20 July 2024 The Future is the Product of the Past

It may have been designed in Nevali Çori before Göbeklitepe was built

Göbeklitepe, Nevali Çori, Karahantepe, and Taştepeler, which will make us rethink what we know about human history, change the information about agriculture, belief, settled life, and question the history of religions, also sheds light on new information in terms of art history.

In the basins of the Euphrates, Tigris, and Jordan rivers, defined as the Fertile Crescent in the Near East, in all settlements since the beginning of the Neolithic Age, one encounters an extremely subtle, monumental, and sophisticated understanding of religious art and objects.

It would not be wrong for research to search for the factors that are effective in the formation and development of the social structures of the peoples of Southeastern Anatolia in these unique areas in the province of Urfa. This period is approximately the years 10200-7500 BC, the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A and B (PPNA-PPNB) periods.

Although Göbeklitepe is known as the oldest and largest worship center in history, it is also a center that hosts the first examples of three-dimensional sculpture art in the world.

A stone oil lamp or incense container in Nevali Çori.
A stone oil lamp or incense container in Nevali Çori.

Four circular structures were unearthed at Göbeklitepe, and according to the layout, there are sixteen more similar structures waiting to be unearthed. The diameters of these round or oval structures vary between 10-30 meters The structures, each of which consists of concentric circles and narrow corridors between them, are equipped with stelae between 13 and 14, with an average of 12 adjacent to their walls and two more in the middle. Thus, in a ritual center like Göbeklitepe, we can talk about over 200 large stone columns in total. To date, about 50 of them have been excavated and unearthed.

Nevali Çori and Göbeklitepe. Drawing: Claus Schmidt

With their T-shaped obelisks at Karahantepe, Sefer Tepe, and Hamzan Tepe, all of which are also in Urfa, they seem to have a religious significance and serve a religious purpose. While 13 T-shaped stelae are seen in Nevali Çori, almost all of these styles are full of descriptions.

T-shaped steles are thought to represent human beings (anthropomorphic), with the horizontal part the head and the vertical part the body. The stylized depictions of human arms and fingers on both some late examples at Göbeklitepe and the Nevali Çori obelisks support the idea that T-shaped columns symbolize humans.

Snake embossed human head, Nevali Çori.
Snake embossed human head, Nevali Çori.

Most of the 50 steles unearthed in Göbeklitepe have animal reliefs on them, and sometimes the column headings were engraved as animals. The most frequently depicted animals are the snake, wild boar, and fox, and there are also depictions of bears, cranes, vultures, wild donkeys, wild cattle, insects, centipedes, scorpions, leopards, and large reptiles.

On the other hand, all the stelae in Nevali Çori are thought to represent a group of people dressed in a kind of special clothing similar to the cloaks of priests. In Göbeklitepe and Nevali Çori, apart from the animal reliefs and some symbols on the steles, some other monumental works of art are also encountered.

Snake reliefs of Göbeklitepe.
Snake reliefs of Göbeklitepe.

Especially in Nevali Çori, many monumental sculpture fragments were found. All but one of them were consciously embedded in the late stages of cult structure, that is, they were found in a secondary context. These finds are presentation objects left to cult structures.

Among the statues in question, a bird, which is thought to be a stele head in a cult structure, caught the head of a woman with its claws is remarkable. The head of this bird, whose talons and torso have been preserved, is missing, but it probably belongs to a vulture, which should be related to the “cult of ancestors and skulls”.

From Nevali Çori sculptures.
From Nevali Çori sculptures.

A composite sculpture group with a half-meter-long flying bird, possibly a vulture, a hybrid creature with a bird body and a stylized human head, and two back-to-back female sculptures, possibly depicted with a vulture on their heads, which should also be a column capital. Other important and form symbolic cult objects.

When the scraping tools used in sculptures of this period are examined, it is understood that they consist of bone and flint. For this reason, it is understood that ceramics and sculptures made with clay are more understandable and detailed, while stone sculptures are in silhouette, without details. The biggest feature of the stone sculptures in Nevali Çori is their small size. Similar statues of these statues appear in Göbeklitepe in larger sizes. It can be said that the gigantic works to be built were designed in Nevali Çori and built-in Göbeklitepe.

From Nevali Çori sculptures.
From Nevali Çori sculptures.

German archaeologist Hauptmann Harald, who participated in the Nevali Çori excavations carried out before the Göbeklitepe excavations, wrote in an article, The fact that the sculptures made of stone are individual works suggests that they are models of large-scale sculptures,” he wrote.

Based on this, it is understood that it was designed in Nevali Çori before Göbeklitepe was built, and it was built in a period right after it. As Hauptmann stated, “They probably migrated to another place due to the effect of environmental conditions (flooding or excessive precipitation as a result of melting glaciers). Maybe the animal species decreased and they starved.”

