Göbekli Tepe (‘Tepe’ = mound) has fascinated archeologists since Klaus Schmidt realised its importance in 1995. In the beginning, it was thought to be a simple but impressive megalith, similar to Stone Henge. As time has gone by and Göbekli Tepe reveals her secrets, it is now known to be so much more than a collection of rather large stones. There are over 20 circular buildings, although only six have been excavated. The more archeologists find, the more interesting the discussions become. In this Göbekli Tepe lesson, I will be exploring its secrets as well as showing you how to make a clay model of this fascinating temple complex.
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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Göbekli Tepe, loosely translated as ‘pot-bellied pig’, was the archeological site which was tooted to break history. Fascinating from its incredibly humble beginnings all the way up to the continuing present day findings, Göbekli Tepe is juxtapositioned between three continents. Located in what is now arid, rocky land, historians believe that at its prime the surrounding land would have been greener and less hostile.
Göbekli Tepe On The Map
Discover how to make your own huge paper mache map, perfect for homeschool presentations, or a smaller paper mache map which will fit into your child’s 3-ring binder. They are so simple, easy and look amazing! This post contains both photo instructions for a huge map and a video showing you how to make a small one. There is also a video sharing tips and tricks for painting your map which will bring it alive!
I have marked Göbekli Tepe on the map with a green dot as part of this Göbekli Tepe Lesson. You could draw or photocopy a small picture and stick it on your map.
If you have made a large paper mache map, then the clay model of one of the circular enclosures (see video below) would look striking placed on top of it. This is particularly effective for a homeschool presentation.
I’ve digitally added a photo of the model I made and added it to my small map to give you (an albeit vague) idea of how the model would look on a large sized map:
How Was Göbekli Tepe Discovered?
“Everybody used to think only complex, hierarchical civilisations could build such monumental sites, and that they only came about with the invention of agriculture. Gobekli changes everything. It’s elaborate, it’s complex and it is pre-agricultural. That alone makes the site one of the most important archaeological finds in a very long time.”Ian Hodder (Anthropologist)
For a long time, the site where Göbekli Tepe lay was covered by a hill, named ‘Wish Hill’. Atop the hill, at its highest point, grew a mulberry tree. There seemed to be an odd burial or two nearby and it was generally known to be a place of importance. In fact, each year at the start of spring, a fertility festival was held during the equinox when the revellers took their animals up the hill, performed sacrificial rituals, ate and drank and generally had lots of fun!
In 1963, visiting archeologists from Chicago and Istanbul were at the site and saw some unusual stones and graves. They left, thinking it was Byzantium. A few years later, in 1986, the owner of the land finds a sculpted statue of a man with a large phallus and attempts to sell it to the Sanliurfa museum.
Meanwhile, two German archeologists, Hauptman and Klaus Schmidt, were busy with a rescue excavation with the same museum in Nevalı Çori near to the Ataturk Dam between 1983 and 1991. They had excavated the site until the water flooded the whole region. Schmidt immediately begins to keep his eyes open for his next project.
He discovers the statue brought in by the old man all those years ago, takes a look and recognises it as having similarities to those found by the Ataturk Dam. He visits the mulberry tree and sees the graves and stones, and perceives they are neolithic.
“This place is a supernova. Within a minute of first seeing it I knew I had two choices: go away and tell nobody, or spend the rest of my life working here.”Klaus Schmit (Archeologist in charge of Göbekli Tepe dig up until his death in 2014)
Obtaining permission to dig, Schmidt and his team began to excavate Göbekli Tepe.
What Did They Find?
Göbekli Tepe has been the site which just keeps on giving…as a matter of fact 12 football fields worth! Schmidt considered it to be the oldest temple complex on earth. Schmidt and his team found the following:
- Gigantic sized megaliths in a circle, set on a man-made hill, dated to the beginning of the neolithic era around 10,000 BC – For comparison Stonehenge was built between 3000-2000 BC
- Schmidt believed there to be no signs of living…backed up by the fact it was built during the time of nomadic hunters and gatherers
- He also believed it to have existed pre-agriculture.
- Monumental architecture of more than 20 circular buildings.
- Each circular enclosure is approximately 10-20 metres in diameter. It has 10-12 T-shaped stones, mostly set into limestone walls, creating the frame work for benches to sit around each wall. In the centre, two larger (1.5 -6 metres high, not weighing more than 20 tonnes) T-shaped megaliths stand – Stonehenge, for comparison, has 4 metre megaliths weighing around 25 tonnes.
- The T-shaped central megaliths are particular to the Urfa region and found at Nevalı Çori, Hamzan Tepe, Karahan Tepe, Harbetsuvan Tepesi, Sefer Tepe, and Taslı Tepe. With an apparent belt around its centre, these megaliths are thought to be early depictions of male humans. This may suggest that Göbekli Tepe was primarily a male space.
