Northern Mesopotamia I
Tell Abu Hureyra
Portasar / Gobekli Tepe
Tell Abu Hureyra
Tell Abu Hureyra (11.000 and 7000 BC) is an archaeological site along the Euphrates valley located in in modern-day Raqqa Governorate in northern Syria. The remains of the villages within the tell come from over 4,000 years of pre-ceramic habitation spanning the Epipaleolithic and Neolithic periods.
It is on a plateau near the south bank of the Euphrates, 120 kilometres (75 mi) east of Aleppo. The tell is a massive accumulation of collapsed houses, debris, and lost objects accumulated over the course of the habitation of the ancient village.
The mound is nearly 500 metres (1,600 ft) across, 8 metres (26 ft) deep, and contained over 1,000,000 cubic metres (35,000,000 cu ft) of archaeological deposits. Today the tell is inaccessible, drowned beneath the waters of Lake Assad.
The site was excavated as a rescue operation before it was flooded by Lake Assad, the reservoir of the Tabqa Dam which was being built at that time. The site was excavated by Andrew Moore in 1972 and 1973. It was limited to only two seasons of fieldwork. However, despite the limited time frame, a large amount of material was recovered and studied over the following decades.
It was one of the first archaeological sites to use modern methods of excavation such as “flotation”, which preserved even the tiniest and most fragile plant remains. A preliminary report was published in 1983 and a final report in 2000.
The village of Abu Hureyra had two separate periods of occupation: An Epipalaeolithic settlement and a Neolithic settlement. The site consisted of two villages; Abu Hureyra 1 and Abu Hureyra 2. Abu Hureyra 1’s inhabitants were from the Epipaleolithic era and were sedentary hunter gatherers. Abu Hureyra 2 took place in early Neolithic times and was composed of farmers.
The site is significant because the inhabitants of Abu Hureyra started out as hunter-gatherers, but gradually moved to towards farming, making them the earliest known farmers in the world. Cultivation started at the start of the Younger Dryas period at Abu Hureyra. The remains within the tell come from over 4,000 years of pre-ceramic habitation spanning the Epipaleolithic and Neolithic periods.
Abu Hureyra suggests that rye was the first cereal crop to be systematically cultivated. Evidence that was presented at the site of Abu Hureyra changed archaeologists’ minds. It is now believed that the first systematic cultivation of cereal crops was around 11.000 BC.
Due to the late glacial interstate, the Abu Hureyra site experienced climatic change. Due to lake level changes and aridity the vegetation ended up expanding into lower areas of the fields. Abu Hureyra ended up accumulating vegetation that consisted of grasses, oaks, and what is known as Pistacia Atlantica trees. The climate changed from warm and dry months, to abruptly cold and dry months.
The Epipaleolithic, or Natufian, settlement was established c. 11.500 BC. During the first settlement, the village consisted of small round huts, cut into the soft sandstone of the terrace. The roofs were supported with wooden posts, and roofed with brushwood and reeds. Huts contained underground storage areas for food. The houses that they lived in were subterranean pit dwellings.
The inhabitants are probably most accurately described as “hunter-collectors”, as they didn’t only forage for immediate consumption, but built up stores for longterm food security. They settled down around their larder to protect it from animals and other humans.
From the distribution of wild food plant remains found at Abu Hureyra it seems that they lived there year-round. The population was small, housing a few hundred people at most—but perhaps the largest collection of people permanently living in one place anywhere at that time.
The inhabitants of Abu Hureyra obtained food by hunting, fishing, and gathering of wild plants. Gazelle was hunted primarily during the summer, when vast herds passed by the village during their annual migration.
These would probably be hunted communally, as mass killings also required mass processing of meat, skin, and other parts of the animal. The huge amount of food obtained in a short period was a reason for settling down permanently.
It was too heavy to carry and would need to be kept protected from weather and pests. Other prey included large wild animals such as onager, sheep, and cattle, and smaller animals such as hare, fox, and birds, which were hunted throughout the year.
Different plant species were collected, from three different eco-zones within walking distance (river, forest, and steppe). Plant foods were also harvested from “wild gardens” with species gathered including wild cereal grasses such as einkorn wheat, emmer wheat, and two varieties of rye. Several large stone tools for grinding grain were found at the site.
After 1,300 years the hunter-gatherers of the first occupation mostly abandoned Abu Hureyra, probably because of the Younger Dryas, an intense and relatively abrupt return to glacial climate conditions which lasted over 1,000 years. The drought disrupted the migration of the gazelle and destroyed forageable plant food sources.
It is likely that most of the inhabitants had to give up sedentism and return to nomadism, or they might have moved to Mureybet, just 50 km upstream on the other side of the Euphrates, which expanded dramatically at this time. It seems that a small population managed to hang on at Abu Hureyra – maybe just a few single farms or a small hamlet.
Abu Hureyra 1 had a variety of crops that made up the system. Their resources consisted of 41% of Rumex/ Polygonum, 43% of Rye/ einkorn, and the remaining 16% of Lentils. In comparison to Abu Hureyra 1, Abu Hureyra 2 had a different accumulation of resources that their site consisted of. Their resources consisted of 25% of Rumex/Polygonum, 3.7% of Rye/Einkorn, 29% of Barley, 23.5% of Emmer, 9.4% of Wheat-free threshing, and 9.4% of Lentils.
It is from the early part of the Younger Dryas that the first indirect evidence of agriculture was detected in the excavations at Abu Hureyra, although the cereals themselves were still of the wild variety. It was during the intentional sowing of cereals in more favourable refuges like Mureybet that these first farmers developed domesticated strains during the centuries of drought and cold of the Younger Dryas.
When the climate abated about 9500 BCE they spread all over the Middle East with this new bio-technology, and Abu Hureyra grew to a large village eventually with several thousand people.
The second occupation grew domesticated varieties of rye, wheat and barley, and kept sheep as livestock. The hunting of gazelle decreased sharply, probably due to overexploitation that eventually left them extinct in the Middle East. At Abu Hureyra they were replaced by meat from domesticated animals. The second occupation lasted for about 2,000 years.
Some evidence has been found for cultivation of rye from 11050 BCE in the sudden rise of pollen from weed plants that typically infest newly disturbed soil. Peter Akkermans and Glenn Schwartz found this claim about epipaleolithic rye, “difficult to reconcile with the absence of cultivated cereals at Abu Hureyra and elsewhere for thousands of years afterwards”.
It could have been an early experiment that didn’t survive and continue. It has been suggested that drier climate conditions resulting from the beginning of the Younger Dryas caused wild cereals to become scarce, leading people to begin cultivation as a means of securing a food supply.
Results of recent analysis of the rye grains from this level suggest that they may actually have been domesticated during the Epipalaeolithic. It is speculated that the permanent population of the first occupation was fewer than 200 individuals.
These individuals occupied several tens of square kilometers, a rich resource base of several different ecosystems. On this land they hunted, harvested food and wood, made charcoal, and may have cultivated cereals and grains for food and fuel. The first domesticated morphologic cereals came about at the Abu Hureyra site around 10,000 years ago.
The village of Abu Hureyra had impressive agricultural advances for the time period. The rapid growth of farming lead to the development of two different domesticated forms of wheat, barley, rye, lentils, and more; Which was due in part to a sudden cool period in the area.
The cool period affected the supply of wild animals such as gazelle, which at the time was their main source of protein. Since their food supply was scarce it was critical they found a way to provide for the population. Therefor, leading to the extensive agricultural efforts and domestication of sheep and goat to provide a protein source.
