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)
The most notable feature of Göbekli Tepe are, of course, the monumental circular enclosures formed of T-shaped pillars dating back to the 10th millennium BC. The first of these structures were discovered early druring excavations from 1995 onwards in the mound’s southwestern depression which meanwhile became known as ‘main excavation area’. To clarify if this peculiar type of architecture was limited to this part of the site and discovered by pure chance, geophysical surveys were undertaken – indeed demonstrating that similar features could be found in other parts of the mound as well. Renewed excavations in particular in the northwestern depression (Fig. 1) started in 2011 produced a number of interesting related features of which one, Enclosure H, should be in the focus of this short report.
Fig. 1: Aerial of Göbekli Tepe and the excavation areas. (Photo: E. Kücük, DAI)
Georadar results already indicated a large, cloverleaf-shaped agglomeration of what seemed to be one or even more circular enclosures (Fig. 2). Excavations started in that area in 2011 soon revealed first T-pillars, confirming the existence of more monuments in this section of the tall as well. The structure which later would have been labelled ‘Enclosure H’ (in order of their discovery) could have been indeed located on the geophysical plan already as circular feature in the western part of the examined area (K10-24 and -25 as well as (partly) K10-35 and -35).
Fig. 2: Geomagnetic survey results in the NW depression, excavation areas superimposed. (Geomagnetics: GGH- Solutions in Geoscience, Plan: J. Notroff, DAI)
Fig. 3: Aerial of Enclosure H at current state of excavations, including pillar numbers. (Photos: N. Becker, compilation: J. Notroff, DAI)
Although excavations are not completed yet, it can already be noted that it follows the general scheme and layout of the other known PPN A enclosures at Göbekli Tepe. In the course of following excavations eight pillars were discovered and excavated to this date (Fig. 3).
Fig. 4: Pillar 51, the eastern (and so far only discovered) central pillar of Enclosure H. (Photo: N. Becker, DAI)
The eastern central pillar of Enclosure H, Pillar 51 (Fig. 4), was found close to the surface. While still in situ, the massive pillar was toppled over, its head heavily damaged (all fragments could be found and documented in immediate vicinity, however). The front side shows the characteristic stola-like depcition, the western broad side features the relief of a big cat which somehow resembles those animals known from the younger (Layer II) rectangular ‘lion pillars building’ in the main excavation area.
Pillars 54 and 55 in the enclosure’s northern respectively southern wall are partly excavated, also showing the ‘stola’-relief. The latter’s head being damaged as well (most likely due to frost weathering).
Fig. 5: The extensively decorated Pillar 56. (Photo: N. Becker, DAI)
Pillar 56 (Fig. 5) is particularly notworthy due to its extensively decorated southwestern broadside – more than 55 animals are depicted so closely packed, that the outline of one merges with the contour of the next image. On the narrow front side a bucranium framed by two snaked can be seen. The northeastern broad side shows two very low lines which might indicate further reliefs here, but need to be clarified in the course of future excavations.
Fig. 6: Pillar 57 in the southern wall of Enclosure H (Photo: N. Becker, DAI)
Pillar 57 (Fig. 6) is situated in the southern wall of Enclosure H. Its head is, probably due to frost weathering again, damaged. The front side shows the reliefs of two snakes (whose bodies seem to wind around the pillar) are facing each other and a round object. Underneath another carving can be seen; hardly identifiable it could be another snake’s head.
Of Pillar 64 there is only the basis left in situ, while another limestone fragment from its head was found nearby.
Fig. 7: Pillar 66 with the depcition of an apparently dying or dead horned animal. (Photo: N. Becker, DAI)
Pillar 66 (Fig. 7) is situated to the west of P54 in the northern part of the enclosure wall, but deviates from the expected radial orientation since it stands almost parallel to the wall. This unusual position may have to do with a possible secondary use of the pillar here; something which was also already brought up for Enclosures B and C in the main excvation area. The pillar’s head depicts a large horned animal (maybe an aurochs or stag) with bent legs and hanging out tongue, maybe indicating the death of this animal.
Fig. 8: Pillar 69 with the relief of a jumping cat of prey. (Photo: N. Becker, DAI)
Pillar 69 (Fig. 8) in the northeastern enclosure wall shares the unusual orientation with P66, also standing parallel to the wall. Not completely excavated yet, it shows the relief of a jumping cat of prey on the shaft; the pillar’s head is smashed.
