Potbelly Hill

23 Feb 2010

Newsweek, February 19th have run an article on the enigmatic monument unearthed in SE Anatolia dating back to 9500BC - the very beginnings of the Holocene (see www.newsweek.com/id233844 ). On what is a softly rounded hill in the foothills of the Taurus, the mountains rising at it's rear, it's face towards Syria in the south and the Plain of Harran to the SE. As far as archaeology can tell the monument(s) were built by a pre-agricultural people (but this is not absolutely certain as the Younger Dryas climatic event that ended at 9500 may have caused nascent farming communities to migrate to a warmer and more agreeable location). Basically, it was built for some completely unknown reason. Klaus Schmidt thinks he has uncovered a huge ceremonial complex at Gobekli Tepe (which is Turkish for potbelly hill). Carved and polished circles of stone with terrazo flooring and double benches with massive T shaped pillars rising from the circles - up to 17 feet high, have been unearthed. So far 4 circles have been found, up to 90 feet across. Ground penetrating radar indicates there might be another 15 to 20 monumental ruins awaiting excavation. Some 50 pillars have been dug up as well and as always the archaeologists have used their imaginations to come out with a theory. The urge to worship  brought humans together in the very first uban conglomerations. The need to build and maintain a temple drove them to seek stable food supplies and to settle down. The temple begat the city.

However, there is no town at Gobekli Tepe but the idea does have some credence as centres of worship lie at the heart of all conurbations - and new immigrant groups introduce their own places of worship. However, you can't have a town without the people to populate it and it is only after the commencement of the Holocene era that humans began to wax forth in great numbers (or so we are led to believe).

Gobekli Tepe sits on the frontier between the mountains and the fertile plains spread out before it - but to what extent had the Younger Dryas affected human life in both areas? The artists at the monument depicted swarms of scary creatures according to Schmidt - spiders, scorpions, snakes, triple fanged monsters, and lots of carrion birds. Hence, Schmidt has surmised that dead humans were exposed at the monument in order to be defleshed by vultures and crows. Against the idea is the fact that very few bones have been uncovered. Ian Hodder and other Neolithic specialists, wonder if Schmidt might just have missed evidence of a nearby village - the builders had to come from somewhere. At 9500 it seriously predates Jericho (8500) and Catalhuyuk (8000BC) but the biggest mystery is that the site was deliberately and carefully buried, and abandoned. Why?

The site flourished for around 500 years (an estimate) and was clearly less important to succeeding generations as the later circles were much smaller than the earlier examples. It might be that the circle and T shape pillars were a visible feature in the sky and people were compelled to imitate them.