The Tepe Telegrams

News & Notes from the Göbekli Tepe Research Staff

Cereals, feasts and monuments at Göbekli Tepe

We were asked in comments and messages to elaborate some more on the contents of our recent paper. So here is a short summary of the article recently published in PLoS ONE. For more information on the findings outlined here, please consult the original publication:

Dietrich L, Meister J, Dietrich O, Notroff J, Kiep J, Heeb J, et al. (2019) Cereal processing at Early Neolithic Göbekli Tepe, southeastern Turkey. PLoS ONE 14(5): e0215214.

Cereal food is one of the most important components of our modern diet. Its integration into human subsistence strategy during the late Epipalaeolithic (c. 12500–9600 cal BC) and Pre-Pottery Neolithic (PPN, c. 9600–7000 cal BC) has been recognized as a very long and complex process involving the selection and utilization of plants, strategies of exploitation of plants and land, the development of cultivation, and ways of processing, storing, and consuming plants. Widespread adoption of farming and agriculture at the end of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic (PPNB, c. 8800–7000 cal BC), the deliberate, large-scale cultivation of domesticated cereals and other plants, was predated by a longer period of experimentation and technological modification leading to the development of specialized tool kits for plant-food processing. Typical implements are e.g. pounding and grinding tools used in pairs, comprising a static low implement (mortar, grinding slab or grinding bowl) and an active upper tool that is moved across its surface (pestle or handstone).

Cereal use in the Early Neolithic
The regular processing of wild cereals through grinding seems to have been established first in the Late Natufian, as suggested by macrobotanical evidence as well as by morphological changes in grinding stones combined with use-wear analyses. Flat, large grinding stones and handstones became a supra-regional standard during the Levantine PPN, constituting an integral part of the architecture. Recent investigations have highlighted the area between the upper reaches of Euphrates and Tigris as one region where the transition to food-producing subsistence took place early during the Epipalaeolithic and the Pre-Pottery Neolithic. The distribution areas of the wild forms of einkorn, emmer wheat, barley and other ‘Neolithic founder crops’ overlap here and DNA fingerprinting has pinpointed the transition of two wild wheat variants to domesticated crops to this part of the Fertile Crescent. Systematic early plant use has been found at a variety of sites, like Cafer Höyük, Çayönü, Hallan Çemi, Jerf el Ahmar or Körtik Tepe.
Göbekli Tepe has not played any role in discussions of early cereal use so far. The reasons can be found – at least in part – in the problematic nature of direct evidence for cereals on site. Although analysis of macrobotanical remains indicates the presence of wild einkorn (Triticum cf. boeticum/urartu), wild barley (Hordeum cf. spontaneum) and possibly wild wheat/rye (Triticum/Secale), as well as almonds (Prunus sp.) and pistachio (Pistacia sp.) at Göbekli Tepe, only a conspicuously low amount of carbonized plant remains has been recovered, both in handpicked and in flotation samples.


Grinding tools from Göbekli Tepe. (A), (C) Neolithic handstones of type 1; (B) Neolithic handstone of type 2; (D) Experimental handstone of type 1, produced as copy of (C); (E, F) Neolithic grinding bowls (German Archaeological Institute, 3D-models H. Höhler-Brockmann and N. Schäkel).

However, Göbekli Tepe has not only produced an impressive set of architecture – monumental round to oval buildings with T-shaped limestone pillars, erected in an earlier phase, and smaller rectangular buildings, built around them in a partially contemporaneous and later phase – but also a unusually large number of over 7000 grinding tools. We analyzed these tools using an integrated approach of formal, experimental, and macro- / microscopical use-wear analyses.

Göbekli Tepe
As a first step in our analysis we had to determine the functional variation of these grinding tools, as a wide range of uses is attested archaeologically and ethnographically, ranging from cereal processing to pounding of meat or crushing of minerals. Grinding and pounding equipment from Göbekli Tepe was documented through 3D-modelling by structure from motion, and surfaces were macro- and microscopically analyzed for use-wear. We used replicas of the equipment identified on site to experimentally grind different materials and establish a reference collection for the identification of the observed traces. Further, phytolith samples taken from the sediments inside and outside buildings at Göbekli Tepe and from grinding stone surfaces allowed us to determine and quantify the presence of plants. Phytoliths were abundant in all nine soil samples examined, ranging from 0.5 to 3.0 million phytoliths per gram of sediment. Grass phytoliths were the most common group identified. The sediments inside the rectangular buildings largely contain markers for the upper and middle part of plants. This could be indicative of harvested cereals, as plants are usually collected and transported in sheaves. To contextualize the results, we assessed the spatial distribution of grinding equipment and identified potential activity areas.


We found that the most common types of handstones used at Göbekli Tepe show use-wear traces connected to cereal processing. Handstones with such traces concentrate in some of the rectangular buildings, but even more so in open spaces between and around them and the (at least partly) contemporary monumental round structures.
Building D was taken as a case study to asses grinding stone use within the latter. There, grinding equipment from the deepest layer, which appears to be connected to the partially intentional refilling of the structure, also shows traces of ochre, indicating its processing in this structure.
The overall quantity of 7268 analyzed grinding tools from Göbekli Tepe appears to be too high for simple daily use, given their relatively high productivity. A single handstone of the most common types could have produced an average of 4800 g flour within eight working hours, as our experiments show. If we assume that one person needs between 500 g and 1000 g of cereals daily as nutrients for survival, this amount would be enough to feed five to ten people.