The enclosure wall, which was unearthed in the southern and eastern as well, to some degree, documented in the northern parts, already can give an idea of the dimension of Enclosure H which probably was more of elliptic rather than circular shape and probably had an inner diameter of about 10 m. After a not yet determined period of use, the enclosure was finally backfilled and buried much like this could have been observed with the main excavation area’s enclosures already. However, the excavated southern section of Enclosure H shows very clear that there must have been at least one additional later intervention after this backfilling took place. The alltogether rather ‘chaotic’ discovery situation of the southern enclosure wall, with broken stone benches and pillar fragments obviously not in their original position anymore, gives witness of this intrusion which can be also seen quite clearly in the northern profile of this excavation trench (Fig. 9).
Fig. 9: The northern profile of excavation area K10-24, the later pit dug into the already backfilled enclosure is clearly visible to the left. (Photo: N. Becker, DAI)
Interestingly, this somehow mirrors a similar situation already met in Enclosure C, where also a later dug pit which only purpose seems to have been locating and breaking the enclosure’s central pillars (whose smashed pieces could be retrieved nearby), for reasons still remaining in the dark as of yet. Another noteworthy feature (which again reminds of the general situation of Enclosure C) is the discovery of some steps apparently forming a stairway in the intersection of two walls in Enclosure H’s southern boundaries. If this really could be interpreted as some kind of entrance situation into the enclosure has to remain topic of future investigations here.
O. Dietrich, J. Notroff, L. Clare, Ch. Hübner, Ç. Köksal-Schmidt, K. Schmidt, Göbekli Tepe, Anlage H. Ein Vorbericht beim Ausgrabungsstand von 2014, in: Ü. Yalcin (ed.) Anatolian Metal VII – Anatolien und seine Nachbarn vor 10.000 Jahren / Anatolia and Neighbours 10.000 years ago. Der Anschnitt, Beiheft 31, Bochum 2016, 53-69.
Deep sounding to the north of Enclosure B, the arrow marks the position of the porthole stone. (Photo: N. Becker, DAI).
Starting from 2011, work at Göbekli Tepe has focused on the excavation of several deep soundings, meant to contain the struts holding a membrane shelter structure to ensure a durable protection of the site. The soundings, some more than five meters deep, have offered us unparalleled insights into the stratigraphy of the site. The evaluation of this evidence is going on at the moment and will lead to a site formation model soon. But, besides that, many of the soundings, although limited in horizontal extension, have also produced remarkable finds. Among them is the porthole stone presented here.
Schematic plan of Enclosure B with indicated position of the porthole stone in the northern wall. (Plan: K. Schmidt & J. Notroff, DAI)
Porthole stone found in situ in a wall in a deep sounding to the north of Enclosure B (Photo: N. Becker, DAI).
It was discovered in 2011 in a deep sounding excavated to the north of Enclosure B. Apart from revealing a so far unknown part of this enclosure and two more of its pillars, immediately on the bedrock several walls outside of the enclosure were discovered. In one of them, a decorated porthole stone stood in situ. The subrectangular hole in the middle of the stone is flanked by two antithetic foxes, apparently portrayed in the moment of jumping (at each other, at the entrance, the visitor?). Above the hole, a bucranium was placed. Unfortunately, the sounding could not be enlarged to explore the room enclosed by the wall. It thus remains unclear, whether the porthole stone really marks the entrance to the building, or the animals were ‘guarding’ a niche with important contents within a room.
During the 2009 and 2010 excavation seasons at Göbekli Tepe, several new trenches at the northwestern hilltop of the tell were opened. Below the plough horizon, as we already had expected, soon rectangular rooms appeared, the characteristic features of the younger Layer II at Göbekli Tepe. However, in the eastern part of the new trenches, the rooms ended quite abruptly. Instead of them, for some time, there was – more or less nothing. That is, of course we were not digging in sterile soil, the sediments were full of finds, just the architecture was missing.
Göbekli Tepe, the areas on the northwestern hilltop under excavation in 2010 (Photo O. Dietrich).
What do you do as an archaeologist in such a situation? Dig on, of course. And after some days of rather monotonous work, that simple strategy paid off. The colour of the sediment suddenly changed into a reddish tone. At Göbekli Tepe, this is a clear indication that you have reached the filling sediments of the older building layer III. And, just to confirm the rule, soon the head of a new monumental pillar appeared.
Small beginnings – a worked stone, but what will it be? (Photo O. Dietrich).
After some more days of excavation, the head of a new monumental pillar emerges (Photo Oliver Dietrich).
Unfortunately we were not able to resume work in those areas on the northwestern hilltop in the following years, as other excavation areas and preparation for the construction of permanent shelter structures over the site required the full attention of the excavation team. However, besides new information on the layer II architecture of the side, two important discoveries came from our work in the ‘north-west’.
Göbekli Tepe. A monumental porthole stone from the northwestern hilltop areas (Photo O. Dietrich).
