HISTORY OF CIVILIZATION BEGAN IN URFA (Gobekli, Turkey)
13,500 Year Old Statue Amazes Archeologists Throughout The World
Archeological discoveries in Urfa continue to yield exciting results with each passing day. Scientists are rushing to see the remains of an 11,500-year-old temple discovered in G�beklitepe.
Furthermore, a 13,500-year-old statue, the world�s oldest, discovered during an excavation in Balıklıg�l has astonished archeologists from all over the world. Assistant Professor A. Cihat K�rk��oğlu of Harran University claims that the history of civilization began in Urfa.
Exploratory excavations conducted in �ay�n�, Diyarbakır have revealed remains of houses which date back 10,500-11,000 years. Even more surprising have been the results of excavations conducted in the Nevale �ori region, which indicate that the people of Nevale �ori settled and lived in houses 500 years before the people of �ay�n�. They are also known to have been the first people to engage in agriculture.
During exploratory excavations conducted in G�beklitepe in 1995, the remains of a temple were discovered. Quite similar to those discovered in Nevale �ori, these remnants are considered to be one of the first examples of architectural structure.
Gobleki animal figure. Click and drag photo to resize.
Artifacts discovered in the center of the city of Urfa indicate that settlement in the region began even earlier.
Bahattin �elik, a research assistant in the Department of Archeology and Art History at Hacettepe University, recently has said that arrows and spearheads made of flint, cutting tools and interior furnishings were discovered in the Balıklıg�l region.
Laboratory analysis carried out in Germany last year proved that these finds are at least 11,500 years old.
K�rk��oğlu described the results of the excavations as �a marvelous discovery� and said: �With this discovery, the history we have obtained up until now about the Neolithic age has been brought back 2,000 years. We now know that our fellow human beings built the first houses in history in the fertile area near Balıklıg�l 13,500 years ago.�
World�s Oldest Statue
A two-meter high statue of a male was discovered in Balıklıg�l in 1993. The limestone statue the eyes of which are carved out of obsidian depicts a man covering himself with both hands. It was named the �Balıklıg�l Statue� and is on display in Urfa Museum. K�rk��oğlu provided the following details about the statue:
�Scientists have confirmed that the �Balıklıg�l Statue� is the oldest statue ever to be discovered until now. The statue, which was in a Neolithic temple, represents �the God of Eroticism� or �the God of Reproduction.�
Therefore, we are certain that the Balıklıg�l settlement is 2,000 years older than the Nevale �ori and G�beklitepe settlements. Each exploratory excavation and the finds discovered in Urfa add to our knowledge of the Neolithic age.�
Transition to Sedentary Life and Agriculture
During excavations conducted by K�rk��oğlu, Abd�sselam Ulu�am, Bahattin �elik and Fatih Ulu�am on behalf of the Turkish Historical Society (TTK) in 1999 and 2000, three other Neolithic age settlements were discovered in Karahantepe, Sefertepe and Hamzantepe.
In each of these settlements, several T-shaped stelae similar to those in Nevale �ori and G�beklitepe were found. The team also discovered a stele with the figure of a snake carved on it and a statue surprisingly similar to the �Balıklıg�l Statue.� K�rk��oğlu stressed the significance of these finds as follows:
�It is certain that future excavations and discoveries will reveal much more about the unknown aspects of the history of mankind. All these finds are significant, since they indicate that the ancients who lived in the Urfa region were skilled in building structures and gathered together occasionally for religious rituals.
These rituals resulted in a transition to sedentary lifestyle and the emergence of agriculture. Thus it is believed that the history of civilization began in Urfa.
DECEMBER 6, 1999 VOL. 154 NO. 23
Ever Nearer the Past
By MARYANN BIRD Gazientep
The rocky, rutted path seems to lead nowhere as it ascends a sun-bleached hill in the moonscape of southeastern Turkey. Ahead, to the north, the Taurus Mountains loom in the distant haze.
Behind, the village of Ogrencik ekes out what life it can from this exhausted land on the fringes of the Fertile Crescent, 1,300 km southeast of Istanbul.
Suddenly, a single mulberry tree appears atop the next hill, and before it an array of colorful tents–the field camp of a German-Turkish archaeological team. Beyond the tents, in the parched and dusty middle of nowhere, 40 km from the Syrian border, lies Gobekli Tepe, one of the world’s most illuminating and rare discoveries from the late Stone Age.
An ancient place of worship–a cult site carbon-dated to the second half of the 9th millennium B.C.–Gobekli Tepe is as good a point as any to begin a diverse archaeological tour of Turkey, a country astonishingly rich with the remains of scores of civilizations and empires stretching from caveman days to the early 20th century.