The organization of work and food supply has always been a central question of research into Göbekli Tepe, as the construction and maintenance of the monumental architecture would have necessitated a considerable work force. Göbekli Tepe has a high concentration of distinctive architecture, often addressed as ‘special buildings’, which do not repeat the characteristic plans of domestic buildings from contemporaneous settlements. Extensively excavated settlement sites like Nevalı Çori or Çayönü have one ‘special building’ per settlement phase, while Göbekli Tepe has several, likely contemporary buildings of this type, which different groups of people likely used. For the buildings excavated so far, we have observed certain regularities governing the decoration of the 69 known pillars–mostly with animal motifs, but also with abstract signs. While in building A snake images prevail, in building B foxes are dominant. In building C boar take over, and in building D the imagery is more diverse with birds, especially vultures, playing a significant role. In building H felines are of importance. We see these differences in figurative expression as evidence for different groups of people ornamenting the buildings with the emblematic animals central to their group identities. The site has also produced a wide range of stationary and portable art, far outnumbering such finds from other contemporary sites. Many of the animal and human depictions are clearly marked as male, there are almost no clearly recognizable female depictions, a situation contrary to the materials known from settlements.
At the same time, Göbekli Tepe´s remote location on a barren mountain ridge is very unusual compared to the setting of contemporaneous Neolithic settlements, which are regularly located next to water sources. The construction of monumental architecture at Göbekli Tepe, and other similar sites in its vicinity, would have necessitated a workforce of hundreds of people even by conservative estimates. One model to explain cooperation in small-scale communities involves ritualized work feasts. M. Dietler and E. Herbich define work feasts as events in which “commensal hospitality is used to orchestrate voluntary collective labour,” the incentive to work together is provided by the prospect of large amounts of food and drink. The main archaeological marker for feasting would be evidence of the presence of larger amounts of foodstuffs and tools than needed by the inhabitants of a site for their subsistence. Through our analysis, we have identified evidence for Göbekli Tepe that fits that pattern for plant food. As no large storage facilities have been identified, we argue for a production of food for immediate consumption and interpret these seasonal peaks in activity at the site as evidence for the organization of large work feasts. This adds to archaeozoological data suggesting large-scale hunting of migratory gazelle between midsummer and autumn.

Cereal processing at Early Neolithic Göbekli Tepe, southeastern Turkey

We have finally published some thoughts on processing and use of cereals at Göbekli Tepe. As the text is open access, we will just leave the link , some beautiful images of phytoliths, use-wear and grinding stones as well as the abstract here:

Dietrich L, Meister J, Dietrich O, Notroff J, Kiep J, Heeb J, Beuger A,
Schütt B (2019) Cereal processing at Early Neolithic Göbekli Tepe,
southeastern Turkey. PLOS ONE 14(5): e0215214.

Grinding tools from Göbekli Tepe. (A), (C) Neolithic handstones of type 1; (B) Neolithic handstone of type 2; (D) Experimental handstone of type 1, produced as copy of (C); (E, F) Neolithic grinding bowls (German Archaeological Institute, 3D-models H. Höhler-Brockmann and N. Schäkel).


We analyze the processing of cereals and its role at Early Neolithic Göbekli Tepe, southeastern Anatolia (10th / 9th millennium BC), a site that has aroused much debate in archaeological discourse. To date, only zooarchaeological evidence has been discussed in regard to the subsistence of its builders. Göbekli Tepe consists of monumental round to oval buildings, erected in an earlier phase, and smaller rectangular buildings, built around them in a partially contemporaneous and later phase. The monumental buildings are best known as they were in the focus of research. They are around 20 m in diameter and have stone pillars that are up to 5.5 m high and often richly decorated. The rectangular buildings are smaller and–in some cases–have up to 2 m high, mostly undecorated, pillars. Especially striking is the number of tools related to food processing, including grinding slabs/bowls, handstones, pestles, and mortars, which have not been studied before. We analyzed more than 7000 artifacts for the present contribution. The high frequency of artifacts is unusual for contemporary sites in the region. Using an integrated approach of formal, experimental, and macro- / microscopical use-wear analyses we show that Neolithic people at Göbekli Tepe have produced standardized and efficient grinding tools, most of which have been used for the processing of cereals. Additional phytolith analysis confirms the massive presence of cereals at the site, filling the gap left by the weakly preserved charred macro-rests. The organization of work and food supply has always been a central question of research into Göbekli Tepe, as the construction and maintenance of the monumental architecture would have necessitated a considerable work force. Contextual analyses of the distribution of the elements of the grinding kit on site highlight a clear link between plant food preparation and the rectangular buildings and indicate clear delimitations of working areas for food production on the terraces the structures lie on, surrounding the circular buildings. There is evidence for extensive plant food processing and archaeozoological data hint at large-scale hunting of gazelle between midsummer and autumn. As no large storage facilities have been identified, we argue for a production of food for immediate use and interpret these seasonal peaks in activity at the site as evidence for the organization of large work feasts.

A rather odd figure: The so-called Kilisik Sculpture from Adıyaman, Turkey

The apparently anthropomorphic appearance and meaning of (at least some of) the T-shaped pillars known from Göbekli Tepe, Nevalı Çori (and likely many of the other sites with similar pillars in the area too) could have been convincingly explained by a number of very characteristic details depicted in reliefs on these pillars. Among them arms and hands as well as stola-like garments and, in the case of Göbekli Tepe’s Pillars 18 and 31 (in Building D), even belts and loincloths.

D1Js5VPWoAA0bxt.jpg large

The characteristic T-pillars can be recognized as larger-than-life human(-like) sculptures due to a number of specific elements. (Illustration: J. Notroff)

It was the discovery of these peculiar new type of T-shaped pillars, for the first time excavated in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic settlement of Nevalı Çori on the middle Euphrates (like Göbekli Tepe in Şanlıurfa Province) in the 1980s [external link], which also shed new light onto another find – until then rather considered an archaeological oddity – of a unique piece of sculpture: The so-called Kilisik Sculpture found in 1965 near Adıyaman in southeastern Turkey.