A view from Karahantepe, Şanlıurfa, southeastern Turkey. Photo: AA
A view from Karahantepe, Şanlıurfa, southeastern Turkey. Photo: AA

In this context, it can be thought that the Nevoli Çori civilization settled in Göbeklitepe, which is a higher place in the changing conditions, lived here for a long time, and completed its main development here.

However, why a region or area was considered sacred for the Prehistoric hunter-gatherers of the Near East is certainly not a question that can be answered with certainty. This question is actually valid for the selection of all sanctuaries that exist in every period and culture. Sometimes a water source, sometimes a location dominating the Harran Plain like Göbeklitepe and the environment, and sometimes proximity to a raw material source may have played a role in these choices.

In this article, excerpts are taken from Serap Özdol’s article “The Religion and Social Structure in Southeastern Anatolia in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic Period”.

Cover Photo: Şanlıurfa Archeology Museum

Related Articles

The World’s oldest and first swords ever discovered

11 March 2023

11 March 2023

The 5,000-year-old swords found 43 years ago during the excavations in the old mud-brick palace structure in Malatya Arslantepe Mound...

Royal-Memorial Inscription Attributed to King Sargon II Discovered in Western Iran

25 April 2021

25 April 2021

In western Iran, Iranian archaeologists discovered a part of a royal memorial inscription attributed to the Neo-Assyrian king Sargon II....

New Study Finds, 4,000-Year-Old Toolkit Unearthed Near Stonehenge Was Used to Work Gold

16 December 2022

16 December 2022

Archaeologists from the Universities of Leicester and Southampton in the United Kingdom recently published a study claiming that enigmatic artifacts...

A cemetery belonging to 54 children was found during the excavation in the old quarry in Diyarbakır, Türkiye

4 January 2024

4 January 2024

During the archaeological excavation carried out in the area considered to be an old quarry in the Kulp district of...

The 3,200-year-old perfume of Tapputi, the first female chemist in history, came to life again

24 July 2022

24 July 2022

One of the scent formulas written in Akkadian on clay tablets by Tapputi, known as the world’s first female perfumer...

Archaeologists discover three extraordinary 1,800-year-old residential-style tombs featuring rooms and windows, Filled with Han Dynasty Treasures

19 May 2024

19 May 2024

Archaeologists discovered three remarkable 1,800-year-old, residential-style tombs featuring rooms and windows, where a wealthy family was laid to rest alongside...

Roman Bath Complex Found under Spain’s Caños de Meca beach

22 May 2021

22 May 2021

A well-preserved ancient Roman bath complex emerged from the sand of a beach in the Andalusian region of southwestern Spain....

Headless skeletons discovered in Prehistoric mass grave

14 January 2023

14 January 2023

Archaeologists have found a mass grave site containing 38 decapitated burials at a Neolithic settlement in Vráble, Slovakia. The remains...

On a 5,300-year-old skull, archaeologists find evidence of the first known ear surgery

20 February 2022

20 February 2022

Humans may have begun performing ear surgery more than 5,000 years ago, say Spanish archaeologists. Spanish researchers say the skull...

Three-room Urartian tomb with liquid offering area (libation) found in eastern Turkey

18 January 2023

18 January 2023

A three-room Urartian tomb with a rock-cut libation (liquid offering area) to offer gifts to the gods was unearthed in...

Archaeologists have discovered a treasure trove of sixth-century coins in ancient Phanagoria in Russia

27 July 2021

27 July 2021

Archaeologists have discovered 80 coins known as Copper staters dating back to the sixth century at Phanagoria on the Black...

Who will solve the puzzle of Bronze Age tin? Origin of tin ingots from Uluburun shipwreck disputed – the metal may have come from Cornwall

3 October 2023

3 October 2023

The exact origin of tin in the Bronze Age is the Holy Grail of archaeometallurgists: For 150 years, experts have...

World’s oldest wooden structure ‘476,000 years old’ discovered in Zambia

20 September 2023

20 September 2023

An ancient wooden structure found at Kalambo Falls, Zambia—dated to about 476,000 years ago—may represent the earliest use of wood...

Volunteer archaeologists discovered a 1900-year-old silver military decoration in Vindolanda

17 June 2023

17 June 2023

Volunteer archaeologists have discovered a 1900-year-old military decoration (Phalera) that was awarded to distinguished soldiers and troops in the Roman...

Ancient scrolls reveal astonishing information about the life of a Nabatean woman, who lived in the first century AD in Petra

18 December 2023

18 December 2023

Petra was the capital of a powerful trading empire two thousand years ago. It was established by the Nabateans, a...