Sunday, June 12, 2011

Göbekli Tepe means Potbelly Hill

Tepe means hill, mound or knoll in Turkish. In southeastern Turkey, north of the border of Syria and north (or within) the Fertile Crescent of the Neolithic, we find place names such as Ziyaret Tepe, Kenan Tepe and Göbekli Tepe on today's archaeological maps [1-5]. All these tepes and the surrounding areas are digging sites. Göbekli Tepe is located nine miles to the east of the Turkish town of  Şanlıurfa, (also known by the shorter name Urfa). Göbekli Tepe means Potbelly Hill. Local people gave this name to the site, which is part of a ridge and has the shape of a  rounded crest [5].

Being much older than Stonehenge, Göbekli Tepe has made a lot of headlines over recent years as the first temple and spiritual meeting place (sometimes with a question mark [4]). Among the mysteries and fascinating artworks of this neolithic architecture are the relief animals carved in its stone pillars. There also is a fierce-looking creature erupting from a limestone wall, similar to sculptures we find at gothic church buildings.

The archaeologist Klaus Schmidt of the German Archaeological Institue (DAI), who is researching this site for over ten years together with European and Turkish scientists, gives us hints that excavation results can be interpreted in various ways. Was this a spiritual locus or a Neolithic Tivoli Garden? Further, this place has a Trojan dimensions, at least in the vertical direction: Schmidt is not certain if the bottom layer has been uncovered yet. Göbekli Tepe may change our understanding of the history of civilization. Schmidt makes an interesting point that the common belief (twenty years ago) was, that civilization was driven by ecological forces, but that we are now learning that civilization is a product of the human mind [5]. Whatever the driving forces behind this site, we at least can agree in the spirit of Louis Armstrong and Fats Domino: I found my thrill on Potbelly Hill!

Keywords: geography, history, archeology, nomadic people, hunter-gatherers 

[1] Ziyaret Tepe:
[2] L. S. Dodd, J. Schnereger, M. Abraham and B. J. Parker: Analysis of Metallurgical Finds at Kenan Tepe, Turkey. 2001 []. Note: this paper contains illustrative pictures of sites and findings.
[3] Sandra Scham: The World's First Temple. Archaeology Nov./Dec. 2008, 61 (6) [].
[4]  Andrew Curry: Gobekli Tepe: The World's First Temple? Smithsonian, November 2008 [].
[5] Charkes C. Mann: The Birth of Religion. National Geographic June 2011, 219 (6), 34-59. [].

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