From the Göbekli Tepe Research Project

Tag: Göbeklitepe (Page 1 of 4)

Looking at stones all day long – Work of lithics specialists at Göbekli Tepe (by Thore Hübert)

Before reading this blog entry we recommend to read the last article on chipped stones from the 5th of July by Jonas Breuers “Chipped Stones: What they are and how they can help understand Göbekli Tepe”

Archaeologists who involve themselves in the work of analysing lithics (synonymous with chipped stones) will early on experience a variety of different possibilities to do so. Already are existing many different systems and methods to reveal as many information as possible from a single silicate rock. Yet, the methods may vary immensely depending on the questions someone researches. Some researchers who work on chipped stones are experts on use-and wear-traces, others are experts in determining raw materials and their origin (e.g. Delvigne et al. 2020; Affolter et al. 2022). In both cases it is necessary to record microscopic features of the chipped stones. At Göbekli Tepe our most recent work focuses on typological and technological developments. Therefore, we record mainly macroscopic visible features on the researched lithics. Some of those are descriptive others are metric. A difficulty is that recording all the features of an artefact takes a huge amount of time and since the number of artefacts at Göbekli Tepe is enormous it is only possible to research small areas in detail. From the results of those in detail researched artefact assemblages we determine historical existing patterns which apply to the whole site.

Next, we shall give an insight into the process of recording artefacts. First and maybe most important is to give every artefact an individual number, so it will always be recognizable.  Afterwards the metric values of every single piece are taken. To record weight, length, width and thickness a calliper, a scale and a measuring box are needed (as seen in Fig. 1). While measuring the artefact its condition needs to be considered as well. Is it complete? If not, what kind of fractures does it show? and so on. Combined with the metric values this can for example help to interpret the nature of the researched lithic assemblage, does it consist of disposal and waste materials or is it a cache where blanks or tools were stored.

Fig. 1: Workplace inside the excavation house with all the necessary tools like a calliper, a scale, a magnifier and a measuring box built from Lego bricks and grid paper (Photo by Thore Hübert, DAI, 2022)

Furthermore, alterations of the artefacts are recorded. Such can occur through heat, cold and wind as well as through physical and chemical processes connected to the soil an artefact was buried in. Thermic alterations are often visible through frost fractures, “pot lid” fractures, crazing and even change of colour of the raw material, just to name a few (Inizan et al. 1999, 91-92; Floss 2012, 101-104). Physical and chemical processes on the other hand may result in a patination of the artefact which often changes the surface colour and sometimes roughness of the artefact. Even the weight may be affected. The origin and occurrence of different patination is a complex matter. While alterations through cold, wind and chemical processes are often caused by natural developments, alterations through heat are typically connected to human activities, either direct or indirect. People could have used heat to alter certain traits of chipped stones to ease the production of blanks from an otherwise unfavourable raw material or they disposed unwanted chipped stones and tools in a fire pit. Those kinds of alterations tell us a lot about the “life history” of an artefact and how it was handled. In this regard it opens up questions about the chronology of the artefact, which alteration happened when, was the artefact still in use or already disposed et cetera.

Thanks to their favourable physical properties silicate rocks were used to produce tools, but like in any other industry during the production a lot of refuse emerges. The same goes for Göbekli Tepe where the majority of chipped stones we find are remainders of the production process. Thereby holding information on the used technics from historical flint knappers. Therefore, the relevance of such pieces is not to be underestimated. Because of the physical traits of the lithics different knapping technics also affected the raw material in different ways and intensity. Some features like the extensity of the bulb and shape of butt (= rest of the striking platform, that remained on the blank) can inform us about the used percussion methods like direct and indirect strike or pressure knapping and if the used hammer was either of hard material like quartz or soft material like antler or bone. Identifying the used technics may help archaeologists to discern technological developments and networks of shared knowledge. Going on, one of the major aspects in recording lithic artefacts is, of course, to determine if they were modified into a tool or not. Most tools are defined by shape and type of alteration. To produce the desired shape the edges of blanks, either blades or flakes, were altered by different kinds of fine knapping called retouch. Angle, extent and positioning help to determine the type of retouch (e.g. Inizan et al. 1999, 81; Shea 2013, 170-171). While the type of retouch may in some cases be influenced by the personal preferences of a flint knapper, it often depends on the planned function of the created tool. For an arrowhead a sharp point may be needed, for a perforator a drill like front, for a scraper a steep angled edge. Of course, not always corresponds the description of a tool with its historical function. Most tools were used in a variety of activities and were multifunctional, dependent on the need of its user. Not different from today, where in an extreme case someone may miss a screwdriver and decides to use a knife or key instead. Therefore, the discrimination of tools is firstly a typological one. Still, tools may hold information about knapping traditions, exchange of knowledge and even identity (see Breuers 05.06.23, Tepe Telegrams).