Another helping factor was the ability to grow legumes, which fix nitrogen levels in the soil. This helped the health of the soil and allowed for the plants to flourish. The massive increase in agriculture did not come without any tolls. Those who lived in the village of Abu Hureyra experienced several injuries and skeletal abnormalities.
These injuries mostly came from the way the crops where harvested. In order to harvest the crops the people of Abu Hureyra would kneel for several hours on end. The act of kneeling for long durations would put the individuals at risk for injuring the big toes, hips, and lower back.
There was cartilage damage in the toe that was so severe the metatarsal bones would rub together. In addition to this injury another common injury was for the last dorsal vertebra to be damaged, crushed, or out of alignment due to the pressure used during the grinding of grains.
The skeletal abnormalities can be located on the teeth of the Abu Hureyra people. Since the grain was stone ground many flakes of stone would still be left in the grain which overtime would wear down the teeth. In rare cases women would have large grooves in their front teeth which suggests they used their mouth as a third hand while weaving baskets.
This dates basket weaving as far back as 6500 BC and the fact so few women had these grooves shows that basket weaving was a rare skill to have. These baskets were extremely important to the success of the agriculture because the baskets would be used to collect or spread seeds, and would also be used to collect or distribute water.
Mureybet is a tell, or ancient settlement mound, located on the west bank of the Euphrates in Ar-Raqqah Governorate, northern Syria. The site was excavated between 1964 and 1974 and has since disappeared under the rising waters of Lake Assad.
Mureybet was occupied between 10,200 and 8,000 BC and is the eponymous type site for the Mureybetian culture, a subdivision of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA). In its early stages, Mureybet was a small village occupied by hunter-gatherers. Hunting was important and crops were first gathered and later cultivated, but they remained wild. During its final stages, domesticated animals were also present at the site.
Mureybet (romanized: muribit, lit. ‘covered’: 10.200 and 8000 BC) is a tell, or ancient settlement mound, located on the west bank of the Euphrates in the modern Raqqa Governorate, northern Syria. Mureybet was at the northern end of the area of Natufian culture, not far from Tell Abu Hureyra.
Mureybet measure 75 metres (246 ft) in diameter and 6 metres (20 ft) high. It is situated on an elongated ridge that is c. 4 metres (13 ft) above the river terrace of the Euphrates, which flowed directly west of the site before the valley was flooded.
The site was excavated between 1964 and 1974 and has since disappeared under the rising waters of Lake Assad. It is the eponymous type site for the Mureybetian culture, a subdivision of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA).
In its early stages, Mureybet was a small village occupied by hunter-gatherers. Hunting was important and crops were first gathered and later cultivated, but they remained wild. During its final stages, domesticated animals were also present at the site.
All excavations were part of the larger international – and eventually UNESCO-coordinated – effort to investigate as many archaeological sites as possible in the area that would be flooded by Lake Assad, the reservoir of the Tabqa Dam, which was being built at that time.
The filling of Lake Assad eventually led to the flooding of Mureybet in 1976. Although the site is now submerged and no longer accessible, the material that has been retrieved during the excavations continues to generate new research.
Climate and environment of Mureybet during the time of its occupation were very different from the modern situation. When Mureybet became occupied around 10,200 BC, climate was slightly colder and more humid than today, an effect of the onset of the Younger Dryas climate change event.
Annual precipitation increased slightly from 230 millimetres (9.1 in) during the Natufian to 280 millimetres (11 in) during the Mureybetian occupation phases. The vegetation consisted of an open forest steppe with species like terebinth, almond and wild cereals.
The excavations have revealed four occupation phases I–IV, ranging from the Natufian up to the Middle Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB). Phase IA (10,200–9,700 BC) represents the Natufian occupation of Mureybet. It is characterized by hearths and cooking pits, but no dwelling structures have been identified.
Among the crops that were harvested, and possibly even locally cultivated, were barley and rye. Very few sickle blades and querns were found. The inhabitants of Mureybet hunted gazelle and equids and fishing was also important. They had dogs, evidence for which is indirect at Mureybet, but bones of which have been identified at nearby and contemporary Tell Abu Hureyra.
Phases IB, IIA and IIB (9,700–9,300 BC) make up the Khiamian, a poorly understood and sometimes disputed sub-phase straddling the transition from the Natufian to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA).
Mureybet is the only site where Khiamian deposits are associated with architectural remains. The oldest of these remains date to phase IB and consist of a round semi-subterranean structure with a diameter of 6 metres (20 ft).
In the subsequent phases, slightly smaller round houses built at ground level also appeared, at least some of which were used simultaneously. The walls were built from compacted earth, sometimes reinforced with stones. Hearths and cooking pits were located outside the buildings.
Harvested crops included barley, rye and Polygonum. Sickle blades and grinding stones are more common and show more use-wear, indicating that cereals became a more important component in the diet.
The fauna at Mureybet changed significantly during phase IIB. Gazelle makes up 70% of the assemblage and small animals decrease in importance, although fish remained important. Toward the end of the Khiamian, equid hunting gained importance at the expense of gazelle.
Phases IIIA and IIIB (9,300–8,600 BC) represent the Mureybetian, a subphase of the PPNA that was named after Mureybet and is found in the area of the Middle Euphrates. Architecture diversified, with rectangular, multi-cellular buildings appearing next to the round buildings that were already known from the previous phases.
Walls were built from cigar-shaped stones that were created by percussion and that were covered with earth. Semi-subterranean structures also continued to be used and they are compared to similar structures found at nearby and contemporary Jerf el-Ahmar, where the structures are interpreted as special buildings with a communal function.
Many rooms in the rectangular structures were so small that they could only have served for storage. Hearths and cooking pits lined with stones continued to be located in the outdoor areas. The wild varieties of barley, rye and einkorn were consumed in phase III.
Different lines of evidence suggest that these cereals were cultivated rather than gathered. Hunting of equids and aurochs was more important than of gazelle, while fish remains were rare in phase III contexts. Based on use-wear analysis, it could also be established that animal hides were processed at the site using bone and stone tools.
The earliest known writing for record keeping evolved from a system of counting using small clay tokens. The earliest use of small clay tokens for counting were found in phase III. It coincided with a period of explosive rapid growth of the use of cereals in the Near East.
The last occupation phases, IVA (8,600–8,200 BC) and IVB (8,200–8,000 BC) date to the Early and Middle PPNB, respectively. No architecture has been encountered in phase IVA. No domesticated cereals were found, but this may be an effect of very small archaeobotanical sample that was retrieved from these phases.
Hunting focused on equids, followed by aurochs. It could not be determined whether any domesticated animals were exploited in Mureybet. Mud-built walls of rectangular structures were uncovered in phase IVB. Domesticated sheep and goat were exploited in this period, and domesticated cattle may also have been present.
The excavation of Mureybet has produced an abundance of lithic material. During all periods, flint was the main raw material from which tools were made. It was procured from local sources. Obsidian was much less common.
Natufian tools include points, burins, scrapers, borers and herminettes, a kind of tool that was primarily used for woodwork. Flint arrowheads appeared in the Khiamian period. Other stone tools included burins, end-scrapers and borers.
Mureybetian stone tools included Mureybet arrowheads, scrapers and burins, while borers were much less common. During the PPNB phase, Byblos arrowheads replaced the Mureybetian types, and other technological improvements were also introduced.
