Following my last post on Göbekli Tepe, I thought it might be fun to look at some Göbekli Tepe art and perhaps make some for ourselves. I have split this post into the three different sections: Engravings, low reliefs and high reliefs. I have made an accompanying video for each section, as well as some sketch pictures you can use as stencils for your own work. In addition, I will be including a download of some printable notepages to go along with your study.
Read More: This post, all about the archeological site of Göbekli Tepe, delves into its history, possible uses and includes an instructional video showing you how to make a model of Göbekli Tepe from clay. Do take a look, because these megaliths are changing the landscape of ancient history in the Levant region!
Also, do check out my MEGA Mesopotamia Unit Study post to find out just where the Göbekli Tepe lesson fits into the history of Mesopotamia. This huge post has lots of printable, videos, science experiments and, as always, stacks of suggestions for easy hands on activities you can do with your children! I am always adding new stuff to this post so do go and check it out.
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Recap on Göbekli Tepe
Göbekli Tepe, a temple complex containing a number of monumental round and rectangular megalith structures, exists in the Germuş mountains of south-eastern Anatolia. It is thought pre-agricultural hunters and gatherers from the Pre-Pottery Neolithic age built Göbekli Tepe. This is the same time the Natufians lived, between 9,600 and 8,200 BC.
Who are the Natufians? I’ve got you covered! Read more about the Natufian culture, their discovery of a proto-clay in the form of White Ware (and my disastrous attempts to replicate this!), Natufian Art and my revised attempt to recreate some plaster artefacts, in the form of a Neolithic double-headed figurine.
Göbekli Tepe is included in the UNESCO World Heritage List because of its representation of ‘human creative genius’ and ‘important interchange of human values’ in addition to being an ‘outstanding example of architectural ensemble’. Also, it is regarded as one of the world’s oldest archeological temple complex.
Göbekli Tepe is a big deal. According to geotechnical surveys it’s about to get even bigger. These surveys show there are many more enclosures to excavate.
Perhaps the most unusual and least understood aspect of Göbekli Tepe is the sheer number of people required to build it. At a time when social groups rarely topped 20 people, the need for the communal effort of hundreds is puzzling. It was thought that societal organisation was the forerunner of the agricultural revolution. However, Göbekli Tepe (built before agriculture was a thing) may have helped build this communal organisation. Was it, in fact, the building of Göbekli Tepe which helped usher in the agricultural revolution? In which case, this is a site of extreme importance in the timeline of humanity.
What is the Purpose of Ancient Art? Why Should We Study It?
Art offers us a peephole into the culture which created it. In many ways it is the outward expression of the very bowels of a society, and yet at the same time capturing something of the individual artisans who created it.
In general, ancient art displays the following practical function:
- The communication of religious ideas
- Depiction of calendars and the exploration of man’s place in the cosmos
- Demonstration of societal status and rank
- Legitimisation and propaganda of state
Ancient art lays bare the concerns of Human Nature”Professor Diana McDonald
Ancient art, in its way, is another means to read into the lives of ancient cultures. It tells us a great deal about their thoughts and responses to the world around them, and shows both similarity and diversity in human experience. Art allows us a peek into human struggles, adaptions and evolutions as they responded to the different conditions in which they lived around the world.
Humans used what they had and expressed what they saw and their understanding of the world around them.
The Universal Themes of Ancient Art
- Survival and Fertility – It will come as no surprise that this is what took up much of the ancient peoples thoughts and consideration. In fact, fertility gods are usually the first gods to be imagined. Some of the oldest figurines found have had some link back to fertility.
- Dominance and Rulership – Today, social hierarchy is the norm. However, back in ancient times this was a fairly new phenomena. As cultures settled, these small settlements grew into villages and eventually into towns. With growth came the need for organisation, which naturally led to the development of hierarchies. Art became visual propaganda for rulers. This is something we will explore in more detail later on in our Mesopotamian Unit Study.
- Warfare – This crops up time and time again, and we will be studying the well-known Standard of Ur. Warfare is linked heavily with territorial goals, as well as with dominance and leadership.