Fig. 2: Different kind of tools that can be found at Göbekli Tepe (illustration by Thore Hübert, DAI, 2023)

After having recorded all the different features of the chipped stone artefacts like raw material, condition, size, weight, shape, modifications and so on, it is time to analyse the materials. Usually this is done after or in between the field campaigns and not at Göbekli Tepe itself. All the gathered information is processed through comparison and statistical methods, which is the most time-consuming part of the work. We try new statistical methods, interpret the results and sit in the library to compare them with the information from other archaeological sites. Of course, nowadays a lot is eased through Computers and the possibilities of the internet, yet we may only work 40 days a year with the artefacts available and the rest of the year we work with the recorded data, photographs, drawings and documented information from the field work.


Affolter, J., H. Wehren, L. Emmenegger 2022. Determination method of silicites (siliceous raw materials): An explanation based on four selected raw materials. In: Quaternary International 615, 33–42.

Delvigne, V., P. Fernandes, C. Tuffery, J.-P. Raynal, L. Klaric 2020. Taphonomic methods and a database to establish the origin of sedimentary silicified rocks from the Middle-recent Gravettian open-air site of La Picardie (Indre-et-Loire, France). In: Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, Vol. 32.

Floss, H. 2012. Steinartefakte – vom Altpaläolithikum bis in die Neuzeit. Tübingen: Kerns Verlag.

Inizan, M.-L., M. Reduron-Ballinger, H. Roche and J. Tixier 1999. Technology and Terminology of Knapped Stone (Tome 5). Nanterre: Cercle de Recherches et d’Etudes Préhistoriques.

Shea, J. J. 2013. Stone tools in the Paleolithic and Neolithic near East: a guide. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Further Reading

Beile-Bohn, M., C. Gerber, M. Morsch and K. Schmidt 1998. Neolithische Forschungen in Obermesopotamien. Gürcütepe und Göbekli Tepe. Istanbuler Mitteilungen 48: 5-78.

Breuers, J. 2022. Diachrone Studien zur Lithik des Göbekli Tepe: Locus 166, Raum 16 und die Sedimentsäule aus Gebäude D. Köln:

Breuers, J. and M. Kinzel 2022. “[…] but it is not clear at all where all the […] debris had been taken from […]”: Chipped Stone Artefacts, Architecture and Site Formation Processes at Göbekli Tepe. In: Y. Nishiaki, O. Maeda and M. Arimura (Eds.). Tracking the Neolithic in the Near East. Lithic Perspectives on Its Origins, Development and Dispersals: 469–486. Leiden: Sidestone Press.

Clare, L. 2020. Göbekli Tepe, Turkey. A brief summary of research at a new World Heritage Site (2015-2019). E-Forschungsbericht des DAI 2020. doi:10.34780/efb.v0i2.1012

Schmidt, K. 2000. Göbekli Tepe, southeastern Turkey: A preliminary report on the 1995-1999 excavations. Paléorient 26(1): 45-54. Schmidt, K. 2006. Sie bauten die ersten Tempel. Das rätselhafte Heiligtum am Göbekli Tepe. München: C.H. Beck.

The Chipped Stones of Göbekli Tepe: A short teaser

Next week we will introduce you to one of the most numerous find categories at Göbekli Tepe: chipped stones. As this is quite a comprehensive topic we decided to split it into two blog posts and focus on the most important information. The first blog post will be about chipped stones in general and how they can help interpret sites, and the second one is about how we analyse chipped stones, e.g. the daily work a chipped stones specialist has to do to get all the necessary information. The first blog post will go live soon so stay tuned. Your Tepe Telegrams Team.

Meet the Chipped Stones Team

Chipped stones usually make up the majority of finds at Stone Age sites and are typically used to reconstruct past daily life activities. They are also suitable for relative dating (e.g. dating a site on the basis of a typical find from a certain period). Therefore, the analysis of chipped stones is always very important, and today we want to introduce you to our team working on these finds from Göbekli Tepe. In addition, we will post more on chipped stones in the coming days.

