News & Notes from the Göbekli Tepe Research Staff

Tag: food-production

Cereals, feasts and monuments at Göbekli Tepe

We were asked in comments and messages to elaborate some more on the contents of our recent paper. So here is a short summary of the article recently published in PLoS ONE. For more information on the findings outlined here, please consult the original publication:

Dietrich L, Meister J, Dietrich O, Notroff J, Kiep J, Heeb J, et al. (2019) Cereal processing at Early Neolithic Göbekli Tepe, southeastern Turkey. PLoS ONE 14(5): e0215214. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0215214

Cereal food is one of the most important components of our modern diet. Its integration into human subsistence strategy during the late Epipalaeolithic (c. 12500–9600 cal BC) and Pre-Pottery Neolithic (PPN, c. 9600–7000 cal BC) has been recognized as a very long and complex process involving the selection and utilization of plants, strategies of exploitation of plants and land, the development of cultivation, and ways of processing, storing, and consuming plants. Widespread adoption of farming and agriculture at the end of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic (PPNB, c. 8800–7000 cal BC), the deliberate, large-scale cultivation of domesticated cereals and other plants, was predated by a longer period of experimentation and technological modification leading to the development of specialized tool kits for plant-food processing. Typical implements are e.g. pounding and grinding tools used in pairs, comprising a static low implement (mortar, grinding slab or grinding bowl) and an active upper tool that is moved across its surface (pestle or handstone).

Cereal use in the Early Neolithic
The regular processing of wild cereals through grinding seems to have been established first in the Late Natufian, as suggested by macrobotanical evidence as well as by morphological changes in grinding stones combined with use-wear analyses. Flat, large grinding stones and handstones became a supra-regional standard during the Levantine PPN, constituting an integral part of the architecture. Recent investigations have highlighted the area between the upper reaches of Euphrates and Tigris as one region where the transition to food-producing subsistence took place early during the Epipalaeolithic and the Pre-Pottery Neolithic. The distribution areas of the wild forms of einkorn, emmer wheat, barley and other ‘Neolithic founder crops’ overlap here and DNA fingerprinting has pinpointed the transition of two wild wheat variants to domesticated crops to this part of the Fertile Crescent. Systematic early plant use has been found at a variety of sites, like Cafer Höyük, Çayönü, Hallan Çemi, Jerf el Ahmar or Körtik Tepe.
Göbekli Tepe has not played any role in discussions of early cereal use so far. The reasons can be found – at least in part – in the problematic nature of direct evidence for cereals on site. Although analysis of macrobotanical remains indicates the presence of wild einkorn (Triticum cf. boeticum/urartu), wild barley (Hordeum cf. spontaneum) and possibly wild wheat/rye (Triticum/Secale), as well as almonds (Prunus sp.) and pistachio (Pistacia sp.) at Göbekli Tepe, only a conspicuously low amount of carbonized plant remains has been recovered, both in handpicked and in flotation samples.

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Grinding tools from Göbekli Tepe. (A), (C) Neolithic handstones of type 1; (B) Neolithic handstone of type 2; (D) Experimental handstone of type 1, produced as copy of (C); (E, F) Neolithic grinding bowls (German Archaeological Institute, 3D-models H. Höhler-Brockmann and N. Schäkel).

However, Göbekli Tepe has not only produced an impressive set of architecture – monumental round to oval buildings with T-shaped limestone pillars, erected in an earlier phase, and smaller rectangular buildings, built around them in a partially contemporaneous and later phase – but also a unusually large number of over 7000 grinding tools. We analyzed these tools using an integrated approach of formal, experimental, and macro- / microscopical use-wear analyses.

Göbekli Tepe
As a first step in our analysis we had to determine the functional variation of these grinding tools, as a wide range of uses is attested archaeologically and ethnographically, ranging from cereal processing to pounding of meat or crushing of minerals. Grinding and pounding equipment from Göbekli Tepe was documented through 3D-modelling by structure from motion, and surfaces were macro- and microscopically analyzed for use-wear. We used replicas of the equipment identified on site to experimentally grind different materials and establish a reference collection for the identification of the observed traces. Further, phytolith samples taken from the sediments inside and outside buildings at Göbekli Tepe and from grinding stone surfaces allowed us to determine and quantify the presence of plants. Phytoliths were abundant in all nine soil samples examined, ranging from 0.5 to 3.0 million phytoliths per gram of sediment. Grass phytoliths were the most common group identified. The sediments inside the rectangular buildings largely contain markers for the upper and middle part of plants. This could be indicative of harvested cereals, as plants are usually collected and transported in sheaves. To contextualize the results, we assessed the spatial distribution of grinding equipment and identified potential activity areas.

