Göbekli Tepe – three stone circles
Three Stone Circles at Göbekli Tepe
A few years ago, an awesome archeological discovery was made in southern Turkey, just north of the border with Syria. Three megalithic stone circles that were deliberately buried thousands of years ago on a hilltop were located at Göbekli Tepe. What is astounding is the date and context. These megalithic stone circles are several thousand years older than the first stone circle built at Stonehenge, and they were built by a hunter-gatherer society.
It was always assumed that the workforce required to construct a megalithic stone circle could not be organized until human society had reached the village stage of development in the early Neolithic, when local chieftains need not have looked very far for enough serious muscle power to build a large stone structure. Most stone pillars at Göbekli Tepe weigh 10 to 20 tons, the largest are 50 tons and the most distant quarry was 500m distant. The stone T-shaped monoliths are 3m high, although the one in the center of each circle is taller. The largest pillar is 9m high and was found unfinished in the nearby quarry.
Göbekli Tepe – megalithic stone circles
Göbekli Tepe is now under study by Turkish and German archeologists, having been first excavated in 1994. The hill had long been used for agriculture by local farmers and the site is on private land. Monolithic T-shaped pillars are connected by crudely built walls to form oval structures. A low bench runs around the exterior walls. Four such units with diameters between 10m and 20m are the oldest structures built at the site and are dated to ~9,000 B.C.
The second period of construction dates to 7500-6000 B.C. which places it within the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B era. Several rectangular rooms with floors of polished lime have been found dating to this period. Similar stone circles and T-shaped monoliths are found at Karahan Tepe located near Sogmatar on the Harran Plain c.9,000 B.C. and at Nevalý Çori which is 500 years younger than Göbekli Tepe. The T-shaped pillars supported a roof but there is much more to their story. Small domestic structures aside, the Göbekli Tepe hilltop appears to be a cult center that could accommodate a great many people.
Göbekli Tepe – excavation
The society that built these stone circles utilized a hunter/gatherer economy and must have lived in villages for at least part of the year. It is relevant to note that a few villages have been found in Upper Paleolithic Europe built by cultures of ice age hunters that lived long before the advent of agriculture. What likely did allow for a population concentration – and the necessary manpower – to build Göbekli Tepe were the enormous herds of game documented to exist in the Göbekli Tepe region at the time of megalithic stone circles. Large numbers of butchered deer, gazelle, pigs and geese at Göbekli Tepe suggest ritual feasting and testify to the huge herds of game. Although only a few domestic structures have been found at Göbekli Tepe, villages were built at this time in eastern/southern Turkey to preserve and store large amounts of game.
It is also not necessary to postulate a stratified class society, with elite royalty and priestly castes. One strong leader could mobilize the necessary workforce, and with a few respected friends organize the stone circle construction, particularly as we can assume community agreement as to the ritual and its meaning. A workforce of 500 strong men would have been needed to extract and move the stone pillars, then construct the ritual stone circles. Think of large, ritual stone circles as the ultimate Lego build out.
“Garden of Eden” – Thomas Cole 1828
Gobleki Tepe and the Garden of Eden
No traces of domesticated plants or animals have been found at Göbekli Tepe or in the adjacent region. Earliest proto-agricultural experiments are known from Upper Mesopotamia c.9500-10,000 B.C. and even earlier at 13,000 B.C. on the banks of the Upper Nile. A wild ancestor of domestic wheat has been found on a mountain only 20 miles away from Göbekli Tepe. Was wheat first domesticated in this region – an activity that promoted village life and population concentration from which a workforce for the hilltop sanctuary could be recruited? Earliest human activity at Göbekli Tepe may go back to 11,000 B.C., and the period of time when the megalithic stone circles were used is much earlier than evidence for the first agriculture in the region.
Ideas that Göbekli Tepe and the surrounding region is the historical reality behind the biblical Garden of Eden may not be as far fetched as they first seem. Archeology in Syria and Turkey has established that the region later known as the ‘fertile crescent’ was very lush immediately after the last Ice Age ended. The environment was exceptionally rich, herds of wild animals were huge, and plants and food were easily obtained. Gazelle herds might number 100,000, and permanent settlements were erected by 12,000 B.C. by nomadic hunters to store dried meat.
English archeoastronomy researcher Andrew Collins identifies Eden as a large region encompassing Upper Mesopotamia (Southeast Turkey, Northern Syria and Northern Iraq). He believes that the Biblical Garden of Eden in the Old Testament is a transformed memory that persisted throughout the ancient cultures of Mesopotamia. This memory of the extremely lush environment of this region of the fertile crescent immediately after the Upper Paleolithic ended and the glaciers retreated north may have been deliberately and carefully preserved by the priesthoods of Sumer, Egypt, Bablyon and Assyria. This ‘legend’ became the Garden of Eden in the Christian Old Testament.
