The Tepe Telegrams

News & Notes from the Göbekli Tepe Research Staff

Author: Göbekli Tepe Research Staff

Current state of research: New arkeofili.com-interview 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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 arkeofili.com January 28 2019; republished here by courtesy of arkeofili staff.)

Turkish Minister of Culture visits Göbekli Tepe (22nd September 2018)

Today, Dr Lee Clare and the Göbekli Tepe research team had the great privilege to greet the Turkish Minister of Culture and Tourism, Mehmet Nuri Ersoy, at the Göbekli Tepe World Heritage Site. Our Excavation Director, Celal Uludağ gave a tour of the main excavation area, highlighting the latest research results and briefing the Minister on our continuing conservation works.

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Delegation of the Turkish Minister of Culture and Tourism, Mehmet Nuri Ersoy (4th from left) at Göbekli Tepe; Excavation Director Celal Uludağ, 3rd from right; DAI-Göbekli Tepe project coordinator Lee Clare 1st from left. (Photo: Hasan Yildiz, DAI)

Göbekli Tepe Added to World Heritage List (Turkey)

(After the announcement of the forthcoming decision on the World Heritage status of the site, culturalheritage.news, the Archaeological Heritage Network’s (ArcHerNet) [external link] blog, has just published another article by Eva Götting [external link] on the final addition of the archaeological site of Göbekli Tepe to UNESCO’s World Heritage List. We are gladly sharing it here.)

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View of Göbekli Tepe’s so-called main excavation area, Enclosure D in the front. (Photo: Nico Becker, DAI)

On July 1 the World Heritage Committee in Bahrain added the Stone Age site of Göbekli Tepe to the World Heritage List.

On the hill of Göbekli Tepe, stone pillars stand tall against the Turkish summer sky. People first came here more than 11.000 years ago. These men and women, who lived as hunters and gatherers, achieved a great deal with very little. Without metal tools, the highly skilled artisans of Göbekli Tepe carved the T-shaped pillars from the local limestone. These pillars – some of which were up to 5.5 metres high and weighed several tons – then found their way from the nearby quarry to the site, where the communities incorporated them into round-oval, semi-subterranean stone buildings. Fox, crane, boar, snake and scorpion arise from the light-coloured stone, leaving a vivid testimony of Neolithic art. For thousands of years, the monumental structures were forgotten, covered by a mound of earth and rubble. However, in 1994 researcher Klaus Schmidt recognised the importance of the place. A Turkish-German collaboration of archaeologists undertook first excavations at Göbekli Tepe. Today, the stone buildings still stand where they were once erected – in the hilly landscape of south-eastern Turkey.

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The mound of Göbekli Tepe. View from south. (Photo: Klaus Schmidt, DAI)

In a climatised hall in Bahrain, archaeologist Dr Lee Clare of the German Archaeological Institute [external link] awaits the verdict of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee [external link]. Every year the Committee selects the sites to be included in the World Heritage List. In 2018 the representatives from 21 State Parties meet for the 42nd time. Dr Clare coordinates the international team of archaeologists that investigate Göbekli Tepe and has worked together with the State Party of Turkey on the application process. Over the past two decades, research at Göbekli Tepe has seen the successful collaboration of German archaeologists with the Turkish authorities, first and foremost the General Directorate of Cultural Heritage and Museums, Ministry of Culture and Tourism of Turkey and the Şanlıurfa Museum. Current research at the site is undertaken in the frame of a DFG [Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft] long-term funding project.

“We’re extremely pleased that we can make an active contribution to the Turkish UNESCO nomination of Göbekli Tepe. The significance of the site for our understanding of the Neolithic transition in this key area of the Fertile Crescent can’t be stressed enough,” says Lee Clare.

Göbekli Tepe – A site of Outstanding Universal Value

Dr Clare knows that it is a long process to build a good case that stands up to scrutiny. The ‘Outstanding Universal Value’ of a cultural heritage site must be recognisable. A convincing management plan is also one of the criteria of the UNESCO [external link]. World Heritage Committee. During the last 20 years, the team of archaeologists has carefully uncovered just enough of Göbekli Tepe to gain an insight into the possible functions of the site and its significance for contemporaneous hunter-gatherer communities. Two permanent shelters now protect the Neolithic T-pillars, walls and terrazzo floors from wind and weather. The aim of the archaeologists is not only to gain a better understanding of the past but to preserve the site for future generations.