Jonas Breuers studied Archaeology in Bochum and Cologne and started to work in the Göbekli Tepe Project in late 2016. His research focuses on technological, typological and statistical analysis of Neolithic lithic assemblages (flint, obsidian and similar raw materials). Additionally, he is interested in Palaeolithic lithic assemblages, raw material sourcing and exchange networks. In the frame of the Göbekli Tepe Project he is responsible for the analysis of the chipped stone artefacts on which he wrote his PhD.

Thore Hübert studied history and archaeology (prehistoric and protohistoric) at the University of Cologne from 2012 to 2020. He furthermore studied at the Universitetet i Oslo in Norway as an exchange student for half a year in 2017. His master thesis in archaeology was about the lithic artefacts and ceramics of a late Neolithic site in the Lower Rhine Embayment. Since 2020, he is part of the Göbekli Tepe project and also works on the lithic assemblages of the site. His research interests are the analysis and interpretation of lithic tool kits on indications about activities and activity patterns.

Jonas Breuers Bochum ve Köln’de arkeoloji eğitimi aldı ve 2016 yılında Göbekli Tepe Projesi’nde çalışmaya başladı. Jonas, araştırmalarında Neolitik dönem litik buluntu gruplarının (çakmaktaşı, obsidyen ve benzeri hammaddeler) teknolojik, tipolojik ve istatistiksel olarak incelenmesine odaklanmaktadır. Bunların yanı sıra Paleolitik taş buluntu grupları, hammadde kaynakları ve alışveriş ve takas ağlarıyla da ilgilenmektedir. Jonas, Göbekli Tepe Projesi çerçevesinde litik buluntuların incelenmesinden sorumludur ve doktora tezini bu buluntular üzerine yazmaktadır

Thore Hübert 2012-2020 yıllarında Köln Üniversitesi’nde tarih ve arkeoloji (tarihöncesi ve protohistorya) eğitimi aldı. Norveç’teki Oslo Üniversitesi’nde 2017 yılında yarım dönem değişim öğrencisi olarak bulundu. Arkeoloji alanında yaptığı yüksek lisans tezi Aşağı Ren Körfezi’ndeki bir geç Neolitik yerleşmenin litik ve çanak çömlek buluntuları üzerindeydi. 2020 yılından bu yana Göbekli Tepe projesinin bir parçasıdır ve Jonas Breuers ile bu yerleşmenin litik aletleri üzerine çalışmaktadır. Hübert’in araştırma alanları aktivite ve aktivite örüntülerinin göstergeleri üzerine litik aletlerin incelenmesi ve yorumlanmasıdır.

New Content about Göbekli Tepe

You haven’t been hearing much from us lately. The reason was the catastrophic earthquake and the heavy rainfall event shortly afterwards in Şanlıurfa this year, which cuased immense suffering in the region. We didn’t feel that posting regular updates on latest results on Göbekli Tepe would have been important enough during this bad time. Now that some time has passed we decided to post new content on our blog again. The next post will go online soon. So stay tuned.

Over twenty-five years of research at Göbekli Tepe!

The year 2020 marked a quarter of a century since the beginning of archaeological excavations at Göbekli Tepe. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, this anniversary was somewhat forgotten. Reason enough for us to briefly summarise the story behind the now 28 years of research at this famous site.

Initially identified as a prehistoric site in 1963 in the frame of a Turkish-American archaeological survey project, Göbekli Tepe was more or less forgotten for over thirty years, attention turning instead to the site of Çayönü Tepesi (Ergani/Diyarbakır) discovered during the same survey. In the interim years, excavations at Çayönü and other sites, including Cafer Höyük, Hallan Çemi and Nevalı Çori, revealed much more about the transition from hunter-gatherer to sedentary societies.

The story behind the re-discovery of Göbekli Tepe has meanwhile entered the realms of modern archaeological myth. Although synonymous with the name Klaus Schmidt, a German archaeologist who dedicated much of his career to Early Neolithic research in Southeast Turkey, the re-discovery of Göbekli Tepe in 1994 takes pride of place in the accounts of the local community from Örencik, a village located just two kilometres west of the site. Unaware of the outstanding role that the mound would one day play in Neolithic research, the local families considered their finds – made during ploughing and field-boundary wall construction – important enough to report them to the nearby Sanliurfa Museum. Additionally, the fact that Schmidt was guided to the mound by a local farmer (Ş. Yıldız) after enquiring about flint surface scatters is clear evidence of this local knowledge.

