From the Göbekli Tepe Research Project

Ask an archaeologist (about Göbekli Tepe)


The Tepe-Telegrams correspondents, yours truly on site: Jens (left) and Oliver (right). (Photo: N. Becker, DAI)

This weblog has been created to make basic information (together with our thoughts and interpretation) on the excavations and research at Göbekli Tepe broadly accessible. After about a year clicks, visitor numbers, discussions in the comments section, and other feedback have more than reassured us that this blog indeed found an interested readership and we’re not talking to ourselves here.

A huge THANK YOU to you, our readers!

We are constantly working on new material for the blog. Our strategy so far has been to address the questions we are most often asked: Is it a temple? How old is it? Who built it? Were Stone Age people able to build something like that (Yes, indeed!), or did they have alien help (Um, no.)?

There are still a lot more of such questions to answer and to write about yet, and even more about our attempt to make sense of this extraordinary site. But we would also like to ask you, our dear readers, if there is anything you would like to see covered in particular? Any pressing questions aside from aliens and conspiracy theories? Just leave a comment under this post and we collect your thoughts and suggestions.

We would also like to offer some kind of questionnaire – taking place Wednesday, June 28th 2017 from 5 pm to 6 pm CET (just right after we logged off our office time clock (you know, work’s work and fun’s fun). So if you got an alias over there at twitter, and if your question fits into 140 characters, you may use the hashtag #AskGT and / or address @jens2go (Jens) and @in2thepast (Oliver) with your requests and questions.

So, come and ask an archaeologist …


  1. Robert Kerr

    Just a big thanks to the pair of you for all the work you’re doing in keeping us up to date on the work at GT and responding to the questions of laymen and experts alike. Thank you!
    Personally, I’ll leave my questions for now. I assume the construction work at GT is complete and excavations will resume later this year, so more findings will appear and more questions will arise.

  2. Alexandra

    A BIG THANKYOU to you! I so look forward to your posts landing in my in box and love reading them!
    Best wishes,

  3. Casual Visitor

    Thank you for keeping this blog. Yes, I agree with you that such an unique research needs some direct contact with ordinary people, as blogs can provide. your prompt replies clear a lot of potential speculations. I agree with you that local people built it, and I believe that this happen at the end of Younger Dryas, for the reason that climate got better and that they suddenly had more resources because of that. Was it a temple ? A temple is a single building, but GT has many. A ritual centre then ? But, of what kind of rituals ? Now we come to my question, which I believe would many like to see answered:
    You said earlier elsewhere that you would not answer to individual requests for pictures. Yet, I note that there are many pillars that we only heard hearsays from you that they are ’empty’. Well, how about putting a few high resolution pictures as a blog topic of those ’empty’ pillars, just for the sake of completeness ? Perhaps somebody can find on them something interesting to notice.
    In particular, while looking at some picture of the Enclosure D, I noticed a pillar in background, that turned out to be Pillar 42. I zoomed it in, but the image was of low resolution. Still, I noticed something that looks like a flower, or a fish on it, which can very well be an optical illusion due to low resolution. so, I am curious about that pillar in particular. I believe, though, that a few more good pictures of those ’empty’ pillars would be a nice topic to put on this blog.
    I must say also that I read more than a dozen papers about GT, and not a single picture of an ’empty pillar was shown. Why ?

    • Jens

      It is true that most of the photographs focus on those pillars with reliefs since it is in particular these illustrations which are needed reference our descriptions. Space for figures always is limited, so we naturally focus on these pillars which would add to the interpretation of Göbekli Tepe’s iconography – and logically these are the ones bearing reliefs, logically. We can assure, however, that we are carefully examine and analyse all finds we unearth and if a pillar is described as bearing no reliefs or decorations at all, this definitely is the case. Actually, some of these pillars even there published already.

      We have to ask for your understanding, however, that not answering individual picture requests is a matter of resources simply – once we start to do so, we soon would do not much else but searching the archives for all kinds of views and photos. In our opinion it would be much more rewarding to focus our time and effort onto actual reasearch and its publication – like for instance a complete catalogue of all monumental T-pillars from site, including those without reliefs of course.