The sculpture was originally found by a local farmer and purchased from him by two archaeology students working at the excavations in Arsameia “about an hour by horse north-west of the Roman bridge in the village of Kilisik” and later transferred to the Archaeological Museum in Adıyaman (Hauptmann 2012, 18-20). The stele is measuring c. 80 cm in height and carved from limestone, the conspiciously T-shaped head shows a broader back and rather slim face with an emphasized nose and only suggested eyes. Arms are depicted on both sides of the body, the hands meeting above the belly at some bulge which can be identified as head of another, smaller figure below. Whose left arm is more or less hanging down, but the right hand seems to reach towards its lower body – where a circular hollow was carved into the stone (Hauptmann 2012, 20 (in an earlier interpretation, Hauptmann (2000, 8-9) even discussed the possibility to read head and body of the smaller figure as navel and penis depictions, cf. also Verhoeven 2001)). Whether or not this hollow already was part of the sculpture’s original design or was later added (maybe for a phallus to be mounted or something similar, or to indicate a hermaphroditic nature of the figure as e.g. Hodder and Meskell (2011, 238) suggested) remains unclear.

Although its original find context still could not have been figured out (Hauptmann (2012, 18) suggested an early Neolithic settlement north of the village), the Kilisik Sculpture is an extraordinary find among depictions and sculptures of that period due to its specific shape, apparently combining characteristics of very different elements of other types of known Neolithic sculpture:

  1. While significantly smaller, it still shares the rather abstract T-form of the much larger (in case of Göbekli Tepe up to 5.5 m high) T-pillars – including the depiction of arms on the sides and hands above the ‘stomach’.

    Göbekli Tepe_Fig. 3

    Pillar 31 in Building D showing anthropomorphic features like hands and arms and pieces of clothing (Photo: N. Becker, DAI).

  2. The sculpture’s face, however, in particular the emphasised nose, resembles a group of more naturalistic, often (but not exclusively) life-sized human sculptures, of which the one from Urfa-Yeni Mahalle (so-called Urfa Man) may be the best known example (showing a similar gesture, also reaching towards the lower body, both hands covering (and hiding) the genitals – or pointing towards a small hollow (into which, again, a phallus could have been inserted?)). From Göbekli Tepe there are known at least a number of limestone heads (originally most probably belonging to similar sculptures) – also featuring the characteristic nose part of the face.
  3. Finally, the Kilisik Sculpture combining a larger figure grabbing a smaller one by its head below again is reminiscent of another peculiar find of a large composite sculpture from Göbekli Tepe – featuring a larger animal (?) with human-like arms grabbing for another individual’s head, and yet another, smaller, figure underneath. A similar, also composite sculpture was furthermore discovered almost 20 years earlier at Nevalı Çori too (Schmidt 2012, 73-76).


    Composite sculpture from Göbekli Tepe (Photo: N. Becker, DAI).


This combination of very specific and very different elements and ideas makes the sculpture from Kilisik so special among Pre-Pottery Neolithic image representations and forms an interesting link between the various types of sculptural art of the period. Hauptmann (2012, 22) even suggested to interpret this scene as a ‘mother and child’ motive (known i.a. from two of Nevalı Çori’s clay figurines). In this case the Kilisik example would represent the first female depiction to be associated with the T-shaped sculptures. Since the depiction lacks clear sexual characteristics, this remains a rather vague and ambivalent possibility asking for further research. The Kilisik Sculpture, however, already could demonstrate that with a growing number of such finds our understanding of the complexity of early Neolithic art is still increasing.


H. Hauptmann, Ein frühneolithisches Kultbild aus Kommagene, in: J. Wagner (ed.), Gottkönige am Euphrat. Neue Ausgrabungen und Forschungen in Kommagene, Mainz 2000, 5-9.

H. Hauptmann, Frühneolithische Kultbilder in der Kommagene, in J. Wagner (ed.), Gottkönige am Euphrat. Neue Ausgrabungen und Forschungen in Kommagene, 2. erweiterte Auflage , Darmstadt/Mainz 2012, 13-22. [external link]

I. Hodder and L. Meskell, A “Curious and Sometimes a Trifle Macabre Artistry. Some Aspects of Symbolism in Neolithic Turkey, Current Anthropology 52(2), 2011, 235-263. [external link]

K. Schmidt, A Stone Age Sanctuary in South- Eastern Anatolia, Berlin 2012.

M. Verhoeven, Person or Penis? Interpreting a ‘New’ PPNB Anthropomorphic Statue from the Taurus Foothills, Neo-Lithics 1/01, 2001, 8-9. [external link]

New Publication: “Ritual Practices and Conflict Mitigation at Early Neolithic Körtik Tepe and Göbekli Tepe”

Again the Göbekli Tepe research project did have the great pleasure contributing to another volume edited by Ian Hodder (Stanford University, California) which has been been recently published: Violence and the Sacred in the Ancient Near East. Girardian Conversations at Çatalhöyük” (Cambridge University Press, 2019) [external link] brings together scholars of the mimetic theory of René Girard, for whom human violence is rooted in the rivalry that stems from imitation and archaeologists working at the Neolithic sites of Çatalhöyük and Göbekli Tepe in Turkey. At both sites there is evidence of religious practices that center on wild animals, often large and dangerous in form. Is it possible that these wild animals were ritually killed in the ways suggested by Girardian theorists? Were violence and the sacred intimately entwined and were these the processes that made possible and even stimulated the origins of farming in the ancient Near East?

Offering a perspective from Göbekli Tepe and related sites, our team contributed a paper (by Lee Clare, Oliver Dietrich, Julia Gresky, Jens Notroff, Joris Peters, Nadja Pöllath) on “Ritual Practices and Conflict Mitigation at Early Neolithic Körtik Tepe and Göbekli Tepe, Upper Mesopotamia” (pp. 96-128):

“The cognitive principles of the social brain have remained unaltered since their appearance in anatomically modern humans in Africa some 200,000 years ago. However, by the Early Holocene these capacities, were being challenged by the outcomes of newly emerging lifeways , commonly referred to as ‘Neolithic’. Growing levels of sedentism and new and expanding social networks, were prompting a unique series of behavioural and cultural responses. In recent years, research at the early Neolithic (PPNA) occupation site of Körtik Tepe has provided evidence for heightened levels of interpersonal violence and homicide; yet, at the same time, there are no indications in the present archaeological record for between-group fighting (‘warfare’). In this study, we investigate whether this scenario, at a time when we might expect to see a rise in inter community frictions in the wake of adjusting subsistence strategies and socio-political boundaries, can be at least partially explained by René Girard’s mimetic theory. To this end we consult the pictorial repertoire from the contemporaneous and extraordinary site of Göbekli Tepe.”

