From the Göbekli Tepe Research Project

New Publication: “History Making” at Göbekli Tepe

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.”

Book Details

Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-60732-736-3
Hardcover Price: $75.00
EISBN: 978-1-60732-737-0
Ebook Price: $60.00
Publication Month: July
Publication Year: 2018
Pages: 306
Illustrations: 63 figures

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


  1. Edit Petronella Katona

    Many thanks for the blog and the book!

    Amazing new for me and for many other ordinary people! Interesting books are in my collection, like Alieni, or Martin Palmer. I had no books from ancient America…
    Best Regards,
    Edit Petronella Katona

  2. Casual Visitor

    I agree with you, almost entirely. Small corrections I wish to make, though.
    First, the site was not unprecedented. There are 7 more such sites in the vicinity, and Göbekli Tepe was not first to be found. Prof. Schmidt found it because he already knew from his past excavation experience at Nevalı Çori that nice T-pillars can be found at 8-9 ka old Neolithic sites in Turkey (Hancock, interviewing Schmidt in Magicians of the Gods, 2015, p 30).
    Second, the fame of Göbekli Tepe and their history making was global, not regional. But the influence was cultural, not political. The world of small hunter-gatherer family groups was the world of the free, totally independent people. They only exchanged women, hard rocks, and legends. People of Göbekli Tepe were legendary by themselves, due to their outstanding deeds, and that made them special and well known.

    • Jens Notroff

      Of course we are aware of the site of Nevali Cori as well as a number of other related sites which have produced T-pillars (as obviously becomes clear from our constant references to these throughout earlier contributions here). Nevali Cori, however, is the only of these sites excavated yet (except Göbekli Tepe of course), and chronologically it is rather contemporary with Göbekli Tepe’s later (9th millennium BC) phase (as seem to be the other sites mentioned, judging by the so far only visible smaller T-pillar specimen). Thus, at current state of research, chronologically Göbekli Tepe remains unprecedented.

      • Michel

        Could the size of the T-pillars be correlated with their age ?

        Either the smallest ones would have been the first ones chronologically, like early “learning” stuff.

        Or they were the oldest ones, after the local culture would have been lost somehow the required technology to build bigger ones.

        Or…no correlation ?

        • Jens Notroff

          There is a likely chronological correlation: the larger pillars apparently belonging to older structures while the smaller ones seem to be part of younger buildings. However, this does not seem to be related to cultural or technological decline, but to social necessities and requirements. See e.g. Notroff et al., Building Monuments – Creating Communities. Early monumental architecture at Pre-Pottery Neolithic Göbekli Tepe. In: James Osborne (Hrsg.), Approaching Monumentality in the Archaeological Record. Albany: SUNY Press (2014), 83-105.

    • Robert Kerr

      “Free and totally independent” in what sense? They were constrained by the vagaries of climate and the environment and clearly felt the need to gather, periodically at least, into larger groups for purposes of ritual and feasting. Their lives must have been led within a nexus of social links that helped them survive and the politics of the tribe would still have influenced their lives. Were they legendary at the time? Who knows. Their giant structures must have been heard of far and wide.

      • Sundararaju

        As far as the Urals, I think, is suggested by the find of the Shigir idol. I am inclined to think that the Siberian Mal’Ta Burets settlements in the environs of Lake Baikal played a role in bringing about the existence of such giant structures.

  3. Casual Visitor

    Chronologically, in absolute sense, Göbekli Tepe is indeed the oldest one of the surrounding tepes with T-pillars in Turkey. I agree with that. I actually meant that it was the second one of them to be excavated in the XX century, Nevali Cori being the first, and in that regard (chronological order of excavations), it was not without precedent for Schmidt to find neolithic T-pillars. This is important, because if he didn’t knew already about the unusual T-pillars on Nevali Cori, he would have missed the Göbekli Tepe too, like all the others before him.

    • Jens Notroff

      Yes, that’s basically what we (and Klaus Schmidt) kept saying from the very beginning.

  4. Casual Visitor

    ‘Free’ means ‘nomads, hunter-gatherers’ and ‘totally independent’ means that a sufficiently large family group was able to survive on its own on short time periods, if they wished to do so, by hunting, gathering, and tool and equipment making, fairly independently on other family groups. On longer time spans, they still needed to gather and exchange women, to socialize, and trade.

    The giant structures that they made were a copy of an older cultural center, one that was destroyed by the YD strike. The whereabouts of that center are depicted on the Vulture Stone. At the moment I don’t yet have enough data about it, except that it housed the wisdom of ‘calendar’. Whether it was an observatory, a library, a gathering place, or perhaps conveniently all of that combined is still unresolved.

    Considering that a ranging territory of a single family group was up to 300 km in diameter, the potential for story spreading over the time span of decades is continental in scope. By ‘continental’ it is meant Old and New Worlds combined, for they were still a single landmass at that time.
    Several scenes on the pillars on Göbekli Tepe contain clear evidence for the presence of such, practically global in scale, cultural mingling.

  5. james cronan

    Dr Hodder’s work was referenced in ‘How We Became Human, Mimetic Theory and the Science of Evolutionary Origins’ (2015). In that same volume, Gifford and Antonello speculate that Gobekli Tepe may have been a human or animal sacrificial site (p280-84). Previously my search of this website failed to reveal any reference to this book or to reported evidence of sacrificial activity. Has the possibility of this form of ritual been discounted?

    • Jens Notroff

      Besides a large number of animal bones interpreted as food remains no clear evidence for ‘sacrificial activity’ has been put forward yet, but since all of this is ongoing research the mere possibility has not explicitly been excluded as of yet.

  6. james cronan

    Thank you. I appreciate your response.

  7. Sunarararaju

    Just a random question, have there been any references to GT’s symbolism in much later cuneiform tablets? It just occurred to me that one might be able to trace a path between GT’s symbology and that found on Harappan seals, which has proved a linguistic relationship. The symbology has also proved that the language, Hypothetical Proto Elamo Dravidian, can now discard ‘Hypothetical’, it did exist.

    • Oliver Dietrich

      No, there is no evidence for GT‘s symbolism in cuneiform tablets.

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