Earlier this year I made the drunken offer to give a talk on Gobekli Tepe to our local Moot. It took me so long to write up my research that I thought it only fair to share it to the blog so people could see how I’d been spending my time recently.
“Potbelly Hill” or Navel Hill
Located in South Eastern Anatolia
Tell height 15m (49ft)
Tell Diameter 300m (980ft)
760m (2490ft) above sea level.
There are 7 enclosures currently identified, 6 of which are either partially or fully excavated but there are believed to be a further 16 enclosures waiting to be excavated.
Although Gobekli Tepe was first noticed in a 1963 survey conducted jointly by Istanbul University and the University of Chicago the importance of the site was not fully appreciated until 1994, when some important miss-identifications made in the 1960’s survey were corrected. The initial surveys viewed the various t-shaped pillars around the site site as being evidence of a late Byzantine cemetery, cutting through a much earlier neolithic settlement site conservatively dates to between 10000 to 8800 BCE. Work carried out in 1994 by Klaus Schmitt of the German Archaeological Institute resulted in him reinterpreting the pillars at Gobekli Tepe as contemporary with the neolithic structures, changing forever the status and importance of the site going forward. Schmitt undertook excavations at the site from 1996, and these still continue to this day with new discoveries and data being published all the time. Gobekli Tepe received UNESCO World Heritage status in 2018, a recognition of is amazing preservation and importance to the history of man’s evolution as a social being.
How Was Gobekli Tepe Built?
It is widely accepted that Gobekli Tepe is the oldest surviving temple structure in the world found to date but this creates a number of problems for traditional academics. Radio carbon 14 dates the earliest deposits (Layer 3) as early as 9600 BCE, and as a result some scholars suggest that construction began at the site as early as 10000 BCE, which places it’s development firmly in the region’s equivalent of the Mesolithic, where humans lived a nomadic, Hunter Gatherer lifestyle. According to everything we ever thought we knew about such people they should both lacked the socio-economic structure, technical knowledge and even spiritual development to attempt to construct something on the scale and complexity of Gobekli Tepe.
What could drive a people, previously free and independent, to come together and lead them to develop the social structure necessary for organised labour? How could they support their now sedentary lifestyle?
It is important to remember that Sanliurfa region 9 – 10,000 years ago was not the arid landscape it is today. The area would have been greener, with more water and consequently a landscape filled with game, fruit and nut bearing trees as well as wild grains. In effect it would have been a hunter gatherers dream, allowing the people the opportunity to stay within a reasonable distance of the monument during construction without initially putting too much strain on resources. It is also important to remember that even hunter gatherers managed the landscape in small ways, clearing areas to make grazing more attractive and conversely hunting an easier task, whilst at the same time creating space for the cultivation of wild grains. Trees were copiced and advantageous plants encouraged ahead of those that were less helpful or even harmful.
The idea that Hunter Gathers would use these kinds of techniques to stay in a single locality and build monumentally turns concept of the neolithic revolution on its head. Traditionally, as it the case with Stonehenge, it it has always been assumed that it was only following the introduction of farming the additional food surplus and abundance of static manpower that monumental building was considered. In the case of Gobekli Tepe the opposite is true.
Work to trace the migration of plants, not too dissimilar to that done to trace the origins of man, has show that the earliest forms of domesticated grains originate from a little village 20 miles from Gobekli Tepe. Another village, approximately 60 miles away from the monument, holds the distinct honour of having the earliest evidence of domestication of bacon; with evidence across the region of the earliest domestication of goats / sheep and cattle. These acts of domestication and the settlements they are associated with can be dated to approximately 10,500 BCE, only a few centuries after construction at Gobekli Tepe first began, further lending credence to the idea that “religion motivated people to take up farming”
Let’s consider the construction of the site for a moment. The stones were quarried directly out of the limestone plateau surrounding the site and were transported across the rough terrain to the main site. Stones could have travelled anything in excess of half a mile, as indicated by the 22ft long monolith which lies partially excavated from the living bedrock. This partially exposed pillar was clearly too big for the builders of Gobekli Tepe to handle, and like the great Obelisk of the Aswan Quarry the pillar was abandoned in favour of starting over on another. There are no stones of equivalent size (known) at the main site so it is likely that nothing of this size was attempted again. The shear effort that this would have entailed gives insight into why a radical change is society was necessary. Although there are none of the usual indicators of habitation in and around the site (midden dumps, buildings etc) it is clear that wild animals and game were being consumed at the site and there is evidence of large scale brewing of wild grain based beer which is thought to relate to ‘ritual’ consumption rather than domestic.
