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.
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)
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.”
Sadly, we have to pass the news that on August 2, Prof. em. Harald Hauptmann passed away. Professor Hauptmann was the former director of the Istanbul Department at the German Archaeological Institute, and, what many people may not be aware of, played a unique role in the initiation of excavations and research at Göbekli Tepe. For this reason, he remained a valuable friend and special mentor over the years.
Following the completion of his PhD in Prehistoric and Protohistoric Archaeology (Ur- und Frühgeschichte) at Heidelberg University, which focused on the early Neolithic in Thessaly, Hauptmann was made research lecturer at the Istanbul Department of the German Archaeological Institute, a position that he held for five years, until 1971. During this time, he was involved in excavations at such renowned sites as Boğazköy and Norşuntepe. Subsequently, he accepted the call to Heidelberg University, where he held the chair for Pre- and Protohistory and Near Eastern Archaeology until 1994. In these years, he initiated field research at two notable sites in Southeastern Turkey, at Lidar Höyük and Nevali Çori. This latter site would not only be of major significance for Anatolian Neolithic research, but it was also the first site at which T-shaped limestone pillars were revealed in an architectural context.
Returning to the German Archaeological Institute as head of the Istanbul Department in 1994, Hauptmann continued to focus on the Neolithic in Southeastern Turkey. Together with his former student Klaus Schmidt, who already assisted at Nevali Çori, he initiated field research at Göbekli Tepe, which to this day remains a crucial site for the study of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic and early monumental architecture. Over the first two decades of research at Göbekli Tepe, Hauptmann remained a prominent figure for the excavation project. A constant source of knowledge and inspiration, especially following the untimely death of Klaus Schmidt in 2014, he always had an open ear and was keen to discuss latest finds and new developments.
Hauptmann’s contributions to the Neolithic and Bronze Age archaeology of Anatolia are meanwhile considered essential and pioneering work. In particular, we at the Göbekli Tepe research project are thankful for the exchange with Harald Hauptmann. We have not only lost an esteemed colleague, but also a close friend.
(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.)
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.
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.
Pillar 56 from Göbekli Tepe’s Enclosure H. (Photo: Nico Becker, DAI)
Detail of Pillar 27 in Enclosure C: high relief of a snarling predator.(Photo: Dieter Johannes, DAI)
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.)
According recent media reports [external link] the Şanlıurfa Haleplibahçe Museum and the municipality of Şanlıurfa, which are responsible for the archaeological site of Göbekli Tepe, have now enabled visitor access to the prehistoric ruins again.
For further information please refer to the Archaeological Museum in Şanlıurfa [external link].
Since last June the archaeological site of Göbekli Tepe is closed to visitors due to the construction of two permanent shelters above the excavated areas at Göbekli Tepe’s south-eastern and north-western hollows (see here). Originally, completion of this work was scheduled for the end of last year, but construction work took longer than expected and the excavation still remains closed.
Meanwhile work made good progress and shelter construction is moving forward. In a recently published note, the Turkish General Directorate of Cultural Assets and Museums announced that the site will be closed until mid-July 2017 [external link].
Shelter construction at Göbekli Tepe, work in progress. (Photo: H. Yildiz)
As reported in various Turkish media, Şanlıurfa Culture and Tourism Director Aydın Aslan stated that the site is meant be re-opened to public visitors this summer again (here quoted from arkeofili.com [external link], translated):
“As of July 15 2017, the shelter constructions will be completed and the site opened to visitors again. All work is carried out to balance preservation and further study of Göbekli Tepe. Our primary concern is its protection and Göbekli Tepe could be preserve best. The superstructure shelters cost about 600,000 Euros, funded by the Turkish State and the European Union. Concluding, we think it is important work for the preservation and accessibility of Göbekli Tepe minimising damage in the future.”
It is our pleasure having the chance to contribute to this work and help offering visitors the chance to return to Göbekli Tepe and experience the early Neolithic monuments again as soon as possible.
