The sanctuary of Gobekli Tepe sanctuary is the oldest stone in the world recorded nowadays. It´s dated by the end of the Mesolithic, approximately 12,000 years ago.
It was discovered by the German mission led by archaeologist Klaus Schmidt in 1995, which questioned the until then accepted paradigm that, it was agriculture that enabled us to become sedentary and develop a religious concepts. From this discovery, our whole conception of the passage of the Mesolithic to Neolithic is compromised. Now we wonder again how was the idea of the birth of the gods and which was its cradle?
Göbekli Tepe is located on the northern boundary of the “fertile crescent moon” stretching from Iraq to Egypt, Southeast Anatolia (modern Turkey region), 15 km north-east of the city of Sanliurfa (or Urfa) . This city would be linked to the biblical Abraham, as even some claim that Urfa would be the city of Ur, mentioned in the Bible as the birthplace of Abraham.
Urfa is an oasis, which could explain why Göbekli Tepe was built nearby. A limestone life-size statue, found in Urfa and carbon dated by between 10,000 and 9,000 BC makes it the oldest stone statue ever found. Its eyes are of obsidian.
The place is an artificial hill of 15 m. high and a diameter of 300 m. covering about 9 hectares. There has not been found any residential construction. This hill is located on the highest point of an elongated mountain. The summit of this hill is an observation point overlooking the region: it allows to see the Karacadag and Taurus mountains to the north and east, and the Haran Valley on the south extending up to Syria.
In this land lived the ancestors of the first domestic animals, wild sheep and goats, and abundant wild grains grew. It was here that where spelt, wheat and cereals began being harvested, that in the Neolithic were disseminated across the Middle East to Europe.
The site was subject of excavations beginning in 1995, under the direction of Klaus Schmidt. His team discovered four oval structures with a maximum diameter of 30 meters and minimum of 10 stones.
Older enclosures are called A and D and are at level III, which belongs to the pre-ceramic Neolithic A period, which dates from 9600-8800 BC, and the last two ones complex of the pre-ceramic B neolithic, between 8800 AC -8000. The structures are located on the southern slope of the hill, oriented north-south, with entrance from the south. Central T stands face Southeast.
Outside the hill, there has been found in the western plateau, another enclosure called E, dug into the rock, belonging to the older age of Göbekli Tepe, although its elements have completely disappeared. On the western slope of the hill another circular enclosure was discovered in 2007, but with a Southwest orientation, which is the only for now within the complex, located in the village of Nevali Cori (8400-8000 BC) at 50 km. of Gobekli Tepe.
Archaeologists have found that complexes were successively buried over a period of 2000 years, producing the formation of the artificial hill, which allowed the extraordinary state of conservation of the site.
This complex is the most important and also the oldest one.
Each structure is surrounded by a wall of broken stone, with wide intervals with T-shaped pillars. In the middle two huge monoliths are erected with 5.5m. tall and weighing approximately 15 to 20 tons.
Around the central monoliths a stone wall and clay mortar, inside which are inserted ten blocks long T-shaped, but smaller, measuring between 3 and 5 m stands. tall and weigh up to 10 tons.
Thanks to the geomagnetic checks, it is estimated that at least 15 more sites with identical structure are remaining for being excavated, some probably older, from 1000 to 2000 years.
The quarry used is the same hill. Using granite peaks, monoliths were carved directly into the rock, and made spin with levers. Once lifted, with rowing movements were carried to the top. With about 50 men, they could carve the stone and transport it. Researchers believe that at least 500 people were able to participate in the works.
The arrangement of the T-shaped pillars followed fixed rules. They always appear in circular spaces, that are around the same two specimens (twins), characterized by their great stature and careful made and are isolated in the center of the sanctuary. The numerous pillars located around the central couple, seem to delimit the sacred space, being joined together by two walls that separate the inside from the outside. Leaning against the walls are stone benches along the perimeter.
These areas are unlike anything we knew until today.
Göbekli Tepe is much more sophisticated than Stonehenge and more than 6,000 years older. It is supposed to have 7000 years more than the Pyramids of Egypt.