First, a very important detail for the interpretation of the site in general: it seems, that the situation in the main excavation area in the southeastern depression of the tell is not unique. There, the layer II buildings largely exclude the area of the monumental enclosures. This seems to have been a deliberate choice, as a roughly semi-circular ‘terrace wall’ physically marked the position of the Enclosures A-D, giving the tell an amphitheare-like appearance.
Second, in one of the areas, a very important find was made. What seemed in the moment of discovery to be a larger worked stone, a usual thing at Göbekli Tepe, turned after several days of detailed excavation into a monumental porthole stone. Several such stones with a central opening are known from the site, and they could have played a role as entrances to the enclosures or other buildings. One of them lies approximately in the centre of Enclosure B and gives some reason to think about an entrance through a possible roof for that bulding.
Detail of the sculptures on the monumental porthole stone (Photo O. Dietrich).
However, the new porthole stone from the northwestern areas was completely different, and that not only regarding its enormous measurements of c. 3x3m. First, unlike all examples found before, it has two openings. Second, it is richly decorated with three c. 0.5m long sculptures of quadrupeds (bull, ram and a wildcat) and a 1.5 m long snake in high relief, as well as a row of cupholes. Unfortunately, the stone was not in situ, that is, not in its original architectonic context. But the decorations clearly show that it must have been part of an important building whose entrance had to be guarded accordingly.
Klaus Schmidt, Göbekli Tepe, in: Mehmet Özdoğan – Nezih Başgelen – Peter Kuniholm (Hrsg.), The Neolithic in Turkey. New Excavations & New Research. The Euphrates Basin, Archaeology and Art Publications (2011): 50-52.
During the first field season at Göbekli Tepe in 1995 one of the landowners had started to clear his field in the southeastern depression of stones that hindered ploughing. He dug out the heads of two large T-shaped pillars and had already started to smash one pillar with a sledgehammer. Fortunately he could be persuaded to stop, and in the 1996 work started in this area. What came to light here was the first of the monumental buildings of Göbekli Tepe’s older layer (Layer III), later called Enclosure A.
Enclosure A in 1997 (Photo: M. Morsch, copyright DAI).
The ground plan of Enclosure A appears more rectangular than round. First radiocarbon data suggest that it may be a little younger than other Enclosures, C and D, and maybe the rectangular shape already could indicate the transition to the later, rectangular, Layer II building type. The existence of different outer walls may as well hint at a longer building history and possible alteration over toime. However, Enclosure A is still not entirely excavated, so any description must remain preliminary as of yet.
Pillar 1 in Enclosure A shows a net-like pattern formed of snakes and a ram (Photo: C. Gerber, coopyright DAI).
Pillar 2 in Enclosure A with a vertical sequence of three motifs: bull, fox and crane (Photo: C. Gerber, copyright DAI).
Pillars 1 and 2, the central pillars of Enclosure A, were excavated down to the level of the stone bench leaning against the inner walls of the building. Both pillars are richly adorned with reliefs. Particularly striking is a net-like pattern, possibly of snakes, on the south-western side of Pillar 1. The front side of this pillar carries a central groove running vertically from below the head to its base, covering about one third of its width. This groove and the raised bands to either side are decorated with five snakes in bas-relief. Maybe this is a depiction of a stola-like garment which is similarly known from other pillars as well. Pillar 2 carries on its right side a vertical sequence of three motifs: bull, fox, and crane. Its narrower back side is adorned with a bucranium between the vertical bands of another stola-like garment. Insights and experience gained in the last years, particularly with regard to typical motif-arrangement, suggests that Pillar 2 was not found in its original position, but was at some time moved to this, secondary, location. In the course of this action, the original back side of the pillar became its front and vice versa.
Göbekli Tepe, detail of the main excavation area with Enclosure A (Plan: K. Schmidt, copyright DAI).
Currently, the number of pillars surrounding the two central figures in Enclosure A lies at four, though it is expected that this number will rise once excavations are continued in this area. Pillar 5 shows a snake again, Pillars 3 and 4 are without reliefs. Pillar 17 was heavily destroyed already in prehistory, and is without reliefs so far, too. As with all the buildings of Göbekli Tepe’s older layer, one animal species seems to dominate the imagery of Enclosure A. In this case, it is the snake which appears noteworthy often.
Klaus Schmidt, The Urfa-Project 1996, Neo-Lithics. A Newsletter of Southwest Asian Lithics Research 2/96,2–3.
Klaus Schmidt, Göbekli Tepe, Southeastern Turkey. A Preliminary Report on the 1995-1999 Excavations, Paléorient 26/1, 2001, 45-54.