The efforts first paid out in 2011, when UNESCO included Göbekli Tepe in the World Heritage Tentative List. Now it will be decided if the application of the Turkish State Party is successful. A site benefits from the World Heritage status in various ways. The prestige often helps raise awareness for heritage preservation, resulting in a higher level of protection and conservation at the site. The State Party of Turkey might also receive financial and consulting assistance from UNESCO to support activities for the preservation of Göbekli Tepe.

Göbekli Tepe is a World Heritage Site

Finally, it is announced: Göbekli Tepe is added to the World Heritage List! The representatives of the Turkish State Party and Lee Clare are pleased. The UNESCO acknowledges that Göbekli Tepe “represents a masterpiece of human creative genius”. The site “exhibits an important interchange of human values” and “is an outstanding example of an architectural ensemble which illustrates a significant stage in human history.”

“When Klaus Schmidt initiated excavations at Göbekli Tepe in the mid-1990s, there was practically no indication of the significance that this site held for us and future generations. The OUV [outstanding universal value] of Göbekli Tepe is undisputed. But it’s not only an important site for us archaeologists. It’s a crucial site in World history, and its inscription on the World Heritage List will underline this fact”.

What has been evident to archaeologists and thousands of visitors to the site for a long time is now official: Göbekli Tepe is of outstanding universal value to the shared cultural heritage of all people.

(CulturalHeritage.news is connected to the Archaeological Heritage Network’s (ArcHerNet) which brings together German expertise in the field of cultural preservation and heritage protection. ArcHerNet is coordinated by the German Archaeological Institute and promoted by the Federal Foreign Office.)

Göbekli Tepe – Soon a new World Heritage site in Turkey?

Göbekli Tepe is one of the most impressive Stone Age sites in the world. On June 24 the World Heritage Committee will decide if the site is going to be included in the World Heritage List. Find out more about recent developements at Göbekli Tepe!

(This text by Eva Götting was first published June 22nd 2018 at Culturalheritage.news [external link], a platform to report about projects aiming at the protection, preservation and promotion of cultural heritage. CulturalHeritage.news is connected to the Archaeological Heritage Network (ArcHerNet) [external link] which brings together German expertise in the field of cultural preservation and heritage protection. ArcHerNet is coordinated by the German Archaeological Institute and promoted by the Federal Foreign Office.)

Göbekli Tepe is unique not only and in its monumental Stone Age architecture, but also its art. The site is located in the south-east of turkey is one of the greatest archaeological sensations of recent times. The famous monumental T-shaped pillars are probably the most characteristic features of Göbekli Tepe. The impressive architecture is interpreted as a temple complex and dates back to the 10th-9th mill. BCE to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic. More than 200 such pillars were found at the site. Each one can be up to 6 m high and weights up to 20 tons. The pillars were cut with great precision from blocks of quarried stone without the use of metal tools, and decorated with relief carvings of animals. The monuments on Göbekli Tepe are a testimony on the history of the transition from hunting communities to agrarian societies

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Aerial view of Göbekli Tepe’s Enclosure C (Photo: K. Schmidt, DAI).

The hill was first surveyed in the 1960s. In 1994, archaeologist Klaus Schmidt was the first to recognize just how extraordinary the place was. Since then, archaeologists excavated at Göbekli Tepe. The research project is conducted by the German Archaeological Institute [external link] as part of a joint German-Turkish collaboration. The project is supported by the General Directorate of Cultural Assets and Museums, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of Turkey and the Şanlıurfa Museum.

Göbekli Tepe – World Heritage

A convincing preservation plan is one of the criteria for a site’s inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List [external link] . Göbekli Tepe was included in the UNESCO’s World Heritage Tentative List in 2017. The 42nd session of the World Heritage Committee will take place between June 24 and July 4 in Bahrain. Then it will be decided, if Göbekli Tepe is going to be a World Heritage site.

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T-shaped stone pillars at Göbekli Tepe (Photo: N. Becker, DAI).