Apart from the lithics, other artefact categories were also present in Mureybet in smaller quantities. Personal ornaments in the Natufian period consisted of pierced shells and small stone and shell discs. Only a few bone tools were found.
During the Khiamian, bone was used for needles, awls and axe sheaths. Beads were made from stone, freshwater shells and bone. Among the three figurines from this phase was one with clear anthropomorphic characteristics. The Mureybetian bone tool assemblage closely resembled its Khiamian predecessor.
The presence of baskets at Mureybet has been inferred from use-wear analysis on flint and bone tools. Other artifact categories include limestone vessels, stone querns, beads, pendants, including one from ivory and eight anthropomorphic figurines made from limestone and baked earth. Seven of these figurines could be identified as women.
Nevalı Çori was an early Neolithic settlement on the middle Euphrates, in the province of Şanlıurfa (Urfa), eastern Turkey. The site is famous for having revealed some of the world’s most ancient known temples and monumental sculpture. Together with the site of Göbekli Tepe, it has revolutionised scientific understanding of the Eurasian Neolithic.
Tell Aswad (“Black hill”), Su-uk-su or Shuksa, is a large prehistoric, Neolithic Tell, about 5 hectares (540,000 sq ft) in size, located around 48 kilometres (30 mi) from Damascus in Syria, on a tributary of the Barada River at the eastern end of the village of Jdeidet el Khass.
Tools and weapons were made of flint including Aswadian and Jericho point arrowheads. Other finds included grinding equipment, stone and mud containers, and ornaments made of various materials. Obsidian was imported from Anatolia. Tell Aswad occupies a special location in the central Levant as a connecting region between northern and southern expansions of agriculture.
Tell Aswad (“Black hill”; c. 8700 – 7500 BC), Su-uk-su or Shuksa, was a large fully established PPNB agricultural village, about 5 hectares (540,000 sq ft) in size, located around 48 kilometres (30 mi) from Damascus in Syria, on a tributary of the Barada River at the eastern end of the village of Jdeidet el Khass.
It was earlier suggested a PPNA Aswadian culture, but this has not been validated. Instead, it has been found evidence of a PPNB culture at 8700 BC, pushing back the period’s generally accepted start date by 1,200 years. Similar sites to Tell Aswad in the Damascus Basin of the same age were found at Tell Ramad and Tell Ghoraifé.
Danielle Stordeur’s recent work at Tell Aswad, a large agricultural village between Mount Hermon and Damascus could not validate Henri de Contenson’s earlier suggestion of a PPNA Aswadian culture. Instead, they found evidence of a fully established PPNB culture at 8700 BC at Aswad, pushing back the period’s generally accepted start date by 1,200 years.
The redating of the earliest levels of Tell Aswad to the early PPNB place it alongside other sites with domesticated cereals such as Cafer Hüyük and Aşıklı Höyük (Turkey), Ganj Dareh and Chogah Golan (Iran), and Wadi el-Jilat 7 and Ain Ghazal (Jordan).
Tell Aswad can now be seen as part of a pattern of multi-regional, dispersed local development in at least five areas of the Near East, rather than as uniquely early evidence pointing to agricultural origins in the southern Levant.
Radiocarbon dating of the new excavations, and of seeds from the 1970s excavations, documents occupation in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB) period, split into three parts; Early PPNB from 8700 to 8200 BC and the Middle PPNB from 8200 to 7500 BC. Late PPNB has been equated with Dunand’s “Néolithique ancien de Byblos”.
Tell Aswad has been cited as being of importance for the evolution of organised cities due to the appearance of building materials, organized plans and collective work. It has provided insight into the “explosion of knowledge” in the northern Levant during the PPNB Neolithic stage following dam construction.
Despite the (apparently) early date of domesticated plants, Aswad is not considered the center for the origin of agriculture. Its first inhabitants might have arrived, perhaps from the neighboring Anti-Lebanon, already equipped with the seeds for planting. Thus it was not in the oasis itself that they carried out their first experiments in farming.
A large number of goats were evident in the early stages indicating they were either hunted or herded. This is an important issue because the period when animal domestication first took place is still an open question. From the middle PPNB, the presence of corralled animals is evident.
There are pigs, sheep, goats and cattle. For the latter two, production of meat and milk has been noted. In addition, cattle often show diseases resulting from their use for labour. The image that results from the study of the archaeozoological evidence is a village of farmers and herders in full possession of food production techniques.
How a PPNB culture could spring up in this location, practicing domesticated farming from 8700 BC has been the subject of speculation. Whether it created its own culture or imported traditions from the North East or Southern Levant has been considered an important question for a site that poses a problem for the scientific community.
In the desertic and semi-desertic regions of the Negev and the Sinai Epipalaeolithic industries (e.g. Kebaran, Mushabian, Harifian) point to favourable climatic conditions that permitted the exploitation of a range of desertic ecozones by groups of hunter-gatherers. This period was followed by an apparent local hiatus in occupationduring the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (ca. 9600-8500 BC).
During this lapse of time the Negev and Sinai were, with only a few exceptions such as the small “epi-Harifian” encampment at Abu Madi I in the high mountains of the southern Sinai, virtually devoid of occupants, indicating a verylimited use of arid areas by, hypothetically, highly mobile foragers (residual Harifian communities).
A gradual re-colonization of the region or a local increase emanating from vestigial local populations is demonstrated during the course of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B, especially during the Middle (ca. 8100-7500 BC) and Late PPNB (ca. 7500-6750 BC). Small-scale mobile foraging groups exploited both the highlands and lowlands, probably on a seasonal basis.
The Middle PPNB period represented a major transformation in prehistoric lifeways from small bands of mobile hunter–gatherers to large settled farming and herding villages in the Mediterranean zone in the Levant, a process having been initiated some 2000–3000 years earlier.
Portasar / Gobekli Tepe
Portasar, or Göbekli Tepe (Turkish for “Potbelly Hill”), is one of the most exciting discoveries in the history of archaeology. It is an archaeological site approximately 12 km (7 mi) northeast of the city of Şanlıurfa. The site was erected by hunter-gatherers at perhaps 11,500 BC. This is believed to be before the advent of sedentariness.
It currently stands as the oldest known Megalithic Temple complex, shrine or temple complex, in the world and the planet’s oldest known example of monumental architecture. The site has numerous intricately carved T-shaped megaliths, covered with exquisite images of birds and animals.
Göbekli Tepe is on a flat and barren plateau, with buildings fanning in all directions. In the north, the plateau is connected to a neighbouring mountain range by a narrow promontory. In all other directions, the ridge descends steeply into slopes and steep cliffs. The tell (artificial mound) has a height of 15 m (49 ft) and is about 300 m (980 ft) in diameter. It is approximately 760 m (2,490 ft) above sea level.
On top of the ridge there is considerable evidence of human impact, in addition to the construction of the tell. Excavations have taken place at the southern slope of the tell, south and west of a mulberry that marks an Islamic pilgrimage, but archaeological finds come from the entire plateau. The team has also found many remains of tools.
The site was first noted in a survey conducted by Istanbul University and the University of Chicago in 1963. American archaeologist Peter Benedict identified lithics collected from the surface of the site as belonging to the Aceramic Neolithic, but mistook stone slabs (the upper parts of the T-shaped pillars) for grave markers, postulating that the prehistoric phase was overlain by a Byzantine cemetery.
The hill had long been under agricultural cultivation, and generations of local inhabitants had frequently moved rocks and placed them in clearance piles, which may have disturbed the upper layers of the site. At some point attempts had been made to break up some of the pillars, presumably by farmers who mistook them for ordinary large rocks.