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We found that the most common types of handstones used at Göbekli Tepe show use-wear traces connected to cereal processing. Handstones with such traces concentrate in some of the rectangular buildings, but even more so in open spaces between and around them and the (at least partly) contemporary monumental round structures.
Building D was taken as a case study to asses grinding stone use within the latter. There, grinding equipment from the deepest layer, which appears to be connected to the partially intentional refilling of the structure, also shows traces of ochre, indicating its processing in this structure.
The overall quantity of 7268 analyzed grinding tools from Göbekli Tepe appears to be too high for simple daily use, given their relatively high productivity. A single handstone of the most common types could have produced an average of 4800 g flour within eight working hours, as our experiments show. If we assume that one person needs between 500 g and 1000 g of cereals daily as nutrients for survival, this amount would be enough to feed five to ten people.

Interpretation
The organization of work and food supply has always been a central question of research into Göbekli Tepe, as the construction and maintenance of the monumental architecture would have necessitated a considerable work force. Göbekli Tepe has a high concentration of distinctive architecture, often addressed as ‘special buildings’, which do not repeat the characteristic plans of domestic buildings from contemporaneous settlements. Extensively excavated settlement sites like Nevalı Çori or Çayönü have one ‘special building’ per settlement phase, while Göbekli Tepe has several, likely contemporary buildings of this type, which different groups of people likely used. For the buildings excavated so far, we have observed certain regularities governing the decoration of the 69 known pillars–mostly with animal motifs, but also with abstract signs. While in building A snake images prevail, in building B foxes are dominant. In building C boar take over, and in building D the imagery is more diverse with birds, especially vultures, playing a significant role. In building H felines are of importance. We see these differences in figurative expression as evidence for different groups of people ornamenting the buildings with the emblematic animals central to their group identities. The site has also produced a wide range of stationary and portable art, far outnumbering such finds from other contemporary sites. Many of the animal and human depictions are clearly marked as male, there are almost no clearly recognizable female depictions, a situation contrary to the materials known from settlements.
At the same time, Göbekli Tepe´s remote location on a barren mountain ridge is very unusual compared to the setting of contemporaneous Neolithic settlements, which are regularly located next to water sources. The construction of monumental architecture at Göbekli Tepe, and other similar sites in its vicinity, would have necessitated a workforce of hundreds of people even by conservative estimates. One model to explain cooperation in small-scale communities involves ritualized work feasts. M. Dietler and E. Herbich define work feasts as events in which “commensal hospitality is used to orchestrate voluntary collective labour,” the incentive to work together is provided by the prospect of large amounts of food and drink. The main archaeological marker for feasting would be evidence of the presence of larger amounts of foodstuffs and tools than needed by the inhabitants of a site for their subsistence. Through our analysis, we have identified evidence for Göbekli Tepe that fits that pattern for plant food. As no large storage facilities have been identified, we argue for a production of food for immediate consumption and interpret these seasonal peaks in activity at the site as evidence for the organization of large work feasts. This adds to archaeozoological data suggesting large-scale hunting of migratory gazelle between midsummer and autumn.

Plant food management as a prerequisite for monumental building at Early Neolithic Göbekli Tepe

 

Plant food is a factor so far slightly neglected in research about Göbekli Tepe. We are now aiming to close this gap [read more here and here]. Preliminary results on grinding equipment from Göbekli Tepe and experimental approaches will be presented at this year´s Awrana (Association of Archaeological Wear and Residue Analysts, external link) conference at University of Nice Côte d’Azur on May 31, in a collaborative paper by Laura Dietrich, Oliver Dietrich, Julia Heeb  and Nils Schäkel.

Abstract:

During the 10th and 9th millennia BC, at Göbekli Tepe in southeastern Anatolia, hunter-gatherers constructed the first monumental architecture of mankind. In an older phase, circular enclosures made up of up to 5.5m high pillars decorated richly, mainly with animal motifs, were erected, while in a younger phase rectangular buildings with smaller pillars were in use. Important questions regarding this site concern the way in which small-scale groups joined their forces for the massive construction work, creating a place strongly connected to their worldview, and how they secured their subsistence during the prolonged work at the site.