Update 02.08.2017: Unfortunately the shelters are still under construction as of yet and the site remains closed to public visitors for the moment. Hopefully all work will be finished and the site re-opened later that year in autumn.
Recently a (peer-reviewed) paper published by M. Sweatman and D. Tsikritsis, two researchers of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Engineering, has made headlines, suggesting that the Göbekli Tepe enclosures actually were space observatories and that some of the reliefs depict a catastrophic cosmic event (the original publication in Mediterranean Archaeology and Archaeometry 17(1), 2017 is accessible online here [external link]).
A selection of the carved reliefs found on many of Göbekli Tepe’s T-shaped pillars is linked to and interpreted as depiction of actual stellar constellations. In particular Pillar 43, which is indeed an outstanding (but actually not exceptional) example of the site’s rich and complex iconography, is interpreted as record of a meteor shower and collision – with quite serious consequences for life on earth 13,000 – 12,000 years ago (this whole ‘Younger Dryas Impact’ hypothesis [external link] actually is disputed itself [external link], so making Göbekli Tepe a ‘smoking gun’ in this argument should absolutely ask for a closer look).
Pillar 43 in Göbekli Tepe’s Enclosure D. (Photo: K. Schmidt, DAI)
Debate regarding a possible astronomic link and interpretation of the architecture and the characteristic pillars in particular are as old as the history of research regarding Göbekli Tepe, but as of yet no convincing proof for an actual celestial orientation or observation of such phenomena could have been put forward. We always were and still are open to consider these discussions. So, of course we were looking into the new study with quite some interest, too. After all it is a new and fascinating interpretation. However, upon closer inspection we as excavators of this important site would like to raise a few points which may challenge this interpretation in our point of view:
1. There still is quite a significant probability that the older circular enclosures of Göbekli Tepe’s Layer III actually were subterranean buildings – possibly even covered by roof constructions. This then somehow would limit their usability as actual observatories a bit.
2. Even if we assume that the night sky 12,000 years ago looked exactly like today’s, the question at hand would be whether a prehistoric hunter really would have put together the very same asterisms and constellations we recognise today (most of them going back to ancient Egyptian, Babylonian, and Greek scholars and descriptions)?
3. Contrary to the article’s premise the unearthed features at Göbekli Tepe are not shrouded in mystery. Published over the last years and decades, there is ample scientific literature available which unfortunately did not find its way into the study. The specific animals depicted in each enclosure’s iconography for instance seems to follow a certain intention, emphasizing different species in different enclosures. A purely substitutional interpretation ignores these more subtle but significant details. This also can be demonstrated for instance with the headless man on the shaft of Pillar 43, interpreted as symbol of death and mass extinction in the paper – however silently omitting the emphasised phallus in the same depiction which somehow contradicts the lifeless notion and implies a much more complex narrative behind these reliefs. There are even more reliefs on both narrow sides of P43 which went conpletely uncommented here.
4. It also seems a bit arbitrary to base this interpretation (and all its consequences as described in the paper) on what seems to be some randomly selected pillars and their iconography (the interpretation thus not covering “much of the symbolism of Göbekli Tepe” as stated in the paper, but merely the tip of that iceberg). In the meantime more than 60 monumental T-pillars could have been unearthed in the older Layer III – many of these showing similar reliefs of animals and abstract symbols, a few even as complex as Pillar 43 (like Pillar 56 or Pillar 66 in enclosure H, for example). And it does not end there: the same iconography is prominently known also from other find groups like stone vessels, shaft straighteners, and plaquettes – not only from Göbekli Tepe, but a variety of contemporary sites in the wider vicinity.
So, with all due respect for the work and effort the Edinburgh colleagues obviously put into their research and this publication, there still are – at least from our perspective as excavators of this important site – some points worth a detailed discussion. A more thorough exchange with the excavation team could have clarified many of these concerns.
The new year brings new books, and here is one we would like to point out, because, well, we have a contribution on Göbekli Tepe in there.
Richard Chacon and Ruben G. Mendoza (eds.), Feast, Famine or Fighting? Multiple Pathways to Social Complexity. Springer International Publishing: New York.
