From the Göbekli Tepe Research Project

New publication: “Markers of ‘Psychocultural’ Change”

For the recently published “Handbook of Cognitive Archaeology. Psychology in Prehistory”, edited by Tracy B. Henley, Matt J. Rossano, and Edward P. Kardas (Routledge 2019, [external link]), the Göbekli Tepe research project was approached to contribute a chapter on the site’s monumentality and its complex iconography – and how it could help us understand these buildings’ function, the intention behind their construction, and the effect of activities taking place there.

The volume aims at the application of cognitive archaeology, in particular to open that field to scholars across the behavioral sciences and it is our pleasure to introduce one of the key sites of the Anatolian Neolithic in this context with our paper on “Markers of ‘Psychocultural’ Change. The early-Neolithic monuments of Göbekli Tepe in southeastern Turkey” (by Oliver Dietrich, Jens Notroff, Sebastian Walter, Laura Dietrich, pp. 311-332):

“The adoption of agriculture and husbandry and the shift from hunting-and-gathering to food-producing subsistence strategies in the course of the so-called Neolithization process seems to have been accompanied (and partly even preceded) by significant mental change. The sudden appearance of a variety of symbolic depictions hints at a new “psycho-cultural” mindset and a new way of viewing the world and humankind´s role in it. The oldest yet known evidence for monumental architecture was discovered at Göbekli Tepe in southeastern Turkey, created in exactly this period. The site is interpreted as a social hub for meetings and feasts of different hunter groups of the region, and its iconographic repertoire gives ample examples of this new symbolic art. The imagery of this site in particular focuses on strong and dangerous animals, apparently emphasizing ideas of death and threat. In the course of this paper it is argued that the monuments of Göbekli Tepe could have served as arenas for orchestrated rituals necessary to create and strengthen group identity and social cohesion among the early-Neolithic hunter groups at this crucial transition phase of cultural and economic change.”

Book Details

Paperback: 9781138594517, pub: 2019-08-05
Hardback: 9781138594500, pub: 2019-08-05
eBook (VitalSource): 9780429488818, pub: 2019-07-24

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


  1. Donna J Sutliff

    I would not call this book a “handbook” of cognitive archaeology. There is very little, if any, empirical cognitive psychology (as opposed to speculative psychology) that has informed the articles in this book. It is notable that the theorizing N. Chomsky and S. Dehaene is missing. These psychologists hold that the neurological foundations of human cognition have not evolved since the Upper Paleolithic.

    • Jens Notroff

      Dear Donna,

      the editors (all three of them are noted and esteemed colleagues in their field) who developed the idea for this book (and invited us to participate) decided to make and call it a ‘handbook’. Our task as archaeologists was to contribute a chapter on our own research (which, admittedly, is more archaeology than psychology) – so that is what we did – with a view to context and frame of the overall topic suggested by the editors.

      • Rau Eugen

        I am an amateur “epigraphist”, wich made some research in proto-writing field. Because I saw those allready familiar to me “handbag” icons on pillar, I advanced the opinion that some icons were used as pictograms well before the advent of proto-writing, by civilisations wich preceded sumerians (so called proto Euphrateans?). An cultic place visited after by sumerians has no support because handbags are on the oldest layer III and pillar. I found more than 10 icon corespondences. For one I am proud because is the hardest. Schollars (out of antropomorph silhuette) have no clue what is related to. To my surprise, the sumerian proto-cuneiform sign “ME” has the T(Tau) shape I do not realised the break-through I made, not when found the meaning, bat after one day when attacked the handbag item. me, mì; ge: n., function, office, responsibility; ideal norm; the phenomenal area of a deity’s power; divine decree, oracle; cult. v., to be; the Sumerian copula; to say, tell. poss. suffix, our. me3,6,7,9: battle. me6: to act, behave. Some other sign pairs are in my Yours, eng. EugenRau Timisoara Romania

  2. Ray D Wood

    Just the concept of Cognitive Archaeology is fascinating and I am glad to see this Handbook. Psycho-Cultural change seems to me to be a key component or a key question to a larger premise. How did these people structure their society in order to get these tasks done ? What drove their desire to create these societal changes that lead to organizing a work force? Who carried the knowledge of previous people”s ways of structuring their society to build these structures and to locally feed and produce food ? Thank you from the “Great Unwashed” those including myself who love the science but are not archaeologist. Glad I found the Tepe Telegram.!

  3. intp1

    Nothing to do with this book but I noticed this on a blog of the famous Archaeologist John Hawks ( ) that I like to visit
    He is mulling over a 2016 paper by a Marin Pilloud et al suggesting that Çatalhöyük bodies were possibly de-fleshed by vultures before burial . Ref- Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports Volume 10, December 2016.
    Could there be echoes/links here to earlier Göbekli Tepe traditions? It suggests something I have long conjectured that GT may have had some kind of funerary purpose. Could corpses have been brought and laid there before during or after de-fleshing? (possibly including decapitation) by wild fauna, including vultures?
    I know I am attempting to connect 2 thousand year apart dots but rituals and religion have a habit of persistently maintaining concepts. Are not current religious groups still worshiping 2-3000 year old Judao-Christian principles in basically the same way they always did?

    OK, since I got started, allow me to extrapolate even much further- i has struck me also, how the fauna at GT looks a lot like totemic spiritual expression by …..Native Americans. All American Tribes strongly identify spiritually with nature and especially fauna. Different family groups within tribes and even individuals often identify with various animals. Birds and bird feathers were always important across the whole Native American diaspora, particularly Eagles. Also, there is a tradition of de-fleshing in their funerary customs! And feasting. I know I am reaching here but America was populated and settled from Asia before 10K years BP when these traditions seem to be in mode around that time in Asia minor..

    Certain tribes (e.g. the Sioux, Ute, and Navajo) to this day have maintained an ancient tradition of placing their dead on sacred scaffolds or in trees and encourage consumption by fauna, Also, back in Asia, in Tibet they still practice something ancient called sky burial where witnesses have documented-
    ¨ In some cases, the body is first disassembled into pieces by people called rogyapas. The rogyapas use mallets to break up the bones and flesh into a pulp. The pulp is then mixed with tsampa, a Tibetan staple foodstuff composed of barley flour, tea, and yak butter or milk. This mixture is then presented to the vultures. In other cases, the body is left out for the vultures whole. When the vultures are finished leaving only bones¨

    Just throwing it out there. There are other physical aspects of GT that remind me of ancient Neolithic chambered tombs, like the stone ¨benches¨ linking the perimeter pillars remind me of 3500-4000 years BP stone complexes in (I agree this is a long shot connection) The Orkney Islands . (There is even a Tomb of the Eagles, or Isbister Chambered Cairn) or even Mycenaean Greece but I will stop running my imagination there. Just some connections to think about.

  4. Nick Kropacek

    Hello. As I’m not a member of any academic institution, how do I get hold of a copy of this book? Thank you.

    • Jonas

      If it is not open acces or if you don’t have access to a well-stocked library, you will unfortunately have to buy it.



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