Book Details

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Expected online publication date: March 2019
Print publication year: 2019
Online ISBN: 9781108567626

(Detailed table of contents and introduction chapter available on publishers website.)

On Air: National Geographic’s “Riddle of the Stone Age Giants”

A new National Geographic Channel [external link] documentary movie about current state of research and excavations at Göbekli Tepe, filmed last year and titled “Riddle of the Stone Age Giants” [external link] has premiered February 24th. The show is as an update to an earlier NatGeo documentary (“Cradle of the Gods” [external link] from 2011), but also collects enough new material to become a full feature special and can be viewed online on the channels website here [external link] (for viewers accessing the site from the US).

Update: A localized Turkish version of the documentary was just announced [external link] to be aired March 17 via National Geographic Türkiye. A German version is scheduled later this May.

Building with big stones. – Or: There is no globe-spanning ‘Megalithic Culture’.

Recently a colleague from the University of Gothenburg, Bettina Schulz Paulsson, published a most interesting study [external link] about the origin and evolution of megalithic constructions in Europe (Schulz Paulsson 2019). Since we received quite a number of questions and comments about the absence of any reference to the Göbekli Tepe monuments in the discussion, we thought this could be a good opportunity to address a wider misunderstanding regarding megalithic phenomenona throughout the world: It is important to note that there is no one globe-spanning ‘Megalithic Culture’, but rather megalithic cultures (plural) – building with great (Greek: mégas) stone (Greek: líthos).

Dolmen de la Frébouchère, France. (Photo: Wladyslaw, Creative Commons: CC-BY-SA 3.0).

In her analysis, Schulz Paulsson looked into the origin of a very specific type of European Neolithic monuments known from the Atlantic coast up to Scandinavia: So-called dolmens, which are basically built of large stone slabs, piled on top of each other, much resembling giant tables. These monuments were erected above ground and most often covered by a mound of stones or soil. Archaeological research could demonstrate that these can be considered megalithic tombs (e.g. i.a. Montelius 1907; Joussaume 1985; Sherrat 1990; Cummings and Richards 2014). The current study could demonstrate, based on more than 2,400 radiocarbon dates from such megalithic constructions and their surroundings and Bayesian modelling (cf. e.g. Bronk Ramsey 2009), that the first megalithic tombs of this type seem to date about 4,800 BC in the Channel Islands, Corsica, Sardinia – and north-western France. But only in the latter region there are also known similar earthen grave monuments actually preceding the first megaliths. Since the other regions are lacking any similar related earlier structures, the possible origin of this specific building tradition apparently thus could be tracked back to the Paris basin (if this really means megalithic building tradition in Europe is necessarily the result of cultural diffusion may be worth a discussion of its own; in an earlier comment, University College London’s David Wengrow noted the interesting possibility of similar underlying principles and related skills in maritime techniques (dragging and lifting canoes) and megalith transport [external link]).

Göbekli Tepe, Building D. (Photo: DAI)

But what about Göbekli Tepe now? First of all, the monumental structures excavated in south-eastern Turkey are significantly older (dating to the 10th millennium BC) – and also significantly different from the European megalithic tombs discussed in Schulz Paulsson’s study. Although a relation to mortuary ritual may be discussed for activities having taken place at Göbekli Tepe as well (cf. Notroff et al. 2016; Gresky et al. 2017), according current state of research these buildings were not primarily constructed as graves (to this day no related burials were found), but as place of complex social gatherings, exchange and communication. Unlike the European dolmens, Göbekli Tepe’s monuments consist of monolithic T-shaped pillars arranged in considerably larger circles, grouping around another pair of similar pillars. Dry-stone walls and stone benches are connecting these pillars, forming the characteristic huge circular structures.

So, to cut a long discussion short: While there is a clear typological, regional, and chronological relation between several of the European megalithic constructions, no link whatsoever leads to (or from) the Pre-Pottery Neolithic monuments in Anatolia. These are very different structures of a very different construction type and a very different function. From different periods and geographical regions, thousands of kilometres and years apart. There are no intermediate forms bridging this huge gap, no other finds suggesting any such relation.



Chr. Bronk Ramsey, Bayesian Analysis of Radiocarbon Dates, Radiocarbon 51(1), 2009, 337-360. [external link]

V. Cummings and C. Richards, The essence of the dolmen: the Architecture of megalithic construction / Préhistoires Méditerranéennes [En ligne], Colloque |2014, mis en ligne le 25 novembre 2014, consulté le 05 mars 2019 [external link].

J. Gresky, J. Haelm, L. Clare, Modified human crania from Göbekli Tepe provide evidence for a new form of Neolithic skull cult, Science Advances 3(6), 2017, e1700564. [external link]

R. Joussaume, Des dolmens pour les morts, Paris 1985.

O. Montelius, Dolmens en France et en Suède, Le Mans 1907.

J. Notroff, O. Dietrich, K. Schmidt, Gathering of the Dead? The Early Neolithic sanctuaries of Göbekli Tepe, Southeastern Turkey, in: C. Renfrew, M. J. Boyd and Iain Morley (eds.), Death Rituals, Social Order and the Archaeology of Immortality in the Ancient World. “Death Shall Have no Dominion”, Cambridge 2016, 65-81.