We’ve talked about how Gobekli Tepe was constructed and how the people organised themselves but what exactly were they building and why?
The enclosures at Gobekli Tepe are constructed in the form of an oval, though they are sometime described as being “womb” shaped, with the entrances to the enclosure located in the south / south east. Entering from the south visitors are immediately greeted by two large upright t-shaped pillars, standing side by side, with a sighting (porthole) stone located between and between the pillars in the enclosure wall. Some enclosures are simply dominated by the twin pillars whilst others, most notably Enclosure D, have additional smaller pillars placed around the enclosure perimeter.
The carvings at Gobekli Tepe vary in content and density from enclosure to enclosure. Enclosure A has a high number of snakes whilst C contains a high number of boars. Enclosure D is covered in snakes, foxes and the image of the crane. Archaeologists have also been able to determine that the enclosures were intended to viewed by walking /processing clockwise (sunwise) around the circle based on the locations of high and low relief carvings around the enclosures.
According to a survey by Joris Peters and Klaus Schmitt entitled “Animals in the symbolic world of Pre-Pottery Neolithic Göbekli Tepe, south-eastern Turkey: a preliminary assessment” the distribution of images across the then four excavated enclosures are;
Wild sheep 2.5%
Asiatic wild ass 1.2%
Brown bear 1.2%
Some modern observers present the variety of animals represented indicates that construction was carried out by particular clan/family groups which associated themselves with a given animal. Others see the animals as representing heavenly events, particular in the case of the snake and the fox. The snakes are suggested to, in some instances, actually represent the aurora borealis and be a memory in stone of a large scale solar flare which forced the northern lights so far south that they were visible in southern Turkey. Foxes and in particular fox tails (which make an appearance on the upright Pillars of enclosure D) are seen in other indigenous cultures, such as Native American Indian tribes, as a representation of comets and their tails and many comparative mythology scholars will apply the same interpretation to Gobekli Tepe.
In terms of star lore associated with carvings the type most paid attention to are the birds which appear in Enclosure D. The majority are described as being representative of the Crane, whilst some see vultures and flightless birds also represented. The association made here is quite detailed, and deserving of focused attention so I will return to exactly what star is being represented and it’s importance to the ancestor cult many scholars attach to Gobekli Tepe.
Going back to the pillars themselves, the upright t-pillars are set into shallow depressed carved out of the limestone bedrock, giving the monoliths an inherent sense of ethereal stability. Although they are in no danger of toppling over in of themselves they do vibrate when struck by the hand, in a similar way that the blue stones of Stonehenge also vibrate when struck with a rock. Archaeoacoustic work carried out and published in 2017 show that the stones at Gobekli Tepe will resonate at a low frequency known to effect our brains consciousness (binaural beats) and Andrew Colin’s suggests that the resonance could be maintained in the presence of a chorus of baritones, though it is just as likely that the participants kept regularly beating on the stone. The study showed that the effect was largely confined to the enclosure itself, though people immediately by the entrance would feel the effect and resonance as well.