      • Casual Visitor

        I can assure you that you missed some reliefs on pillars that have their pictures posted already, which means that you almost certainly missed some on those that are never shown.

        Anyway, there are also lacking a single clear image of those layers of circular holes on top of the T-pillars, and clear images of most of the pillars. Even the images of central pillars are few and of low quality. I couldn’t find a good image of pillars 1 & 2 for instance.

        Nonetheless, those that you recently published from the Enclosure H are of good enough quality..

        • Jens

          Personally, I’d doubt we really overlooked reliefs during repeated hands-on examination in now about 20 years of practical research on site. We might not always have identified everything on first glance and some very fine reliefs indeed could have been identified only with proper illumination. Not everything is published yet in detail, but as I noted before: we’re working on this right now.

      • Casual Visitor

        How about a trade: I tell you what you missed and where, and you show me a good picture of the Pillar 42 ?

        By the way, when do you expect to publish the catalog that you are preparing ?

        • Jens

          We don’t gamble, but if you think you made a significant discovery, you’re of course free to publish it.
          The catalogue is in preparation now and will be published once it’s finished. We’d prefer to be thorough and detailed rather than quick in this case, but will certainly announce it here.

      • Casual Visitor

        I never said ‘gambling’. If you have agreed to my offer I would have tell you where it is what you missed, and expected to receive what I asked for. The risk was mine, not yours.

        Anyway, thank you for swift replies.

        • Jens

          Maybe ‘gambling’ was a bit cheeky, still that’s not how scientific exchange works in my humble opinion. Anyway, if you think you discovered something important I’d still encourage you to publish about it.

      • Casual Visitor

        Yes, publishing is my intention too. That takes time, however.

        Anyway, you asked people to ask questions, so I asked one about what I am currently being puzzled about, and even offered some data in return. If you think that this blog is not a proper place for information exchange, then you can e-mail me privately.

        Otherwise, I’ll wait till you publish, and you’ll wait until I publish. Yes, we can do that, but it is not very efficient. Nonetheless, thank you again.

      • Mehmet

        Kişisel görüşüm göbekli tepenin bir toplanma alanı olduğu. Çünkü halen yörede yılın belli dönemlerinde panayırlar düzenleniyor. Siverek gülpınar köyünde her yıl bayramda insanlar toplanıyor eski bir gelenek olmalı.

  4. Elke Baumgarte

    Dear Jens, yes I have a question. On the cover of Prof. Schmidt’s book “Sie bauten die ersten Tempel”, dtv Taschebuch, 2008, is an image of a fox together with a figure of what sometimes is described as being a bent arm. These two are depicted quite often, single or together. I wonder if the “arm” might actually represent a hoe or an ax. On pillars that actually show arms the fingers are always wrapped around the edge onto he narrow side of the pillar. I wonder what you think about it. Thank you!

    • Jens

      Without having the cover in question in front of me right now, this clearly sounds like a description of one of Enclosure D’s central pillars. The unclear understanding of this particular depiction might come from the state of excavation represented in that (older) picture. With ongoing excavation it became absolutely clear that these are indeed meant to be arms due to the depiction of hands which could have been unearthed in the meantime.

    • Oliver

      The arms of pillar 18 were re-worked at some point in time, below the ellbow the relief is getting flatter. In the older photograph you mention, this zone looks like a pointed triangle. The rest of the arms up to the hands is worked in low-relief, but nervertheless it clearly is a depiction of arms. Such later changes to reliefs are very frequent at GT.

  5. Hervé

    I’ve noticed that nobody has any explanation concerning the small holes that exists on top on pillars. They nevertheless are intentional and may gives us a clue on perhaps some architectural functions of those pillars too.
    Have you heard or read any theories concerning this ? Klaus Schmidt just writes that he doesn’t know.
    Thanks a lot,

    • Jens

      Cup marks like these actually are a rather common phenomenon often linked to megalithic structures. At Göbekli Tepe there are examples known from the top of some pillars as you noticed (but also from the quarry sites at the rock plateaus nearby). Their exact purpose is hard to determine, but those on the pillars likely were added afterwards (since not all pillars show these) – maybe after the enclosures were already partly backfilled (and pillar tops were easier accessible thus). It could either have been about the material extracted (taking a ‘sample’ of the pillars themselves maybe which were considered of importance) or these cups were meant to hold something. The truth is: it’s hard to tell at current state of research.

