The most ancient and monumental architectural structures were discovered in Göbeklitepe. In addition to these structures, the extraordinary story of the hunter-gatherer communities that built them was also uncovered. It seems that these people gathered in Göbeklitepe thousands of years ago for a common purpose; grouped together for these constructions and through their abstract and technical ideas, they produced an architectural and symbolical language that arouses great admiration. The most crucial point of this story is that this is where we see the beginnings of our modern, settled lifestyle. Göbeklitepe is located in the heart of the great transformation where the transition to production and settled life occurred, and therefore is the milestone of our civilization. Hunters gathering here in large groups changed the fate of humanity. I am pursuing what brought and kept these people together. I will be searching for clues in the symbols of Göbeklitepe.
I am looking down on the four structures beneath the large circular walking path in Göbeklitepe. These consist of obelisks set on a low enclosure wall in a circular formation. There are two standing stones inside each of these walls. The T-shaped heads of the pillars that weigh around four-five tons are now known to the whole world. They are decorated with reliefs of predatory animals.
Some experts believe that the reliefs on these stones are not ordinary decorations, but the ancestors of hieroglyphs. This means 12,000 years ago, hunters observed these figures in the flickering flames of their campfire and read a common mythological story. Perhaps I should return to my childhood, when I was not able to read, to solve the writings on these stones. I should read the symbols on these stones as I used to read my storybooks, by simply looking at the pictures. So I turn towards the largest, most decorative Structure D.
In the middle of the twelve obelisks that surround the Structure D there are two huge pillars that seem to be reaching up into the sky. The thin arms on the side surfaces, and the hands with long fingers on the front are immediately noticeable. When we look at the heads of the T-shaped pillars, the belt at waist height, and the loincloth, it is clear that these are depictions of humans. These obelisks in the center must have been important because they are huge, and all twelve obelisks surrounding them are facing these huge pillars. The Structure D seems to be depicting a hunting ceremony.
Experts say Göbeklitepe was a gathering site. Hunters built and gave great importance to it. I am curious as to the motivation behind building monumental structures in a period when there were no ceramics and when animals were not domesticated. We are talking about a building site that required cooperation among more than one hunting groups that were not related, and which attracted people from a vast geography. In which case, they must have discovered the means of persuading small, independent communities to work together and kept them away from conflict. It is believed that one of these means was the feasts the hunters gave in return for labor. Archaeologists discovered large amounts of animal bones on the site. It seems that while the hunters worked, they also ate and drank in abundance. Furthermore, except for the meal, they built other bonds. Some suggest there is a possibility that the humans depicted on the T-shaped pillars were the joint ancestors of these hunters. And maybe the hunters gathered here to end the conflict between the tribes and to establish peace. The symbols on these structures appear to indicate that there were different hunting groups. Snakes were mainly used in Structure A, foxes in Structure B, wild boars in Structure C, and birds in Structure D. This suggests that each of these structures belonged to a certain clan, and that the symbols are possibly the coat of arms of that clan. I begin to wonder if the snake and fox clans made peace here and held banquets to celebrate.
There are so many unanswered questions and our puzzle is very confusing. Although a large labor force would have been needed to build Göbeklitepe, the structures here could only accommodate a limited number of people. If rituals were conducted in these structures, the numbers of people that attended and had access to knowledge here were relatively few. Maybe there is a multilayered network opposite us. I will look for clues in the animal depictions here.
A majority of these human and animal images are male. The obelisks are full of snakes, fat-legged spiders, wild boars with pointed teeth, and aurochs with large horns. Klaus Schmidt was right when he called this a “Stone Age Zoo.” A similar situation is valid regarding the vast area in which this symbolic language spread. Symbols of a snake and fox were discovered on an obelisk in Karahantepe. So what was the reason for hunters choosing scary, deadly animals?
According to experts, symbols of large, strong, and predatory animals may have been used to influence people, gain respect, and for protection. Maybe history was being written around the stories of the hunters, and the hunters of these animals gained prestige. At the same time, these predators kept evil away. The male hunters that killed these animals were possibly granted supernatural powers. Or the killing of animals was a symbolic death, and this represented a ritual where the rebirth was reenacted… All these clues suggest that our ancestors in Göbeklitepe were occupied with the basic human instincts: to continue their lineage, and to gain recognition in the community.
It seems that we began to build the wall of humanity in the Stone Age, and the bonds we established were our mortar. We were a part of a flexible teamwork and made connections with numerous strangers in Göbeklitepe. Our fellow ancestors were revealed, mythological stories shaped on predatory animals were narrated, and we even gave banquets. And 12,000 years ago, we began to write our present history.