The book [external link], edited by Richard Chacon and Ruben G. Mendoza, contains contributions by anthropologists, archaeologists and sociologists on the question how social complexity developed in different regions of the world. Our topic is the start of social hierarchization during the early Neolithic, a subject the findings from Göbekli Tepe can significantly contribute to.
So, as a teaser, here is our abstract:
Oliver Dietrich, Jens Notroff, Klaus Schmidt
Feasting, Social Complexity and the Emergence of the Early Neolithic of Upper Mesopotamia: A View from Göbekli Tepe
Early Neolithic social complexity is a topic much discussed but still under-researched. The present contribution explores the possible role of feasting in the emergence of social complexity, hierarchical societies and the shift to the Neolithic way of life in Upper Mesopotamia. This region has long been placed at the periphery of the area relevant for crucial steps in Neolithization. With the hill sanctuary of Göbekli Tepe however it has produced a site that challenges this traditional assumption. There, large circle-like enclosures made up of often richly decorated T-shaped pillars of up to 5.5 m height have been erected during the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (10th millennium BC), followed by smaller rectangular pillar-buildings throughout the early and middle Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (9th millennium BC). Vast evidence for feasting at the site seems to hint at work feasts to accomplish the common, religiously motivated task of constructing these enclosures.
Given the significant amount of time, labour and skilled craftsmanship invested, and as elements of Göbekli Tepe´s material culture can be found around it in a radius of roughly 200 km all over Upper Mesopotamia, it is likely that the site was the cultic centre of transegalitarian groups.
Access to and command of knowledge crucial to the society´s identity and well-being may have served as a social barrier hindering individuals to step outside of the given limits, while being the basis for power over the work-force of others for a restricted group of people. Social hierachization seems to emerge already in the PPN A of Upper Mesopotamia, earlier than hitherto thought, and maybe also earlier than in the Southern Levant, a region long thought to be the cradle of the new, Neolithic way of life.
The cover story of National Geographic Magazine’s [external link] February issue is an interesting culture-historical excursus on the social and ritual role of alcohol from early cultures to modern drinking habits, the technical processes of producing alcoholic beverages, and the challenges to actually track down and verify these in the archaeological record.
Titled “Our 9,000-Year Love Affair With Booze” [external link], the text by author Andrew Curry (with photos by Brian Finke) follows the work of Martin Zarnkow for instance, a scientist at TUZ Munich’s Weihenstephan research center for brewing and food-grade. We also had the pleasure to work together with him when he was analysing a couple of samples coming from large stationary stone vessels at Göbekli Tepe. While still preliminary and inconclusive, these analyses initially hinted at the likely brewing – and consumption – of beer-like beverages in the context of large gatherings which seem to have taken place at Neolithic Göbekli Tepe (read more about this observation here). National Geographic’s article also features a short insight into this part of our research and puts it into a quite fascinating (pre-)historical context.
Large limestone vessels at Göbekli Tepe which might have been used for the production of early alcoholic beverages based on cereals. (Photos: N. Becker, DAI)
Last week about two dozen colleagues, specialists of several disciplines from archaeology, geography, zoology and botany to anthropology, building research, and beyond were gathering in the Orient Department of the German Archaeological Institute here in Berlin to discuss the many new facets, challenges, and opportunities the Göbekli Tepe research project will encounter now with the new 3-year project phase just launched a couple of weeks ago.
Current and future Göbekli Tepe research project staff. (Photo: J. Notroff)
Future research will shed more light on, among others, the site’s stratigraphy and the complex building history of the enclosures, the interesting treatment of human and animal bones found there and what this would mean in the wider context of Pre-Ptottery Neolithic subsistence adnd society. Together with the colleagues we will gain new information on the variety of sculptures and reliefs, on prehistoric climate and environment, and much, much more.
We look forward to an interesting and productive research phase ahead and to present these colleagues and their fascinating work, just like Laura who lead off here recently with her research into preparation of vegetable meals at Göbekli Tepe, in the coming weeks. Watch this space.