A. Sherratt, The genesis of megaliths: Monumentality, ethnicity and social complexity in Neolithic north-west Europe, World Archaeology 22, 1990,147-167. [external link]

B. Schulz Paulsson, Radiocarbon dates and Bayesian modeling support maritime diffusion model for megaliths in Europe, PNAS 116(9), 2019, 3460-3465. [external link]

Tracking Analogies: The Shigir Idol from the Urals

In 1894 a very special discovery was made in a peat bog c. 100 km north of Jekatarinburg in the Urals. Gold miners discovered fragments of an originally possibly 5.3 m high wooden sculpture carved from a piece of larch. In addition to geometrical motifs, the truly monumental sculpture is decorated with eight human faces on its front – and back side. Missing clear analogies, the date of this exceptional sculpture was long uncertain and topic of research debate. Only in 2014 a series of radiocarbon dates finally resolved the issue: The Shigir idol dates to around 9,600 cal BC (according latest analyses (Zhilin et al. 2018).

At this point in time, there is only one other site that has produced human respectively human-like monumental depictions – Göbekli Tepe. There is a considerable geographic distance between both sites, however, which makes direct contacts and interaction not the most probable explanation for these apparent similarities. Even more, certain methodological issues have to be emphasised here: The Shigir bog has exceptionally good conditions for wood preservation, at Göbekli Tepe and other contemporary sites of the Urfa region, durable stone was chosen to produce monumental imagery (of course, the lack of preserved wooden images does not exclude their former existence, carving techniques visible with Göbekli Tepe’s and other site’s rich stone art may well have been developed in wood here too). We are thus looking at two very special areas and distinctive situations here, and other regions between both phenomenons may as well have been rich in comparable imagery – which  is just not preserved.

If we travel south from Göbekli Tepe to the Middle Euphrates region, there are sites like Jerf el Ahmar, with ‘special buildings’ that have much in common with the Göbekli Tepe structures.  Jerf el Ahmar is a Pre-Pottery Neolithic A / transition to PPN B site in northern Syria characterized by round and rectangular buildings with limestone foundations. There, large subterranean round buildings with benches along the walls have been discovered. And, noteworthily in the context of this discussion, these buildings included wooden posts. If these were decorated, remains unknown, but would certainly be a possibility worth consideration. It is important to keep this in mind when discussing such extraordinary finds and possibly far-reaching analogies: Much of the picture archaeology can draw today depends on original building style and the materials used – and surviving remains preserved to this day.

Further reading

Zhilin, M., Savchenko, S., Hansen, S., Heussner, K., & Terberger, T. (2018). Early art in the Urals: New research on the wooden sculpture from Shigir. Antiquity, 92(362), 334-350. doi:10.15184/aqy.2018.48

Communicating research: A short report on outreach and science communication

We started this weblog in 2016 as part of an (at least for us) new approach to the communication of our research in the frame of the Göbekli Tepe excavations. Since then this online presence has been constantly growing – with meanwhile 143 contributions, about 53,000 yearly visitors and 127,000 site impressions (thanks a lot!) even beyond a scale we would have hardly imagined when we came up with the idea originally. Science communication has become an important part of our daily work – in archaeology and science in general as a still increasing interest constantly proves. Therefore we were looking to exchange the experiences and impressions gained over the last years, engaging in a discussion with colleagues to larn about other approaches and strategies how to best present research and results to a broader public audience – and to consequently develop the contents provided here.

With the annual meeting of the European Association of Archaeologists [external link] we found a great platform to reach out to and discuss with colleagues from all over the world. Together with our colleague Matt Knight from the University of Exeter we organised a session on “Communicating Archaeology and Cultural Heritage in a Post-Factual Age” (more details here) which was finally taking place in early September last year at the EAA’s conference on “Reflecting Futures” in Barcelona, Spain [external link]. We are very happy that many colleagues and active communicators joined us for this session, presenting their own work and experience in the field – and engaging in a really lively and producitve discussion.

Please find here a short report on session, individual presentations, the following discussion and outcome (originally published as: O. Dietrich and J. Notroff, Hashtag Scicomm: communicating archaeology in a post-factual age. Report on Session 371 at the 24th EAA Annual Meeting in Barcelona, Spain, TEA 59, 2019 [external link].)


Report on Session 371 at the 24th EAA Annual Meeting in Barcelona, Spain

Archaeology has been engaged in a constant dialogue with the public right from its beginnings as a scientific discipline. Spectacular discoveries have stirred large-scale interest and became positive icons associated with our field. Stories of search and discovery often glorify archaeology as adventure, and whether we like it or not many of us will have been associated with Indiana Jones once or twice.

On a much darker note, the 20th century has seen archaeology being misused to support political totalitarianism and extremist ideologies. And today, with archaeology enjoying a wide popularity, there still are attempts to exploit the past. Recent methodological developments like aDNA studies offer great opportunities, but also threaten bringing back these ghosts of the past by apparently offering possibilities to track ‘population continuity’ and migration back in time. There is one essential measure to counter and avoid misuse of our research and data, models and interpretations: active science communication – by archaeologists.

Traditional outreach methods, like museums, documentaries, and popular books or articles, have been complemented by digital tools. But whatever approach is chosen, one element remains of critical importance: Credible experts who can convey the essence of archaeological research to the public. This is the point, where science in general and archaeology are vulnerable, now probably more than a decade or two ago. Facts seem to have become negotiable, and ‘alternative facts’ can be proposed. Discussions on the past have found new platforms, detached from academia and academic discourse.

Our session at the 2018 annual meeting of the EAA in Barcelona set out to explore the following questions:

  • How can archaeologists keep their role as interpreters and communicators of the past, or should they keep that role at all?
  • In which ways can we credibly counter misuse of archaeological research, the past and cultural heritage? What is ‘misuse’, what is legitimate?
  • What are reasonable ways to reach out – and to engage with the public?
  • How may approaches be assessed to discontinue ineffective – and unethical – communication practices?