Without wheels or beasts of burden, these ancestors built something monumental. The achievement of such a work requires a complex organization and labor intensive to perform very different jobs, a similar organization to the of construction of the pyramids in Egypt.
The temple shows a mastery, a mastery of the sculpture techniques that no one thought possible many thousands of years ago. How are these men who still did not know agriculture, could conceive and plan a similar work? The skills required should have preceded in time the material construction of the temple.
Symbolism of the T-shaped pillars
The first sacred spaces of stone created by humans were not covered by a roof, and the center was occupied by a recurring element: the pillars in the form of T. Made of limestone, they were located inside a space that It was not always circular, but had oval, polygonal or square variants. The largest diameter was that of the east-west orientation.
The term “pillar” applies here in the sense of “sacred pillar of ancient Egypt”, a group which also owns the obelisks, which have never been used in support of any architectural element of support, they were separate monuments. As obelisks, T pillars does not functionally appear as support, at least in its original form. They are of an imposing and monumental size.
The craft, transport and set in position of pillar seems to have been an important component of ceremonies, events and festivities. In other words, this was the mean or the way to achieve a goal.
Klaus Schmidt says: “With T-shaped pillars man created for the first time, three-dimensional scale and cubic forms (found up to 200 by today). Surfaces are carefully worked in octagonal shape, straight and flat. The result gives the impression of a construction of pillars formed by two separate blocks placed one upon the other, but this perception is false. The pillars were always built in one single block of limestone. They are truly monoliths, with an average weight between 5 and 10 tons. Hence the question of why this particular T form is imposed. It was a symbolic unknown outside the landscapes of Upper Mesopotamia. Only the Taulas of the Balearic Islands in Spain have a similar T-shaped contours as the ones of the Mesopotamia, although different in one important respect, because they are not monoliths, but consist of two blocks. ”
The inscriptions on the T pillars show that they are not simple stone monoliths, but a stylized anthropomorphic representation. The bar of the T represents a human face in profile, the body has glued arms that stretch to reach the front the waist, wearing a horizontal buckle H-shaped. The character is dressed in a fox fur.
The horizontal bar of the T then symbolizes the head of a person from a side perspective. The Occiput and the chin are prominent compared to the front and rear lines of the body. “The figure shows a profile of a human body. In the ventral face of several pillars there are two parallel vertical bands, lines and always assembled in a “V” at chest level, so they represent a garment shaped cape wrapped around his neck and hanging from the sides of body, indicating that this is a dress with a great deal of symbolic power, “says the commented archeologist. It is quite possible that the “lithic buttons” that are found in Gobekli Tepe are part of this type of clothing.
Klaus Schmidt thinks “it’s a sign that they do not belong to this world but the spiritual world; they are not human, it seems but they are not; they may be the oldest representations in the world in what could be the world’s oldest temple.”
You cannot recognize whether the central pillars are of different sexes. Klaus Schmidt thinks, inspired by Levy Strauss, that is more likely to represent twins, so often common in the mythological themes. “The classic representation of the male / female duality is excluded after the recent discovery in the enclosure D, in which the characters of the central pillars feature an H-shaped belt, and C, which were also found in the clay figures of the same period, which are all male ” It is said that these pillars also represent male characters, reinforcing the symbolism of the twins.
On certain pillars, we can see numerous animals subtly represented (snakes, ducks, cranes, bulls, foxes, lions, wild boars, cows, scorpions, ants …). Also symbols like the letter H, crosses, crescents, and horizontal bars are distinguished or intermingled, which proves, according to Klaus Schmidt, that this is a symbolic writing to express its mythological vision in a pictographic language.
The guardians of the pillars T statues
We find two types of high-relief sculptures inside the enclosures: those that are built into the T pillars, and other representations that appear to be isolated from wild boars, foxes, tapirs or ducks, no animals native to the region. Statues of the same type have been found in Nevali Cori and Nahal Hemar.
The sculptures found in high relief, single block, are of a very naturalistic style, and represent leopards, foxes and wild boars. These animals seem to be the guardians of the T-shaped pillars A very important detail is the predatory animal, with open mouth and a threatening posture with his head down, as another type can be seen on the pillar 27 enclosure C. Other is the boar that has jaws with huge defenses and can be found on the wall of the enclosure facing inward.