Until now, the focus was on the numerous finds of animal bones and hunting as subsistence strategy. This image may be biased by bad preservation conditions for plant remains, as more than 10.000 grinding stone were discovered at the site, reaching from flat slabs over deep bowls to mortars, pestles and handstones. At least in the younger phase of the site, a number of the square rooms could be interpreted as storage facilities, as they also contain large limestone vessels with capacities of up to 200 liters. Macroscopic and microscopic use wear hint at the use of the grinding stones for massive plant food processing. This interpretation is based on a comparison with experimentally manufactured objects. During the experiments, use-wear was related to shapes and to the grinding motions as important analytical parameters.

The paper aims to reveal the role of plant food at Göbekli Tepe, and linked with this, economic and social factors related to the construction and maintenance of this important site.

Neolithic Gathering and Feasting at the Beginning of Food Production

A few kilometres northeast of modern Şanlıurfa in south-eastern Turkey, the tell of Göbekli Tepe is situated on the highest point of the otherwise barren Germuş mountain range. Rising 15 metres and with an area of about 9 hectares, the completely man-made mound covers the earliest known monumental cult architecture in the ancient Near East. Constructed by hunter-gatherers right after the end of the last Ice Age, they also intentionally buried it about 10,000 years ago.

Göbekli Tepe has been known to archaeologists since the 1960s, when a joint survey team from the Universities of Istanbul and Chicago under the direction of Halet Çambel and Robert Braidwood observed numerous flint artefacts littering the surface of the mound. However, the monumental architecture remained undetected, and was eventually discovered by Klaus Schmidt on a grand tour of important south-eastern Turkish Neolithic sites in 1994. In addition to the high density of flint tools and flakes, his eye was caught by large limestone blocks which reminded him of another nearby Neolithic site where he had worked several years before: Nevalı Çori – where, among others, a building with monolithic T- pillars was discovered for the first time. These peculiar T-shapes reminded Schmidt of the worked stone peeking out of the surface at Göbekli Tepe. Excavations at this site began the next year.

In about 22 years of ongoing fieldwork, the German Archaeological Institute and the Şanlıurfa Museum have revealed a totally unexpected monumental architecture at Göbekli Tepe, dating to the earliest Neolithic period. No typical domestic structures have yet been found, leading to the interpretation of Göbekli Tepe as a ritual centre for gathering and feasting. The people creating these megalithic monuments were still highly mobile hunter-foragers and the site’s material culture corroborates this: substantial amounts of bones exclusively from hunted wild animals, and a stone tool inventory comprising a wide range of projectile points. Osteological investigations and botanical studies show that animal husbandry was not practiced at Göbekli Tepe and domesticated plants were unknown.

It is currently possible to distinguish two different phases at Göbekli Tepe although this will undoubtedly change with continued research. The site is characterised by an older layer dating to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic (PPN) A period (ca. 9,600-8,800 calBC) which produced monumental circular huge T-shaped pillars arranged in circle-like enclosures around two even taller central pillars and a younger layer, early and middle PPN B (c. 8,800-7,000 calBC) in date. It consists of smaller rectangular buildings containing often only two small central pillars or even none at all. These may be reduced variations (or later adaptations) of the older and considerably larger monuments, of which four were excavated in the main excavation area in the mound’s southern depression. Notably these structures, labelled Enclosures A, B, C, and D, were apparently backfilled intentionally at the end of their use-lives. Enclosure D, the best preserved of the circular buildings, serves to give an impression of the general layout and set-up of these enclosures.

In the centre two colossal pillars, measuring about 5.5 m, are founded in shallow pedestals carved out of the carefully smoothed bedrock. This central pair of pillars is surrounded by a circle formed of similar, but slightly smaller pillars which are connected by stone walls and benches. While these surrounding pillars often are decorated with depictions of animals like foxes, aurochs, birds, snakes, and spiders, the central pair in particular illustrates the anthropomorphic character of the T-pillars. They clearly display arms depicted in relief on the pillars’ shafts, with hands brought together above the abdomen, pointing to the middle of the waist. Belts and loincloths underline this impression and emphasize the human-like appearance of these pillars. Their larger-than-life and highly abstracted representation is intentionally chosen and not owed to deficient craftsmanship, as other finds like the much more naturalistic animal and human sculptures clearly demonstrate. This suggests that whatever the larger-than-life T-pillars are meant to depict and embody is on a different level than the life-sized sculptures in the iconography of Göbekli Tepe and the Neolithic in Upper Mesopotamia.