In 1994, Klaus Schmidt of the German Archaeological Institute, who had previously been working at Nevalı Çori, was looking for another site to excavate. He reviewed the archaeological literature on the surrounding area, found the 1963 Chicago researchers’ brief description of Göbekli Tepe, and decided to reexamine the site.
Having found similar structures at Nevalı Çori, he recognized the possibility that the rocks and slabs were prehistoric. The following year, he began excavating there in collaboration with the Şanlıurfa Museum, and soon unearthed the first of the huge T-shaped pillars.
The tell includes two phases of use, believed to be of a social or ritual nature by site discoverer and excavator Klaus Schmidt, dating back to the 10th–8th millennium BCE. During the first phase, belonging to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA), circles of massive T-shaped stone pillars were erected – the world’s oldest known megaliths.
More than 200 pillars in about 20 circles are currently known through geophysical surveys. Each pillar has a height of up to 6 m (20 ft) and weighs up to 10 tons. They are fitted into sockets that were hewn out of the bedrock.
In the second phase, belonging to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB), the erected pillars are smaller and stood in rectangular rooms with floors of polished lime. The site was abandoned after the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB). Younger structures date to classical times.
The details of the structure’s function remain a mystery. The excavations have been ongoing since 1996 by the German Archaeological Institute, but large parts still remain unexcavated. In 2018, the site was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The excavated structures at Gobekli Tepe so far include no domestic buildings or installations. In comparison with Gayonii or Nevall Gori, at Gobekli Tepe all buildings can be understood as “Sondergebaude”, buildings with a ritual function.
There are three large enclosures (Structures A-C) in the older layers und several rectangular rooms with terrazzo floors in the younger strata. The dominating element of these buildings are monolithic Tshaped pillars and so-called “Pillar Bases”.
It now seems to be more probable that the real function of these monolithic objects was that of a window or a doorway. The mapping of the surface evidence of pillars and “pillar base” fragments at GBbekli Tepe indicates that we should not expect domestic structures in future excavations there.
The excavations in 2000 concentrated on Structure B in the older layers. Two huge pillars (pillars 9 and 10) are in the center of an enclosure consisting of stone walls and six additional pillars. The excavation of the structure has not been completed, and only between pillar 9 and 10 was a floor (as expected a terrazzo floor) unearthed. Just in front of pillar 9 a trapezoid limestone slab was inserted into the floor. However, the surface of the slab is not plain.
A shallow channel, starting at the rim, runs into a bowl-like depression in the center of the slab. It is obvious that it was part of an installation in connection with ritual customs that took place within the enclosure.
Several other limestone slabs of similar shape with such runnels and bowl-like depressions are among the surface finds at Gobekli Tepe. There is no doubt that they had been used in a similar context. So far such objects are known from no other site.
Portasar – Gobekli Tepe:
Göbekli Tepe (“Potbelly Hill”) is a Neolithic hilltop sanctuary erected at the top of a mountain ridge in the Southeastern Anatolia Region of Turkey, some 15 kilometers (9 mi) northeast of the town of Şanlıurfa (formerly Urfa / Edessa).
It is the oldest known human-made religious structure. The site was most likely erected in the 10th millennium BCE and has been under excavation since 1994 by German and Turkish archaeologists.
Together with Nevalı Çori, it has revolutionized understanding of the Eurasian Neolithic. The PPN A settlement has been dated to c. 9000 BCE. There are remains of smaller houses from the PPN B and a few epipalaeolithic finds as well.
Turkey presents Armenian Portasar to the world as a Turkish Stonehenge. “Turkey doesn’t stop distorting the history and misappropriate Armenian cultural heritage”, stated a senior fellow of “Stars & Stones 2010: Oxford University Expedition to Qarahunge, Armenia”.
“Presently, Turkey presents the Armenian religious complex of Portasar as a Turkish Stonehenge,” Vachagan Vahradian, candidate of biological sciences, adviser and chief scientist to the Armenian scientific party of Oxford University’s ‘Stones and Stars’ project, told a news conference in Yerevan. “According to research, Portasar is over 18 thousand years old and is one of the most ancient religious complexes in the world.”
Portasar is a great ritualistic-religious-scientific building, which is situated in the Western Armenia and has 18,500-years-old history. Vachagan Vahradyan, said at today’s meeting with journalists that the Turks ascribe the establishment of Portasar to themselves. According to Carl Schmidt, in the Armenian highland the haven was divided into constellations even 12-18 thousand years ago.
Vachagan Vahradyan says the Portasar was built in the eon of Scorpion. Griffon was painted on the huge building. This one and other resemblances come to prove that Portasar has a lot in common with Karahunj; the builders belonged to the same culture.
The scientist says the existence of such a monument creates basis for casting doubt on the opinion about the knowledge of the old civilization. Turkey organizes a number of exhibitions, representing the monument as a Turkish one before the world. Vachagan Vahradyan says it is necessary to reach arrangements with Turkey and conduct excavations in Portasar.
The imposing stratigraphy of Göbekli Tepe attests to many centuries of activity, beginning at least as early as the Epipaleolithic period. Structures identified with the succeeding period, PPNA, have been dated to the 10.000 BC. Remains of smaller buildings identified as PPNB and dating from the 9000 BC have also been unearthed.
At the western edge of the hill, a lionlike figure was found. In this area, flint and limestone fragments occur more frequently. It was therefore suggested that this could have been some kind of sculpture workshop. It is unclear, on the other hand, how to classify three phallic depictions from the surface of the southern plateau. They are near the quarries of classical times, making their dating difficult.
Apart from the tell, there is an incised platform with two sockets that could have held pillars, and a surrounding flat bench. This platform corresponds to the complexes from Layer III at the tell. Continuing the naming pattern, it is called “complex E”.
Owing to its similarity to the cult-buildings at Nevalı Çori it has also been called “Temple of the Rock”. Its floor has been carefully hewn out of the bedrock and smoothed, reminiscent of the terrazzo floors of the younger complexes at Göbekli Tepe.
Immediately northwest of this area are two cistern-like pits that is believed to be part of complex E. One of these pits has a table-high pin as well as a staircase with five steps. At the western escarpment, a small cave has been discovered in which a small relief depicting a bovid was found. It is the only relief found in this cave.
Circular compounds or temene first appear in Layer III (9110–8620 BC). They range from 10 to 30 metres in diameter. Their most notable feature is the presence of T-shaped limestone pillars evenly set within thick interior walls composed of unworked stone. Four such circular structures have been unearthed so far.
Geophysical surveys indicate that there are 16 more, enclosing up to eight pillars each, amounting to nearly 200 pillars in all. The slabs were transported from bedrock pits located approximately 100 metres (330 ft) from the hilltop, with workers using flint points to cut through the limestone bedrock.
Two taller pillars stand facing one another at the centre of each circle. Whether the circles were provided with a roof is uncertain. Stone benches designed for sitting are found in the interior.
Many of the pillars are decorated with abstract, enigmatic pictograms and carved animal reliefs. The pictograms may represent commonly understood sacred symbols, as known from Neolithic cave paintings elsewhere.
The reliefs depict mammals such as lions, bulls, boars, foxes, gazelles, and donkeys; snakes and other reptiles; arthropods such as insects and arachnids; and birds, particularly vultures.
