Neolithic mountain sanctuary
in the foothills of the
Taurus in southeast Turkey
The early Neolithic Göbekli Tepe, a mound some 300 m in diameter with an accumulation of 15 m, is situated on the highest point of a mountain ridge. It stands out from afar, a feature dominating the landscape. From the site one can see the great Taurus range and Karadağ to the north and the east, and to the south the Harran Plain stretching away to Syria. Only in the west is the horizon blocked by high spines that rise nearer by, cutting Şanlıurfa off from the Euphrates Valley further westward.
History of Research
as 1963 Göbekli Tepe
had been pinpointed as an archaeological site
in the course of a Turkish-American
survey, and in 1980 appeared Peter Benedict's
report on the mound. The
full significance of the site, however, was
not yet apparent. The flanks
of the rise, strewn with large cut blocks of
masonry as well as countless
implements of chipped stone, certainly did not
bring to mind an establishment
from mankind's earliest period of settlement,
i.e. from the time the Paleolithic/Mesolithic
hunters were first shifting to a sedentary
life of farming. Only further
investigation would reveal the special
significance of this mound, which
gradually rose layer upon layer like
Schliemann's Troy, but dates at least
five thousand years earlier than the "City of
The excavations of the Şanlıurfa Museum and the DAI in Istanbul begun in 1995 and since 2001 have continued in cooperation with the Orient-Abteilung of the German Archaeological Institute. The annual campaigns since 1995 have brought neither residences nor fortifications to light, but instead monumental and megalithic circular configurations previously unknown, beyond any shadow of a doubt religious in function. Monolithic pilasters, each weighing tons, were bound into a circle by segments of wall that enclosed them on the interior and the exterior as if to form a temenos. In the center, towering above all, stood a single pair of pillars. On these were large-scale reliefs of wild beasts: lions and bulls, wild boars, foxes and snakes. The sculpture provides a glimpse of a pictorial tongue, the meaning of which-like the overall significance of the structures-will continue to stimulate much scholarly controversy. What has now become clear is that the earliest architectural forms yet known were by no means small and unpretentious, but astoundingly monumental in character. It is only in the upper building levels at Göbekli Tepe that we see a transformation of these circular structures intomuch smaller forms, some constructed with quadrilateral plans as well.
During the 12th campaign, which ended on 20 October 2006, excavation concentrated on widening the surface area to enable a complete exposure of the four great pillar-structures A through D; in the previous three seasons excavation had focused on the very center of the site. Outstanding among the 2006 discoveries are the sculpture of a wild beast in Structure C and a pillar with particularly ornate relief in Structure D.
Paleozoological and paleobotanical studies running parallel to the excavation indicate that the population whose achievements we see at Göbekli Tepe represented an economic stage of development still dependent upon wild prey. The economic motor of the Neolithic village, forerunner of the oriental city, still lay far beyond the horizon. Only a collection of hunters who assembled on the mountain as if to attend an "Olympic council" could have been responsible for the outlay of labor necessary to erect this architecture. "First came the temple, then the city" would seem descriptive of the phenomenon we see here. It remains the role of future excavation either to confirm or discredit this conclusion.
The most recent building phase at Göbekli Tepe (Level II) has been dated both comparatively and absolutely (C14) to ca 8000 BC, with an earlier primary building phase (Level III) ending as early as 9000 BC. The age of the earliest occupation cannot yet be determined; the depth of the deposit, however, would suggest a period of several millennia, which signifies that the site had already existed in early Paleolithic times. Level I refers to the accumulation of sediment on the lower slopes of the rise, often considerably deep, occasioned by natural erosion and recently intensified by agriculture.
The excavations at Göbekli Tepe are part of a joint Turkish-German project undertaken with the cooperation of the Şanlıurfa Museum and the German Archaeological Institute, Abteilung Istanbul and the Orient-Abteilung. They are supported by ArchaeNova Inc., Heidelberg. Further information, including the possibility of financial donations to the project, is available from AchaeNova, Postfach 101248, 69002 Heidelberg.
Prof. Dr. Phil. Klaus Schmidt
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