Göbekli Tepe


Neolithic complex of Göbekli Tepe

The expedition report is prepared by Alexander Artemov the Researcher of ISIDA Project.

The archaeological complex of Göbekli Tepe, located in Turkey, gradually obtains the increasing worldwide popularity. The site is located in 12 km from the administrative center - the town of Sanliurfa, in one of the Turkish provinces - Sanliurfa (Southeastern Anatolia).

The location of this ancient complex was known among the archaeologists since the 1960s, however, the Turkish government did not allow any excavations in it for a long time. First systematic large-scale studies of the site have begun scince 1994, directed by Klaus Schmidt from the German Archaeological Institute. The results, without exaggeration, were amazing! Numerous stone buildings, including pillars with bas-reliefs, forming the oldest megalithic ritual complex were discovered under the 15-meter layer of soil.

According to the radiocarbon dating of the organic samples, gatheres in the lower (most ancient) excavated layers of the complex, showed that the beginning of the construction of the complex can be attributed to the X millennium BC. (9800-9500 BC) [Oliver Dietrich, Klaus Schmidt, A radiocarbon date from the wall plaster of enclosure D of Göbekli Tepe, Neo-Lithics 2/2010]. Thus, it appears to be the oldest ritual complex, found in the region of the "Fertile Crescent" of the Northeast Mesopotamia, as well as in the whole World.

Known sedentary settlements of the Early Neolithic were located in the area similar in shape to an arc,
that is why this area was subsequently called as the "Fertile Crescent".

During the past 23 years, a number of Temples were excavated in the archeological site of Göbekli Tepe (hereinafter GT), the oldest of which have the form of an irregular circle (Layer III, X-IX millennium BC) and later ones (Layer 2 , IX-VII millennium BC) - are forming  a rectangular shape.

Till now, only about 5-7% of the whole ancient complex's territory has been explored. According to the preliminary estimates, archaeologists will have to work at least  about 50 years more, before excavations will be totally completed.

Click the image to enlarge Scheme of the main complex (Temples А-D)

No any traces of human infrastructures  were found in the vicinities of this ancient site. This fact allows us to conclude that this complex was built especially for the ritual purposes. Moreover no any traces of agricultural activity were found in the most ancient layers of the archeological area. Therefore, the first builders of the most impressive ancient constructions, including 5-meter T-shaped pillars with skilful reliefs, are supposed to be the Neolithic hunters and gatherers.

Reconstruction of the Göbekli Tepe Temples. (Click the image to enlarge.)

Judging by the good preservation of the pillars and their bas-reliefs and taking into account the climatic conditions of Asia Minor of 10-12 thousand years ago, it can be safely assumed that the Temple complex was already "preserved" many thousands years ago, or the Temples were provided with solid roofs that once collapsed and fell down the passages and rooms, filling every possible space with the debris. Or, perhaps, maybe some kind of the artificial hills (soil pyramids) were erected above the structures, the soil of which has gradually lowered, burying the work of the ancient architects and thus preserving it from the erosion.

There is an official hypothesis, according to which the "temples" were gradually "decommissioned" and were filled with soil no later than 2,000 years after the beginning of their construction. [Klaus Schmidt, Die steinzeitlichen Heiligtümer am Göbekli Tepe, in: Doğan-Alparslan, Meltem – Metin Alparslan – Hasan Peker – Y. Gürkan Ergin (Hrsg.), Institutum Turcicum Scientiae Antiquitatis – Türk Eskiçağ Bilimleri Enstitüsü. Colloquium Anatolicum – Anadolu Sohbetleeri VII, 2008]. According to this hypothesis, an artificial hill about 15 m height and of about 300 m in diameter was erected above the GT structures. According to archaeological data, no any traces of human activities were found on the hill up to the present time. The sacred place became, apparently, the forbidden territory: neither any late temples or shrines, nor traces of ritual bonfires - nothing.

The Temples were built on a rocky base, formed by the dense limestone, their were built of small limestone blocks without using of a mortar. Pillars with reliefs - were also cut of limestone, mostly of high quality and dense. Stone T-shaped pillars, weighing 5-15 tons, were quarried out by means of wedges from the nearby stone quarries, located at the feet of the hill. Afterwards they were  transported to the distance of several hundred meters. The largest of the found partially processed pillars,  was left in the quarry. It's height is more than 7 m, weight up to 50 tons:

Stone T-shaped pillars, reaching up to 5 m high were installed on a carefully leveled platform, with a previously cut down notch for fixind the pillar. How the central pillars, weighing 5-15 tons, were fixed in such a small notches, is not clear. Perhaps, domed or pyramidal roofs were built over the stone walls.