Seven oral contributions and two posters addressed these questions from very diverse points of view. Our own contribution (Jens Notroff, Oliver Dietrich) detailed experience from more than 10 years of communicating archaeological research from Göbekli Tepe, an excavation project of the German Archaeological Institute in cooperation with the Archaeological Museum Şanlıurfa (Turkey) funded by the German Research Foundation, that has seen particular public and media interest. Göbekli Tepe has produced very early monumental architecture in a hunter-gatherer milieu (10th/9th millennium BC) and has far-reaching implications for the history of the whole Neolithization process. The project has seen an ever-growing media interest right from the start, peaks in interest occurred with popular science publications or controversies, like a 2007 story on the location of the ‘Garden of Eden’ or diverse attempts to integrate it into the ‘Ancient Aliens’ narrative. In an era of quick and far spreading information through webpages, online discussion boards, blogs, and self-produced ‘documentary’ videos, traditional outreach media turned out to be too slow, with too little actual reach – and too distant from the spaces where ensuing discussions by an audience actively engaging with such narratives actually take place. The easiest and most simple solution was to carry our own outreach attempts to these places. This led to the creation of a research weblog to disseminate information often requested via e-mails before, but also to provide a platform for discussions with actual access to latest research – and researchers. Blog content helped to reduce the daily workload (caused by the public requests mentioned before), but also turned out an efficient way to comment on controversies regarding the site, like e.g. a recent claim linking the site’s complex iconography with an unproven fatal comet impact that supposedly may have triggered the Younger Dryas.

Hanna Pageau pointed out that science communication is often expected to be handled by the most vulnerable groups in academia. She promoted ‘allyship’ (in action, not only lip service) as integral part of good communication outreach to combat ‘fake news’ as propaganda tool and wider trends of abuse and miscommunication as well as making sure the communities affected by research and outreach benefit from the whole process as well.

Tine Schenck, Linn Marie Krogsrud, and Emily Wapshott started with the observation that not archaeologists, but other professions with different background and different agendas, e.g. journalists or movie directors, dominate the communication of archaeological research to a wider audience. To offer a communication network with alternative communication strategies, they launched ArchaeologistsEngage [external link], an organization with the aim to tear down the barrier between archaeologists and the public and to open up the discussion by enabling a direct and non-hierarchical exchange between scientists and audience through local events, blogs and social media.

Jana Anvari and Eva Rosenstock analyzed one particularly influential topos in contemporary popular scientific discussions about archaeology and the Stone Age: ‘Neolithic Doom’ – the hypothesis that the transition to agriculture had predominantly negative long-term effects. They collected the impressive number of 150 different negative outcomes, especially for human health, social structure, and environment, attributed to the Neolithization process in popular literature. Interestingly (but not surprisingly), archaeologists have nearly no voice in this discussion, which is dominated by authors with academic training (in other disciplines though) and non-archaeological sources. Apparently, archaeologists seem to be largely unaware of the public interest in one of their key research topics and fail to engage in the debate.

Kathrin Schmitt highlighted that issues of ‘post-factuality’ or ‘alternative’ narratives can only be addressed by developing a deep understanding of the concept of factuality and the production of facts through language. Therefore archaeologists should become aware of biases in their own way of writing history: colonialisms, eurocentrisms and androcentrisms are included in many narratives which are considered to be ‘objective’ or ‘neutral’ presentations of history and are presented as facts to the public. Thus, awareness should be raised that language is not a neutral communication tool, neither within our field, nor in communicating research results to a public audience.

Carlo Baione presented two practical examples of digital outreach (at the Roman site of Poggio del Molino and the Museo Etrusco di Populonia), underlining how digitalization means accessibility. He showed how linking de-contextualized objects from Populonia back to their original find contexts (via 3D-models of the Etruscan graves they were taken from) can help raising awareness for the importance of context in archaeology ( At Poggio de Molino digital 3D-documentation is not only part of the archaeological workflow, but also shared with the public to directly communicate excavation results (

Zsanett Abonyi and Zoltán Havas talked about communication strategies and chances to attract visitors from the point of view of the Aquincum Museum in Budapest. The museum is not located in the city center where tourists naturally concentrate and had to cope with the increasing trend of visitors expecting interaction and entertainment, beyond traditional exhibitions. Aquincum is closely associated with the Roman emperor Hadrian. The museum successfully tried to use the acquaintance of younger adults with that fact (from school) and modern marketing strategies to create a brand surrounding the historical figure, a new trademark – also by organizing a thematic year surrounding the emperor with a diverse set of activities. The identification of a new target group and active outreach helped to significantly increase visitor numbers.

Magdalena Kozicka & Ewa Wielocha presented a poster on their work-experience with the participation in cultural events, touristic arrangements and historic reenactment activities as means of public outreach. The ‘Society of Archaeology Students’ associated with the Toruń University´s Institute of Archaeology is regularly participating in medieval everyday life reenactment – aimed at a public audience of diverse age and interest. They emphasized how interaction, i.e. talking with, not at people is the key to successful science communication.

Dragana Filipovic, Kristina Penezic, Milorad Ignjatović & Nenad Tasić presented their outreach efforts included in the most recent research phase at the site of Vinča, promoting the site itself and the archaeological research conducted there, as well as correcting frequent misinterpretations of the site in public perception. Between a wide range of indirect-passive (e.g. presentations, reconstructions), direct-active (gallery and open air exhibitions, public lectures) and interactive approaches (themed presentations organized for specific target groups, informal conversations with archaeologists), the most effective way, as turned out again, was inclusive interaction between presenters and audiences.