It goes without saying that the infrastructure that we see today at Göbekli Tepe, which allows hundreds of visitors to pass through its gates every day, was inconceivable to Klaus Schmidt and his companions at the time of their initial visits in October 1994. Access to the site was only possible by foot from the outskirts of Örencik village; the modern asphalt roads now leading to the site either did not exist or were still mere dirt tracks.

In 1995, fieldwork began at Göbekli Tepe under the auspices of the Şanlıurfa Museum (Adnan Mısır), with Harald Hauptmann (German Archaeological Institute) as acting site director. From the very beginning, fieldwork was coordinated by Klaus Schmidt, who, following Hauptmann’s retirement, became director of excavations in 2006 until he passed away in 2014. The directorship of excavations passed to the Şanlıurfa Museum with Lee Clare as field director and coordinator of DAI/DFG research activities. In 2019, Necmi Karul became the new director of the “Göbekli Tepe Culture and Karahantepe Excavation” Project. Archaeological research by the DAI continues unabated and is coordinated and supervised by Lee Clare (DAI Istanbul).

Since 2010, research at Göbekli Tepe has been generously supported by the DFG (German Research Foundation) in the frame of a long-term research project, “The Prehistoric societies of Upper Mesopotamia and their subsistence”. At present, this international and interdisciplinary project is being undertaken by the German Archaeological Institute (Orient and Istanbul Departments), the Ludwig Maximilian Universität München (Archaeozoology) and the Freie Universität Berlin (Geography) in cooperation with the University of Cologne (Institute of Prehistoric Archaeology) and the Istanbul University (Arkeoloji Bölümü).

In over 28 years, many colleagues have contributed to our understanding of Göbekli Tepe. It is a natural process that team members move on and take up different tasks and positions elsewhere. Therefore, in the coming weeks, we will introduce you to the current team members and also present some of the latest results and insights from Göbekli Tepe.

For a brief summary of research post-2014, see:


  • Lee Clare (DAI Istanbul), Coordinator of research and fieldwork, Human-environment interaction, absolute chronology
  • Ricarda Braun (FU Berlin) Landscape archaeology
  • Jonas Breuers (University of Cologne/DAI Berlin) Chipped stone studies
  • Stephanie Emra  (LMU München) Archaeozoology
  • Thore Hübert (University of Cologne/DAI Berlin) Chipped stone studies
  • Moritz Kinzel (DAI Istanbul) Building archaeology, heritage conservation
  • Kate Nolan (DAI Berlin) Research data management
  • Moritz Nykamp (FU Berlin) Geography
  • Shabnam Moshfeg Nia (DAI Berlin) Research data management, GIS & database
  • Birgül Öğüt (DAI Berlin) Microarchaeology, phytoliths
  • Joris Peters (LMU München) Archaeozoology
  • Nadja Pöllath (SNSB München) Archaeozoology
  • Julia Schönicke (FU Berlin/DAI Berlin/ANAMED Istanbul) Microarchaeology, abandonment processes
  • Brigitta Schütt (FU Berlin) Geography
  • Robert Sobott (Universität Leipzig) Mineralogy, archaeometry
  • Devrim Sönmez (Koç University Istanbul/DAI Istanbul) Archaeological field survey
  • Onur Torun (DAI Istanbul) Symbolism, cognitive archaeology
  • Benny Waszk (Mainz) Portal stones, human-environment interactions

Relaunch of Tepe Telegrams

It has been a long time since we last posted something on our blog “Tepe Telegrams”. The COVID-pandemic and everything that came with it also affected us. In the beginning, we had to rearrange all our work routines as everybody else and also had to reduce excavation works in 2020 to a bare minimum only focusing on small scale but necessary site conservation works. This was then followed by the work-loaded years 2021 and 2022 where we had to catch up with all that had been left behind. Now, finally, the time has come to breathe back some life into our blog and in the following weeks and months you will get to know the current team members, latest news and insights from Göbekli Tepe and our way of working. So stay tuned.

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.

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.


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.


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.

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.

Cereal processing at Early Neolithic Göbekli Tepe, southeastern Turkey

We have finally published some thoughts on processing and use of cereals at Göbekli Tepe. As the text is open access, we will just leave the link , some beautiful images of phytoliths, use-wear and grinding stones as well as the abstract here:

Dietrich L, Meister J, Dietrich O, Notroff J, Kiep J, Heeb J, Beuger A,
Schütt B (2019) Cereal processing at Early Neolithic Göbekli Tepe,
southeastern Turkey. PLOS ONE 14(5): e0215214.