Headless-ness and the Ancestors
Although we call them T-shaped the pillars, when viewed from the entrance to the enclosures, do not have a t-shape at all; in fact the are a simple linear feature. The carving of arm/hand like appendages as well as belts, belt buckles and “man bags” ensure that the human appearance remains but to the initial view the being represented is headless. Headless-ness is a theme repeated faith in the carvings themselves, with headless human forms appearing on both the pillars themselves as well as elsewhere
within in the enclosure. A particular favourite of alternative historians and comparative mythologist is the apparent image in enclosure D of a vulture carrying a had in its talons. The large pillars are human like, but they are clearly something beyond for they have not been represented with a head or anything which would make them recognisable as a human form. For this reason it is almost universally suggested that the pillars represent higher spiritual beings (aka Gods) rather than an ancestor spirit. These figures are found in the smaller pillars surrounding the enclosures, where it is entirely possible to identify features such as eyes, noses and mouths, making them more approachable and recognisable. Whether or not, as is the current hypothesis at Stonehenge, each stone represented a known or remembered ancestor is not clear, but we can be certain that these figures were intended to be recognisable as similar to participants in a way the T-shaped pillars were not.
Heads do appear to have featured at the site however and In 2017 fragments of human skull were discovered on the site, in positions that indicated the skulls had once been hung on display. The bone fragments show evidence of postmortem modification, with evidence of pigment (indicating they were painted) and deep groves incised in a geometric pattern indicating they represent more than the cuts of the defleshing process. If Julia Gresky of the German Archaeological Institute is correct in her suggestion the skulls were suspended from rope passed through drill holes in the top of the skull, with the jaw secured by passing the rope through over and around, to them be suspended from the monument by rope. The modifications were, according to Gresky, designed both to enhance the skull, as well as ensure a secure hanging, then an ancestor cult associated with Gobekli Tepe may be implied.
Sky Burial and Birds
Now we’ve introduced the concept of a cult of ancestors it’s a good time to talk about how the remains of the dead were handled by the Hunter Gatherers of Gobekli Tepe and how this relates to the image of the bird.
The most commonly accepted theory is that the Hunter Gathers practice a burial process known as ex-carnation, often referred to as sky burial which is still practised in Tibet. In this process the dead are laid out on a platform or an enclosure and the local wildlife allowed to de-flesh the corpse. This process usually results in the loss of smaller bones, such as fingers, toes and ribs, but the larger skull and long bones are usually left behind. This practice of ex-carnation was widespread throughout hunter gatherer societies across the world, including in the British Isles during the Mesolithic and even Neolithic periods. Depending on the region different scavengers will be attracted to the corpse. In the UK and and Ireland animals like crows, ravens and foxes are attracted to the burials but in Turkey larger scavengers like buzzards and vulture would be attracted to the deceased.
The presence of birds in this context would have been very important to some societies, because of the links drawn between birds and the human soul. There is evidence around the globe, from the Middle East to North America, of the association between the souls of the dead and birds; everything from buzzards and eagles to the crane and ibis. We can see the same associations extending into Christianity, with the dove being the representation of the soul. For this reason, in conjunction with the supposition that sky burial was practised by the builders of Gobekli Tepe and the high number of crane and bird depictions found in enclosure D, Andrew Collins suggests that the worshippers of Navel Hill saw the spirits of their beloved dead in the form (or in the company) of birds and that their religious activities at the temple were intended to ensure a smooth transition from earth into heaven.
But where did the spirits go? based on the apparent orientation of the temples to view the southern sky the answer of “the stars” seems clear but which stars? And what did the worshippers see when they looked to those stars? If we accept that the surrounding pillars are human intercessors, who’s spirits had already flown to the stars, who enable us to connect with to the more than human beings represented by the t-pillars a question still remains; who are they?
Archaeologists, historians and conspiracy theorists alike consistently look to the southern stars for the answer, though the answers that they give you can vary quite a bit.
Cygnus – The Soul Bird
Andrew Colin’s, in his various books, notable the Cygnus Key and Cygnus Mysteries, argues that the temples focus is the stars of the Constellation of Cygnus, also known as the Northern Cross. Located just above the junction of the dark rift of the Milky Way Collins contends that the Constellation, the Latin name of which refers to a swan, has always been associated with birds of one form or another and that many ancient cultures around the world saw the Constellation as a point of transmigration for the soul. Collins draws evidence from cultures as far afield as North America and Ancient Egypt, claiming that Cygnus is the focal point for multiple ancient stone monuments across the globe.
