Saturday, December 22, 2012

Minerva Feature Article on Göbekli Tepe

It's an excellent although lengthy article.  The photographs are stunning!  The discoveries being made at Gobekli Tepe are turning the archaeological world upside down.  Just think about it -- 11,000 years old, we were ending the last Ice Age and here were these mysterious people that we know nothing to little about, carving these incredible structures out of stone.  How did they do it?  Why did they do it?  Who the hell were they?

The oldest temples in the world

Trevor Watkins describes Göbekli Tepe, the mysterious 11,000-year-old site in south-east Turkey that has turned prehistory upside down

Why would people carve something so magnificent inside a deep pit, and then bury it
under tons of soil?  The base is decorated with "birds" but to tell you the truth,
they look like dinosaurs to me!  Well, they do, damn it! 
One of a pair of 5.5 metre-tall monoliths in Enclosure D. Below its 'head', around its 'neck',
is a band and pendant. Its hands are on its 'stomach', just above a belt with an ornamental
buckle and a fox pelt worn as a loincloth. Below is a frieze of birds.

Gobekli Tepe before the start of excavations -- an entirely man-made hill or hills.  That's a tree on top.
Rather reminds me of those earthen pyramid-shaped hills in China...
Göbekli Tepe before it was excavated. The hill is entirely man-made; the mulberry tree on its summit
gives an idea of scale.

 



 
Funny how something out of nowhere can just reach out and grab you.  Seeing the small stone piece, above, it absolutely fascinates me.  Is it a relic of the world's oldest writing???  What the hell is it?  What does it mean?  I say to myself how could ancient people NOT have had writing?  They talked to each other!  Why would they not have been able to write to each other too?  Is that a snake on the left?  I say yes.  It appears that snakes are abundantly represented in the imagery at Gobekli Tepe.  Where they considered a sacred animal or have ritual significance as they did in other later cultures, or were they depicted so often just because they were abundant in the area, like the carved images of scorpions and other creepy-crawlies?  Was the area semi-arid then, as it pretty much appears to be today? 

And are there very very faintly etched figures to the left of the serpent, just above and just below mid-stone?  Do you see them?  The lines do not look like random natural scratches or tiny fissures in the stone, they look deliberately etched.  I wish I knew how to use a program to circle them for you, or add little arrows pointing at them in this image!  Drat!  One of the things on my list to tackle once I am retired!

But, nobody knows what this is - or they're not saying (sounds paranoid, I know, but careers are on the line.  Who's going to go out on a limb and say yeah, it's writing!  Only to be greeted by a derisive chorus of Oh Yeah, PROVE IT!)  Are these markings just the equivalent of carved "doodles?"  A small, flat incised stone plaque. Similar examples have been found on contemporary settlement sites in north Syria. Were these signs the pre-cursor of writing?


"A geophysical survey of the whole site shows that there are more great circular enclosures all over the man-made hill. As many as 20 more, some of them larger than those already excavated, can be seen on the ground-penetrating radar scans. Where there are no large circles visible in the scans, there is evidence that the site went on in use for several more centuries after enclosure building ceased. Professor Schmidt has done some preliminary work in the area beside the four big enclosures, and that shows that many small rectangular structures were built in this later phase. Each structure had one or two pairs of monoliths, but they are much smaller and less richly decorated."

What happened during this later phase to change things so much?  Was the culture dying out?  Had a series of wars, or disease, famine, or drought, occurred to greatly reduce the number of people and the resources available to devote to continued building of these mysterious complexes?  We don't know!

"As you leave the site and reflect on the astonishing things you have seen, you begin to wonder how many people were directly involved, and how many more were needed simply to support them. And to ask who designed the enclosures, specified what was to be carved on each stone, and supervised the logistics of the whole complex construction?

"There are two things we can say for certain about the people who created Göbekli Tepe. First, they were not living at or near Göbekli Tepe. There are no known sites in the area around the plateau. But there are contemporary settlements along the River Euphrates in north Syria. They each had a circular subterranean building at the centre of the settlement, similar in form to the enclosures at Göbekli Tepe. These communal buildings were also back-filled at the end of their use-lives, and there are elements of imagery that these sites have in common with Göbekli Tepe. Professsor Schmidt believes that Göbekli Tepe was a sacred 'central place' for the whole region, where people came together to share in the construction of monuments that expressed their common ideology.

"The second remarkable thing we know is that, at the time when the enclosures at Göbekli Tepe were being made, people living in south-west Asia were not yet farmers. It has been generally believed that only those with control of their resources – farmers – could manage the logistics to assemble and support such a large and skilled workforce. The people of the region at that time were not hunter-gatherers; they were not living as small, mobile hunter-gatherer bands; rather, they lived in substantial numbers in permanent settlements. In parts of south-west Asia, people had been harvesting and storing wild wheat, barley, peas, beans and lentils for thousands of years before Göbekli Tepe was built, which enabled them to create stable, permanent village communities, even before they began to domesticate plants and animals."

And check out this object, it is totally awesome:



Three views of a unique 1.5-metre-tall sculpture that was found defaced and buried within a stone wall. The excavators have nicknamed it the 'totem-pole' because it is composed of a series of figures each holding the next figure down. The head of the top figure is more like a bear than a human. It holds the head of a human figure, which in turn holds another figure. On each side there is a snake.

Okay, am I crazy for thinking that the top head is a lioness (Sekhmet?) and the bottom figure is a bull or a cow holding a moon or sun inside it's horns (Hathor?)  Catalhoyuk had lots of bull or cow with sun or moon between horns imagery too, albeit about 4,000 or 5,000 years later.  Just saying...

2 comments:

Raimo said...

There's probably an easy answer to why the later structures on Göbekli Tepe are smaller and seem to be inferior in construction. In the early stages it might have been the only ceremonial centre of that size and importance in the whole of Fertile Crescent and could draw the devotion and work of people from relatively far away to help it's construction projects. Success always brings imitators, and this holds true with religious pilgrimage centres also. We can easily assume that Göbekli Tepe's success eventually led to the emergence of competing centres, big and small, that are yet undiscovered or unrecognized and which took away some of Göbekli Tepe's support base of pilgrims and builders. In later stage, Göbekli Tepe would have been able to draw resources from a smaller sphere and as a result the building projects would have been of smaller size. Eventually, Göbekli Tepe would have lost the competition altogether and would have been abandoned, but not before it's use would have been ceremoniously terminated.

Raimo said...

There's probably an easy answer to why the later structures on Göbekli Tepe are smaller and seem to be inferior in construction. In the early stages it might have been the only ceremonial centre of that size and importance in the whole of Fertile Crescent and could draw the devotion and work of people from relatively far away to help it's construction projects. Success always brings imitators, and this holds true with religious pilgrimage centres also. We can easily assume that Göbekli Tepe's success eventually led to the emergence of competing centres, big and small, that are yet undiscovered or unrecognized and which took away some of Göbekli Tepe's support base of pilgrims and builders. In later stage, Göbekli Tepe would have been able to draw resources from a smaller sphere and as a result the building projects would have been of smaller size. Eventually, Göbekli Tepe would have lost the competition altogether and would have been abandoned, but not before it's use would have been ceremoniously terminated.

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