Scrutiny of Göbekli Tepe’s Construction Reveals Celestial Secrets
Recently, it was announced that two Israeli archaeologists have detected what they consider to be an underlying geometry included in Göbekli Tepe’s construction. Gil Haklay and Avi Gopher, from Tel Aviv University, determined that the centers of three enclosures—B, C and D—are linked by the corners of an equilateral triangle. They also noted that the triangle’s baseline locks in the positions of the twin pillars standing immediately north of center of two of these enclosures—B and C.
These discoveries, along with others outlined in a new paper published in the Cambridge University Journal, provide a new vision of the construction of Göbekli Tepe —one suggesting that its builders possessed a marked knowledge of spatial awareness, and as such pre-planned these monuments to form part of a grand scheme.
General view of the enclosures in Göbekli Tepe’s southeastern depression. (Credit: Andrew Collins)
The Construction of Göbekli Tepe
Göbekli Tepe lies at the heart of Şanlıurfa province, close to the ancient city of Urfa (modern Şanlıurfa) in Turkey. It is comprised of a series of stone enclosures built across a period of approximately 1500 years, from around 9600 BC onwards. The earliest structures consist of circular arrangements of carved and decorated T-shaped pillars located in so-called “ringwalls”.
The thin front edges of standing pillars are directed towards two much larger central monoliths placed side by side to present the image of a standing gateway. The oldest enclosures were built on level bedrock and commanded a clear view of the surrounding landscape. As new monuments were constructed at Göbekli Tepe, this view became more and more obstructed, leading to the covering of old, presumably decommissioned enclosures, and the building of new ones on top of old ones to create a virtual layer cake of human activity.
The final occupants of the site left behind an occupational mound some 300 by 200 meters (984.25 by 656.17 ft.) in size, with a height of approximately 15 meters (49.21 ft.). All this is artificial, being built entirely from rubble, earth, and human refuse.
The entirely artificial mound of Göbekli Tepe as seen from the northwest. (Credit: Andrew Collins)
How Old is Göbekli Tepe?
To date, four bedrock structures have been uncovered during excavations in the southeastern section of the mound—Enclosures A, B, C, and D. Another bedrock enclosure, designated H, is located in an area known as the northwestern depression. All these structures were constructed during the cultural horizon known as the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A, circa 9600-8800 BC, a conclusion supported by radiocarbon dates from organic materials taken from the site.
These show that Enclosure D is the oldest structure, being built sometime between 9745-9314 BC, with the rest being constructed sometime between 9200 and 8900 BC . Whether even older structures exist is debatable, although to date none have been found. Radar surveys conducted at the site suggest that right now no more than 10 percent of the monuments contained within the occupational mound have been uncovered, leaving much scope for future exploration into Göbekli Tepe’s construction.
Göbekli Tepe: Built with a Purposeful Design
A cohesive and pre-planned design behind the construction of Göbekli Tepe and other similar Pre-Pottery Neolithic sites in southeastern Anatolia has often been proposed. For instance, it was noted long ago that although 11 T-pillars are to be seen in Enclosure D’s ringwall, there is easily room for a twelfth one. If so, then the choice of 12 standing pillars in a ring seems unlikely to be without meaning.
This seems likely, as 12 T-pillars had once stood within the four walls of a rectilinear cult building at Nevalı Çori in the northern part of Şanlıurfa province. Although belonging to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B period, and built circa 8400 BC, its construction appears to be a continuation of the style of architecture employed at the much older site of Göbekli Tepe. The positioning of 12 stones around two central pillars could suggest a connection with the 12-fold division of the ecliptic or the 12 months in a lunar year .
Spatial awareness in the form of purposeful geometry has been recognized at Göbekli Tepe prior to the recent findings of Haklay and Gopher. British engineer Rodney Hale noted a rigid elliptical pattern with a 3:4 ratio in the construction of Enclosures C, D and H ( see Collins, 2019 ).
Ellipses with a 3:4 ratio overlaid on Göbekli Tepe enclosures C, D and H. (Credit: Rodney Hale)
This 3:4 ratio is seen also in the design of a much younger rectilinear structure known as the Lion’s Pillar Building. This is aligned east-west with twin pillars standing at its eastern end that show reliefs of large felines. The cult building at Nevalı Çori was constructed using a rigid rectilinear plan and oriented southwest-northeast within 0.1 of a degree in accuracy, all points discussed by the present author as far back as 1998.
The ground plan of Nevalı Çori showing its rectilinear design and northwest-southeast orientation from the present author’s book Gods of Eden, published in 1998. (Credit Harald Hauptmann/Rodney Hale)
We then come to the more controversial idea that various enclosures at Göbekli Tepe reflect alignments towards rising or setting stars. Robert Schoch of Boston University has proposed that the enclosures in the southeastern depression target the rising of the constellation of Orion, while archaeoastronomer Giulio Magli of the Politecnico di Milano, Italy, argues that the same enclosures target the rising of Sirius. In contrast, the current author proposes that Enclosures B, C, D and H are aligned northwestwards towards the setting of the star Deneb in the constellation of Cygnus - a clear view of the local horizon being possible at the time of their construction.
These ideas form just a taste of what is on offer at Göbekli Tepe right now. Further confirmation of the existence of a grand design in Göbekli Tepe’s construction would ably demonstrate the sophistication of its builders at the start of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic age. More than this, it would go some way to show that the site’s engineers saw the importance of geometry in the design and placement of communal or cult structures, a concept that can only have developed across an extremely long period of time, arguably many thousands of years.