- Funerary Rites and Themes – This is a particularly important one because often grave goods and the like are some of the only items which survive from a particular tribe or settlement, and give huge insights into their lives and beliefs about life after death.
- Religious, Cosmic and Mythic – Seeking to explain the universe it shows us the complexity of ancient people’s comprehensive belief systems
- Animals – Animals are seen in all ancient art forms and are a pivotal subject to be displayed. It is this animal theme, primarily seen at Göbekli Tepe, that we shall be focusing on for this lesson.
Göbekli Tepe Art Displaying Animals
Ancient people represented the world around them as they saw and experienced it. They were, in many ways, much closer to nature than we are today. Their representations of it show their fear and respect for the animals they shared their part of the world with. The ancient people took this one step forward as they sought to explain the world in which they lived. Animals became a metaphorical means to do this, often pictured with gods, or even as gods.
The art found at Göbekli Tepe was almost exclusively animal based. One exception was the very large central pillars. These seem to display features of the male human figure popular at that time (belted, with hands).
Lets have a look at the art found at Göbekli Tepe…
1) T-Shaped Pillars central Megalithic monumental buildings
These are the most memorable part of Göbekli Tepe. You can watch the video below to see how we made our own model of Göbekli Tepe from clay, including the anthropological, albeit abstracted, human figures found on the largest of the pillars:
It is thought that these human figures are part of a belief system we do not yet understand… The pillars were structural, possibly holding up a roof for at least some of their life, and also sculptural with animal (fox) reliefs as well as the human forms:
In my drawings above (Eastern central Pillar from Building D at Göbekli Tepe), you can see the anthropomorphic characteristics carved into the pillars. For example the faceless head and the body with arms and hands resting on the stomach. Also, the belts, each with a visible buckle, and on the eastern pillar, H and C shaped decorations are found on the belt. In addition, there seems to be an animal pelt (possibly a fox) forming a loin cloth covering of the genital area. Although the generals are hidden, similar male figurines with belts have been found at the pre-pottery Neolithic site at Nevali Çori, suggesting these too represent males.
Both figures seem to be wearing necklaces of some sort. One in the form of a bucranium (ox skull) and the other in the shape of a crescent, a disc and an unrecognisable motif. Take a closer look (at the actual pillar), and you would see carvings of wild animals and insects too.
I think here we are face to face with the earliest representation of gods. They have no eyes, no mouths, no faces. But they have arms and they have hands. They are makers…
…In my opinion, the people who carved them were asking themselves the biggest questions of all. What is this universe? Why are we here?”Klaus Schmidt, Archeologist and excavator of Göbekli Tepe
It has been suggested that the two pillars above represent twins…others believe the faceless figures depict the impersonation of other world super natural beings. Perhaps there was a meeting of these beings at Göbekli Tepe for specific (although unknown to us) purposes?
2) Göbekli Tepe Art: Engravings
This was a fun little project to do! I copied one of the engravings of the ducks in a row, which was cute. I also redrew as the world oldest known graffiti of a naked woman. This is thought to be graffiti because it is so at odds with the other art found at the site. In contrast to the graffiti, the other art is clearly created by highly skilled artisans. The graffiti is a simple sketch etched into a wall:
3) Göbekli Tepe Art: Low Raised Relief
Relief sculpture refers to sculptural elements which project out from a plane surface. Reliefs can be classified by how much they jut out from the surface. If it is only slightly, they are known as shallow reliefs or bas-relief. I have created a video to show you how to make your own Göbekli Tepe shallow reliefs:
4) Göbekli Tepe Art: High Raised Relief
Another type of relief is known as high relief. High relief, or alto relief, is when the sculpture is at least 50% of the depth of its natural form. It also will be cut in and formed fairly intricately compared to shallow relief. This high relief from building C worked onto a T-shaped pillar shows a leopard and its prey – a wild boar. I have attempted to capture this in the video below:
I hope you’ve enjoyed this art lesson on Göbekli Tepe art. Please do consider following my YouTube channel to see more educational videos which accompanies my Mesopotamia Unit.