While naturalistic and abstract depictions find their most monumental manifestation on the T-shaped pillars, there are others. Similar and clearly related iconography also occurs on functional objects like so-called shaft straighteners, on stone bowls and cups, as well as on small stone tablets which apparently do not have any other function than to bear these signs. Furthermore, these objects are not restricted to Göbekli Tepe and the few other sites with T-shaped pillars in its closer vicinity, but are known from places up to 200 km around the site. A spiritual concept seems to have linked these sites to each other, suggesting a larger cultic community among PPN mobile groups in Upper Mesopotamia, tied in a network of communication and exchange.

Ethnologic and historic analogies emphasize the importance of regular gatherings and collective activities as means of maintaining social cohesion in hunter-gatherer communities. Gatherings also serve other purposes like the exchange of information, goods, and marriage partners. Such large-scale gatherings naturally need to be established in locations that are known and easily accessible for the participating groups.

The topographical situation of Göbekli Tepe as a landmark overlooking the surrounding plains, seem a perfectly suitable central space for these groups and people inhabiting the wider region. Large communal tasks executed as collective work events, reflected in the apparently continuous construction activity at Göbekli Tepe, provided a unifying reason for people to come together. Additionally ethnographic studies provide more examples demonstrating that work forces necessary for such collaborative projects can be gathered with the prospect of lavish feasts.

That this may have been the case at Göbekli Tepe is further corroborated by a closer look at the massive amount of filling material of the enclosures, which consists of limestone rubble, flint artefacts, fragments of stone vessels, other ground stone tools, and in particular an impressively large numbers of animal bones – above all gazelle and aurochs. These remains hint at the consumption of enormous amounts of meat, most likely during feasts framing these large-scale meetings and communal activities, including monument construction.

T_Karte_neu

Current distribution of sites with T-shaped pillars and with simple limestone stelae (modified after Schmidt 2006; Copyright DAI).

Repetitive feasting at Göbekli Tepe may have played an essential role not only in creating and strengthening social bonds among the individuals and groups meeting there, but must also have stressed the economic potential of these hunter-gatherers to repeatedly feed such large crowds. In response to this pressure, new food resources and processing techniques may have been explored, subsequently paving the way for a complete change in subsistence strategy. In this scenario, the early appearance of monumental religious architecture motivating work feasts to draw as many hands as possible for the execution of complex, collective tasks is changing our understanding of one of the key moments in human history: the emergence of agriculture and animal husbandry – and the onset of food production and the Neolithic way of live.

This text was originally written by Jens Notroff & Oliver Dietrich for and published at the weblog of Boston University’s American School of Oriental Research: The Ancient Near East Today – Current News About The Ancient Past [external link], July 2017: Vol. V, No. 7 under the title “Göbekli Tepe: Neolithic Gathering and Feasting at the Beginning of Food Production” [external link].

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Deciphering a meal at Göbekli Tepe (part 1)

Figure 8

(Photo: K. Schmidt, DAI.)

This short post is meant to introduce myself, Laura, as a new member of the Göbekli Tepe project team. I am an archaeologist doing research into the Neolithic and Bronze Age from the Levant to the Carpathian Basin with a focus on the archaeology of food and conflict. Exploring the preparation of vegetable meals in Göbekli Tepe and inferring the social dimensions of vegetable food is part of my project during the next three years.

Göbekli Tepe has a big potential for such studies. Not only is there a vast material culture related to food processing (grinding stones, pestles, mortars, sickles etc.), but food, and also vegetable food, seems to have had a special place in the worldview of its builders. Here is a little teaser.

In 2008, during the excavation of the final layers of Enclosure C, a special discovery was made. A wild boar and two stone platters lie in front of one of the central pillars of Enclosure C. The sculpture is around 30 cm high; its length is almost 50 cm. Both platters are similarly large, with diameters of 47 and 50 cm. They have been intentionally perforated in the middle; other similar finds from the site are usually unperforated. Strike marks are obvious around the perforation. Their surface is very well smoothed, although the northern platter is better worked than the southern one. Both platters are round with slightly convex surfaces down to the perforation. The wild boar is sitting with his mouth on the platters, somehow slightly oblique, its neck oriented to the hole.The platters don’t sit directly on the ground, but suprapose other stone vessels. Several more wild boar sculptures and reliefs are known from Enclosure C.  All of them are part of one bigger ensemble surrounding the central pillars – and this ensemble clearly shows strong links to the preparation of food.