In 2016 construction work commenced on two permanent shelters at Göbekli Tepe. These structures will provide additional protection from the elements (wind, sun and rain) to archaeological features in excavation areas in the south-eastern and north-western parts of the site. Fieldwork in spring and autumn of this year concentrated on the documentation of prehistoric architecture in areas affected by building activities. Additional time was spent in the site find-depots, including sorting and inventory work of stored archaeological materials. These measures were essential in preparation for pending analyses and studies taking place in the frame of the recently initiated research phase.
In the course of our excavations at one of the positions assigned to shelter support constructions in the so-called main excavation area in the south-eastern hollow, work was concentrated on the previously unexcavated part of a rectangular stone structure (‘Room 38’ in trench L9-56) of the type commonly assigned to Layer 2 (attributed to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B period).
Plan of the western parts of the ‘southeast hollow’ (main excavation area). The location of ‘Room 38’ in trench L9-56 is marked with a black frame.
In the northwest quarter of the room fill deposits were left untouched in order to provide additional support for the T-pillar (PXIII) located (still in-situ) at a central position at the western end of the room. The base of this T-pillar was found to be embedded in a raised platform at the western end of the building. In the northeast corner of the room a stone feature was revealed. This feature is comprised of three low (c. 50 cm high) walls (to the north, east and west). Two of the walls (to the north and east) are constructed of limestone blocks and were built up against the main walls of the room. The southern wall of the feature is made of a large worked limestone slab, perhaps a fragment of a T-pillar or similar object. The feature is open to the west. A lack of evidence for burning would speak against its function as an oven. Excavations within the building yielded numerous finds, including chipped stone and animal bone remains. A large stone vessel was found in-situ on the floor of the building.
Yesterday, July 29th was this year’s “Day of Archaeology” [external link] – a project aiming to “… provide a window into the daily lives of archaeologists from all over the world.” Happy to be invited to contribute as well, we thought to share some impressions from a typical day excavating at Göbekli Tepe – ‘just another day in the (field) office’ so to say …
4.30 o’clock. Ante meridiem. Definitely too early for an honest “Good morning.” not pressed through clenched teeth. It’s still dark outside, the dim light barely enough to distinguish a black thread from a white one: The muezzin just called the faithful to prayer and, probably unintentionally, the archaeologists to finally get up as well. Breakfast at such an early hour basically consists of not more than some strong tea, a slice of soft white flatbread (which will be rather dry within the hour), and a handful of olives – taken in the quiet and still fresh morning air of the excavation house’s courtyard in the light of setting stars and a single light bulb. Actually, it’s too early for an honest breakfast too.
The next 20 minutes or so expedition’s staff is silently gathering over tea and bread in dining room and yard before it is time to go. For work, finally. On leaving the historic oriental brick-house in the old part of this eastern Anatolian town, everyone grabs a piece of equipment or provisions for the day to come and one after another heads through the narrow alleys towards the waiting mini bus and driver. A 20-minutes-ride through yet still abandoned streets lies ahead – to the excavation site outside and beyond town. The last chance for a nap.
To work. Through dim alleyways. (Photo: J. Notroff)
As we arrive on this early Neolithic site, somewhere up in the mountains of southeastern Turkey, a pale moon is still hanging around a sky only slowly changing from black to blue. Groups of local workmen just arrived minutes before by tractor from a village down the hill. Still dressed in coats and cardigans against the morning coolth, they are waiting for day’s work to start while the bunch of students and scientists are collecting tools and instruments, equipment and journals. Finally, first light is sounding the bell for the workday to start as a still shy sun is hesitantly peeking above the eastern horizon. Workmen and archaeologists alike are heading to the excavation trenches, a caravan of shovels and buckets, of head-scarves and hats. Everyone knows his place and assignment; gangs finding together following a long-established system (and dare you trying to change this!): There’s two diggers, a shoveller, and two basket-carriers. Always. All of them accompanied by a student ready to label, note, and measure any find of interest they may unearth.
Early birds. (Photo: J. Notroff)
Soon the air is filled with the sound of pickaxes and of chanting and laughing workmen; their bright purple headscarves fluttering in a breeze. Soil is shifted, rocks are moved. Basket after basket of debris is brought out of the trenches. As the dust of history is slowly removed, the ancient remains are rising gradually: Boulders, slabs, and walls pulled back into present-daylight. Slowly the earth is releasing those secrets of the past it was keeping for so many years. For centuries. For millennia.