- Other pillars have relic carvings of various animals which I will be doing a whole separate post and video on next week.
- Later enclosures were rectangular, much smaller and less intricately designed. They contained only two T-shaped pillars in the middle.
Why Was Göbekli Tepe Built and What Was it Used For?
Theories abound! I mean google it and go on a few pages and there are some very interesting ideas. Here, I’ll just mention a few of the more sensible ones:
Schmidt believed this to be the world’s first ever temple. In fact, Karahan Tepe is 3000 years older. The presence of a sanctuary and lots of animal bones suggest both sacrificial activities as well as feasting. However, due to a lack of water nearby and the presence of any evidence of residential buildings, it was thought that visitors only came seasonally.
A Multi-Use Site
It is thought that water would have been available because the water table would have been much higher in the past. Therefore springs would have supplied the area for at least some of the time. The sheer scale of the megaliths and the amount of work it would have taken to have built them suggests strongly that Göbekli Tepe was of sacred origin. The number of animal bones suggest either sacrifice or food for revellers which links to the possibility of ritualistic festivals at certain times of the year.
Ancient Astrological Observatory
It has been observed that the T-shaped stones were positioned inline with the constellations. This was suggested by the carvings of scorpions at the site. However, it is not clear whether the scorpians represented the scorpius constellation, which at present there is no proof. Also constellations move over the millennia, so it seems unlikely they were similarly aligned at the time of building. Also, it is thought by some that Göbekli Tepe had a roof. Obviously, this means there could be no astrological observing anyway! However, it seems likely there is some link to astronomy but none have been found thus far.
An Ancient Brewery
The evidence of industrial scale production of grain includes thousands upon thousands of grinding stones and hundreds of storage vessels. Analysis of these vessels show a thriving production of grain and beer. Another explanation could be a food processing plant, where people brought their grain to be processed.
The Three Layers of Göbekli Tepe
Schmidt worked on the Göbekli Tepe site until he dies in 1914. After his death, Turkish archeologist Dr. Necmi Karl, took charge of the dig. Workers from the Istanbul University, the Sanliurfa Museum, and the German Archaeological Institute also pitched in.
Many of the conclusions Schmidt came to regarding Göbekli Tepe have been disregarded as further insights are gained the more Göbekli Tepe and the surrounding area is revealed. For example, excavations on Boncuklu Tarla in Mardin, Turkey have revealed a temple thought to be about 1000 years older than Göbekli Tepe! This is such an interesting time in ancient history with more and more tells being excavated within the Turkey region around Göbekli Tepe. The historical landscape, as we know it, is changing!
Anyway, on with the layers…
This is the the oldest layer built around 9500 BC in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A Period. Layer III is where the circular enclosures are to be found. Four such enclosures have been found so far with geophysical evidence showing the presence of 16 more. These enclosures are where the T-shaped limestone pillar reside. These stones were quarried from nearby bedrock pits using flint points to cut through the stone. Some of the floors are made from burnt plaster (terrazzo). It is not known if these enclosures originally had a roof, but for some reason they were infilled during the Stone Age.
Layer II existed during the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B Period, between 8800 – 8000 BC. During this time, rectangular buildings replaced circular ones. However, they also contained the T-shaped pillars suggesting that these building had a similar purpose to the circular ones. These rooms have polished plaster. This is made from the same type of plaster used to make the Natufian white ware.
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.
Multiple residences were also found whilst digging the foundations for the erection of a protecting roof. In addition, there was some evidence of water being directed into a large cistern to be collected and stored. This may suggest that Göbekli Tepe was year round settlement.
A Neolithic Landfill Site?
Sometime after 8000 BC the site was purposefully filled it with between 300-500 cubic meters of Stone Age refuse. This created a tell made up of mainly small limestone fragments, stone vessels and stone tools. In addition, many animal and human bones were identified amongst the rubble. It is unclear why this happened. What is clear, however, is that it was likely done by humans. The infill is on a hill which is not a natural place for deposits to gather naturally. Hills are more usually an area of erosion not deposition, meaning it had to have been filled intentionally.
There are a few theories which have been thrown around, but there is little absolute proof for any of them:
- Part of a de-sanctification process of a religious facility.
- Preservation purposes for future generations.
- A new religion replaced the old and the need to destroy the old to make room for the new.
But no-one really knows. Although the site continues to give up its history the further the dig progresses. Only 5% so far has been excavated.
Göbekli Tepe Lesson Notepages
As always, I have created some notepages to go along with my Göbekli Tepe Lesson. Feel free to download and print out for your children’s history note books:
Video on how to make a model of Göbekli Tepe
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