraved into its forehead, not unlike the mask from Jerf el Ahmar discussed above. This may indicate a headdress, but the fairly low setting of the lines could also hint at tattooing or scarification. The back was not finished. This mask was found in 2010, high in the stratigraphy, during excavations in Enclosure H, next to (central) Pillar 51.
Figure 5: Miniature mask from Göbekli Tepe, engraved in a flint cortex (Photo: K. Schmidt, DAI).
A fourth miniature (height: 4.5 cm high) of a mask was also engraved into a flint cortex (Figure 5). Its form follows the reduced depiction of the face of the first two examples again, with more pronounced eyes. It was found in 2008 next to the eastern central pillar of Enclosure C.
While the first mask can only broadly be dated to the PPN as a surface find, the second mask from the filling of Enclosure D could indicate a PPN A date, as could the miniature mask from Enclosure C, with its position nearby one of the central pillars. Enclosure C has been damaged and disturbed in prehistory by a large pit directed at the central pillars, but the mask seems to come from an untouched floor layer. The third mask was found next to a central pillar of Enclosure H. The stone circle was also damaged and disturbed in prehistory already.
Three of the masks found at Göbekli Tepe have undoubtedly a similar style to the example from Nevalı Çori. They show non-individualized faces. However, at Göbekli Tepe the mouth is not depicted, while the Nevalı Çori mask almost gives the impression of a screaming face. Together with the finds from other sites, a large repertoire of masks in different styles is suggested. All types, with and without mouth, more individualized or abstract, are also well attested for in the large repertoire of limestone sculpture found at Göbekli Tepe (Figure 6). Their treatment during the refilling events can shed some light on aspects of the use of masks during the PPN at this site.
Figure 6: Selection of limestone heads from Göbekli Tepe, not to scale (Photos: N. Becker, D. Johannes, K. Schmidt, DAI).
Burial rites at Göbekli Tepe seem to have been applied to a part of a hierarchical system of anthropomorphic depictions. The enclosures’ central pillars are abstracted and clearly characterized as anthropomorphic. The surrounding pillars are also stylized, but smaller and contain zoomorphic decoration. They are orientated towards the central pillars and evoke the association of a gathering. Naturalistic anthropomorphic sculpture, which may partly depict masked people, is smaller and intentionally fragmented. The stone masks are strongly related to this category through form and deposition treatment. During backfilling of the enclosures, a selection of fragments, mostly (masked?) heads, and complete masks, was placed inside the filling, most often near the central pillars. If we assume that the stone masks are miniature or supra-sized representations of real organic masks actually worn, they could well attest that ritual activity at Göbekli Tepe and other sites included masquerade to the point where people became an active part within this complex mythology.
During the early Neolithic in the Near East, masks and masking possessed a significant role in rituals re-enacting mythological narratives closely related to death, taking place at sites with special purpose buildings and a noticeably rich iconography. This importance apparently justified the time-consuming and complicated manufacture of these praraphernalia as well as miniature and larger-than-life-sized representations of these items. A small amount of possible mask depictions in stone are all what remains of a presumably manifold Early Neolithic tradition of ritual masquerade.
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