At the time the edifice was constructed, the surrounding country was likely to have been forested and capable of sustaining this variety of wildlife, before millennia of human settlement and cultivation led to the near–Dust Bowl conditions prevalent today. Vultures also feature prominently in the iconography of Çatalhöyük and Jericho.
Few humanoid figures have appeared in the art at Göbekli Tepe. Some of the T-shaped pillars have human arms carved on their lower half, however, suggesting to site excavator Schmidt that they are intended to represent the bodies of stylized humans (or perhaps deities). Loincloths appear on the lower half of a few pillars.
The horizontal stone slab on top is thought by Schmidt to symbolize shoulders, which suggests that the figures were left headless. Whether they were intended to serve as surrogate worshippers, symbolize venerated ancestors, or represent supernatural, anthropomorphic beings is not known.
Some of the floors in this, the oldest, layer are made of terrazzo (burnt lime); others are bedrock from which pedestals to hold the large pair of central pillars were carved in high relief. Radiocarbon dating places the construction of these early circles in the range of 9600 to 8800 BCE. Carbon dating suggests that (for reasons unknown) the enclosures were backfilled during the Stone Age.
Creation of the circular enclosures in layer III later gave way to the construction of small rectangular rooms in layer II. Rectangular buildings make a more efficient use of space compared with circular structures.
They often are associated with the emergence of the Neolithic, but the T-shaped pillars, the main feature of the older enclosures, also are present here, indicating that the buildings of Layer II continued to serve the same function in the culture, presumably as sanctuaries.
Layer II is assigned to Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB). The several adjoining rectangular, doorless and windowless rooms have floors of polished lime reminiscent of Roman terrazzo floors. Carbon dating has yielded dates between 8800 and 8000 BCE.
Several T-pillars up to 1.5 meters tall occupy the center of the rooms. A pair decorated with fierce-looking lions is the rationale for the name “lion pillar building” by which their enclosure is known.
A stone pillar resembling totem pole designs was discovered at Göbekli Tepe, Layer II in 2010. It is 1.92 metres high, and is superficially reminiscent of the totem poles in North America. The pole features three figures, the uppermost depicting a predator, probably a bear, and below it a human-like shape.
Because the statue is damaged, the interpretation is not entirely clear. Fragments of a similar pole also were discovered about 20 years ago in another Turkey site at Nevalı Çori. Also, an older layer at Gobekli features some related sculptures portraying animals on human heads.
Layer I is the uppermost part of the hill. It is the shallowest, but accounts for the longest stretch of time. It consists of loose sediments caused by erosion and the virtually-uninterrupted use of the hill for agricultural purposes since it ceased to operate as a ceremonial center.
The site was deliberately backfilled sometime after 8000 BCE: the buildings were buried under debris, mostly flint gravel, stone tools, and animal bones. In addition to Byblos points (weapon heads, such as arrowheads etc.) and numerous Nemrik points, Helwan-points, and Aswad-points dominate the backfill’s lithic inventory.
All statements about the site must be considered preliminary, as less than 5% of the site has been excavated, and Schmidt planned to leave much of it untouched to be explored by future generations when archaeological techniques will presumably have improved.
While the site formally belongs to the earliest Neolithic (PPNA), to date no traces of domesticated plants or animals have been found. The inhabitants are presumed to have been hunters and gatherers who nevertheless lived in villages for at least part of the year.
So far, very little evidence for residential use has been found. Through the radiocarbon method, the end of Layer III can be fixed at about 9000 BC, but it is believed that the elevated location may have functioned as a spiritual center during 10,000 BCE or earlier, essentially, at the very end of the Pleistocene.
The surviving structures, then, not only predate pottery, metallurgy, and the invention of writing or the wheel, but were built before the so-called Neolithic Revolution, that marks the beginning of agriculture and animal husbandry, around 9000 BCE.
The construction of Göbekli Tepe implies organization of an advanced order not hitherto associated with Paleolithic, PPNA, or PPNB societies, however. Archaeologists estimate that up to 500 persons were required to extract the heavy pillars from local quarries and move them 100–500 meters (330–1,640 ft) to the site. The pillars weigh 10–20 metric tons (10–20 long tons; 11–22 short tons), with one still in the quarry weighing 50 tons.
Around the beginning of the 8000 BCE Göbekli Tepe lost its importance. The advent of agriculture and animal husbandry brought new realities to human life in the area, and the “Stone-age zoo” (Schmidt’s phrase applied particularly to Layer III, Enclosure D) apparently lost whatever significance it had had for the region’s older, foraging communities.
However, the complex was not simply abandoned and forgotten to be gradually destroyed by the elements. Instead, each enclosure was deliberately buried under as much as 300 to 500 cubic meters (390 to 650 cu yd) of refuse, creating a tell consisting mainly of small limestone fragments, stone vessels, and stone tools. Many animal, and even human, bones have been identified in the fill. Why the enclosures were buried is unknown, but it preserved them for posterity.
Schmidt’s view was that Göbekli Tepe is a stone-age mountain sanctuary. Radiocarbon dating as well as comparative, stylistical analysis indicate that it is the oldest known temple yet discovered anywhere.
Schmidt believed that what he called this “cathedral on a hill” was a pilgrimage destination attracting worshippers up to 150 km (90 mi) distant. Butchered bones found in large numbers from local game such as deer, gazelle, pigs, and geese have been identified as refuse from food hunted and cooked or otherwise prepared for the congregants.
Schmidt considered Göbekli Tepe a central location for a cult of the dead and that the carved animals are there to protect the dead. Though no tombs or graves have been found so far, Schmidt believed that they remain to be discovered in niches located behind the walls of the sacred circles. In 2017, discovery of human crania with incisions was reported, interpreted as providing evidence for a new form of Neolithic skull cult.
Schmidt also interpreted the site in connection with the initial stages of the Neolithic. It is one of several sites in the vicinity of Karaca Dağ, an area that geneticists suspect may have been the original source of at least some of our cultivated grains.
Recent DNA analysis of modern domesticated wheat compared with wild wheat has shown that its DNA is closest in sequence to wild wheat found on Karaca Dağ 30 km (20 mi) away from the site, suggesting that this is where modern wheat was first domesticated.
With its mountains catching the rain and a calcareous, porous bedrock creating lots of springs, creeks, and rivers, the upper reaches of the Euphrates and Tigris was a refuge during the dry and cold Younger Dryas climatic event (10,800 – 9,500 BCE).
Speculation exists that conditions driven by population expansions locally could have led them to develop common rituals strengthened by monumental gathering places to reduce tensions and conflicts over resources, and probably, to mark territorial claims.
Schmidt also engaged in speculation regarding the belief systems of the groups that created Göbekli Tepe, based on comparisons with other shrines and settlements. He presumed shamanic practices and suggested that the T-shaped pillars represent human forms, perhaps ancestors, whereas he saw a fully articulated belief in deities as not developing until later, in Mesopotamia, that was associated with extensive temples and palaces.
This corresponds well with an ancient Sumerian belief that agriculture, animal husbandry, and weaving were brought to humans from the sacred mountain Ekur, which was inhabited by Annuna deities, very ancient deities without individual names. Schmidt identified this story as a primeval oriental myth that preserves a partial memory of the emerging Neolithic.
It is apparent that the animal and other images give no indication of organized violence, i.e. there are no depictions of hunting raids or wounded animals, and the pillar carvings generally ignore game on which the society depended, such as deer, in favour of formidable creatures such as lions, snakes, spiders, and scorpions.
