Artist’s reconstruction of Göbekli Tepe.

Decoding Göbekli Tepe: Secret Society AND Space Observatory?

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A paper by authors Martin B. Sweatman and Dimitrios Tsikritsis, titled 'Decoding Göbekli Tepe with archaeoastronomy: What does the fox say?' published in Mediterranean Archaeology and Archaeometry , vol 17, no. 1. (2017) proposed that a key purpose of the Göbekli Tepe site was to serve as an astronomical observatory to monitor comets and their meteor showers, principally of the Taurid system. They maintain the site is sky-centric and that reliefs and symbols on its pillars share vocabulary in recording events connected with the observation of this stream. Pillar 43 of Enclosure D, the cryptic ‘Tauroctony’ of Göbekli Tepe, received focus as a cenotaph remembering the cometary encounter proposed for causing the Younger Dryas event.

Reproduction of Golbeke Tepe enclosure D. Credit: Alistair Coombs

Reproduction of Göbekli Tepe enclosure D. Credit: Alistair Coombs

Before Sweatman and Tsikritis published their research, it was not evident they were challenging any pre-existing interpretation that linked the reliefs and symbols to a cohesive pattern of ideology held by the current excavators. However, their statistical case for an astronomical significance of the site clashed with pre-defined notions and specialisms of the excavators whose interpretive orientations prioritize the site as a processer of social complexity and group identity building, following current archaeological trends. These activities explain how the site was used (e.g. food production/feasting) and what reliefs and symbols most likely mean (e.g. social status/clan emblems). Against this, ‘coherent catastrophism’ would fail to gain traction since it restructures these assumptions, together with an unfounded claim that constellation mythologies can only be expected to remain stable over several thousand years, at fundamental levels. The former head of excavation, Klaus Schmidt, was not personally keen on archaeoastronomy but he nevertheless made statements conducive to its interpretation.

Temple, Fair House, Observatory    

For Schmidt, Göbekli Tepe was primarily a sacred site. Its built environment was a nondomestic communal space within a geography of Stone Age pilgrimage, like a Greek amphictyony for hunter-gatherers. Its pillars were non-structural monuments depicting ancestors or supernatural beings. This status of the site as a seasonal, non-residential sanctuary was challenged by Ted Banning, a specialist in domestic and sacred buildings of the Neolithic Levant. Drawing from a resource of ethnographic examples, he demarcates the permeability between sacred buildings and residential living spaces and though he agrees the site had a sacred aspect, Banning believes it was predominately a settlement, that its enclosures were housing units. Absent from the considerations of Schmidt and Banning is the notion of an observatory.

An observatory harmonizes the house-shrine, sanctuary-settlement disparity since, amid other factors, this function of the site would service seasonal gatherings yet accommodate a smaller personnel residence more permanently.

Both Schmidt and Banning compare the humanoid-pillars of Göbekli Tepe to the ancestor statues of Easter Island known as moai. Their comparisons are limited to the logistics of construction/ambulation and their bearing as objects of competitive tribe status. A more qualitative and, one would argue, fundamental dimension of the moai ‘images’, however, was to mediate ancestor spirits at astronomically determined times of the year when the statues would become endowed with life in their ceremonial centers. Not as commonly referenced in Easter Island are its astronomical houses known as tupa. These were mentioned by Katherine Routledge in her The Mystery of Easter Island (1919) and in her unpublished writings. These observatories are built on a north-south or east-west axis and placed at key vantage points over the island. Despite their mundane, observational use for stargazing, these buildings intersect the secular and supernatural as they were entered by crawling through disproportionately narrow entrances to prevent evil spirits gaining access to their spaces.