Whilst Collins makes a very strong case for the motif of the bird as soul, going as far to link it to the early hominids known as the Denisovans, the connections that he makes in respect of Gobekli Tepe being aligned to the constellation do not stand up to scrutiny. For starters his dates do not match the archaeological evidence. The sighting stones do not align with the constellation when compared against the dates of construction as provided by radio carbon 14 dates. In fact there is quite a substantial margin of error to the extent that it really cannot be ignored. Collins would argue that his thesis with regard to Gobekli Tepe has been independently verified in 2017 by two researcher from the University of Edinburgh. This might sound like vindication for the Cygnus connection however when read the paper reads as though the two started from the premises posited in Collins 2014 publication and sought to evidence it themselves. Unfortunately this means that the two Engineers make the same errors in oversight that Collins does, completely ignoring the archaeological evidence available, which in 2016/7 more securely dated the construction of Enclosure D to a time when Cygnus could not have been in the sight of the portal stone.
This is not to say we should throw the baby out with the bath water. The concept of the flight of the soul in the form of a bird both as as an ancient motif and one which is repeated at Gobekli Tepe has strong merit, even if the stars proposed don’t quite align.
Orion – The Headless Hunter
A better fit, though not perfect, is the suggestion that monuments are aligned to the rising of the starts of Orion’s belt. That a hunter gatherer society would focus on Orion, chasing Taurus across the sky in an endless hunt, makes a great deal of sense, though it does assume that the builders looked to the constellation and also saw a hunter.
Whilst A and B do have some level of alignment to Orion the sighting is not consistent across all the excavated monuments. Perhaps as more enclosures are excavated and their alignments plotted a connection to Orion’s belt will be strengthened but for the time being it is possibly safer to assume that whilst Orion was important he was only part of the night sky show that the builders were attempting to capture.
Sirius – The Companion and Star Goddess
Just below the heel of Orion sits the star Sirius, known as the Dog Star by modern sky watchers it’s summer time rising in the southern sky heralds the so-called “dog days of summer”. The birth of a new star in the night sky, particularly one which proves predictable as it emerges over the horizon, is generally something of note which is why many archaeoastrononical alignments settle on the helical rising of one star of another. Though procession does, over time, move the point in the sky where the rising will occur it would appear to our ancestors that it rose and set in the same place consistently and only the observations of a dedicated few over many generations would notice that this was not the case.
Megalithic alignments with Sirius are as common as with Orion and Cygnus when such things are plotted, the most famous being the Orion alignment found in the Great Pyramid of Giza where the southern shaft exiting the Queen’s Chamber aligns with Sirius. Robert Bauval, Graham Hancock and Andrew Collins (to name just a few) maintain that this is a deliberate alignment of the “soul ascension” machine to enable the souls of royal women to ascend to the next world. Of course, this alignment is paired with a similar shaft in the King’s Chamber, aligned to the belt of Orion, and two northward shafts which would allow the descent of the souls in the northern walls aligned with major stars in the constellation of Ursa Major. The Sirius association between the Great Pyramid and the southern sky of Ancient Egypt in 2500 BCE can be debated long and hard, and a lot seems to depend on what star simulation program you chose to use, but if we accept it as a clear and proven fact what does this mean for Gobekli Tepe? Were the Egyptians echoing a much more ancient association between Sirius and the Soul laid down into a collective memory by the Hunter Gatherers of 9600 BCE?
The archaeology does seem to indicate that this is the case. Of the sites excavated so far enclosures B, C and D all have port hole alignments which match the helical rising of Sirius at a time depth consistent with the secure radio carbon 14 dates associated with the construction deposits at the site. This would indicate that each of these enclosures were build with the rising star in mind as an important feature and that it continued to be factored in to even after temples were closed, back filled and then reconstructed in a different location on the Tell. Whether or not all of the un-excavated enclosures will show the same alignments and associations remain to be seen but as work continues we will surely find out.