Expanding on Schmidt’s interpretation that round enclosures could represent sanctuaries, Gheorghiu’s semiotic interpretation reads the Göbekli Tepe iconography as a cosmogonic map that would have related the local community to the surrounding landscape and the cosmos.
At present Göbekli Tepe appears to raise more questions for archaeology and prehistory than it answers. It remains unknown how a population large enough to construct, augment, and maintain such a substantial complex was mobilized and compensated or fed in the conditions of pre-sedentary society.
Scholars have been unable to interpret the pictograms, and do not know what meaning the animal reliefs had for visitors to the site; the variety of fauna depicted, from lions and boars to birds and insects, makes any single explanation problematic.
As there is little or no evidence of habitation, and many of the animals pictured are predators, the stones may have been intended to stave off evils through some form of magic representation. Alternatively, they could have served as totems.
The assumption that the site was strictly cultic in purpose and not inhabited has been challenged as well by the suggestion that the structures served as large communal houses, “similar in some ways to the large plank houses of the Northwest Coast of North America with their impressive house posts and totem poles.” It is not known why every few decades the existing pillars were buried to be replaced by new stones as part of a smaller, concentric ring inside the older one.
Human burials may have occurred at the site. The reason the complex was carefully backfilled remains unexplained. Based on current evidence, it is difficult to deduce anything certain about the originating culture or the site’s significance.
Göbekli Tepe is one of the important sites of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period. Southern Mesopotamia was not yet settled by humans. Göbekli Tepe is regarded by some as an archaeological discovery of great importance since it could profoundly change the understanding of a crucial stage in the development of human society. Ian Hodder of Stanford University said, “Göbekli Tepe changes everything”.
If indeed the site was built by hunter-gatherers as some researchers believe then it would mean that the ability to erect monumental complexes was within the capacities of these sorts of groups, which would overturn previous assumptions. Some researchers believe that the construction of Göbekli Tepe may have contributed to the later development of urban civilization, or, as excavator Klaus Schmidt put it, “First came the temple, then the city.”
In addition to its large dimensions, the side-by-side existence of multiple pillar shrines makes the location unique. There are no comparable monumental complexes from its time. Since its discovery, however, surface surveys have shown that several hills in the greater area also have T-shaped stone pillars (e.g. Hamzan Tepe, Karahan Tepe, Harbetsuvan Tepesi, Sefer Tepe, and Taslı Tepe) but little excavation has been conducted.
Most of these constructions seem to be smaller than Göbekli Tepe, and their placement evenly between contemporary settlements indicates that they were local social-ritual gathering places, with Göbekli Tepe perhaps as a regional centre.
So far none of the smaller sites are so old as the lowest Level III of Göbekli Tepe, but contemporary with its younger Level II (mostly rectangular buildings, though Harbetsuvan is circular). This could indicate that this type of architecture and associated activities originated at Göbekli Tepe, and then spread to other sites.
A site that is 500 years younger is Nevalı Çori, a Neolithic settlement. It was excavated by the German Archaeological Institute and has been submerged by the Atatürk Dam since 1992. Its T-shaped pillars are considerably smaller, and its rectangular ceremonial structure was located inside a village.
The roughly contemporary architecture at Jericho is devoid of artistic merit or large-scale sculpture, and Çatalhöyük, perhaps the most famous Anatolian Neolithic village, is 2,000 years later.
The lack of comparable finds from other sites was true for some years for many other objects from Gobekli Tepe. Only Nevalr Cori and Cayonu provided some convincing parallels. But in the course of time, more places with features similar to Gobekli Tepe have been found.
Recently discovered sites are Urfa-Yeni Yol, Hamzan Tepe, and Karahan Tepe (Celik 2000 a, b). At Urfa-Yeni Yo1 a PPN settlement with terrazzo floors was cut through during road construction, and not far away a lifesized human limestone sculpture was unearthed.
At Hamzan and Karahan Tepe T-shaped pillars can be observed on the surface of the sites. Two pillars at Karahan Tepe bear reliefs of animals like the pillars of Gobekli Tepe. An anthropomorphic object from Kilisik, found many years ago in the vicinity of Arsameia in Adiyaman province. The arms, bent at the elbow, are reminiscent of the T-shaped pillars of Nevall Cori type.
It is interesting that not one of these sites is located in the Euphrates Valley, despite the fact that intensive archaeological investigations took place there. A single exception is Jerf el Ahmar on the Syrian Euphrates: small pillars with zoomorphic heads remind one in their upper parts of the Kilisik sculpture.
Nevalr Cori is near to the Euphrates, but hidden in a little valley, about 3km southeast of the river. Its topographical situation seems to be connected with a distinct hunting strategy. Seasonally wandering animals would cross the Euphrates at fords twice a year, and at Samsat, about lOkm from Neval~ Cori, there was an important one.
Animals crossing the river at a predicted point and time could easily be hunted. For example, the late Paleolithic Swiderian reindeer hunters of eastern Europe had a similar hunting strategy using the seasonal wandering of reindeer and their crossing of big rivers such as the Vistula.
The settlement of Nevalr Cori is close to the Euphrates, but far enough from possible crossing points not to be detected by the animals. The observation that the Neolithic settlements directly near the Euphrates are often from late Neolithic periods (e.g., Gritille, Kumar Tepe, Teleilat) fits well with this view. When herding replaced hunting, the old hunting strategy lost its importance.
These observations might be helpful regarding the question on the nature of all these “pillar-sites” in the Urfa region. It seems obvious that they are early within the PPN
period and were constructed not by a true Neolithic people but by a predominantly hunter-gatherer society.
The big rivers were for them primarily a hunting ground habitat and not a place for settlements. Regarding Karahan Tepe, it is not clear if it is a true settlement or, more probably, a ritual place like Gobekli Tepe.
Karahan Tepe is situated about 5Okm southeast of Gobekli Tepe, which is also true for Neval~ Cori towards northwest. Cayonu lies at a distance of about 1OOkm northeast
of Neval~ Cori. Cayonu, and Nevall Cori are the best known and most characteristic examples for real settlements within the mentioned sites with manv houses and several
At Cayijnii and Nkvall Cori there are quite similar terrazzo buildings, at Neval~ Cori with T-shaped pillars of so-called Nevall Cori type. And it has already been supposed that in the Cayonii terrazzo building there also were such pillars, completely destroyed and removed in later times.
As the pillars of Nevah Cori type are well known from Gobekli Tepe, a close connection seems to exist between the three sites. All “pillar sites” obviously followed very similar
ritual customs. The real character of Karahan Tepe can not yet be determined, which also is true for the sites of Urfa-Yeni Yol and Hamzan Tepe.
But all these sites are not in such a dorninating “strategic” position as Gobekli Tepe and they don’t have such a deep stratigraphy (Gobekli Tepe: 15m). There seems to be a functional differentiation and also a hierarchic stratification between these places, with Gobekli Tepe on top, surrounded by satellite sites.
The characteristic element of Göbekli Tepe´s architecture are the T-shaped pillars. In the older Layer III (10th millenium BC) the monolithic pillars weigh tons and reach heights between 4 m (pillars in the stone circles) and 5.5 m (central pillars).
The T-shape of the pillars is clearly an abstract depiction of the human body seen from the side. Evidence for this interpretation are the low relief depictions of arms, hands and items of clothing like belts and loinclothes on some of the pillars. Often the pillars bear further reliefs, mostly depictions of animals, but also of numerous abstract symbols.