And so business is going on. And on. The dusty work only interrupted by a short breakfast. Children from the nearby village are coming around, bringing their fathers and uncles and brothers some food and cool water. Everyone’s hungry – and more lively – by now, so this breakfast is a much more substantial and communicative matter than the sparse and mute one in the very morning: Over yet another tea (there’s always tea, get used to it), over some cheese and flatbread, over tomatoes and cucumbers and olives, conversations are drifting around the table for half an hour of otiosity. Half an hour of lethargic rest in the shadows; the sun – not shy at all anymore – now showing its true nature, relentlessly burning down from a shimmering sky. There’s no other shadow out there, so returning to work means returning into the heat of a furnace.
Breakfast. (Photo: T. Yildiz)
As dusty as busy. (Photo: J. Notroff)
Back in the dust soon the clanking of picks loosening dirt and rubble can be heard. A group of visitors, marvelling at the site’s sight, takes the chance to curiously quiz the archaeologists before returning to their air-conditioned busses. Workmen continue to dig; students still are busily taking notes, picking out small pieces of charcoal and fragments of flint tools and stone vessels from the excavated soil, collecting them in buckets and plastic bags – each labelled with date and information on their exact find spot. Two workers are intently hauling a large sculpture to the edge of an excavation trench. Dirt is sifted dry and wet (a rather dusty respectively muddy business); a steady flow of find material is coming towards provisional lab and office facilities in the excavation’s ‘headquarters’ of construction containers and tents upon the next hill crest – eagerly awaited by specialists, keen to have a look onto the latest piece of obsidian or the peculiar amazing new stone sculpture.
“There’s help needed at the sieves.” (Drawing: J. Notroff)
While the sun is moving towards its zenith, work’s pace is decreasing noticeably. It’s an arduous business and after eight hours of digging, just when midday’s heat is reaching its peak, everyone is happy to call it a (field) day. Last measurements are taken and yelled and noted, last photos are taken too; tools and instruments, equipment and journals are collected and put away yet again. Bidding good bye, the crew of workmen is boarding tractors and trailers, leaving for that small village down the hill – dragging behind a dustcloud all the way. Buckets full of small finds are loaded into the mini bus and taken to the excavation house. As the bus is slowly crawling down the dirt track everyone’s trying to find a comfortable position, finally taking another short rest – legs stretched, the dusty hat pulled down over the eyes. With the madness of an average oriental big city’s rush hour the drive back costs a multiple of the time the way there in morning did took us – enough time for a nap also. Appreciated.
Daily commute. (Drawing: J. Notroff)
Back in town, as we leave the car and head through heated-up narrow old-town alleys towards the excavation house, buckets and pieces of equipment in hand, the muezzin is calling the faithful to prayer again. Well, for the archaeologists it’s lunchtime for now; the cook is already waiting. Of course a meal in the Orient is not finished without the mandatory tea (you get the idea), so showers still have to wait for yet another 10 minutes or so. There’s got to be time for that.
But even now work isn’t done yet for the day. After the refreshing effect of a shower (and fresh clothes; don’t you ever underestimate the effect of fresh clothes!), everyone’s gathering in the excavation house’s courtyard – again. The buckets brought back from site are emptied, the finds carefully cleaned and washed, sorted, and spread onto coarse screens to let them dry in the sun. Meanwhile those finds of the day before, now all clean and dry and pretty, are examined, sorted, listed, catalogued, drawn and photographed where necessary. Let alone the paperwork. Field notes and reports. Accounting and administration. More reports. Over are the times where an expedition to the middle of nowhere, far from home, office, and institute meant one wouldn’t be on call. In the age of globalization, mobile communication, and wifi even in the back of beyond, everyone’s expecting to receive an answer to e-mail, text, and phone call – preferably within the hour.
Afternoon shift at the dig house. (Photo: J. Notroff)
The darkness of night has already fallen (summer over here almost skipping the twilight of dusk), the muezzin has called the faithful to prayer one last time for today. Over dinner, some conversation and, finally!, a beer or glass of wine, another day’s slowly facing its end in the dim evening light of the excavation house’s courtyard. Sooner or later everyone’s pushing off; it’s not going to be a very long night – about 4.30 o’clock, ante meridiem, the muezzin will call the faithful to prayer again. And the archaeologists to finally get up. Again.
This short article was obviously inspired and fuelled by Agatha Christie Mallowan’s “Come, Tell Me How You Live” (the title of this contribution directly deriving from a poem in the short epilogue of her book). This ‘Archaeological Memoir’, published in 1946, gives an account of her days in the field together with her husband Max Mallowan (esteemed British archaeologist and excavator of Tell Brak, Tell Arpachiyah, and other sites) describing the daily routine of an archaeological excavation. It is a very entertaining, a witty and spirited little book; one I’d personally recommend not only to archaeologist-colleagues. Christie Mallowan (indeed identical to the well-known crime novelist you just may have thought of) slipped quite some of these archaeological adventures and experiences into her better known ‘Whodunnits’: “Murder on the Orient Express” (1934) and “Death on the Nile” (1937) evocating long and colourful journeys to these sites and “Murder in Mesopotamia” (1936) even depiciting an extraordinary dramatically case of ‘excavation fever’ – not at all unknown to those who can relate such a situation (minus the murder though, most likely).