Masons hauling a pillar about the size of the Vulture Stone. Credit: Alistair Coombs

Masons hauling a pillar about the size of the Vulture Stone. Credit: Alistair Coombs

The fact the Göbekli Tepe structures may have been roofed under pole and thatch for small or longer periods does not negate their function as observatories given the site’s hilltop vantage. Moreover, from the perspective of the Upper Paleolithic, which was Schmidt’s ambitioned way of interpreting the site, stellar observations were reproduced in cave art. Building upon the observations of Alexander Marshack and other Paleohistorians on notational artifacts and cave art as astronomic systems, Brian Hayden and Suzanne Villeneuve make a strong case for complex hunter-gatherer groups of the Upper Paleolithic forming secret societies and carrying systems of astronomy and ritual occultism into the Neolithic.  With developed calendar systems, these clandestine hunter-gatherer societies would host feasts and control access to the supernatural through initiation. Emerging from this occult ritual activity at the dawn of civilization, seasonal and other astronomic esoterica would be expected to appear on hunter-gatherer monumental architecture.


Why do these museums always assume that their models have to look like the vagabond living under the local bridge? In what universe would a culture advanced enough to carve these highly symbolic reliefs not have barbers and skilled tailors? It may have been cooler in that are due to the ice and all that, thus thinker clothing made from skins and whatnot, but it seems unlikely to me that they would put so much care into their carvings and not bother to comb their hair.

The T-shaped stones could represent the idea that is still present in the current day lifes philosophies and religions of Asia, Europe and N. Africa, of the (vertical) earth pillar supporting or carrying the (horizontal) heavens. C.q. the 'Hieros Gamos': the sacred marriage between heaven and earth. It is well known that this is one of the oldest religious ideas that still exist.
Second: John Allegro wrote about this sacred marriage and also brought in the Amanita Muscara as the pillar around which an initiation cult was build. An effect of taking the Amanita Muscara is that you feel a very strong connection between you and objects in the (night) sky. I remember during such a 'trip' (when I was much younger) that I looked up to the night sky thinking: "The stars are my brothers...", "I am the stars...". It could be that these old peoples took these mushrooms as well and saw in the shape of the Amanita Muscara also an earthly pillar carrying the skies. And in taking these mushrooms they experienced the sacred marriage between heaven and earth...

Actually looking at the pictures and the shape of the stones, it could be that the stones are the stem with on top the collar of the mushroom. And the roof of the buildings could be the roof of the mushroom. And if you look at one of the pictures you see that a number of these stones are placed in a circle. Exactly as many mushrooms form a 'fairy circle' of 'heksenkring' as we say in Dutch. A circle of whitches.

So maybe the houses in Göbekli Tepe were nothing but 'mushroom dens'. Imagine: sitting in such a dark house with the fire burning in the center. You in the middle of a stone fairy circle surrounded by the stems of stone mushrooms. Shiffering shadows bringing the carved animals to life... And experiencing eternal life (one of the effects of Amanita Muscara), flying around (another effect of AM) and tasting the wisdom of the universe (yet another effect of AM)....

The T shaped pillars are the gesture sign for “below.” The size of the Pillars represent relative importance. Thus, the great one, the great, below. This refers to the great-underworld. The ancient depicted sign language system was sophisticated and combined the grammar of ancient languages that included, subject, qualities, positionals, directionals, number, etc. along with Form, Imagery, and gesture signs.

The Two Largest and Central Pillars indicate, the great ones, the Two. Both Pillars have the same signs engraved upon them. This “sameness” indicates, “the twins.” This, metaphorically, refers to the Star (the planet) Venus and its dual appearances in the east and west.

The Birds framed by a Rectangle in the above article are a good example of the system. The Rectangle indicates, a horizontal-place, while the Birds. the ones who fly, are in a Stance of Sitting, that means, waiting, or awaiting. Their number is Seven and represents, revered. Thus the general idea is: a horizontal-place, where the revered ones, await their flight. This refers to the spirits of the culture’s deceased awaiting their flight to the sky and merger with Venus.

The number Seven is found in many ancient cultures, such as in the seven hills, the grove of seven trees, “in the seventh hour-division sits Osiris, divine judge of the dead”, and other things that were considered to have a revered position in the cosmology.

The ancient depicted sign language system is not yet completely understood but enough is understood to gain a general understanding of the intent of the ancients concerns.



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