Layer III is supraposed by layer II, dating to the 9th millenium BC. This layer is not characterised by big round enclosures, but by smaller, rectangular buildings. The number and the height of the pillars are also reduced. In most cases only the two central pillars remain, the biggest measuring around 1,5 m.
The large pillars are so far only known from Göbekli Tepe. This may change over time however, as there now are several sites that show smaller pillars, resembling those of Göbekli Tepe´s younger layer. T-shaped pillars resembling the smaller examples from Göbekli Tepe’s Layer II were first recorded at the settlement site of Nevalı Çori.
Several more sites in the near vicinity of Göbekli – Sefer Tepe, Karahan, and Hamzan Tepe – are known to have similar pillars, but no excavation work has been carried out so far. With the Neolithic site of Urfa-Yeni Yol, which seems to have revealed a small T-shaped pillar in the course of construction work in that area, with Taşlı Tepe, and with Gusir Höyük three more related sites were added to this list recently.
A further addition to the sites with T-shapes is the so-called Kilisik statue, a PPNB anthropomorphic stone statue that closely resembles the general pillar form but has more naturalistic features found near the village of Kilisik in the Taurus foothills, ca. 85 km north of Nevals Cori in southeastern Turkey.
The shape of the statue, and its bent arms, is more or less similar to the large anthropomorphic pillars from the cult buildings at Nevali qori. The statue, which has very powerful overall expression, is 80 cm high, and made of gray limestone. Originally
the statue must have been taller since its base is broken. Like the large pillars from Nevals Cori and Gobekli Tepe, up to three meters high, the sculpture is T-shaped.
The head measures 29 x 9.5cm, and of the facial features only a long-drawn nose is indicated. Directly beneath the head, bent arms are indicated in relief at both sides. Like the Nevali Cori statues, the hands (with fingers indicated) are at the front. The hands surround a large protuberance, which Hauptmann interprets as a navel.
A large penis and two thin legs are indicated beneath this navel. The “penis” ends just above a large circular hole. With regard to the penis there is a parallel in the stone statue of an ithyphailic man, ca. 40cm high, from Nevals Cori.
However, the penis can in fact a person. Then, the “navel” represents the head, the “penis” the body, and the “legs” the arms of a human. The hole perhaps indicates a vagina. If you look closely to the right, bent, arm, a hand seems indeed to be indicated.
The Kilisik statue would then represent a composite figure of two persons, a bit like a
totem pole. Such composite statues were probably not uncommon in the PPNB, given the recovery of a ca. 1 m high stone figure consisting of a bird on top of at least one human
head at Nevali Cori.
The Kilisik statue might be a composite, ambiguous and perhaps bisexual nature. The “navel” might not only represent the head of the “lower” person, but also the penis of the “upper” person, and as indicated above, the hole at the base might symbolize a vagina.
Or maybe the protuberance indeed signifies a navel, and perhaps a penis and a woman’s head at the same time. It can also be argued that the hole does not represent a vagina, and that the sex of the lower person (having no breasts) was not indicated.
The possible and intricate symbolic linkages between male and female, and penis-navel-head are most interesting, and seem to point to a complex ritual and ideological system. At Nevali cori and Gobekli Tepe, both in the same general area as Kilisik, the ritual symbolism was also marked by all kinds of complex linkages.
It seems likely that originally the statue was part of the furniture of a cult building. On the basis of possibilities 1, 3 and 4, it can be expected that during rituals in such a building an object (a symbolic penis?) was stuck in the “vagina”. Anyway, it seems likely that the statue acted as an important symbol related to fertility rituals, given the probable sexual iconography.
Fertility (and “life-force”) was during the PPNB period a very important concept in the
ritual ideology. This does not have to surprise us, as in the PPNB we are dealing with communities where fecundity and domestication were of basic importance. Whatever the precise meaning of the Kilisik statue, it is yet another testimony of powerful and evocative ritual symbolism which is so characteristic of the PPNB of South-East Anatolia.
While most sites concentrate in a rather small radius around Göbekli Tepe, Gusir Höyük in the Turkish Tigris region has considerably widened the distribution area of circular enclosures, however the pillars discovered there are slightly differently shaped – they seem to be missing the bar of the T.
Similar stelae have been discovered in Cayönü, a Neolithic settlement prospered from circa 8,630 to 6,800 BC, and Qermez Dere. As only Gusir Höyük has been excavated, nobody can tell at the moment what the other sites might hide.
An ancient site older than Gobekli tepe, which is considered the birthplace of early civilization and the oldest temple on earth, have been unearthed in Dargeçit’s district of Ilısu in southeast Turkey’s Mardin province near the City of Konya in the high Anatolian plateau of Central Turkey.
In the form of the famous and controversial Góbekli Tepe, Archaeologists have uncovered a Temple from the Neolithic Age with 3 almost intact stelae, which archeologists say has now turned 11,300 years old.
The excavation work began in 2012 at the Boncuklu Tarla in Dargecit district that goes back to the Neolithic period. The area is known to have been home throughout history to Sumerians, Akkadians, Babylonians, Hittites, Assyrians, Romans, Seljuks, and Ottomans, among others. The history of the Boncuklu Tarla is estimated to be around 12,000-years old.
Several special structures which we can call temples and special buildings have been unearthed in the settlement, in addition to many houses and dwellings. The discoveries resemble to those unearthed in Gobekli tepe, an archeological site located in Turkey’s southeastern Sanliurfa province, and even 1000 years older.
The 11,000-year-old temple walls are made of rubble and held in place with a hardened clay base. Within the excavation site, the archaeologists found four stone stelae, three of which were described as being “very well preserved” but no figurative inscription have been found on any of the four stelae.
Boncuklu Höyük or Boncuklu Tarla (Beaded Field), the earliest known human settlement in the city, is almost 300 kilometers east of Gobeklitepe, which is considered the birthplace of early civilization and the oldest temple on earth. It was active in the same era as the famous Göbekli Tepe, and contains evidence of mud brick houses which are the remains of one of the oldest villages in the world, dating to 8500 BC/BCE.
It was in the Aceramic Neolithic period that the “first sedentary society” emerged and that artifacts from this phase have been found in only a handful of places in Anatolia with “ stone or bone tools and weapons, ornamental items, and the first resident villages. However, there are further ancient sites which when interpreted with the new discovery reveal the building traditions of the ancient architects.
In the Boncuklu Tarla settlement uncovered the buildings, cultures, social lives, and burial traditions of the people who lived in northern Mesopotamia during the Aceramic Neolithic period between 10,000 BC to 7,000 BC. And just like this new discovery, their buildings had “rubble stone walls with foundations hardened by clay”.
This is a new key point to inform us on many topics such as how the people in northern Mesopotamia and the upper Tigris began to settle, how the transition from hunter-gatherer life to food production happened and how cultural and religious structures changed.
While the discovery of this new temple adds volumes to our understanding of the religious and spiritual traditions of our forebears, it falls short of the mystique contained within Göbekli Tepe, the most ancient temple structure ever discovered.
This ancient site in southeastern Turkey is changing the way archaeologists think about the origins of human civilization and within its circular structure of elaborately carved T-shaped pillars dating to over 12,000 years ago, it is not only older than the invention of pottery, but it was built before agriculture was even conceived.
According to National Geographic the early dates associated with Göbekli Tepe “have upended the idea that agriculture led to civilization” because scholars had long thought hunter-gatherers had settled and began growing crops providing food surplus”, making it possible for complex societies to emerge, but no evidence of a permanent agricultural settlement at Göbekli Tepe has ever been discovered. This leads many scientists to settle on the idea that because the temple is situated on the top of a hill commanding views southwards over plains, it was “a regional gathering place”.
