Göbekli Tepe & The Great Year
The megalithic precincts at Göbekli Tepe served different capacities over the near two millennia (or more) of their use. The circles were not coterminous, but were built successively over this extended period. The enclosures excavated thus far are arranged in calendar-like circle structures made up of nearly 12 sculptured pillars, with two offset T-shape pillars dominating each circle at the centre. Their design suggests a reflection of the cosmos as if their builders had an interest in the movement of the sky, and there is evidence they did. Based on the slightly drifting southwest trajectories of circles labeled Enclosures A, B, C, and D, Robert Schoch proposed the builders of Göbekli Tepe were aware of precession, or discovered its effect over an extended period – c10,000-8500 B.C. corresponding to when the Orion-Taurus-Pleiades constellations were visible before dawn on vernal equinoxes from the direction of the T-shape pillars at the centre of each enclosure. 1 (fig.1,2,3)
Rather than this being architectural happenchance, pillar 43 of Enclosure D (the oldest circle at the site), known as the ‘vulture-stone’, further supports the view the circles were constructed to chart the movement of seasons. A fresco decorating the vulture-stone portrays what appears to reflect a geographical region of the sky. This is suggested powerfully by the central orb, or ball, poised on the vulture’s wing which appears to depict the sun (fig.4).
Figure 1. Aerial plan of Gobekli Tepe. Credit: Alistair Coombs
Figure 2. Gobekli Tepe looking south. Credit: Alistair Coombs
Figure 3. Massive megaliths of Enclosure D. Credit: Alistair Coombs
Below the jubilant vulture is the figure of a scorpion, a snake, below which is a headless ithyphallic man to which the orb above may have belonged. The scenario is like the mutilated Osiris personifying the mysterious ebb and flow of the ancient Egyptian seasonal cycle; the god who germinated the world with renewing essence while remaining hidden in the beyond. Using StarryNightPro software, it can be determined that at Göbekli Tepe c10,000-9700.B.C. the summer solstice sun occupied the zodiacal house of Scorpio.
Figure 4. The ‘Vulture-Stone’. Credit: Alistair Coombs
Looking far beyond neighboring Egypt, to Mesoamerica, with an even vaster disparity in timescale, we notice some striking parallels between the vulture-stone’s dual imagery of the ball, or ‘sun-head’, with the Maya ball-skull; the decapitated head of the First Father used in a seemingly macabre ballgame, but which symbolized the station and movement of the sun during the winter solstice. 2 Moving further down in latitude to equatorial South America, we encounter a native star lore which reflects the calendar scheme of Göbekli Tepe to considerable extent. This astro-cosmology comes to us from the Barasana tribe who today are a very small number of forest Indians of the Colombian Vaupés region. The Barasana’s cosmology maps an annual antagonism between an ‘old star path’, and a ‘new star path’ (fig.5).
Figure 5. The old star path and the new star path. Credit: Alistair Coombs
The old star path includes stars and constellations which cluster round the galactic centre (Sagittarius, Scorpio, Aquila, etc.,) while the new star path consists of stars and constellations at the galactic anti-centre (Orion, Taurus, Pleiades, etc.). The Barasana’s personification of old star path constellations resonate astonishingly to figures we find on Göbekli Tepe’s vulture-stone. Very similar to the depictions we find on the vulture-stone, the Barasana characterize constellations of the old star path as a vulture, scorpion and snake. A theme of decapitation is also continued. These constellations are dichotomized from constellations of the new star path since they are vehicles of poison, death, and sorcery to the Barasana, as conceivably they were to the people of Göbekli Tepe. In his research of the Barasana cosmology, 3 the anthropologist S. Hugh-Jones estimated the dual ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ connotations of the new star path and old star path respectively, was due to the Barasana zodiac charting the annual passage of the seasons: e.g. those of spring/summer were considered good because of abundant food, feasting and ritual events; 4 while those of the winter were considered bad since marked by rain, thunderstorm, scarcity of food, susceptibility to illness and death, etc. In his interpretation of early zodiacs and cosmologies as cataclysm folklores, Paul A. LaViolette questions Hugh-Jones’ appraisal of the Barasana zodiac along such simplistic lines, querying, amidst other points, that if it was originally intended only to depict the polarization of the seasons over the passage of a year, why it would choose to portray constellations other than those which lie over the path of the sun, coinciding with the ecliptic. 5 For LaViolette, the Barasana zodiac, as with other zodiacs, represents a folk memory of global disasters occurring at the end of the last ice age, observed by ancient people to be caused by the structures in the sky. The steep ice age-breaking antiquity of Göbekli Tepe, the similarity of its vulture-stone with the old star path of the Barasana, therefore becomes significant in this light.