Suitcase and World: Göbekli Tepe.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Göbekli Tepe.

The archaeological site at Göbekli Tepe.

Ater checking out of the hotel in Adıyaman, we hit the road. We had said goodbye to two of our fellow tour mates who left after our visit to Mount Nemrut. With more seating available, Bro and I moved up to the front of the van courtesy of two women who decided that it was only fair that we move up from the back row.  So considerate of them.  They are three women, all friends, all from California.  Two are married to each other and the third came without her husband who apparently has no interest in coming to places that are below his comfort level - Turkey falls into that category of places.  Any way, all three are very nice and we quickly got to know the two married ones, sitting behind us.  One is a poet and the other is an admistrative who is counting down the days towards her retirement in June 2015.

Our final destination for the day would the city of Şanlıurfa,more simply known as Urfa. Along the way, we would see a few more sights.

On the road in Southeastern Turkey.

The first was Ataturk Dam, renamed after Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881–1938), the founder of the Turkish Republic. Denis took us to the overlook and explained the history behind the dam.

Ataturk Dam is located on the Euphrates River and is the centerpiece of the Southeastern Anatolia Project which aims to provide irrigation water and hydro electricity to arid southeastern Turkey. The Ataturk Dam is the largest in the series of 22 dams and 19 hydroelectric stations built as part of the Southeastern Anatolia Project. Completed in 1990, the Ataturk Dam is one of the world's largest earth-and-rock fill dams, with an embankment 184 meters (604 feet) and 1,820 meters (5,971 feet) long.

In the small square, in front of the overlook, sits a small monument dedicated to those who lost their lives in the construction of the dam.

Next, we headed to an archaeological site that I and pretty much everyone else in the group, except for Chuck, had ever heard of - Göbekli Tepe.   In fact, National Geographic showcased the site on its November 2011 issue and Chuck had brought his copy of that issue with him.  He had marked the pages of interest. 

Our visit to Göbekli Tepe turned out to be one of the highlights of the day!

First views of Göbekli Tepe.  Not much to see.  That's our van - we were the only visitors to the site at the time we were there.

Göbekli Tepe  is an archaeological site, is situated on a flat and barren plateau, atop a mountain ridge in the Southeastern Anatolia region of Turkey.  In the north, the plateau is connected to a neighboring mountain range by a narrow promontory. In all other directions, the ridge descends steeply into slopes and steep cliffs.

It has been under excavation by a German archaeological team that was under the direction of Klaus Schmidt from 1996 until his death in 2014.

What makes Gobeklitepe unique in its class is the date it was built, which archaeologists believe to be  roughly twelve thousand years ago, circa 10,000 BC, seven millennia before the Great Pyramid of Giza!

Göbekli Tepe is considered to be a tell which by archaeological definition is a hill created by many generations of people living and rebuilding on the same spot. Over time, the level rises, forming a mound. The 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, Pre-Pottery Neolithic A , have been dated to the 10th millennium BC. Remains of smaller buildings identified as Pre-Pottery Neolithic B and dating from the 9th millennium BC have also been unearthed.

Göbekli Tepe is a series of mainly circular and oval-shaped structures set on the top of a hill. There is archaeological proof that these structures were not used for domestic use, but rather for ritual or religious purposes. Subsequently it became apparent thatGöbekli Tepe  consists of not only one, but many of such stone age temples and is in fact, considered to contain the oldest known temple.
We started our visit at the top of the ridge where Denis pointed to some circular trough like areas which archaeologists use as indicators evidence of human impact. 

Maybe a valuable piece of history for humans but it's just a comfy spot for a sleeping dog.

After an introduction outside, we headed to the covered portion of the excavation site.  It was a jumble of rock aka the ruins and wooden pillars erected to supporting the roof that completely covers the site, sheltering it as well the people working on the site, from the elements.  It was drizzling lightly when we got out of the van so being under the shelter was perfect for us.

With all the stuff in the way, it was hard to imagine what the site looked like.  Thankfully, the article in National Geographic had a illustration that recreated the site.  The illustrator worked with archaeologists to come up with the rendering.

Illustration by Fernando Baptista, National Geographic

To some archeologists, Göbekli Tepe is vaguely reminiscent of Stonehenge, except that Göbekli Tepe was built much earlier and is made not from roughly hewn blocks but from cleanly carved limestone pillars splashed with reliefs of animals—a cavalcade of gazelles, snakes, foxes, scorpions, and ferocious wild boars.

I don't remember what Denis said these animals were - definitely four legged creatures of some sort.

A carving of an animal.

One of the most notable features of  Göbekli Tepe are the T-shaped limestone pillars that were evenly set within the thick circular walls.

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 meters (330 ft) from the hilltop, with workers using flint points to cut through the limestone bedrock.

Archeologists believe that when these pillars were erected,  nothing of comparable scale existed in the world. Amazingly, the temple's builders were able to cut, shape, and transport 16-ton stones hundreds of feet despite having no wheels or beasts of burden.

Many of the pillars are decorated with abstract 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 Göbekli Tepe was constructed, the surrounding countryside was likely to have been forested and capable of sustaining this variety of wildlife.

I have to say, we were all captivated by the reliefs.  Anytime someone spotted one, they shouted out and the rest of the group would come running to wherever they were.  I was surprised at their simplistic beauty.  Some were faint and hard to make out while others were as clear to the as they might have been when they were carved all those millenia ago.  I can't say that we always recognized the animal but most certainly, they often looked reminiscent of a familiar creature.

The bottom one is a mouse, perhaps?


Something and birds.  The birds look like marabou storks to me.

I think pretty much all of us went, "awww..." when we saw this charming procession of birds.



My vote?  Lizard.....very large lizard.  I don't know if they had lizards here back then but that's what it looks like to me.

In the photo below, you can see some of the pillars and the thick circular walls.

By the time we made our way around the site, we were all energized by what we had just seen.  So amazing to think that our human ancestors were this skillful and talented 11,000+ years ago!

Outside, Denis took us around to a spot where we could see excavation work underway on other areas on the site.

Archaeologists are still excavating Göbekli Tepe and debating its meaning.  It would be interesting to come back in a few decades to see the progress - fingers crossed that in two decades, I can still manage to travel as I do today :-) .  I just hope they don't *over restore* the site so it looks like something that was built today versus 11,000 years ago.

More sightseeing ahead of us but first it was lunch....a very late lunch but no one seemed to be hungry.  I think we were all energized by our brief but VERY interesting visit to Göbekli Tepe!

For more information on Göbekli Tepe, you can read the June 2011 National Geographic article available at