In his work [Snakes, Lions and Other Animals: the Urfa-Project 1997, стр. 8-9] Klaus Schmidt mentions some stone blocks, that covered the floor in a rectangular room, where the pillars with lions bas-reliefs were placed. These blocks, according to Schmidt, could be a part of the collapsed roof of the Temple.

Some pillars have grooves in their upper part, possibly - for fastening wooden elements of a ceiling.

The platform for installing the central pillar on the unfinished site of the temple (E).

The platform with an installed central pillar in the Temple (D). Archaeologists made the additional fastening of the pillar with wooden supports and stretches in order to fix it in a vertical position.

A pedestal with a fragment of the central pillar in the Temple (C).


Pillars are made of dense limestone and carefully processed. Some pillars have bas-reliefs.


Some pillars have holes in them. There are also pillars with unprocessed (or processed in a special way) top surface.

All pillars have a T-shape. It is believed that this form was chosen for the convenience of transportation, but it is also possible, that this shape was determined by a special ritual meaning.

Assumed transportation of the T-shaped pillar is shown below (from the exposition of the Urfa Museum).

In addition to the bas-reliefs, there are also skilfully executed sculptural images, carved directly on the spot. These sculptures were cut from the body of the stone pillar, which evidences, that the T-shaped form was made either before, either directly during the very installation of the monument after the quarried stone was transported to the desired place.

Source: Gobekli Tepe Images by Alton Parrish.

A large number of similar figures, found in Göbekli Tepe, are exhibited in the Archeological Museum of Sanliurfa. Below are the pictures of some of them.


The winding road of about 8 km long, laying between the hills, is leading from the highway "E90" to the archaeological complex of Göbekli Tepe . A tourist center is located at the very bottom of the hill, being ready to receive a lot of visitors and provide them with everything they need - drinks, magnets, tourist booklets, souvenirs and a bus, coursing between the tourist center and the top of the hill.

At the feet of the hill one can see the heap of stones, probably collected during the cleaning of nearby agricultural plains.


700-meter high road leads from the tourist center to the top of the hill. At the end of this road there is an area of the Temple (E), cleared to the rocky base. Here one can see the traces of, presumably, preparatory work of the period of building of the main Temples (A-D) (9800-9500 BC).

This limestone base has a lot of traces of drilling, pits and a prepared platform with a preserved pedestal for installing the stela, very similar to the similar pedestals in the Temples (A-D), according to the scheme.


360 panorama, observed from the top of the hill

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The main site, where the Temples (A-D) are located, is covered with a light dome and girded with a circular viewing gallery.

Below are the general views of the site, taken when moving counter-clockwise from the south to the north - from the Temple (B) to the Temple (D).


The main archaeological site, including in itself the Temples (A-D) is not completely excavated. In several places one can see the archeological pits, going down beneath the level of the bedrock. Possibly, there may be some kind of underground passages or rooms, belonging to the most ancient layers. Klaus Schmidt believed that the rooms with burial chambers can be found under the floors of these Temples. In his opinion, Göbekli Tepe, most likely, was an ancient necropolis. Nevertheless, no human remains have been found during the excavations until today.


A stone slab with a door or a niche in it was found in one of the pits, during the excavations. Probably it was intended for storing of some important artifacts. The niche is surrounded with bas-reliefs of two foxes from the both of it's sides and a bull's head (bucranium) above it.

Source: The Tepe Telegrams

An interesting feature of the Temple (D) is the presence of an object, similar to the front slab of a dolmen with a round hole in it. This artifact is located in the wall of the Temple and oriented between the two central pillars.


The Museum of Urfa has in it's exposition the mysterious stone circles with an internal diameter of about 40 cm, found on the territory of the GT complex. Their purpose is unknown. A number of authors, including Andrew Collins, suggested the hypotheses about the astronomical meaning of such circles. They assumed, that it could be used as some kind of a device for observation of the stars and the planets, but there is still no confirmation for these versions.


Basically, the reliefs on the pillar contain images of animals, rarely - the parts of human figures as well as various symbols and pictograms. Klaus Schmidt and Joris Peters in their article "Animals in the symbolic world of Pre-Pottery Neolithic Göbekli Tepe, south-eastern Turkey: a preliminary assessment" give statistical data on the images from the bas-reliefs of the Temples (A-D):

  • Snake-23 (and multiple images on one stone were considered as one)
  • Fox - 9
  • Boar - 7
  • Crane - 5
  • Bos taurus / bull - 3
  • Wild sheep - 2
  • Asian wild donkey - 1
  • Gazelle - 1
  • Leopard / Lion - 1
  • Bear - 1?

In addition, there are some bas-reliefs of a large number of different species of ducks, as well as insects - spiders (?) and scorpions.

The most common motif of GT images is the snakes. They are depicted either schematically, in the form of pictograms, or in a very large amount, like some "moving mass".