Göbekli Tepe before the start of excavations in 1995 (Photo O. Durgut, copyright DAI).
Göbekli Tepe was for the first time recognized as an archaeological site during a large-scale survey project conducted by the Universities of Istanbul and Chicago in 1963. In his account of work in the Urfa province, Peter Benedict describes the site as a cluster of mounds of reddish soil separated by depressions. The slopes were clustered with flint, and he described what he thought to be two small islamic cemeteries. The impressions of the survey team are mirrored in early aerial photographs of the site, taken before excavations started. The reddish-brown tell with its hight of up to 15m and a diameter of 300 m is the only colourful spot on the otherwise barren Germuş mountain range. Situated on the highest point of this geological feature, Göbekli Tepe is a prominent landmark at the edge of the Harran plain. The surveyors identified the materials at Göbekli Tepe as Neolithic, but missed the importance of the site. Further research may also not have seemed possible because of the assumed islamic graveyards.
Between 1983 and 1991 large-scale excavations, in fact rescue excavations in advance of the construction of the Atatürk barrage, were under way at another important Neolithic site in the Urfa region, Nevalı Çori. Under the direction of Harald Hauptmann, a Neolithic settlement was excavated that had large rectangular domestic buildings often similar to Cayönü´s channeled buildings. However, excavations revealed also one building (with three construction phases) that was completely different from anything known before in the Neolithic of the Near East. Not only was a large number of monumental stone sculptures discovered, but the rectangular building itself had T-or Gamma-shaped pillars running along the walls, interconnected by a bench, and a pair of T-shaped pillars in the centre. Due to the representation of arms and hands, these pillars could be understood as highly abstracted depictions of the human body.
The “wishing tree” at the highest point of Göbekli Tepe in 1995. The slopes of the tell are littered with finds (Photo M. Morsch, copyright DAI).
Nevalı Çori was finally flooded by the Atatürk Barrage in 1991. But one of the members of the excavation team, Klaus Schmidt (1953-2014), wanted to find out whether there were more settlements like Nevalı Çori hidden in the Urfa region, with special buildings and elaborated stone sculpture. In 1994 he visited all Neolithic sites mentioned in the literature. Drawing on the experience gained at Nevalı Çori, Schmidt was able to identify the ‘tombstones’ at Göbekli Tepe as Neolithic work-pieces and T-shaped pillars. The moment of discovery is best described in his own words [author’s translation based on Schmidt 2006]:
“October 1994, the land colored by the evening sun. We walked through slopy, rather difficult and confusing terrain, littered with large basalt blocks. No traces of prehistoric people visible, no walls, pottery sherds, stone tools. Doubts regarding the sense of this trip, like many before with the aim to survey prehistoric, in particular Stone Age sites, were growing slowly but inexorably. Back in the village, an old man had answered our questions whether there was a hill with çakmaktaşı, flint, in vicinity, with a surprisingly clear „Yes!“. And he had sent a boy to guide us to that place […]. We could drive only a small part of the way, at the edge of the basalt field we had to start walking […]. Our small group was made up of a taxi driver from the town, our young guide, Michael Morsch, a colleague from Heidelberg, and me. Finally we reached a small hill at the border of the basalt field, offering a panoramic view of a wide horizon. Still no archaeological traces, just those of sheep and goat flocks brought here to graze. But we had finally reached the end of the basalt field; now the barren limestone plateau lay in front of us. […] On the opposed hill a large mound towered above the flat plateau, divided by depressions into several hilltops. […] Was that the mound we were looking for? The ‘knocks’ of red soil Peter Benedict had described in his survey report, Göbekli Tepe, or to be more precise, Göbekli Tepe ziyaret? […] When we approached the flanks of the mound, the so far gray and bare limestone plateau suddenly began to glitter. A carpet of flint covered the bedrock, and sparkled in the afternoon sun, not unlike a snow cover in the winter sun. But this spectacular sight was not only caused by nature, humans had assisted in staging it. We assured ourselves several times: These were not flint nodules fragmented by the forces of nature, but flakes, blades and fragments of cores, in short artifacts. […] Other finds, in particular pottery, were absent. On the flanks of the mound the density of flint became lower. We reached the first long-stretched stone heaps, obviously accumulated here over decades by farmers clearing their fields […]. One of those heaps held a particularly large boulder. It was clearly worked and had a form that was easily recognizable: it was the T-shaped head of a pillar of the Nevalı Çori type…”.