      • Hervé

        Thank you ! The mystery remains….

  6. Grant McCall

    Please my congratulations to the others: writing Q & A is quite a task but it is a necessary one for greater public understanding and that probably is why you do it.
    May I raise two questions: one very broad and the other specific.
    Firstly, why the rapid conclusion that GT was a temple? Could it not have been a meeting place for the several populations that are supposed to have lived nearby. People could have just come together to exchange ideas and, ultimately keep the peace that all desired. The carvings could be explained as part of that exchange of knowledge; even transfer of insights? In effect, to agree with Durkheim the people were worshiping themselves. There seems to be no evidence of hierarchy, so why an hierarchical religion? If there were conflicts, GT could have been a place for resolving them, rather like a successful United Nations as opposed to the one we struggled to found in the 20th century and continue in this one. Perhaps the surrounding populations grouped at GT geographically, although they discussed and interacted over the entire site. Many cultures have established neutral ground for sociality. GT almost certainly was multi-functional, but I would suggest not solely religious.
    My specific observation is about the T structures. You have measured them, but my impression is they are not symmetrical in T shape, rather one of the projections is longer than the other. My suggestion is that they served as partial supports for a roof around the edge, with most of the area open. The holes in the top being for fixing further support. Have these holes been microscopicly examined to see if any vegetable material might remain of such a thatch fixture? The model I have in mind is the common area of an Amazonian village, say like those of the the Mehinacu or the group portrayed in the films of Napoleon Chagnon, the Yanomami. That way people could partially shelter from the elements, but have still the open sky that must have been such a part of their lives.
    Until some sort of time travel comes along, proof supporting exactly the use of structures from the ancient past can be solved only by comparison and inference from other “human experiments in living”, as the redoubtable Margaret Mead characterised cultural diversity, a state of humankind with us today as much as it ever has been.

    • Jens

      Thanks for your kind comment; regarding your questions:

      1. Actually the whole ‘temple’ idea is much more favoured and advertised by the media than in our own publications. Already Klaus Schmidt pointed out the problems coming with this designation in his 2006 book, and we had a contribution discussing exactly these issues here on the blog, too: “Could we really call it a ‘temple’?” And yes, our interpretation of the Göbekli Tepe monuments does indeed focus strongly on a site used for large gatherings and feasts by the mobile hunter groups roaming the wider area (cf. this recent lecutre and blog post: “Building big. Incentives for cooperative action of hunter-gatherers at early Neolithic Göbekli Tepe”.

      2. There indeed is an ongoing discussion whether the enclosures were roofed or open to the sky. Yes, the pillars thus were also interpreted as possible support for such a roof (cf. Kurapkat, D. (2014) Bauwissen im Neolithikum Vorderasiens). However as of yet no reliable proof for such roof structures could have been found on site at Göbekli Tepe – if there really were roofs, they must have been dismantled completely prior backfilling the enclosures.

    • Robert Kerr

      Regarding the possibility of the structures at GT being designed for public gatherings, specifically for the hunter/gatherers of the region to resolve disputes or discuss issues: surely the layout of the interior precludes that? The interiors appear to be secretive, private places, with the innermost parts only entered through narrow entry holes with carvings of forbidding animals. Hardly the sort of forum for group discussion. Such discussion could easily have taken place outdoors.
      Further to that, why would such structures, which on the surface could serve no purpose for general meetings or for trade or, as has been suggested, slaughter houses be constructed if they were not for some esoteric purpose?

      • Jens

        As of yet it’s actually not quite clear if the so called porthole stones really were meant and used as entrances into the enclosures. In analogy to Neolithic settlements like famous Catal Höyük for instance, it could be as much possible that they were entered from above for.

        The same would apply to the enclosures being ‘public places’. Since the iconography and material culture of the site is one very much dominated by masculinity respectively male activity and the enclosures actually already transport the notion of exclusion and secludedness by design, it seems as likely that they were meant to be used be a small group of specialist for certain and peculiar rituals. A thought we already discussed here for instance. Maybe not everyone was meeting at Göbekli Tepe or maybe not everyone of those meeting there was involved in activities in these enclosures. So, the ‘meeting place’ hypothesis does not at all exclude a ritual use of the enclosures themselves.