The more naturalistic depictions we find are statues, whether animal or human, that seem to represent characters in our world, powerful and important, but lower than the beings represented by T pillars. These seem to belong to another world, they could be as guardians the sacred part.
All images and representations found in Göbekli Tepe are male, whether humans or animals, except for the engraving of a naked woman in a pose that might be like to give birth or to the sexual act, it is found in the rectangular enclosure of the pillars of the lions.
Most likely it´s about stylized divinities, guardians of the place attested by its gigantism and showing for the first time in the history of mankind, the distinction between man and animal in the human capacity to dominate nature. Heretofore, in the works of art belonging to the prehistoric find, we had seen very few representations of human beings in the same equal position, no lesser than animals.
Sculpture workshops where these statues were created were located on the same plateau that the unfinished pillars found in situ. Bowl-shaped basins and mortars inside the rock were found, it is assumed that were used to make the sculptures in the late Paleolithic.
Phallic forms are distinguished and geometric motifs carved into the rock, whose dating remains unknown. They are similar to the sculptures of Sumer and Mesopotamia, as well as those found in Minor Asia and Egypt of the same time, like Byblos, Nemrik, Helwan and Tell Aswad.
In 2008 in Göbekli Tepe was found a statue of a little less than 70 cm depicting a bearded man, who seems an ancestor of the Sumerian statues of Mesopotamia. The face seems to look slightly upwards, towards something more powerful than himself; his hands are perched in front of his body al the level of the belly button and there is no depiction of the genitals, that remain invisible.
The temples predate agriculture
During the excavations found many skeletons of animals: gazelles, wild boars, deer, sheep. Most of the bones are from edible parts, which makes us believe they were leftovers, all wild animals. Men Göbekli Tepe were hunters and gatherers of wild fruit, it was a pre-agricultural society, although it has long been thought that places like Göbekli Tepe could only exist in the interior of large farming communities, as the Egyptians thousands years later.
In the area of the Fertile Crescent Turkish men they were sedentary for at least a thousand years before the construction of Göbekli Tepe, so it was not done through agriculture. They probably realized that it was more beneficial to them to transmit their knowledge to a large sedentary group, rather than small nomadic groups.
Hill has no source of drinking water, so they had to bring their own food and drinking water from the place where they lived. This means that they could not remain many days in a row in the same place. Where did they live then?
According to Celik Bahattin (Harran University) in Urfa remains have been found, deposits of flint, a collective 11,000 years ago. In the museum of Urfa is the statue of a man 11,000 years ago stones inlaid eyes and a posture reminiscent of Gobekli Tepe monoliths. His face is well defined, contrary to the monoliths. Similar statues have been found at Gobekli Tepe.
Obviously builders or founders knew Göbekli Tepe sculpt faces with sharp lines, but voluntarily decided not to do so on the monoliths of the temple. Probably they wanted to represent was the presence of supernatural beings that men could not see their faces because they live in another dimension, invisible to our eyes.
Always he thought he was the discovery of agriculture which allowed various groups of hunters to join forming isolated farming communities, but apparently, the great cultural revolution occurred prior to the agricultural revolution. It is the advent of a new religion that founded this cultural revolution, in which humans are beginning to consider a higher range of animals. Göbekli Tepe suggests that it was the desire, the need for spirituality, which begat civilization.
The archaeologist Gordon Childe, in the first half of S XX, develops the concept of the urban “revolution” Neolithic began in the Fertile Crescent and considered as a fact that agriculture freed man from fatigue and hunger, but this position today, is considered too simplistic. The proposed paradigm can be summarized as follows: agriculture-sedentary-religion-temple.
Indeed, under favorable weather conditions, as was the case in this region at that time, appropriate for hunting and gathering conditions they were largely lower part for livestock and grain farming. When they lacking natural resources, populations of the time they moved to other places. It is clear, finally, that the culture that develops in the Neolithic, when plants and animals and the newly acquired skills domesticated, was much more efficient, but it was not an urgent need for hunter-gatherers becoming farmers, since their livelihood now required less effort.