S1, the first test trench at Göbekli Tepe (Photo M. Morsch, copyright DAI).
At the moment of its re-discovery in 1994, Göbekli Tepe was nearly untouched by modern activities. The tell could be reached only by foot or horse. The only use, agriculture without deep ploughing, was documented by the extensive ‘walls’ of stones cleared from the fields. Due to heavy winter rains, the possibilities for agriculture are good throughout the region, but Göbekli Tepe is the only spot of arable land in the wider area.
Systematic survey preceded fieldwork. It resulted in a wide range of finds, including sculptures not unlike the ones already known from Nevalı Çori. Excavation work was initiated by Klaus Schmidt the following year, as a cooperative project with the Museum of Şanlıurfa under the direction of Adnan Mısır and the Istanbul branch of the German Archaeological Institute under the direction of Harald Hauptmann.
A first test trench was opened at the base of the southeastern slope, where a modern pit had been cut through a terrazzo floor. Already in this first excavation area a peculiarity of the site was recognized: the tell is not formed mainly of earth and loam. Göbekli Tepe’s sediments are largely made up of limestone cobbles, bones and flints, mixed with relatively little earth. The trench further revealed rectangular buildings characteristic for what was later determined as Layer II, dating to the early and middle PPN B. Two rests of pillars further confirmed the similarities between Göbekli Tepe and Nevalı Çori.
Enclosure A in 1997 (Photo M. Morsch, copyright DAI).
Excavation work did not continue in this area in the next year. During the first field season one of the landowners had started work to clear his field in the southeastern depression of stones that hindered ploughing. He had dug out the heads of two large T-shaped pillars and had already started to smash one pillar head with a sledgehammer. Fortunately he could be persuaded to stop, and in the 1996 work started in this area. What came to light here was the first of the monumental enclosures of Göbekli Tepe´s older layer (Layer III).
Pillar 1 in Enclosure A shows a net-like pattern formed of snakes and a ram (Photo: C. Gerber, coopyright DAI).
Pillar 2 in Enclosure A with a vertical sequence of three motifs: bull, fox and crane (Photo: C. Gerber, copyright DAI).
The ground plan of what was later called Enclosure A appears more rectangular than round. Pillars 1 and 2, the central pillars of Enclosure A nearly destroyed by the farmer, were excavated down to the level of the stone bench of the enclosure. Both pillars are richly adorned with reliefs. Particularly striking is a net-like pattern, possibly of snakes, on the left side of Pillar 1. The front side of this pillar carries a central groove running vertically from below the head to its base, covering about one third of its width. This groove and the raised bands to either side are decorated with five snakes in bas-relief. It is most likely that they represent a real object, some kind of stola-like garment.
Pillar 2 carries on its right side a vertical sequence of three motifs: bull, fox and crane. Its narrower back side is adorned with a bucranium between the vertical bands of a stola-like garment. Insights and experience gained in the last years, particularly with regard to typical motif-arrangement, suggests that Pillar 2 is not in its original position but was at some time moved to this secondary location. In the course of this action, the original back side of the pillar became its front and vice versa. Currently, the number of pillars surrounding the two central figures in Enclosure A lies at four.
The following field seasons have revealed astonishing features and finds at Göbekli Tepe that considerably have changed our image of complexity, creativity and organization of the last hunter-gatherers of southwest Asia.
To be continued – stay tuned for future posts on the fascinating history of research at Göbekli Tepe!
Read the full story here: Klaus Schmidt, Sie bauten die ersten Tempel. Das rätselhafte Heiligtum der Steinzeitjäger. Die archäologische Entdeckung am Göbekli Tepe. C.H. Beck: München (2006).
Klaus Schmidt, Göbekli Tepe. A Stone Age Sanctuary in South-Eastern Anatolia. ex oriente e.V.: Berlin (2012).
The original survey report by Peter Benedict: Benedict, Peter. 1980. “Survey Work in Southeastern Anatolia.” In İstanbul ve Chicago Üniversiteleri karma projesi güneydoğu anadolu tarihöncesi araştırmaları – The Joint Istanbul – Chicago Universities Prehistoric Research in Southeastern Anatolia, edited by Halet Çambel and Robert J. Braidwood, 150-91. Istanbul: University of Istanbul, Faculty of Letters Press.