Put simply, Gobekli Tepe–older than the renowned Anatolian city of Catalhoyuk–is where some of our hunter-gatherer ancestors (who were just starting to settle down and organize into societies) first created sophisticated art for ritual purposes.
“This place is as important as the discovery of 14,000 B.C. cave art in France,” says Harald Hauptmann, the team leader and director of the German Archaeological Institute in Istanbul. Gobekli Tepe reflects what the experts say is a turning point from the Epipaleolithic to the Early Neolithic era in upper Mesopotamia–that is, the time when early man was just beginning to control nature, before the advent of food production, until the first domestication of plants and animals.
“In this site and the one at Nevali Cori, 45 km northeast of here,” says Hauptmann, “we have found an art we never knew before–not on cave walls but in public buildings, with sculpture and painted haut-reliefs [sculpted stone panels].
What we have ascertained is that art is not something someone just invented one day, like the wheel or fire. It has always been an active part of the human psyche, since the very beginning.”
In each archaeological digging season, hundreds if not thousands of new and often startling discoveries are made by Turkish and international teams at scores of excavations, providing insights into the earliest days of humanity.
“Anatolian Turkey is perhaps the most richly diverse archaeological site anywhere. It reaches from Paleolithic [early Stone Age] to Ottoman,” says Oscar White Muscarella, a senior conservator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, who has been assisting a Turkish team excavating a 9th to 7th century B.C. site once inhabited by Urartians–Bronze Age people who lived near Lake Van, close to the Iranian frontier.
…….At Gobekli Tepe, 15 km northeast of the city of Sanliurfa, stand four megalithic limestone pillars, 7 m tall and weighing perhaps 50 tons each.
Two of them bear the image of a snarling lion defending what Hauptmann believes to be a cult sanctuary or shrine. Erected without the aid of domesticated animals 6,000 years before giant structures were built in Pharaonic Egypt, the pillars suggest that early Neolithic workers knew how to use poles, boards and pulleys to handle huge stones.
Hauptmann’s site also features a unique floor relief of a squatting woman–perhaps giving birth–reliefs of a variety of animals, and a field of flint chips, indicating the site also hosted a fairly sophisticated tool- and weapon-producing operation.
A rich collection of small limestone sculptures and clay figures was found at Nevali Cori, as well as life-size limestone figures, providing for the first time an idea of how people in the area worshiped 8,000 years before the birth of Christ.
The larger work is animistic, some of it featuring humans and animals in carvings resembling totem poles. The masterpiece of the site is a sculpture of a female head grasped in the talons of a bird. Another, male, head is shaved, with a snake positioned at the back like a braid.
On each side of the green, gently flowing Euphrates River at Belkis, southwest of Sanliurfa, lie the twin towns of Seleucia and Apamea. Jointly known as Zeugma (“bridge” in Greek), they are believed to be the site of the only river crossing between the eastern Taurus Mountains and ancient Babylonia.
“We are trying to understand the link between the two sides,” says French archaeologist Catherine Abadie-Reynal of the University of Nantes, who with Rifat Ergec, director of Turkey’s Gazientep Museum, leads the Zeugma inquiry.
In Apamea, on the right bank–once a prosperous Hellenistic city in northern Mesopotamia and now a dusty, stony spot where little more than pistachio trees grow–excavators found stunning mosaics and surgical tools in rooms of a Roman house that apparently belonged to a doctor. On the more fertile Seleucia side of the river, tile markings indicate that a Roman military unit was garrisoned there.
The sprawling ruins of Aphrodisias lie in the Meander Valley in southwestern Turkey. Considered the jewel of the Greco-Roman ruins in Turkey and dedicated to the goddess Aphrodite, the site possesses all the features by which Rome measured civilization: ornamental aqueducts, public baths, a 30,000-capacity stadium, an open-air theater seating several thousand, two city squares, fountains and hundreds of monumental statues.
Rich in agricultural and mineral wealth in its glory days from 700 to 30 B.C., Aphrodisias was one of perhaps 400 Hellenistic cities that flourished in the Roman Empire’s eastern province of Asia Minor.
It is the best preserved, however, because successive earthquakes covered Aphrodisias in mud. Now, says project leader Bert Smith, a professor of classical archaeology at Oxford University, it is home to “the greatest collection of architectural sculpture left in Turkey.”
A 5,000-year-old administrative palace at Arslantepe, near Malatya in eastern Turkey, is complete with religious temples, a royal tomb containing a fortune in copper and silver and weapons–including what is probably the world’s first ceremonial sword.
