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Gobekli Tepe

27 May 2012

World Current Archaeology 53 (June 2012) has a nice piece on the Gobekli Tepe excavations with lots of colour pictures. The D shaped pillars are not strictly a D shape, from the position of one of the photos. Rather, they are tall pillars (often with carvings) with a hat on top, a piece of matching stone slightly wider so that it overlaps the upright pillar. Some of these pillars, it is suggested, represent anthropomorphic characters but are not neccessarily human even though they wear blets, loincloths, and have arms and legs (the carvings). They actually resemble clay figurines from Pre-Pottery Neolithic sites in the vicinity. They lack faces, even heads, and as such represent supernatural beings gathered at Gobekli Tepe for unknown reasons. Rens van  der Sluijs might describe them as auroral entities which is one idea worth thinking about as Gobekli Tepe is dated shortly after the global climate appears to have warmed up very quickly by some 10 degrees (roughly) at the end of the Younger Dryas. Is that evidence of extraordinary solar activity?

Getting back to the article, enclosure A has produced some fantastic carved reliefs with the dominant theme of snakes – and again, see Rens van der Sluijs for the significance of snakes in relation to auroral events. In enclosure B the fox is the principle subject and in enclosure C the boar is a popular target of the carver, leading to the obvious conjecture that we might be seeing some kind of totemism at play – but what provokes the idea of totemism?

The enclosures have benches built into the walls indicating they were used as a gathering or meeting place. After they went out of use, a century or so after they were built, they were decommissioned – by being backfilled. In effect, the enclosures were buried as if they were dead – of no relevance anymore. The fill came from limestone rubble, flints, fragments of stone vessels, fragments of grinding stones and various stone tools and their chippings, and the sculptures of animals and humans were placed deliberately in the filling as if they were offeringhs, and a huge quantity of cooked animal bones, the remains of feasting sessions. We have seen that feasting and backfill of megalithic monuments in Europe was a theme over several thousand years and the idea, it seems, like farming, may have originated in the Fertile Crescent. Wild cattle, aurochs, were it seems the principle food animal. However, bones of gazelle, red deer, onagers, wild pigs and wild goats were found in smaller numbers as well – game associated with hunting activities. Now, the thinking is, or has been, that Gobekli Tepe was established by a hunter-gatherer society, but it seems they may at least have herded wild cattle and possibly nurtured families of wild pigs and goats, otherwise they would very quickly have denuded them from the landscape. The authors suggest that farming may have developed as a result of feasting activities – which placed pressure on natural resources. Excavations are still going on – probably for years to come. The material culture at Gobeklie Tepe as it has emerged is similar to that of upper mesopotamia in general, on the middle and upper reaches of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and in the foothills of the Taurus mountains. Even the T shape pillars are not peculiar but have been found in several settlement sites not too far away.

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