Çayönü Tepesi is is a Neolithic settlement located forty kilometres north-west of Diyarbakır, at the foot of the Taurus mountains. It lies near the Boğazçay, a tributary of the upper Tigris River and the Bestakot, an intermittent stream. It lies near the Bogazcay, a tributary of the upper Tigris River and the Bestakot, an intermittent stream.
The Cayonu settlement has been dated back to 7250-6750 BC. The settlement covers the periods of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA), the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB), and the Pottery Neolithic (PN).
The stratigraphy is divided into the following subphases according to the dominant architecture: round (PPNA), grill (PPNA), channeled (Early PPNB), cobble paved (Middle PPNB), cell (Late PPNB) and large room (Final PPNB).
In the middle of the settlement is a center surrounded by monumental, rectangular structures and houses. The foundation of the structures is stone and above is sun-dried brick. The inhabitants of Cayonu are the first farmers of Anatolia. They raised sheep and goat, and domesticated dog. The woman figurines among the finds discovered are the earliest traces of the Mother Goddess cult.
Çayönü is possibly the place where the pig (Sus scrofa) was first domesticated. The wild fauna include wild boar, wild sheep, wild goat and cervids. The Neolithic environment included marshes and swamps near the Bogazcay, open wood, patches of steppe and almond-pistachio forest-steppe to the south.
According to the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research in Cologne has discovered that the genetically common ancestor of 68 contemporary types of cereal still grows as a wild plant on the slopes of Mount Karaca (Karaca Dağ), which is located in close vicinity to Çayönü. (Compare to information on cereal use in PPNA).
Insofar as unit HA can be considered as representing all of the major pre-historic occupation at Cayonu, cultivated emmer along with cultivated einkorn was present from the earliest sub-phase.
Genetic studies of emmer wheat, the precursor of most current wheat species, show that the slopes of Mount Karaca (Karaca Dağ), which is located in close vicinity to Çayönü, was the location of first domestication. A different DNA approach pointed to Kartal Daği.
Gürcütepe is a Neolithic site on the southeastern outskirts of Şanlıurfa in Turkey, consisting of four very shallow tells along Sirrin Stream that flows from Şanlıurfa. All four hills are now covered by modern buildings, so they are no longer recognizable.
Originally it was assumed that the four hills were settled in a specific time sequence, that one of these settlement phases would coincide with the nearby Gobekli Tepe. However, the excavations have indicated that all four hills were settled during the PPNB period; the easternmost hill is from the later PPNC period.
Gürcütepe joins a group of Neolithic localities in Turkey, all rammed-earth buildings possessing space subdivisions next to larger community buildings. The small finds correspond to what archaeologists previously knew already. Overall, the Gürcütepe gives the impression of a rural settlement which was significantly younger than the famous Göbekli Tepe.
Tell Qaramel (also Tel Qaramel or Tel al-Qaramel) is a tell, or archaeological mound, located in the north of present-day Syria, 25 km north of Aleppo and about 65 km south of the Taurus mountains, adjacent to the river Quweiq that flows to Aleppo.
The site is located in a fertile river valley that has been an important trade route; a railway still runs between the present-day village and the tell, transecting the neolithic site. The tell lies between the current village and the Quweiq river to the east, and its summit is measured at 444 m above sea level; the neolithic site extends to the south and lies about 20m lower.
A survey in the late 1970s found evidence of settlement at the site from the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A period through to the Hellenistic period. The later phases of occupation are closely associated with the mound of the tell itself.
The pre-pottery Neolithic phase however is associated with a wider area of about 3.5 hectares, extending to the south and south-west of the tell and covered by up to 2.5 m of later deposits through the Bronze Age and Iron Age.
It is this area that has been the focus of detailed investigation since 1999. Thusfar about six areas have been investigated and four excavated: only about 1.5% of the entire site. After 2007 the excavations have been suspended due to the civil war in Syria.
Before the excavations began, it was assumed that permanent sedentary settlements would occur only in combination with the first farming of cereals, and the first domestication and keeping of animals such as sheep and goats, marking the start of the Neolithic period, part of a transition between the proto-Neolithic and Pre-Pottery Neolithic A cultures.
However the remains of the structures uncovered at Tell Qaramel appear to be older than this, giving the first evidence of permanent stone-built settlement. The site is roughly contemporary to that of Göbekli Tepe in Turkey.
The archeologists distinguish a preliminary epipaleolithic phase (Horizon 0) attested mostly by flint tools but no certain carbon samples. For the subsequent settlement they recognise 4 Early Aceramic Neolithic layers (Horizon 1 to 4) which according to radiocarbon dating have been partially overlapping (contemporary).
The excavators find an unbroken development (in contrast to e.g. in Jericho in the southern Levant) so are skeptical about the common division in “Pre-Pottery Neolithic A” and “Pre-Pottery Neolithic B” phases, instead preferring “Early Aceramic Neolithic” for the proto-neolithic and PPNA, and “Late Aceramic Neolithic” for PPNB and PPNC.
The dating is not without problems. The archeologists rejected several samples because the radiocarbon dates were inconsistent with the stratigraphy, but also otherwise the very early dates at Tell Qaramel appear too old as compared to dating of similar cultural phases at other sites. Comparison of the laboratory in Gliwice, Poland, that executed the C14 analyses, with other laboratories, showed differences in either direction.
Particularly striking are the remains of a succession of five round stone structures which the excavators recognise as the remains of towers. The stratigraphy of the settlement and results of radiocarbon dating testify that these are the oldest such constructions in the world, older than the famous and unique tower in Jericho.
They confirm that the Neolithic culture was formed simultaneously in many regions of the Near East, creating a farming culture and establishing settlements with mud and stone architecture and creating the first stages of a proto-urban being.
The lower, oldest one was about 6 m in diameter and appears to have had some communal function, having an elevated hearth at the center with two benches centered on it. The fourth phase was most massive, at about 7.5m in diameter with stone walls of about 2.25 m thick; it had no internal structure.
It was damaged by fire and rebuilt, and may have been a defensive structure. The earliest phase has been carbon-dated to between the eleventh millennium and 9670 BC. This dating makes the structure roughly two millennia older than the stone tower found at Jericho, which was previously believed to be the oldest known tower structure in the world.
Among the ornaments found was a rather large (52×40×26 mm) polished copper nugget from Horizon 2 – one of the earliest finds of metal in an archeological site. As malachite (copper carbonate) has been excavated too in Tell Qaramel, the copper nugget may have been collected from the (as yet unidentified) malachite source. An attempt had been made to drill a hole through the copper like with other stone beads, but technology was not yet sufficiently advanced to process metal.
Remains of 20 individuals have been excavated, all adults: this may indicate that burial practice for infants and children was different, at another (as yet undiscovered) location or treated with less regard.
Most bodies had their head removed, either by cutting shortly after dead (as indicated by cut marks, and having the 1st vertebra remain with the skull), or after decay (leaving the vertebrae and lower mandible with the skeleton).
This indicates a head cult, as is also attested in other pre-pottery Neolithic sites (notably Jericho, Tell Aswad, and Cayonu). While in some skulls teeth showed wear and caries, which is typical for a diet with carbohydrates like from grain, others were in good condition, which may indicate a pre-Neolithic diet.