We are only at the start of deciphering the multiple layers of meaning inherent in the buildings of Göbekli Tepe. So stay tuned for more as I start as we begin to unveil the site’s secrets.

Out for a beer at the dawn of agriculture

Ever since the so called Braidwood Symposium in 1953 (Braidwood et al. 1953), there has been a debate as to whether beer – and not bread – was the first product made from domesticated crops (e.g. Katz and Voigt 1986). Based on the discovery of grain at the site of Qalat Jarmo, and at the suggestion of the archaeo-botanist Sauer, Braidwood inquired whether or not the discovery of fermentation could have been the spark that triggered the targeted selection, and ultimately domestication, of certain crops. Fermented grain, which sees its starch transformed into sugars, is well known for its beneficial properties, including an increase in nutritional value, also making it easier to digest. Indeed, the participants at the aforementioned symposium eventually came to the consensus that early grain crops would have been far better suited to the production of gruel or beer than bread, especially considering that the glumes of primitive domesticated plants would have adhered to the grain. Even though this idea (fermentation) was raised frequently in subsequent years (Katz and Voigt 1986), particularly in the context of the previously noted advantages (higher nutritional value) afforded by this process, it was considered improbable that beer was actually produced. More recently, however, the discussion was revisited in a contibution by P. McGovern (2009) who presented preliminary results from chemical studies made on two stone vessels from the PPN necropolis at Körtik Tepe which yielded traces of tartaric acid that accrues during the wine production process (McGovern 2009: 81).

Figure 1

A barrel- (upper right) and a trough-like (lower right) limestone vessel from Göbekli Tepe (Photos: N. Becker, © DAI). Six vessels with capacities up to 160 l were discovered so far in situ (left).

Recently, further chemical analyses were conducted by M. Zarnkow (Technical University of Munich, Weihenstephan) on six large limestone vessels from Göbekli Tepe. These (barrel/trough-shaped) vessels, with capacities of up to 160 litres, were found in-situ in PPNB contexts at the site. Already during excavations it was noted that some vessels carried grey-black adhesions. A first set of analyses made on these substances returned partly positive for calcium oxalate, which develops in the course of the soaking, mashing and fermenting of grain. Although these intriguing results are only preliminary, they provide initial indications for the brewing of beer at Göbekli Tepe, thus provoking renewed discussions relating to the production and consumption of alcoholic beverages at this early time. Further, they are particularly significant in light of results from genetic analyses, undertaken by a team from the Norwegian University of Life Sciences in Oslo, which have suggested that the earliest domestication of grain occurred in the vicinity of the Karacadağ, i.e. very near to Göbekli Tepe (Heun et al. 1997 [external link]). Once again, we must ask whether the production of alcohol and the domestication of grain are interrelated. Finally, the aforementioned insights also provoke new questions relating to the use and consumption of alcohol at Göbekli Tepe, which may have been in the context of religiously motivated feasts and celebrations. Not surprisingly, such events are well attested in the ethnographic literature as a means of attracting and motivating large groups of people to undertake communal work and projects (Dietler and Herbich 1995).

Further reading:
Dietrich, O., Heun, M., Notroff, J, Schmidt, K., Zarnkow, M. (2012) The role of cult and feasting in the emergence of Neolithic communities. New evidence from Göbekli Tepe, south-eastern Turkey. Antiquity 86, 333: 674-695 (full text – external link).

Works cited:
Braidwood, R.J. & L.S. Braidwood. 1953. The Earliest Village Communities of Southwestern Asia. Journal of World History 1: 278–310.

Dietler, M. & I. Herbich 1995. Feasts and labor mobilization. Dissecting a fundamental economic practice, in Dietler, M. & B. Hayden (ed.), Feasts. Archaeological and ethnographic perspectives on food, politics, and power, 240-264. Washington / London: Smithsonian Institution Press.

Heun, M., R. Schäfer-Pregl, D. Klawan, R. Castagna, M. Accerbi, B. Borghi & F. Salamini. 1997. Site of Einkorn wheat domestication identified by DNA fingerprinting. Science 278: 1312-1314.

Katz, S.H. & M.M. Voigt. 1986. Bread and Beer: The Early Use of Cereals in the Human Diet. Expeditions 28 (2): 23-34.

McGovern, P.E. 2009. Uncorking the past. The quest for wine, beer, and other alcoholic beverages. Berkeley / Los Angeles / London: University of California Press.

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