Conserving the site and opening it up for sustainable tourism has been central to the work carried out by the German Archaeological institute at Göbekli Tepe. The activities range from cleaning and restoring the pillars and the stone-and-mud walls to the erection of protective shelters over the most important architectural features.

A Protective Roof for Göbekli Tepe

Since 2011, the Global Heritage Fund in cooperation with Brandenburg Technical University (BTU) [external link] in Cottbus and the DAI excavation team has been working on a comprehensive site management and conservation plan.  The experts aim to allow visitors to explore the unique site, while at the same protecting the archaeological remains. In 2013, a temporary protective shelter was erected over the principal excavation area. Since 2016 two protective roofs have been constructed, protecting the site against climatic conditions.  The building work was implemented within the framework of the EU funded project “Revitalisation of History in Şanlıurfa”.

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Protective roof at Göbekli Tepe (Photo: DAI).

Preserving a Neolithic Site

The construction works of the past years have been accompanied by meticulous analysis and the repair of the walls and monoliths. The archaeological features were left as far as possible in their original condition upon exposure. During the excavation phase, pillar re-erection has only taken place in exceptional circumstances. Only when toppled or leaning monoliths obstructed further excavation work and hence prevented further discoveries about a unique phase in human history were they moved.

Reopening to the Public

After being closed for construction works the past 18 months, the official reopening of Göbekli Tepe is scheduled in summer 2018. The touristic development of the impressive Neolithic site was expedited during the past years, too.

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Göbekli Tepe visitor center (Photo: Doğuş Group & MF Barranco).

Drawing inspiration from the circular layouts of the world’s first temples the Doğuş Visitor Centre [external link] was build. In a state-of-the-art animation centre the guests can find out more about the site using multi-media installations. The story of the possibly oldest cult structure of human history is projected on 200m-surfaces that allow visitors to circulate throughout the space and interact freely. Overall, we are looking forward to an exciting and eventful summer at Göbekli Tepe.

Holiday Greetings & a Happy New Year!

Putting down roots

They came to the Hill
Carved into stone,
Hunting with the group –
Or praying alone.

Whose Gods were they?
Sacrificing prey,
Feasting divine.
Sharing their sign.

Reaping those fruits,
Putting down roots.
Planting einkorn.
Our Age was born.

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(Text: L. Dietrich, Illustration: J. Notroff)

Hungry Architecture – A guest contribution by Dr Anna Fagan

Earlier this year we organised a session at the European Association of Archaeologists annual conference which was held in Maastricht (Netherlands) this year. Already in this session’s title we asked contributors and audience the crucial question “What is so special about Neolithic special buildings?” – and we had quite a broad spectrum of approaches to this topic and discussed many possible charactersitics (alas, as often in research we just could not find the one all-embracing answer – but to be honest, no-one really expected this).

Dr Anna Fagan from the University of Melbourne, who did her PhD on “Relational Ontologies in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic Middle East” in 2016, was one of the colleagues presenting in our session and contributing to this discussion. She kindly agreed to recapitulate and sum up her PhD research published earlier in World Archaeology for a guest blogpost and we are pleased to share her contribution here:

Hungry Architecture: Spaces of Consumption and Predation at Göbekli Tepe

The excavations of Göbekli Tepe by the German Archaeological Institute over the last two decades have unearthed an unprecedented and as yet unparalleled level of monumental art and architecture, constructed by hunting-and-gathering human groups prior to the full adoption of agriculture. The astonishing and unexpected nature of the finds has driven home the need for more suitable interpretative frameworks that can make sense of the diversity and unfamiliarity of the prehistoric past. Indeed, preceding discussions of the site have served only to further the distance between now and the Neolithic through strict reliance on modern Western concepts that in prehistory would surely have been unimaginable. Hence, in order to come closer to understanding other societies and archaeologies, we must turn to ways of thinking that do not replicate the dominant and historically specific Western ontology.

Engagement with non-Western thinkers and ethnographies reveals the conceptual potential of different modes of thought, metaphysics, and ways of being. Taking other systems of knowledge on equal intellectual terms is not only a matter of political exigency, but also constitutes a more holistic, reflexive, and critical archaeology. For instance, innumerable human groups around the globe describe realities wherein personhood and social relations are not exclusive to humans. Instead, animals, plants and material life can potentially act as subjects, with consciousness, agency and intentionality.