With the discovery of two types of pottery–wheel-crafted Mesopotamian wares and hand-fashioned, trans-Caucasian black-polished items–the Italian archaeologist Marcella Frangipane, professor of prehistory at the University of Rome, concludes that the dead ruler was a nomad.
“The tomb marks a watershed: this is the first proof of the movement of trans-Caucasian people from the northeast to the west, which finally gave rise to Hittite civilization in central Anatolia,” she says. “From the time of the tomb, history changed …
There developed a purely Anatolian culture.” Frangipane and her team established the beginnings of a state at Arslantepe in the 4th millennium B.C.. “The discovery of this site changed our ideas of development,” she says.
Two larger-than-life white marble statues of Dionysius, made in Aphrodisias in 120 A.D., were found in the vast Greco-Roman city of Sagalassos, 260 km to the east. The terraced city built of huge stone blocks, says Belgian archaeologist Marc Waelkens of Louvain’s Catholic University, achieved–with its huge public buildings–“a heroic grandeur to match the immutable vastness of the natural surroundings” of the Pisidian highlands of the western slopes of the Taurus.
Isolated at 1,700 m above sea level, Sagalassos was first settled in the 2nd millennium B.C. by Anatolian Pisidians, redoubtable warriors who fought Alexander the Great in 333 B.C. on a flat hill below the city–and lost.
“It is a prime example of an Asian population being Hellenized,” says Waelkens. “In 25 B.C., Caesar Augustus incorporated Sagalassos as part of Galatia and it was Romanized.
He was the first to subdue the tough, Pisidian mountain men.” As Greece began to deteriorate in the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D., Waelkens adds, Greco-Anatolian cities like Sagalassos, with its pottery exports and agricultural wealth, thrived. “These towns were the Texas and California of the Roman Empire,” he says. Indeed, among the ostentatious findings in a 6th century A.D. house are a mosaic-decorated dressing room and a hot tub with marble stairs.
An Anatolian flat seal, made of bone and in the form of a lion, was found at Hacinebi Tepe, east of Sanliurfa. It was discovered in the study of the world’s oldest state and colonial system, set up by the Uruks of southern Mesopotamia in about 3700 B.C.
Seals were used in business transactions before the development of cuneiform writing. It was the Uruks who invented the wheel and, with their complex cities of 40,000 people, devised in 3100 B.C. the world’s first known system of writing.
The world’s first and perhaps finest furniture inlay work, dating from 800 B.C., was initially recovered as bits of blackened, twisted wood at the Phrygian tomb at Gordion, southwest of Ankara. (The Phrygians, artisans and geometricians, inhabited a powerful kingdom from 1200 to 695 B.C.–one of their rulers being Midas of the legendary golden touch.)
Working in the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara every summer for nearly two decades, Elizabeth Simpson of the Museum of the University of Pennsylvania did the reconstruction drawings that helped unravel the Iron Age puzzles.
Using four rotating, intricate designs, the Phrygian craftsmen inlaid boxwood, yew, juniper and walnut, rendering an abstract representation of the mother goddess Matar (Kybele) in mathematical form. In the Mediterranean port of Kelenderis, Anatolia’s closest link to Cyprus, a large and colorful landscape mosaic of the harbor, showing its waterfront buildings and three caiques under full triangular sail, was uncovered. “Not only is it one of the very few landscape mosaics ever found, but it was found next to the harbor it depicts,” says Professor Levent Zoroglu of Turkey’s Selcuk University in Konya, who dug up the late Antique-early Byzantine piece–some 1,500 years old–in the garden of an Ottoman inn. MORE>> ……..At Gobekli Tepe, Hauptmann and his crew, led by field director Klaus Schmidt–as well as his Turkish partners at the Urfa Museum–seek to solve an older mystery.
They are working to understand the pre-pottery society that existed there some 10,000 years ago, says Angela von den Driesch, a professor of zoology at Munich University, and “to determine the exact moment of the transition from hunter-gatherer to agriculturalist.”
What prompted these ancient people to spearhead mankind’s first revolution–the so-called Neolithic miracle–turning from the upland forests that had long provided sustenance to the very beginnings of lowland settlement and agriculture, the domestication of plants and animals?
“Humans always react to problems and catastrophic events,” says von den Driesch. “They are survivors, and adversity is usually a catalyst for change.” Perhaps, she suggests, climatic shifts at the time gave them no choice.
……To extend the limits of what today’s scientists can understand about the far-distant past–its cultures, its great events, its historical cycles, its infinite mysteries–and to put it all in a coherent context, archaeologists are combining old tools with new. Along with shovels, picks, chisels and brushes, they are using computer models, DNA analysis, remote sensory equipment, underwater gear, satellite photography and a host of high-tech gadgetry.
