First Pictorial Representation of Gobekli Tepe Found
A tiny bone plaque in Sanliurfa museum holds the key to the orientation of the 11,500 year-old temple complex.
It was found during routine excavations at the 11,500-year-old site of Göbekli Tepe in southeast Turkey, but no one had recognised exactly what the carved lines on the small bone plaque showed. That was until Matthew Smith, a British telecommunications consultant living in Qatar, visited Sanliurfa’s new archaeology museum, just 8 miles (13 kilometres) away from Göbekli Tepe itself. He saw something that everyone else had missed, and this was that the little plaque – just 6 cm by 2.5 cm in size, and no more than 3-4 mm in thickness – bore on its upper surface two T-shaped features like the T-shaped pillars found in profusion at the site.
That the two T-shaped pillars shown on the plaque are side by side, their heads clearly visible (see fig. 1), implies they signify the twin pillars found at the centre of all the major enclosures investigated so far at Göbekli Tepe. Some, like those seen in Enclosures C and D, were originally 5 to 6 metres in height and weighed as much as 15 to 20 tonnes a piece (see fig. 2).
Fig. 1. The tiny bone plaque found at Göbekli Tepe and now on display at Sanliurfa’s new archaeological museum.
Fig. 2. The twin central pillars in Göbekli Tepe’s Enclosure D. Credit: Andrew Collins.
In addition to showing T-shaped pillars, the bone plaque has various lines that seem to represent the enclosure’s retaining walls. These converge in the centre of the design to give the impression of a stickman standing in front of the twin pillars (see fig. 3). Even more remarkable is that above the head of the plaque’s stick figure, and directly between the heads of the pillars, is a very distinct pecked hole. Left and right of this hole are short vertical lines that make the image resemble the rectangular holed standing stone positioned centrally behind the twin central pillars in Göbekli Tepe’s Enclosure D (see fig. 4), something pointed out to me by my colleague Hugh Newman moments after Matthew Smith’s own dramatic discovery in Sanliurfa Museum in September 2015.
Fig. 3. Stripped down view of the bone plaque’s main features (picture credit: Rodney Hale).
Fig 4. Göbekli Tepe’s Enclosure D showing its holed stone. Credit: Andrew Collins.
A similar holed stone is seen in exactly the same position next door in Enclosure C. Yet this example (officially designated Pillar 59) is on its side and fractured across its circular aperture.
In both cases (see figs. 5 & 6) the holed stones are located in the north-northwest section of the enclosure’s retaining wall. This suggests that these standing stones, with circular apertures around 25-30 centimetres, formed a key role in the religious beliefs and practices at Göbekli Tepe.
Figs. 5 & 6. Left, the holed stone in Enclosure D and, right, the broken example in Enclosure C. Credit: Andrew Collins.
Although the late Professor Klaus Schmidt, the head of excavations at Göbekli Tepe between 1995 and his untimely death in 2014, never commented on these holed stones in Enclosures C and D, he did pass comment on some strange stone rings found at the site (see fig. 7). These, he suspected, had been placed in the walls of now lost enclosures and acted as seelenloch, a word in his native German language meaning “soul hole” (Schmidt, 2012, 99).
Fig. 7. Stone ring found at Göbekli Tepe and now in Sanliurfa museum. Klaus Schmidt believes these rings acted as seelenloch, “soul holes.” Credit: Andrew Collins.
Seelenloch are found in connection with a large number of megalithic dolmens of Neolithic and later Bronze Age manufacture from Ireland in the West across to India in the East, with by far the greatest concentration existing in the North Caucasus region of southwest Russia. These take the form of circular apertures centrally bored through the structure’s entrance façade (see fig. 8). Generally, these openings, like the examples at Göbekli Tepe, are too small to enable a person to pass through easily.
Fig. 8. The Nexis mountain dolmen near the town Gelendzhik in the Northwest Caucasus region of Russia showing its holed entrance façade.
Shamanistic practices in various parts of the world incorporate the idea of a symbolic hole, either in a rock, in the ground, within a tree, or in the roof of a yurt or tent, which enables their soul to leave the physical world and enter otherworldly environments during altered states of consciousness. Very likely the soul holes in megalithic structures, like those seen at Göbekli Tepe, acted in a similar capacity.