  7. Jason

    I wonder if you have found evidence of common/group latrines at or near the site? Though I suspect that at this late date there would be no evidence of such.

    • Jens

      Not yet, and I actually wouldn’t expect we find something like this. Maybe a noticeably higher ration of phosphate in some locations could give a hint here, but communal latrines probably were not really a typical Neolithic characteristic.

  8. Casual Visitor

    At what season did they gather for rituals ? Perhaps plant remains can tell that ?

    • Jens

      Plant remains probably not the best indicator here, but presence of migratory species among animal bone material gives a clue of seasonal hunting / feasting activities – cf. Peters/Schmidt 2004 and Lang et al. 2013 [external links].

    • Robert Kerr

      The migratory animals concerned were gazelle apparently and their migration (with subsequent organised trapping along the migration route) would be triggered by the autumnal rains. Presumably the GT gatherings would therefore be timed to coincide with the trapping that the feasting depended on and may even have been the original reason for the various groups congregating. No doubt the feasts would have to be held immediately afterwards, that is before the meat started to go bad.
      Perhaps the masculine nature of the hunting process and the masculine nature of the lithic features at GT were connected?

      • Casual Visitor

        May I remind you that (on Balkans at least) the September used to be up to XX century traditionally a month for organizing gatherings in remote villages for the purpose of making marriages. This was related to richness gained by harvest, but if seasonal hunts provide such richness, then this is more or less the same. Marriages between groups are necessary for genes to flow, so gatherings for that purpose are prudent to be organized annually. Add to that ale and meat, and there is a feast. People come, shamans make their rituals first, and then the public festivities may commence. An early September is what I think was the perfect timing. The Göbekli Tepe site itself was reserved for the shamans, because it is on top of the hill, but the festivities must have been elsewhere, close by, where the nearest water source was. Near the place where the hunted animals would come to drink on their route.

  9. Casual Visitor

    What is the orientation (the azimuth of) of the central pillars in the Enclosure H, presuming that there are central pillars ? Normally, I would be able to read this from a map, but there are no maps of that Enclosure yet on the web, as far as I ma aware of… Where exactly is the Enclosure H ?

    Thank you for your answer on my previous question regarding seasons. Somehow I missed the link with cranes. This was very helpful.

    • Jens

      Enclosure H is situated in the so-called northwestern depression of the tell – see this contribution, in particular the aerial in Fig. 1 (area K10-25 is the northwestern one, cf. Fig. 3, too).
      Since only one of this enclosure’s central pillars (supposedly P51, again cf. the blog post about Enclosure H) is excavated as of yet and this one even is tilted and heavily damage a substantiated statement about orientation is not possible at current state of excavation.

    • Robert Kerr

      Instead of waiting for prey at water holes, hunters may have cooperated int he use of ‘desert kites’ long lines of stones at waist height which channeled migrating herds into corrals. killing zones where many hands would be required. There’s plenty of evidence for these farther south, in Syria and the Negev.

      • Casual Visitor

        Interesting, so if they had a lot of man-power, they then used that advantage to apply some more advanced hunting technique. Fair enough. Still, people need water too, especially if there are a lot of them, with women and children. The Göbekli Tepe hill is dry, so I still think that the camping site was somewhere closer to water, even if the hunting was not done near the water. For those who walk all their life, as nomads, 5-10 km is nothing. By the way, how far away is the nearest water source now, and how far it could have been back then, considering that the climate was wetter ?

        • Jens

          These ‘desert kites’ actually are, as the name implies, a phenomenon of the more arid regions further south the Levant, in particular in the deserts of Jordan and Saudia Arabia, but also (somewhat fewer) in Syria and southern Israel). They are not known from the region we’re discussing here, however. Which is not a surprise since here features in the natural landscape (rivers, ravines etc.) could be used for this kind of hunting technique.

          There are a few cisterns known from Göbekli Tepe; their chronological context could not have been completely clarified yet, though, and is topic of further research (cf. Herrmann & Schmidt 2012). The next known springs today are situated near Urfa.