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).


We analyze the processing of cereals and its role at Early Neolithic Göbekli Tepe, southeastern Anatolia (10th / 9th millennium BC), a site that has aroused much debate in archaeological discourse. To date, only zooarchaeological evidence has been discussed in regard to the subsistence of its builders. Göbekli Tepe consists of monumental round to oval buildings, erected in an earlier phase, and smaller rectangular buildings, built around them in a partially contemporaneous and later phase. The monumental buildings are best known as they were in the focus of research. They are around 20 m in diameter and have stone pillars that are up to 5.5 m high and often richly decorated. The rectangular buildings are smaller and–in some cases–have up to 2 m high, mostly undecorated, pillars. Especially striking is the number of tools related to food processing, including grinding slabs/bowls, handstones, pestles, and mortars, which have not been studied before. We analyzed more than 7000 artifacts for the present contribution. The high frequency of artifacts is unusual for contemporary sites in the region. Using an integrated approach of formal, experimental, and macro- / microscopical use-wear analyses we show that Neolithic people at Göbekli Tepe have produced standardized and efficient grinding tools, most of which have been used for the processing of cereals. Additional phytolith analysis confirms the massive presence of cereals at the site, filling the gap left by the weakly preserved charred macro-rests. 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. Contextual analyses of the distribution of the elements of the grinding kit on site highlight a clear link between plant food preparation and the rectangular buildings and indicate clear delimitations of working areas for food production on the terraces the structures lie on, surrounding the circular buildings. There is evidence for extensive plant food processing and archaeozoological data hint at large-scale hunting of gazelle between midsummer and autumn. As no large storage facilities have been identified, we argue for a production of food for immediate use and interpret these seasonal peaks in activity at the site as evidence for the organization of large work feasts.

Tracking Analogies: The Shigir Idol from the Urals

In 1894 a very special discovery was made in a peat bog c. 100 km north of Jekatarinburg in the Urals. Gold miners discovered fragments of an originally possibly 5.3 m high wooden sculpture carved from a piece of larch. In addition to geometrical motifs, the truly monumental sculpture is decorated with eight human faces on its front – and back side. Missing clear analogies, the date of this exceptional sculpture was long uncertain and topic of research debate. Only in 2014 a series of radiocarbon dates finally resolved the issue: The Shigir idol dates to around 9,600 cal BC (according latest analyses (Zhilin et al. 2018).

At this point in time, there is only one other site that has produced human respectively human-like monumental depictions – Göbekli Tepe. There is a considerable geographic distance between both sites, however, which makes direct contacts and interaction not the most probable explanation for these apparent similarities. Even more, certain methodological issues have to be emphasised here: The Shigir bog has exceptionally good conditions for wood preservation, at Göbekli Tepe and other contemporary sites of the Urfa region, durable stone was chosen to produce monumental imagery (of course, the lack of preserved wooden images does not exclude their former existence, carving techniques visible with Göbekli Tepe’s and other site’s rich stone art may well have been developed in wood here too). We are thus looking at two very special areas and distinctive situations here, and other regions between both phenomenons may as well have been rich in comparable imagery – which  is just not preserved.

If we travel south from Göbekli Tepe to the Middle Euphrates region, there are sites like Jerf el Ahmar, with ‘special buildings’ that have much in common with the Göbekli Tepe structures.  Jerf el Ahmar is a Pre-Pottery Neolithic A / transition to PPN B site in northern Syria characterized by round and rectangular buildings with limestone foundations. There, large subterranean round buildings with benches along the walls have been discovered. And, noteworthily in the context of this discussion, these buildings included wooden posts. If these were decorated, remains unknown, but would certainly be a possibility worth consideration. It is important to keep this in mind when discussing such extraordinary finds and possibly far-reaching analogies: Much of the picture archaeology can draw today depends on original building style and the materials used – and surviving remains preserved to this day.

Further reading

Zhilin, M., Savchenko, S., Hansen, S., Heussner, K., & Terberger, T. (2018). Early art in the Urals: New research on the wooden sculpture from Shigir. Antiquity, 92(362), 334-350. doi:10.15184/aqy.2018.48

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.


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.

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