Cutting-edge genetic science, for example, can provide data on how bodies in graves are related to each other, or the nutrition problems experienced in centuries-old societies, while marine archaeology can shed light on ancient trade routes.
“In this kind of work,” says Hauptmann, “we come nearer the people before us. The art helps, and the sculpture.” Gazing at the field of flint at Gobekli Tepe–and looking back 10,000 years–the German scientist notes the dryness of the surface stone and its unsuitability for toolmaking.
The ancient hunter-gatherers, he postulates, probably mined flint containing water from the limestone bedrock, then heated it to make their tools.
This, Hauptmann adds, was quite a sophisticated technique. “In this period, mankind learned to deal with different materials for the first time. It was a real revolution in technology–a step forward, a step to new ways of life.”
Some things, though, will never be known. “Without writing, there is no proof. We have to hypothesize,” says Toni Cross, director of the Ankara branch of the American Research Institute in Turkey. “It’s impossible to try to interpret [ancient societies] without bringing in your own cultural heritage.
We assume they were more superstitious and that this permeated their lives.” Notes Britain’s Matthews: “From a social point of view, it’s interesting to see what laws existed, the social patterns, what their relevance is today, the variety of ways that humans can live. It adds a new dimension.”
Belgian archaeologist Waelkens shares the sentiment as he trudges up a steep mountainside at Sagalassos. His dream is simply put, though not very easy to realize: “To record everything that happened here for the past 10,000 years.” Marking three decades of excavation in Turkey, he says: “I told my father when I was six that I would be an archaeologist working in Turkey … Sagalassos is my wife, my child, my life.”
…….Across Turkey–and some day in China’s Yangtze and India’s Indus Valleys, where scientists believe equally remarkable discoveries lie in wait–ancient peoples are indeed, paradoxically, being drawn nearer as time recedes. As the puzzles of their lives and their societies are painstakingly pieced together, one fact becomes increasingly clear: the past is not such a foreign country after all.
By Assc. Prof. A. Cihat
Harran University, Faculty of Science and Letters Lecturer at the Archeology and History of Art Departments
I was at the settlement mound of Gobeklitepe, a 25 minute drive from the city of Urfa in southeastern Turkey.
In the unexcavated parts of the mound there may be many more such chambers, or perhaps other completely different structures.
My first question and the one which I was most eager to have answered was about the date of the stones and the building in which they stood.
Professor Schmidt told me that at present they were unable to date them, the tone of his voice expressing not disappointment, but the excitement of someone witnessing a landmark in archaeological discovery.
He went on to explain that at some point after the chamber had been built it had been filled up with earth, and that carbon dating of some fragments of charcoal in the soil had been carried out.
I waited with suspense to hear what the results of these tests had been. It was 9000 BC! This was astonishing. It meant that the date of construction must have been even earlier.
next asked if they had found any skeletons. The professor replied with a smile that they had not, but that the team had not yet dug down to the ground soil. The raised section around the inside walls of the building is to be excavated this year in September and may reveal burials.
This would enable carbon dating to establish the date to within a few centuries, and could reveal the site to be as old as the 11th millennium BC. If this happened it would mean rewriting the history of the Neolithic Age – otherwise known as the New Stone Age.
Professor Schmidt had more and equally fascinating information about the site. Apparently all the other hills visible in the vicinity are made of limestone blocks, but that on which we stood – measuring 300 metres in diameter – is surmounted by a deep layer of soil carried up here from the valley below.
By what methods had people who had not even discovered pottery managed to carry millions of cubic metres of soil to this hilltop?
My second important question was the stage of production that these people had reached. I felt sure that they must have been an agricultural society, but Professor Schmidt smiled and assured me that they were certainly hunters and gatherers, who did not even know how to make pottery.
Since no pottery fragments had been discovered in the area at all, the latter had to be true, but I had profound doubts about this being a hunting and gathering culture.
I thought for instance of the pyramids of Egypt, whose construction had required large numbers of workers. The workers had to be fed, which required a system for the transportation and distribution of food, and order had to be maintained, which in turn meant soldiers and administrators.
In other words, the construction of a single pyramid presupposed an entire state system and sophisticated economic structure.
Even though the monuments at Gobeklitepe were not on such an enormous scale, one had to make similar suppositions about the culture which had produced and erected these T-shaped menhirs.
The relief carvings of animals on the stones were astonishingly beautiful, and must surely have been executed by a craftsman who had devoted his life only to this work.
So the Gobeklitepe culture must have had a food production system which enabled them to feed specialists and workers without difficulty.