Summing up session results and lively debate afterwards, there are a couple of topics and issues raised in all contributions:

  1. Effective science communication can only take place when perceived and real hierarchical barriers are low or, preferably, non-existent. This can be achieved in different ways: one is the use of so-called social media or weblogs, where people can directly express own thoughts and questions and are enabled to actually interact with experts on the subject directly. The other one are specifically designed events, which grant access to archaeologists / specialists in person, creating a communication situation on eye-level.
  2. Efficient science communication is increasingly considered to be of importance, but mostly done by early career researchers – additionally to their daily workload. Institutions thus should include science communication into project planning (including funding relevant positions).
  3. Archaeology needs to critically revise a part of its own narratives and must increase presence and participation in public discourse directly touching our own fields of interest and research.

Current state of research: New with Göbekli Tepe-Project coordinator Lee Clare

Arkeofili [external link], a Turkish online magazine and portal dedicated to archaeological news and reports on archaeological sites and discoveries in Turkey and the world again approached DAI’s Göbekli Tepe research staff with a couple of questions regarding the current state of research (for another interview in 2016 see here).

The interview was translated into Turkish and can be found on the Arkeofili website [external link], where an English version has been published as well [external link]. We are sharing the latter here with kind permission from the Arkeofili staff.


Building archaeological recording underway in the southeast hollow (main excavation area) at Göbeklitepe (September 2018). The new permanent shelter provides visitors not only with unprecedented views of the excavated monumental buildings but also allows them to get close to the archaeologists working at the site. (Photo: DAI, Göbekli Tepe Archive)

Unknowns About Göbeklitepe

(Interview by Arkeofili staff with Lee Clare, DAI.)

1. What is Göbeklitepe? Is it a temple?

First and foremost, Göbeklitepe is a prehistoric site from the late 10th and 9th millennia BC (~9,500-8,000 BC). It is an artificial mound – or höyük – comprising archaeological deposits from a period lasting some 1500 years. These deposits include architectural structures, midden deposits and sediment accumulations. Excavations have produced large amounts of faunal and botanical remains, flint and groundstone artefacts, as well as animal and human depictions and sculptures.

Turning to the interpretation of the site, I have always stressed that the proposed function of Göbeklitepe as a “temple” is highly problematic. As it stands, this term would presuppose, for example, the existence of deities and a trained clergy. Furthermore, it would imply that the “temples” – in addition to being a place for divine worship – exercised some form of economic power. This interpretation is wholly unrealistic for the Stone Age communities living in the tenth and ninth millennia BC. Such “temple economies” do not appear until at least the late Chalcolithic / Bronze Age.

Certainly, this realization does not change the fact that the large T-pillar buildings discovered at Göbeklitepe are very special. Indeed, they are among the earliest monumental buildings known to us anywhere in the world. As to their function(s), of course, they would have played an important part in the ritual traditions of the community, as implied by their sheer monumentality and long biographies. However, the buildings would have had other crucial functions, not least as spaces for social gatherings and as physical expressions of local traditions and identity, as suggested by the numerous depictions of animals, humans and related symbolism.


Building D at Göbeklitepe is the best preserved of the monumental buildings so far excavated. The T-shaped pillars reach a height of approx. 5,5 metres and are carved from one piece of limestone. Interpreted as stylised representations of human-beings, the T-pillars appear to congregate (as if participating at a meeting) around the two taller central pillars. (Photo: DAI, Göbekli Tepe Archive)

2. Is Göbeklitepe a meeting point?

Strictly, speaking, all settlements are “meeting points”. Göbeklitepe would certainly have attracted groups and individuals from other sites and regions. However, we should not ignore that Göbeklitepe is one settlement in a whole network of T-pillar sites which would have existed in the Şanlırfa region some 11,000 years ago. Not only this, there are many other contemporaneous sites known from along the Upper Euphrates in northern Syria, and further east in the upper Tigris region (Körtik Tepe, Gusir Höyük, Hasankeyf Höyük) and northern Iraq. Göbeklitepe was one cog in a whole early Neolithic mechanism, and we would do well to remember that. An archaeological site should ever be considered independent of its chronological and cultural context.


The two central T-pillars of Building D were inserted into carved pedestals. The building itself was constructed upon the natural limestone bedrock which had been carefully smoothed. The area between the two pillars has not yet been excavated. The fill of the monumental buildings typically comprises fist-sized limestone rubble, stone artefacts, and large amounts of animal (and occasional human) bones. (Photo: DAI, Göbekli Tepe Archive)

3. What time of the year hunter gatherers were came together in Göbekli? Is there any information about that?

Of course, hunter-gatherers are highly mobile, they have to be; however, we also know that they can live in semi-sedentary and even sedentary settlements. This is something that we are currently investigating at Göbeklitepe. In other words, we desperately need to re-assess the paradigm that has emerged around the site over the last two decades: We were told that Göbeklitepe was a purely ritual site, lacking domestic activities; we were told that there was no water at the site to support (semi-)sedentary communities; and we were told that great feasts were held to coerce a workforce to construct the monumental buildings. It is time to scrutinize these (and other) conclusions, based not only on new archaeological evidence but also with a revised theoretical approach. Unfortunately, the present Göbeklitepe paradigm is proving difficult to tame. And let me be quite clear, it is not about forging a new version of the paradigm, and my statements here are not meant to be disrespectful to any of the colleagues who have worked at the site in the past. It is only natural that new discoveries and approaches lead to new interpretations. This is science.


Pillar 18 (P18) is the eastern of the two central pillars in Building D. The carved human attributes are clearly visible, including the arm (bent at the elbow) and the two hands resting on its stomach. On the narrow (front) side of the pillar a belt and loincloth can be made out. Under its arm P18 appears to be carrying a fox. (Photo: DAI, Göbekli Tepe Archive)

4. What has Göbeklitepe changed about what we know about history?

Well, I suppose that Göbeklitepe has changed our perception of late hunter-gatherer societies in that we now know that these groups were capable of constructing monumental buildings with monolithic T-shaped pillars carved from local limestone. But again, why just Göbeklitepe? This was already known from Nevali Çori, and T-pillars are now known from numerous other contemporaneous sites in and around Şanlıurfa.