  10. Anthony

    First of all thank you for producing such an interesting site and taking so much time to answer questions. My apologies in advance if any of my questions seem a bit silly…I’m not a specialist in this area, but interested.
    1) is it reasonable to assume that the pillars would have been roughly symmetrically or evenly placed in each ring, with the gaps now present simply representing pillars that have been moved? Is there a best estimate of what the layout would have been originally?
    2) On one of the pillars there is an image of a circle above a bird which is interpreted as a severed head, presumably in connection to the finds of severed heads at other sites in the region. On the photograph it just looks like a circle and I was wondering if more detail could be visible on close inspection and if other possible interpretations such as something visible in the sky near a bird ( e.g. the sun or moon etc.) could be ruled out?
    3) As someone who is not an expert in all this the similarity of symbols used by various cultures in the wider region across thousands of years seems very surprising. To what extent is there evidence to support the idea of independent development of such symbolism or, conversely, is there evidence of continuity in the symbolism used accross the subsequent five or six thousand years, given the similar significance of the natural environment to people’s lives accross the Neolithic?
    Thanks again.

    • Jens

      Thanks a lot for your kind comment, too!

      Well, let’s have a look into your questions:

      1. While not exactly symmetrical, the pillars are placed rather consistent within the surrounding enclosure walls. Since these walls are preserved, there seem to be no major gaps – at least in the last use phase of these constructions as they are visible today. That said, there are traces of (re-)moving and re-use of pillars, reparations and rebuilding activity.

      2. Interpreting this circular object as something completely different is as much an option than the suggestion to maybe link it to the headless man in the lower part of pillar. Absolutely. Our own discussions within the team were circling around an egg, the sun or full moon, too, for instance.

      3. A problem with the construction of far reaching continuities across huge geographical and chronological distances of thousands of kilometres (or even more) and millennia , is the question how these would have been handed down – in particular in non-literate societies. Human creativity sometimes seem to follow very similar paths, so recurring patterns and traditions should not appear too extraordinary. On the other hand regional continuity even over a longer period still could be possible, of course. It’s just hard to prove a direct relation in most of the cases. In case of the PPN iconography featured so prominently at Göbekli Tepe there is, however, some evidence that it was indeed known and used over a larger area, characterising a ‘Cultic Community’ in Upper Mesopotamia (see for example this blog post: //

  11. Anthony

    Thank you.

  12. Casual Visitor

    According toyour answer, the closest water source is now 13 km away, which is 2 hours of walking. So, they used cisterns. Regarding the cisterns:
    1. Were they designed to collect the rainwater ?
    2. What was the volume of water that could be stored in them ?
    3. How many cisterns were found thus far ? Of what sizes ?
    4. If I recall correctly, I think that I read that some of them were used for storing alcoholic beverages. What kind of beverage ? Ale ?
    5. Were there separate cisterns for ale and for rainwater ?
    6. Did wild animals had access to rainwater water stored in cisterns when nobody was there ?
    7. What is the physical shape/form of those cisterns ? Containers carved in rock and then covered with slabs ?

    • Jens

      The closest water source we know of today. Geomorphological research is needed to maybe get an idea of how the situation was in prehistory; what we can state for sure as of yet is that there are no natural phenomena (like artesian aquifers) to be expected at Göbekli Tepe itself.

      Regarding your questions:

      1. Supposedly rainwater, yes. (A more detailed analysis is discussed in: Richard A. Herrmann, Klaus Schmidt, Göbekli Tepe – Untersuchungen zur Gewinnung und Nutzung von Wasser im Bereich des steinzeitlichen Bergheiligtums, in: Florian Klimscha – Ricardo Eichmann – Christof Schuler – Henning Fahlbusch (Hrsg.), Wasserwirtschaftliche Innovationen im archäologischen Kontext. Von den prähistorischen Anfängen bis zu den Metropolen der Antike. Menschen – Kulturen – Traditionen. Studien aus den Forschungsclustern des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts. Band 5. Forschungscluster 2. Innovationen: technisch, sozial. (2012) 57-67.)

      2. Not that much, actually. There was a new study recently; I would need to check back with these analyses to be sure about exact numbers.