By liberating thought from Western metaphysical foundationalism, we become aware of the inadequacy of modern Western theories of matter to explain the prehistoric world fully. Paying attention to the phenomenal and ontological dimensions of the Göbekli architecture reveals limestone to be an agentive materiality from which powerful entities were released and brought into being through the practices of carving. It was likely that highly volatile gods, spirits and animals occupied the socio-cosmic universe of prehistoric south-east Anatolia. Through depicting these powerful or threatening agencies, people set up channels of engagement through which they could interact with dangerous entities on their own terms, affording participants a rare degree of controlled interaction in the existentially risky realm of the spirit world.

However, this does not mean that T-pillars and statuary remained static entities; rather, they may have been capable of movement, absence or transformation. As demonstrated by finds of offering bowls and channels for libations, these beings might have been animated – or tempered – by consumption. Indeed, Göbekli challenges conventional conceptual commitments to permanence, fixity and finality. Practices of image-creation and monument construction at the site seem more committed to processes of making than finished production. Stelae are installed in incomplete states or are reworked into new forms and enclosures were subject to considerable modifications in structure and layout throughout their use-lives. In Enclosure C, for instance, walls with embedded pillars were later engulfed by additional internal walls, stelae and installations, shrinking the circumference of the building through time. With each building phase, artefacts, offerings, skeletal remains, and sculptures were ‘fed back’ into the structural fabric. These labour-intensive changes along with the cumulative wrapping of the space seem to articulate efforts to entrap, engulf, and contain. We might even consider the Göbekli enclosures to be mouths of a sort: cavernous cavities with enormous T-pillar teeth, teeming with statuary of ravenous predators.

The notion that the limestone from which Göbekli is built constituted a vital and even ‘hungry’ materiality may be further explored through practices pertaining to stone extraction. For instance, the infill for the enclosures appears to have been stored on site to be used later, suggesting that these remains retained a special quality separate from other types of settlement waste (Dietrich, Notroff and Schmidt 2017, 119). The fact that the infill consists primarily of animal remains and limestone rubble might indicate where it was stored prior to burial, and with the quarries in close proximity, they present a viable option. If we consider limestone as alive – and thus the process of stone extraction to have been existentially risky – depositing feasting deposits in extraction hollows may have served as ritual offerings for relocated stones. Hollows in the quarry presented metaphysical voids that needed to be addressed and recompensed. Thus, through feasting and depositional practices, the rock was duly ‘fed’.

Indeed, predation and consumption seem to be the key ontological principles driving social engagements at the site. Images of decapitated human heads in the clutches of raptors or predators are common at Göbekli, suggesting that the site may have functioned, amongst other things, as a mortuary sphere where raptors potentially defleshed and disposed of the dead (as in Tibetan sky burials, Zoroastrian funerals, the mortuary practices of the Kwakiutl of British Columbia and of the Chukchi of northern Kamchatka). It was conceivably through predatory consumption of the deceased that the human soul was released, flesh transmuted into spirit matter, and vitality redistributed from the consumed to the consumer. The possibility that Göbekli served as a necropolis is supported by the considerable number of human bone fragments with evidence of partial burning, along with cut-marks denoting defleshing and other post-mortem ritual treatments uncovered from the enclosure fills (Becker et al. 2012; Notroff et al. 2016, 78). Moreover, necrophagous animals are common in the osteoarchaeological and iconographic corpus. Corvids, for instance, make up more than 50 per cent of the avifauna from the site, a number significantly higher than at other contemporaneous settlements (Peters et al. 2005, 231; Notroff, Dietrich and Schmidt 2016, 77–8). Furthermore, the common practice of decapitating anthropomorphic sculpture at the site may even have served as a proxy for the cessation and transformation of human life. Just as vultures assisted in humans’ ontological metamorphosis, so too might practices of decapitation have released the deceased from the confines of the human corpse (Fig. 1).

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Göbekli Tepe: the only example of a decapitated limestone head where a matching torso was found (photo: N. Becker, German Archaeological Institute).