Another important point: It is frequently stated that demands on subsistence during the construction of the megalithic buildings at Göbeklitepe could have encouraged the domestication of wild resources, i.e. with the newly domesticated plants and animals providing a more reliable source of food for the hungry workforce. In line with this statement, it is argued that “religion” triggered the invention of agriculture and settled life… and that this happened at Göbeklitepe.

Personally, I would distance myself from all such statements. The emergence of Neolithic lifeways is a process which stretches over many millennia, starting well before Göbeklitepe. Indeed, there were sedentary hunter-gatherer groups living in the Near East and harvesting wild grasses and cereals long before the first monumental buildings were hewn from the limestone plateau at Göbeklitepe. Not only this, so far, there is absolutely no viable evidence for domesticated plants or animals at Göbeklitepe; everything is still wild. Once again, I feel that the bigger picture is being ignored in favour of just one archaeological site, no matter how impressive that site is.


Pillar 43 (P43) Building D features a vast array of different images, including animals, geometric patterns, and perhaps even depictions of the monumental buildings themselves. P43 also features one of the very few images of a human-being found carved onto a pillar (bottom right). The individual is male (phallus) and decaptitated. (Photo: DAI, Göbekli Tepe Archive)

5. Last year, fragments of three carved human skulls have been uncovered in Göbeklitepe and researchers said that it could be a part of skull cult. Is there any other evidence about the skull cults in Göbekli?

Yes, these skull fragments featured deep incisions which suggest that they were decorated and perhaps even (publically?) displayed. As far as we know, skulls with such deep incisions (carvings) are unknown at other sites in Anatolia/Near East. Nevertheless, the obsession of 9th and 8thmillennium BC communities with the human head is nothing new. The removal of the skull from the dead and the their subsequent manipulation, including the recreation of facial features using plaster and other forms of decoration, as well as their deposition, also as skull caches, have been documented at numerous sites. In fact, I would have been surprised had Göbeklitepe not produced evidence for “skull cult”. Its existence was previously suggested, for example, by the depiction of a headless man on Pillar 43 (P43) in Building D, and numerous “decapitated” human sculptures found at the site.

6. What could depictions on the steles telling us? Is there any human depiction?

Well, this is the big question and there is no simple answer. You are perhaps aware that the T-shaped pillars themselves are depictions of the human form; this is especially evident if you take a look at the two central pillars in Building D with their carvings (in low-relief) of arms, hands, belts and loincloths. If we consider that all the T-pillars in the monumental buildings represent humans, then what we are witnessing in the monumental buildings at Göbeklitepe is a gathering or meeting: Numerous individuals are depicted sitting around two larger individuals who are standing in a central position within the structure.

I believe strongly that the identity of the T-pillar individuals was well known to the communities who created and used these buildings. Again, this is suggested by the two aforementioned central T-pillars in Building D which are shown with different amulets about their “necks”. Additionally, the eastern of the two central pillars (Pillar 18/P18) appears to be shown carrying a fox beneath its right arm. What we are seeing here are clear elements of a longer and broader narrative. What that narrative is, we cannot say with certainty. What we observe, however, is that these narratives featured many of the animals which would have been sharing the landscapes with the hunter-gatherers at this time (snakes, wild boar, aurochs, to name but a few). Indeed, the lives of humans and animals would have been inextricably intertwined.

Therefore, in addition to the important role that (human) ancestors would have played for the Göbeklitepe communities (as implied by the skull cult) the special significance of wild animals should not be overlooked. The prehistoric populations would have known – far better than we do today – the very individual characteristics and behaviors of the depicted species. Without a doubt, each of these animals would have had its own special place in the oral narratives and traditions of the day. Particular species may have featured in foundation myths or were associated with very specific individuals or groups (and their respective traits). Especially the mighty aurochs could have played a special role at Göbeklitepe, as suggested by the frequent depictions of this animal and its bucrania on the some of the pillars. Notably, the tradition of bull-baiting (and with it the significance of this animal) continues throughout the subsequent centuries and millennia, and appears, for example, at the much younger Neolithic site of Çatalhöyük (~7th millennium BC).


Dr. Lee Clare working in Building D, September 2018. (Photo: DAI, Göbekli Tepe Project)

7. Currently, what are the primary research questions you’re seeking answers to?

Our research has many different foci, including lithic and groundstone analyses, building archaeology, stratigraphy, archaeo-zoology, absolute chronology, landscape archaeology… As mentioned previously, our scientific research is currently in what I would refer to as a “transitional phase”. Freed of its old paradigm, I believe that we will see Göbeklitepe in a completely different light. The primary research questions therefore remain the same: When and by whom were the monumental buildings constructed? How long were they used for and what do we know about their biographies? Was there a permanent settlement at Göbeklitepe? What does the symbolism tell us about the beliefs and traditions of prehistoric communities in the 10th and 9th millennia BC? What do we now about hunting practices during the ~1,500 year duration of the site? What were the environmental conditions around Göbeklitepe?

In spite of the many research questions, the coming years will not see large-scale excavations at Göbeklitepe as in the past. We will concentrate instead on excavating small areas in previously opened trenches, also beneath the new visitor shelter. We now have the special privilege to be working at a UNESCO World Heritage site, and all fieldwork must be carefully planned. Any excavations will not just serve to answer our research questions, but they will also contribute to the consolidation and conservation of the archaeology, and make a positive contribution to its improved presentation for visitors.

Thank you for your time 🙂

Thank you!

(Original interview published in Turkish and English at January 28 2019; republished here by courtesy of arkeofili staff.)

A clay mask depiction from Göbekli Tepe

This is a short version of the article: O. Dietrich, L. Dietrich, J. Notroff, A clay mask depiction from Göbekli Tepe. Neo-Lithics 2018/01.

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.

Fig. 2

Clay mask depiction from Göbekli Tepe (©DAI, drawing K. Schmidt).

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.

Further Reading

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.

« Older posts

© 2019 The Tepe Telegrams

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