Below is an example of snake-pictograms:


Similar pictographic images of snakes can be found on the stone plates not only in Göbekli Tepe, but also in the nearby settlements of the same historical period (Nevali Cori, Karakhan Tepe, etc.)

Stone plates with pictographic images from the archaeological museum of Sanliurfa:

On some pillars, the images of snakes are depicted as the background for the main reliefs. For example, below are the pictures of the snakes on the pillar № 33.


There is also an image of many intertwined snakes, forming some kind of a "grid":

The snakes are also depicted on a totem pole, found in one of the Temples of Göbekli Tepe (perhaps, it could be the later addition (like the walls made of blocks), but no later than 8500-8200 BC).


The image of the snake is also present on the sculptural fragment of the human head, found in the environs of the Nevali Cori.

The images of snakes is rather widespread, but not the main motif of the reliefs of Göbekli Tepe. The central pillar of the Temples (C) and (D), as well as many other T-shaped pillar, has the depictions of animals that archaeologists unequivocally interpret as male foxes.


A great number of fragments of fox bones (predominantly common red fox) were found during the excavations of the Temple complex of Göbekli Tepe. The remains of the fox tail were found near one of the central pillar of the Temple (D).

A sculptural image of the head of a beast is exhibited in the Museum of Sanliurfa. This head is very similar to the head of an animals, depicted on the reliefs of the pillars (in some publications it is identified with the head of a leopard).

The images of a wild boar are less common, and all of them can be found in the Temple (C). This Temple has no snakes reliefs, but there are are a lot of sculptural images of wild boars that now are exposed in the Archaeological Museum of Sanliurfa.

In addition, the Temple (C) has stone with an upside-down image of a wild boar in the wall masonry. Apparently, this could mean that in the late period the temples were reconstructed and rebuilt, while the image of a boar no longer played such an important role as in the beginning of construction.

Inverted image of the wild boar in the Temple (C):

Source: "Animals in the symbolic world of Pre-Pottery Neolithic Göbekli Tepe, south-eastern Turkey: a preliminary assessment"

The image of the bos taurus/bull, depicted on the pillar both in the form of a whole animal, and in the symbolic form of the head of a bull (bucranium).

The pillar with the bas-relief of a bull, fox and crane in the Temple (A). From its rear the pillar has a bas-relief of a bucranium.


On one of the central pillars of the Temple (D) there are pictograms, probably depicting the Sun and the Moon:

Source: Ancient Origins

Lets note, that bucraniums in the form of the bull skulls, covered with clay, can be found at a later period (7,500 BC) in Anatolia, in the village of Catal Huyuk, together with the image of the "Great Goddess" ("spreading figure").

Source: On beasts in breasts. Another reading of women, wildness and danger at Çatalhöyük by Diane Gifford-Gonzalez.

The pillar № 43 from the Temple (D) represents a special interest. The fierce discussions around it are taking place between the supporters and opponents of the astronomical hypothesis of the Gebekli Tepe complex designation.


In the upper part of the pillar one can see the bas-reliefs, that are identified in the modern literature as the "baskets", or as the plans of the three Temples of the ritual complex, marked with the animal emblems - crane, fox and "quadropod" ("spread figure").

Below are the depictions of a vulture with an egg (?), an ibis (?), a snake, accompanied with the symbols "H" - direct and rotated on 90 degrees. In the lower register we can see a snake, a fox, beneath the snake, a carefully depicted scorpion beside it; below - another one vulture, which for some reason looks "out" (all the other animals on all the pillars are look inside - into the center of the circle). In the lower right corner - there is an image, which is interpreted by the most archaeologists as the beheaded human body. According to the versions of some researchers, the scenes with the headless bodies and vultures are correlating with the funeral rituals of excarnation (which is confirmed by numerous finds in Catal Huyuk.) According to the archaeological materials, the heads of the deceased, remained after this ritual, were kept in the houses of their relatives [Mellaart, Catal Huyuk: A Neolithic Town in Anatolia (New York: McGraw-Hill. 1967)], [Мария Гимбутас. "Цивилизация Великой Богини: мир Древней Европы". Москва, РОССПЭН, 2006].

The scene with beheaded human bodies and vultures (Catal Huyuk. 7,500 BC).

Source: On beasts in breasts. Another reading of women, wildness and danger at Çatalhöyük by Diane Gifford-Gonzalez.