This theory does have its detractors however, most notably Andrew Collins and Robert Hale. They maintain that Sirius, despite its rising status, would not be visible to to its declination at the dates proposed and would therefore not be available to sight the construction of the monument but that it would be of little interest to the builders, so attention should be paid to the north. Whilst a valid argument it assumes two things. One – that little to no process of observation occurred in advance of the construction of Gobekli Tepe and that construction was spontaneous. This is consistent with Collins belief that the builders of Gobekli Tepe were influenced to build as they did by the Denisovans human species based on their savant like knowledge which far exceeded that of any other human race and the alignments were “downloaded” into the builders culture from elsewhere. We known from later cultures that sky watching was the main night time activity and there is every evidence that the same was true in this case. Even if the rising is not visible initially there is no reason to assume that the sky watchers were not capable or observing the angle of rising and reverse plot it to its rising point on the horizon. Then we come to the second issue – the assumption that the rising would not be visible. In our modern experience we see very little of the night sky, particular on the horizon, due to light pollution. There are very few places where it is possible for us to get a true sense of the majesty of the Milky Way or the brightness of the stars at night without the horizon being blurred by some degree of light pollution. The same would not have been true in Mesolithic Turkey and it is likely that the rising of Sirius would have been visible, if faint, and expected by those who have spent many generations observing the movements of the star.
It is important to keep in mind that Sirius is consistently considered a companion star, with Orion featuring along side it as is the case in the Pyramid of Giza. There are echos of twin deities being associated with the evolution from a nomadic way of life to one associated with agriculture and animal husbandry as far back as the Sumerian. In the story ‘Debate between Sheep and Grain’ two sky beings (god’s) located on a hill discuss whether or not to share with mankind the knowledge of grain and domestication of animals.
My own interpretation aligns most closely with the idea that the twin pillars represent two male sky god’s with Sirius representing the main alignment and spiritual concern, with Orion existing as an important, but not superseding, concept.
But don’t rely on my interpretation. If your are interested in drawing your own conclusions I recommend picking up Collins work and reading it in conjunction with the work of archaeologists and academics to allow you to make your own judgement. A lot seems to hinge on what program you goose to plot your starts and where you decide to pin the date of construction, both which are highly subjective. Just because I have come down on the side of the archaeologists doesn’t mean you will.
Andrew Collins, Gordon White and many others have looked at the archaeological evidence and compared symbolism and mythology apparently displayed at Gobekli Tepe with others from around the world and each drawn their own conclusions about what exactly was going on for the pioneering people’s that built and worshipped at Gobekli Tepe. Some rely solely on the archaeology, leading to a very dry and dusty interpretation, whilst others almost totally ignore the archaeological work and focus entirely on interpretation; leading to some very woolly and misleading trips down the rabbit hole. Both represent extremes in interpretation and both approaches are flawed. It is important to both find and try to maintain a golden mean, like that described in the flight of Icarus who was instructed not to fly too close to the sun nor too close to the ocean least he fall from the sky.
If you want to see this done well then I recommend reading chapter 2 of Gordon Whites Star.Ships in its entirety. Andrew Collins takes a generally balanced approach, but hovers on the edge of the rabbit hole from time to time, occasionally plunging right on in there, but that shouldn’t detract from his many and very good thoughts and suggestions. There are others so far out there that it was the little Green Men practising for the construction of Stonehenge that built Gobekli Tepe who’s names I won’t mention, but can be found in the backwaters of conspiracy theory podcasting (not recommended!)
At the end of this post you will find a list of websites and articles that I read in preparation for my talk (and by extension this post) along side a list of Podcast episodes and YouTube videos which will also help with your research.
The Hunter Gatherers Cult
So what can we say for the religious impulses at work at Gobekli Tepe?
Taking into account the archaeoastronomy and acoustics alongside archaeology in conjunction with observations of White, Collins and others and with the hunter-gatherer /proto-agricultural society seemingly being formed as a result I submit that Gobekli Tepe does represent a form of ancestor cult, one which focused on the form of the bird (crane or vulture) as a vehicle or form of the soul released as part of the process of ex-carnation. The temple was not habitually occupied, with the exceptions of phases of construction and use, based on the lack of developed midden materials though caretaker-ship in later phases might be implied in order to maintain the site.