However, while humans are commonly found in decapitated and diminutive forms, predatory animals are portrayed as frighteningly alive, voracious and present. The human face, too, remains schematic and tokenistic, while the animal face is highly detailed. One striking example of a ravenous predator comes from Pillar 27 in Enclosure C (Fig. 2), consisting of a three-dimensional high relief of a large, expertly crafted reptile, with unmistakably delineated ribs and bared teeth, descending the side of the stele.

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Göbekli Tepe: Enclosure C. A snarling and hungry three-dimensional predator with clearly delineated ribs descends pillar 27 (photo: D. Johannes, German Archaeological Institute).

The images of predators holding dislocated human heads, in conjunction with the evidence of intensive feasting found at the site (Dietrich et al. 2012), the remains of human bone uncovered in the enclosures’ fill, along with the high number of corvids (crows and ravens) in the avifauna evince a co-productive relationship: of animals feeding on humans and vice versa. Finds of stone bowls and depressions, located next to the central pillars in the enclosures, demonstrate that the megalithic T-pillar beings, too, not only had demands, but were capable of consumption. However, themes of death and predation at Göbekli should not be perceived as destructive but rather, co-productive. Manifest is the network of relations upon which life itself depends: the cycle of death, consumption and reproduction.

Through feeding and bringing into being volatile agencies at Göbekli Tepe, people may have aided the transformation and metamorphosis of the dead and opened up channels of engagement through which the living could influence the spirit world. Convening with powerful beings in the confines of these spiritually fortified spaces afforded humans a degree of control and perhaps even the ability to harness their predatory perspectives (see: Fagan 2016, 2017). Similarly, it is new perspectives – ones that do not replicate the dominant Western ontology – that should travel to archaeological interpretation, so that we too, can engage a more sensitive relationship with the past.

For a longer and more detailed discussion of the phenomenal and ontological dimensions of the art, architecture, and osteoarchaeological finds from Göbekli Tepe, see Anna’s original article (and references therein) in World Archaeology 49.3, 2017 [external link].

You can learn more about Anna’s work and research through her profile at academia.edu [external link] or find her on twitter [external link].

 

References

Becker, N., O. Dietrich, T. Götzelt, Ç. Köksal-Schmidt, J. Notroff, and K. Schmidt. 2012. “Materialien zur Deutung der zentralen Pfeilerpaare des Göbekli Tepe und weiterer Orte des obermesopotamischen Frühneolithikums.” Zeitschrift für Orient Archäologie 5: 14–43.

Dietrich, O., M. Heun, J. Notroff, K. Schmidt, and M. Zarnkow. 2012. “The Role of Cult and Feasting in the Emergence of Neolithic Communities: New Evidence from Göbekli Tepe, South-Eastern Turkey.” Antiquity 86: 674–695. doi:10.1017/S0003598X00047840.

Dietrich, O., J. Notroff, and K. Schmidt. 2017.“Feasting, Social Complexity, and the Emergence of the Early Neolithic of Upper Mesopotamia: A View from Göbekli Tepe.” Feast, Famine, or Fighting?: Multiple Pathways to Social Complexity, edited by R. J. Chacon and R. G. Mendoza, 91–132. Cham: Springer International Publishing. (Studies in Human Ecology and Adaptation 8).

Fagan, A. 2016. Relational Ontologies in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic Middle East. PhD Diss. University of Melbourne.

Fagan, A. 2017. “Hungry Architecture: Spaces of Consumption and Predation at Göbekli Tepe,” World Archaeology 3:318-37.

Notroff, J., O. Dietrich, and K. Schmidt. 2016. “Gathering of the Dead? The Early Neolithic Sanctuaries of Göbekli Tepe, Southeastern Turkey.” In Death Shall Have No Dominion: The Archaeology of Mortality and Immortality – a Worldwide Perspective, edited by C. Renfrew, M. Boyd, and I. Morley, 65–81. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Peters, J., A. Driesch, A. Von Den, and D. Helmer. 2005. “The Upper Euphrates: Tigris Basin, Cradle of Agropastoralism?” In The First Steps of Animal Domestication, edited by J. D. Vigne, J. Peters, and D. Helmer, 96–124. Oxford: Oxbow Books.

 

(Opinions and interpretations expressed in guest contributions on this blog do not necessarily need to reflect those of the research team or the German Archaeological Institute.)

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