      3. There are two large but rather shallow pits at the southern plateau near Enclosure E (which, however, were probably not really suited as cisterns). There are several more (about a dozen or so, 2-3 m deep with several small channels) down the western plateaus. But again, as of yet their exact age could not be determined.

      4. Please see this blog post: //

      5. Possible traces of oxalate (i.e. hinting at beer) so far only at stone vessels, not cisterns.

      6. Unless these weren’t emptied and/or covered I don’t see why not.

      7. Basically pits carved into the bedrock.

      • Casual Visitor

        Thank you for your answers. At a minimum a person would need 5 liters of water per day during summer in GT area, I think. Also as a minimum, there would be two days of ritual celebration at the site, or up to a week if there are sufficient resources. Volume of those cisterns thus hints on how many people attended the rituals. 1 cubic meter can serve up to a hundred people for two days, or a single family for a week.

        Presuming that on each pillar there would be a shaman, and that each shaman brings his family unit, one can draw conclusions…

  13. Robert Kerr

    If the gatherings were timed to coincide with the gazelle migration hunting season, they would have been after the autumn rains. The cisterns would have been less critical at that period, presumably, although a ready supply of water for brewing would have been welcome. Some hops would have been a bonus..!

  14. Georg

    I was deeply impressed from the art I recently saw in soutwest-France (e.g. Lascaux iV, Font-de-Gaume, abri Cap blanc). This type of art expression lasted for nearly 20.000 years (~35.000 to 15.000 years), which is incredibly long considering the spares population and the climate changes in between, but there seems to have existed some tradition or heritage of basic beliefs and techniques resulting in this style. In southern Germany you find small art objects fitting in the same tradition. For some reason the Franco-cantabrian art expression stopped and does not seem to have a natural successor. E.g. when looking at Göbekli tepe some 6000 years later there are apparent differences in
    – the style of animal depictions (extremely naturalistic versus more simplistic / geometric / idealized)
    – the animal species depicted ( mostly larger animals versus smaller animals)
    – the location (cave / abris versus monolithic building)
    Are there any thoughts on what caused this apparent shift in expression? Or was there a more local tradition in the region that survived the Younger Dryas event ? I do not know findings in the Göbebki tepe region dating 15.000 years back.
    Or is it too ambitious to presuppose a long-lasting tradition in paleolithic / mesolithic times ?

    • Oliver

      Thanks for your comment. There is no evidence for a similar artistic tradition as the Franco-Cantabrian one in the Near East. There, it largely starts rather suddenly with the Epipalaeolithic Natufian. This rather sudden ‘explosion’ of imagery led Cauvin and some other to the belief that the development of art -in the Near East- marked a psycho-social change which was at least one, if not the, basis for the development of the Neolithic. So, at the moment, the Near Eastern and the much earlier European archaeological record seem rather unconnected.

  15. w0669883

    Hi, my question comes from an Archaeology class assignment (Anthroplogy 320 — Archaeology and Prehistory, Instructor: Erica Tyler, Folsom Lake College, Folsom, California, US): What site surveying/mapping did Dr. Schmidt’s team do before first “dig”? I tried to scour’s articles but drew a blank.
    Thank you,
    ERandall Nelson

    • Jens

      If you mean what subsequently lead to Klaus Schmidt’s decision starting excavation at Göbekli Tepe – that was the recognition of what seemed like T-shaped pillars partly visible on the surface of the mound (for a more detailed report please have a look here: //

      Initially, Klaus was visiting many Neolithic sites originally listed in the survey report by Peter Benedict (the joint survey by the universities of Istanbul and Chicago) took place in the 1960s and was published in 1980: Benedict, P., Survey Work in Southeastern Anatolia, in: Halet Çambel and Robert J. Braidwood (eds.), İstanbul ve Chicago Üniversiteleri karma projesi güneydoğu anadolu tarihöncesi araştırmaları – The Joint Istanbul – Chicago Universities Prehistoric Research in Southeastern Anatolia, Istanbul 1980, 150-91.)

      In the course of ongoing research, several additional surveys, e.g. a detailed geophysical investigation, were undertaken at the site (cf. // – with further literature).

© 2024 Tepe Telegrams

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