The new paradigm: religion-sedentary-temple-agriculture
Since the time between the appearance of the sacred statues and the subsequent invention of food production is not very strong (roughly two millennia were), the hypothesis of linking these two phenomena is imposed.
Existed in the region a very dense communities and towns or villages exchanging their products, information and individuals network. In that sense, explains Klaus Schmidt, it took regular meetings for this society composed of small groups, within which objects could not switch between them or produce their own efforts were exchanged.
Thus one can understand the essential importance of some routes, according to the central places, allow communication between the pre-Neolithic societies.
But those places were not cities, since they did not exist. It was shrines, which were points of convergence for the pleas or social and economic demands of the men of the Stone Age. They were seasonal meeting places. Hunters and gatherers were scattered throughout the area, conducting meetings and put in place a system of communication at different levels.
Göbekli Tepe was one of those venues where the dimension of the sacred dominated. The enormous importance of these events in the process of the Neolithic in the Near East was recently recognized by the archaeological research (Dietler and Heyden).
It seems logical that these meetings, which took advantage to make exchanges were accompanied by great festivities. Animal bones found at the site suggest so. They are broken and emptied of their spinal bones, which suggests that they are leftovers. The most numerous are gazelles, aurochs and also of wild asses, wild boar and deer.
“When people gathered there for the festivities, much food was needed to feed them and to facilitate those continuing needs of food, the men had to dominate nature and spend a predator economy to a production economy, adopting livestock and agriculture. ”
A well organized feast is unimaginable without culinary dimension: the invention of domestication is often closely connected with such activities, the need to provide food and drinks. The first cultures of cereals are usually rather in relation to beer with bread.
These types of meetings caused the assistance of a large number of people, which did not happen in the past. The massive presence of people at parties also allowed risk to large collective feats such as the construction of sanctuaries. The first non-natural sanctuaries (caves, forests, springs …), causing great innovations appear and take transcendental consciousness.
The paradigm proposed Childe about the origin of the Neolithic and could be summarized as follows: agriculture, sedentary lifestyle, religion, temple, now reversed and, as a result of these new findings becomes: religion, sedentary temple agriculture.
In early 1990, the scholar of prehistory Jacques Cauvin advanced the hypothesis that the development of religiousness was what drove men to come together to live and celebrate their rituals in society. Göbekli Tepe could agree.
The site of Tepe Göbekli clearly testifies that humanity provided in a pre-agricultural time sufficient to erect or place a place of worship, imposing ideas that contradict the hypothesis that agriculture would be before any major construction means.
The archaeologist at Stanford University, Iann Hodder recalls: “It shows that the sociocultural changes advienen first and the farmer later.”
Sie die ersten Bauten Tempel der das rätselhafte Heilingtum Steinzeitjäger, Klaus Schmidt, Verlag CH Beck oHG, Munich 2006
Göbekli Tepe – The Stone Age Sanctuaires. New results of ongoing excavations with a special focus on high reliefs and sculptures, Klaus Schmidt, in Documenta Praehistorica XXXVII, 2010
Göbekli Tepe: sanctuaries of the Stone Age in Upper Mesopotamia, Klaus Schmidt, in PUCP Archaeology Bulletin, No. 11, 2007, 263-288
Naissance des divinités, naissance de l’agriculture. La révolution des symboles au Neolithic. Jacques Cauvin, CNRS Editions, Paris, 1997
Catal Huyuk. Neolithic Town in Anatolia, James Mellaart, Sir Mortimer Whecler, London, 1967
Nouvelles découvertes à Jerf el Ahmar, Syrie, Xe – IXe millénaire av. JC, CNRS -. Info n ° 370, janvier 1999, pp. 9-10
Symbols in action. Ethnoarchaeological studies, Ian Hoddes, Academic Cambridge, 2009
Religion in the emergence of civilization – Catal Hoyuk, as a case study, Ian Hoddes, Academic Cambridge, 2010
Göbekli Tepe, agriculture et domestication, Joris Peters, Encyclopedia of Global Archaeology, (3065 – 3068), New York, 2014