The astronomical interpretations of the pillar are basing on the images of the Sun and constellations on it, in particular the constellations of the Scorpio and the Cygnus:

Source: Paul D. Burley 2017 " Mediterranean Archaeology and Archaeometry" 17(2)

However, these astronomical hypotheses are not totally confirmed and therefore are subject to criticism [J. Notroff, O. Dietrich "More than a vulture: A response to Sweatman and Tsikritsis"]. In particular, a number of similar images were found as the statues, as the paintings on the vessels and plates, which could be hardly connected with the astronomical purposes. The probable presence of the roofs over the Temples, denies any astronomical observations. The hypotheses, that the bas-reliefs on the pillar №43 could be attributed to some ancient funeral rituals are also existing among the researches of this archeological site.

As it was already mentioned, mysterious symbols and pictograms are also present on the pillars in addition to animal images. The bas-reliefs of the central pillars of the Temple (D) are of the most interest, because these pillars, themselves, are representing the abstract human figures.

As shown on the photos below, the pillars has human "hands" with carefully carved "fingers", fold on the "bellies" of the "statues". The eastern pillar (No. 31) is equipped with a "belt", which shows a lot of symbols in the shape of the letter "H". In front of the waist is a loincloth, probably from the skin of an animal. The symbol "H" on the side of the "belt" is accompanied by "brackets": (H) on one side and ((H (H) on the other side.) Also, the "H" symbols with "brackets" and without, and in some cases accompanied by snakes, can be found on other pillars.


Göbekli Tepe is not the only Neolithic Temple Complex in this region. Even before the beginning of the archaeological excavation in it, another ritual monument was already known in Nevali Cori. It is located on the territory of an the ancient settlement, dated 10-9 millennium BC. The Temple has a rectangular form (14x14m), its walls are built of the small limestone slabs, a 3-meter T-shaped pillar is standing in the center of the Temple. The bas-relief, carved on this pillar is the same as we have already seen in Göbekli Tepe - "hands folded on the belly". At the present time, the archaeological site of Nevali Cori is located on the bottom of the water reservoir, and the Temple is relocated into the the Archeological Museum of Sanlurfa.

Photo of the remains of the Temple of Nevali Cori before flooding:

Temple from Nevali Cori inside the Archeological Museum of Sanliurfa:


A fragment of a vessel with dancing people and a certain creature (tortoise?) between them was found in Nevali Cori:

Basing on this and some other finds in the territory of Göbekli Tepe, including vessels of up to 160 liters with traces of fermented cereals and wild grapes, there is a hypothesis that these Temples may have been special areas for some festivals with drinking beer and wine. [Oliver Dietrich, Manfred Heun, Jens Notroff, Klaus Schmidt, Martin Zarnkow, The Role of Cult and feasting in the Emergence of Neolithic Communities. New Evidence from Göbekli Tepe, South-eastern Turkey, Antiquity 86, 2012 ].

Not less than 8 archeological sites with T-shaped pillars have been identified ft the present time:

Source: Tepe Telegrams.

Thus, Eastern Anatolia appears to be a very interesting region and an important point for further detailed research both in the field of culture of the upper Neolithic as well as in the birth of Ancient Civilizations of Mesopotamia and the Middle East.

List of the radiocarbon data, made on organic samples from Göbekli Tepe (DAI).

Source: Tepe Telegram



Author: Oliver Dietrich, Klaus Schmidt
A radiocarbon date from the wall plaster of enclosure D of Göbekli Tepe, Neo-Lithics 2/2010
Year: 2010

Author:Klaus Schmid
Animals in the symbolic world of Pre-Pottery Neolithic Göbekli Tepe, south-eastern Turkey: a preliminary assessment.
Year: 2004

Author:James Mellaart
Catal Huyuk: A Neolithic Town in Anatolia (New York: McGraw-Hill.
Year: 1967

Author: Мария Гимбутас.
"Цивилизация Великой Богини: мир Древней Европы". Москва, РОССПЭН.
Year: 2006

Author: Oliver Dietrich, Manfred Heun, Jens Notroff, Klaus Schmidt, Martin Zarnkow.
The Role of Cult and feasting in the Emergence of Neolithic Communities. New Evidence from Göbekli Tepe, South-eastern Turkey, Antiquity 86
Year: 2012

Author: Klaus Schmid
Snakes, Lions and Other Animals: the Urfa-Project

Year: 1997

Author: Paul D. Burley
Mediterranean Archaeology and Archaeometry 17(2)
Year: 2017

Author: Klaus Schmid
Die steinzeitlichen Heiligtümer am Göbekli Tepe, in: Doğan-Alparslan, Meltem – Metin Alparslan – Hasan Peker – Y. Gürkan Ergin (Hrsg.), Institutum Turcicum Scientiae Antiquitatis – Türk Eskiçağ Bilimleri Enstitüsü. Colloquium Anatolicum – Anadolu Sohbetleeri VII.

Year: 2008

Author: J. Notroff, O. Dietrich
More than a vulture: A response to Sweatman and Tsikritsis.

Year: 2017

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