Göbekli Tepe – vulture head
Vultures and Bird Men / Watchers and Angels
The stone monoliths at Göbekli Tepe were carved with images of animals and abstract pictograms that are difficult to understand. Animal and bird carvings are realistic and the style is sophisticated. Vultures call to mind the burial practices of the later Pre-Pottery Neolithic B culture where the dead were placed ‘outside’ so they would be excarnated by vultures, and the skeleton would be buried afterwards. The skull was sometimes removed and preserved elsewhere, a custom that speaks to ancestor worship.
Early Neolithic towns such as Çatal Hüyük have imagery that shows vultures guarding the head of the deceased. Some of the T-shaped pillars at Göbekli Tepe have carved arms and one is decorated with human hands, possibly in an attitude of supplication. Such abstracted human figures could be deities, or ancestors, or a portrayal of human participants in ritual. There is one ‘venus’ figurine where sexuality is emphasized.
Exposing the dead for excarnation by vultures was a widespread custom in the Upper Mesopotamian Neolithic from Turkey eastward. In the Book of Enoch (found with the Dead Sea Scrolls), there are god-like beings called the Watchers who are said to have brought the arts and sciences, of both earth and heaven, to mankind. The Watchers and their offspring the Nephilim may have been a shamanic elite that founded ancient cult centers in Neolithic Upper Mesopotamia. In the pseudo-epigraphical literature, they are referred to as birdmen; their totemic spirit was therefore a large bird.
The vulture is the most prominent bird in Neolithic cult practice and likely symbolized astral flight and transmigration of the soul in death. The vultures depicted at Göbekli Tepe and other Pre Pottery Neolithic sites in SE Turkey and northern Syria may not be vultures per se, but shamanic ‘birdmen’ in ritual costume who dominated the most important cult: excarnation of the dead by vultures.
“Paradise Lost” – Gustav Doré, 1866
Andrew Collins believes these ‘birdmen’ shamanic priests were exceptionally knowledgeable and charismatic leaders. He thinks they are the divine beings that appear in so many myths from Sumer forward as bringing culture to ordinary mortals. Long before Sumer, their first generation catalyzed the agricultural revolution in the fertile crescent. The snake in the Garden of Eden might be a metaphor for the transmission of esoteric knowledge – above all ‘wisdom’ – by the Watchers of the Book of Enoch. Adam and Eve would have been real people, cast out of a real kingdom in eastern Turkey centered on Lake Van.
The cherubim who guard the Ark of the Covenant, and the Tree of Life are another manifestation of the charismatic ‘birdmen’ shamans. The apocryphal Book of Giants is also a primary source here. It was well known by the Manichaean religion and translated into several languages including Greek and Syriac. Watchers sometimes wear cloaks of feathers. The first angels may have been modeled upon Watchers. Christian angels did not originally have wings. They were added to early Church iconography in the early 4th century A.D., perhaps derived from feathered cloaks.
Cygnus star field
Göbekli Tepe and Cygnus the Vulture
First at Karahan Tepe near Sogmatar, Andrew Collins also realized that the cult centers of Mesopotamian, Pre Pottery Neolithic B are organized in a rough north-south direction. That is, they look upwards at the movement of stars around the north celestial pole. (There was no Pole Star in 9500-9000 B.C.) At this time, there was only one prominent constellation in that direction, Cygnus, which in European folklore is the swan.
In ancient Mesopotamia, Cygnus was a raptor and in classical myth it was occasionally a vulture. What if any observational measurements could have been made at Göbekli Tepe remain to be determined, but the stone circles need not be a functioning ‘observatory’ or celestial calendar. In static orientation towards the great vulture of death and rejuvenation, Göbekli Tepe would be a powerful ritual symbol forever reminding the people of the gods and their power over life and death.
The great herds of game were gone by 7500 B.C., and the agricultural revolution with year round villages had to begin. Why Göbekli Tepe was buried and back-filled sometime after 6,000 B.C. is not known. Possibly an ‘old religion’ had died out, no longer had a ‘congregation’ and the land was now needed for other purposes. Alternatively, an ancient cult center that now represented something to be rejected had to be ritually ‘killed’, buried, immobilized and rendered harmless. The larger significance of Göbekli Tepe is, above all, revealing heretofore deep metaphysical capacities of early post ice age hunter-gatherer societies. Most importantly the ‘bird men’ had flown with Cygnus The Vulture and were now on the move. They would do their incredible work throughout Mesopotamia for several millennia. And it all began at a few, very early, post glacial sites in Turkey such as Göbekli Tepe.