Hauptmann, Harald. 1993. “Ein Kultgebäude in Nevali Çori.” In Between the Rivers and over the Mountains. Archaeologica Anatolica et Mesopotamica Alba Palmieri dedicata, edited by Marcella Frangipane, Harald Hauptmann, Mario Liverani, Paolo Matthiae and Machteld J. Mellink: 37-69. Rom: Gruppo Editoriale Internazionale-Roma.
Hauptmann, Harald. 1999. “The Urfa Region.” In Neolithic in Turkey, edited by Mehmet Özdoğan and Nezih Başgelen, 65-86. Istanbul: Arkeoloji ve Sanat Yayınları.
Like in recent seasons, this year’s field work was as well particularly focussing on the preparations regarding upcoming construction work of two permanent shelters upon the excavation areas at Göbekli Tepe. One is to be constructed in the so-called main excavation area in the mound’s south-eastern depression with monumental enclosures A-D, the other will cover excavation areas in the north-western depression. Already since 2011 excavations were conducted in the latter, leading – among others – to the discovery of another early Neolithic circular enclosure (‘Enclosure H’, Fig. 1) with monumental T-pillars and another still not quite clearly addressable semi-circular structure with smaller and more narrow orthostat-like slabs.
Fig. 1: Southern part of Enclosure H in the northwestern depression of Göbekli Tepe (Photo: DAI, Nico Becker).
After finishing all necessary sondages for the main excavation area’s shelter construction in 2013, all of the corresponding deep-soundings for shelter-struts in the north-western areas could have been excavated to the bedrock in spring 2015 (Fig. 2). Next to their important function in the construction of a permanent protection of the unique architecture unearthed at Göbekli Tepe, these sundaes furthermore were contributing new scientific insight. In one of these soundings in areas K10-13 and K10-23 a number of several curvilinear walls and several terrazzo floors were discovered already in the autumn of 2014. Even if, due to the limited character of these sondages, it is still difficult to evaluate the complete extent of these features, it becomes clear that this is a larger, hitherto unknown complex which needs to be topic of future research to be comprehended completely.
Fig. 2: Excavation areas in the so-called north-western depression of Göbekli Tepe (Photos & Plan: DAI, Nico Becker).
This does also apply to another structure cut into the bedrock in area K10-55 which could have been excavated further as well in the course of this work. With a diameter of about 10 m and a depth of 2.8 m its function is still not completely clear as of yet, but again it is the backfill of this pit which is noteworthy: unlike the material dumped into the other known enclosure at Göbekli Tepe, basically consisting of fist-sized limestone rubble, animal bones, and flint artefacts, here large worked limestone objects and fragments of those (like T-pillars and so-called porthole stones) were stacked inside. The current state of excavation suggest a possible use as cistern to collect rain water maybe. Comparable yet much smaller pits were found on the adjacent rock plateaus as well and some rock-cut channels in the area support this interpretation. Again, further research will be necessary for a concluding evaluation.
In K10-05 excavation were concluded as well, reaching the natural bedrock 5 m below the contemporary surface where another channel with a depth of 50 cm could have been documented.
Among those finds produced in the course of the work period reported here, two limestone sculptures should be emphasised: there is one carefully and detailed worked sculpture of a predator (Fig. 3) coming from K10-88 which belongs to the already well-represented type of teeth-baring mammals (in this case a leopard most likely). The second object comes from K10-13/23 and is best described as anthropomorphic sculpture (Fig. 4). Initially found to be lacking the head, this could have been recovered in the course of excavations as well and was successfully matched. This find mirrors a number of similar stone heads with breaking edges in the neck area which are often found in the backfilling of Göbekli Tepe’s monumental enclosures, deposited next to T-pillars.
Fig. 3: Sculpture of a snarling predator, limestone (Photo: DAI, Nico Becker).
Furthermore, about 100 samples for 14C-dating could have been collected and analysed due to financial support by the John Templeton Foundation in the frame of the “Our Place: Our Place in the World” sub-project. These data will finally allow a deeper understanding of the chronological relation of Göbekli Tepe’s monumental enclosures. The renewed discussion of the site’s complex stratigraphy therefore remained a main research focus of this field season and beyond.
Further reading: Becker, N., Dietrich, O., Götzelt, Th., Köksal-Schmidt, C., Notroff, J., Schmidt, K. 2012. Materialien zur Deutung der zentralen Pfeilerpaare des Göbekli Tepe und weiterer Orte des obermesopotamischen Frühneolithikums, Zeitschrift für Orient-Archäologie 5: 14-43.
Clare, L., Dietrich, O., Notroff, J. 2015. Göbekli Tepe, Türkei. Die Arbeiten der Jahre 2014 (Herbst) und 2015, e-Forschungsberichte des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts: 149-151 [read online – external link].