Ritual phases, perhaps associated with the rising of Orion and Sirius or Cygnus, drew family groups from across the region, allowing for the sharing of new ideas and techniques of animal and plant husbandry across the region whilst also allowing the mixing and marrying beyond kinship groups. The rituals might have only involved a select few clan/tribe members such as chiefs or key spiritual leaders (aka ‘shamans) who attended star lit rituals where procession, chanting and other ritual activities took place. Given the evidence or large-scale brewing vats carved into the bedrock, and the fact that beer was brewed long before the grapevine was truly considered for a source of fermenting wine, it is likely that these were not sober affairs, with at least prehistoric grain beer fuelling the ritual experience if nothing else.
The carved humanoid features of the pillars, particular the guardian pillars around the interior of enclosure D, and the headless state of central pillars, supports the idea that the cult was a form of ancestor worship and one which focused on the heavens as a point of the souls entry and exit from the mundane realm.
The Decline of Gobekli Tepe
Excavations at the Tell show that the site evolved with distinct phases, with one enclosures being “closed” through the burial of structure even as another is “opened” as a result of construction. Each phase represents a change in grandeur and sophistication, and much like the Pyramids of Ancient Egypt everything pales in comparison to the pinnacle of construction, in this case Enclosure D (based on current information).
Though the length of time that Gobekli Tepe was open and an active centre of religion and spirituality for the inhabitants of the region is impressive, nothing can last forever. From 8000 bce there is evidence of a devolution of ritual power, with smaller monuments, far smaller and less sophisticated, appearing on the region. By 7000 BCE the site have been filled in by a fine layer of 300 to 500 cubic meters of soil, hiding yet preserving this unique and important site. Whether this was done as an act of de-consecration, protection against desecration, was an act of desecration in or itself or something else entirely, we benefit from the marvellous level of preservation achieved, allowing us to endlessly puzzle over its meaning.
Archaeologists and Theorists alike call Gobekli Tepe a gateway to the heavens, but only a very small number are attempting to imply alien intervention. It was with sites like Gobekli Tepe that the structures of society, and the drive to work together to complete goals which went beyond the mere need for survival, were born. These are the foundations that saw man build rockets, dream of and eventually reach for the stars, with the moon landing being the pinnacle expression in this real life game of Civilisation.
Websites and Articles
The Tepe Telegrams
Göbekli Tepe Newsletter 2014
Animals in the symbolic world of pre pottery Neolithic Gobekli Tepe South Eastern Turkey: a preliminary assessment
The Gobekli Tepe Animal Imagery (Enclosure D)
Sirius and the project of the megalithic enclosures at Gobekli Tepe
Archaeoacoustic Analysis of Enclosure D at Gobekli Tepe
Decoding Gobekli Tepe with Archaeoastronomy : what does the fox say? Sweatman and Tsikritsis
Star.Ships by Gordon White (Chapter 2)
Andrew Collins Cygnus Key / Cygnus Mysteries / Gobekli Tepe Genesis of the Gods
NB my Podcaster of choice is Podbean, these shows may be available on other platforms including YouTube. This is just a selection of those I considered well done – searching Gobekli Tepe in your podcaster of choice will bring up many more.
Pseudo-Archaeology | Göbekli Tepe, Bad Fox, No Comet – Episode 73
Truth Health Freedom Podcast | Andrew Collins – The Cygnus Key: The Denisovan Legacy, Göbekli Tepe, and the Birth of Egypt
The Higherside Chats | Gordon White | Star.Ships: A Prehistory Of The Spirits, Gobekli Tepe & Our Magical Past
Astonishing Legends | Göbekli Tepe Part 1
Astonishing Legends | Göbekli Tepe Part 2
Astonishing Legends | Göbekli Tepe Part 3
Honestly there are a lot as entire seminars devoted to Gobekli Tepe and associated topics have been recorded and posted to this platform.
Check out search results for Gobekli Tepe and Andrew Collins as well as the Megalithomania UK channel.