Göbekli Tepe’s Enclosure D’s with the setting of the star Deneb during its epoch of construction. (Credit: Andrew Collins/Starry Night Pro)
Reconstructing the Findings
In an attempt to explore the findings of Haklay and Gopher in their new study, the current author asked British engineer Rodney Hale to recreate their equilateral triangle to see whether this might offer even greater insights into the mindset of Göbekli Tepe’s builders. For this he began with a suitable plan of the enclosures in Göbekli Tepe’s southeastern depression. This was created from a survey plan of the site as well as GPS positioning of individual features.
On this plan, Hale overlaid the 3:4 ratio ellipses earlier determined in connection with Enclosures C and D. He also added a previously unrecognized 3:4 ratio ellipse for Enclosure B. All three of these ellipses can be seen to synchronize very well both with the center points of Enclosures C and D as defined by Haklay and Gopher, and also with all three corners of the equilateral triangle.
In bisecting the triangle, Haklay and Gopher were able to determine its axial orientation. Since the triangle’s baseline is towards the south-southeast and the apex towards the north-northwest, it seems natural to conclude that the triangle’s true orientation is towards the latter, that is, the north-northwest.
The three enclosures locked into the triangle are thus aligned north-northwest, a surmise confirmed in the knowledge that Enclosures B and C are thought to have once had southerly placed entrances marked by decorated U-shaped stones, while the twin monoliths at the centers of all three enclosures display carved relief of abstract human forms that face south towards visitors approaching from this direction.
In addition to this, two of the enclosures (C & D) have porthole stones—small pillars with circular apertures located in the north-northwestern sections of their ringwalls. A further porthole stone exists in a similar position in Enclosure H. From their placement it seems likely these porthole stones were originally meant to align with the enclosures’ axes, defined by determining the mean average of the angles of their twin central monoliths. Such stones with head-sized holes perhaps acted as points of focus, their carved apertures functioned as seelenloch, “soul holes,” like those seen in the facades of megalithic dolmens across Eurasia.
Göbekli Tepe’s equilateral triangle as proposed by Israeli archaeologists Gil Haklay and Avi Gopher as replicated by Rodney Hale. Ellipses with a 3:4 ratio are overlaid on the enclosures in question. (Credit: Rodney Hale)
Since Haklay and Gopher’s equilateral triangle provides further confirmation of the north-northwesterly orientations of three out of the four of the enclosures in Göbekli Tepe’s southeast depression this adds credence to the hypothesis that these same enclosures were originally oriented towards a celestial target. During their time of construction only one stellar candidate existed that could fulfil this role and this was Deneb in the constellation of Cygnus, also known as the Northern Cross. Only this star set each night in line with the axial orientations of all three of the enclosures during the timeframe of their construction.
A Cosmic Death Journey…
Deneb is located on the Milky Way where it forks to become two separate streams. Known as the Dark Rift or Cygnus Rift, this noticeable bifurcation is caused by stellar dust and debris in line with the galactic plane. In ancient cosmologies the Dark Rift was seen as the entrance to a sky world or afterlife. Among many Native American tribes, for instance, the soul entered the Milky Way via an ogee or portal in the vicinity of either the Orion constellation or the Pleiades.
It was then said to make a perilous journey along the Milky Way until it reached the aforementioned bifurcation. The two separate streams created by this bifurcation—one of which ends in the vicinity of the constellations of Sagittarius and Scorpius, the other linking up with the Milky Way’s southern extension—were often seen as a constantly shifting log bridge offering two potential outcomes, one good and the other bad. At this juncture it was believed that judgment would be passed on the soul by a supernatural being signified by the stars of the Cygnus constellation, Deneb in particular. Often this sky figure was described as a birdman or an old woman.
North American mounds expert Greg L. Little has determined that this same cosmic death journey is reflected in horizonal alignments featuring both Cygnus and Orion present at a large number of mound complexes from the Adena, Hopewell, and Mississippian periods. The existence of this cosmic death journey is likely to be extremely ancient and also universal. Graham Hancock, in his recent book America Before (2019), proposed it is at least 12,000 years old, and thus existed during the age of Göbekli Tepe.
Göbekli Tepe’s Pillar 43 on the left with the corresponding night sky for 9600 BC on the right. (Credit: Rodney Hale)
In Göbekli Tepe’s Enclosure D there is a standing pillar that could well have been an instructional device highlighting this same cosmic death journey. Known as Pillar 43 or the Vulture Stone, it displays a series of reliefs including a scorpion and large vulture. The former is thought to represent the constellation of Scorpius, while the latter has been identified as the constellation of Cygnus.
In Armenian star lore the stars of Cygnus are identified as the constellation Angegh, the vulture. Since the ancient kingdom of Armenia included the Şanlıurfa region where Göbekli Tepe is located, this identification is significant. In the Near East throughout the Neolithic age the vulture was considered a primary symbol of the soul’s death journey, the soul being represented in abstract form either as a ball or as a human skull.
Just such a ball is seen above the left wing of the vulture. Very likely this represents a human soul under the guardianship of the vulture in its role as psychopomp, or “soul accompanier”. However, a study of the Vulture Stone by engineer and archaeoastronomer Rodney Hale additionally demonstrated that the ball on the vulture’s wing almost certainly represents the northern celestial pole around which the stars and constellations are seen to revolve.
The Meaning of the Triangle in Göbekli Tepe’s Design
Knowledge that astronomical considerations might well have determined the north-northwesterly orientation of three of the enclosures in Göbekli Tepe’s southeastern depression adds credence to the importance of Haklay and Gopher’s equilateral triangle. However, the question that remains from their findings is why the builders might have wanted to use it to determine the positions of these three enclosures. Moreover, when exactly might this triangular configuration have been created?
Would it have been before any of the enclosures were built, or was it after the construction of Enclosure D, which is the oldest of the three? Having recreated the bisecting line through the proposed equilateral triangle, Hale determined that its axial orientation was approximately 344.5 degrees, that is, 15.5 degrees west of north. This is close to the axial orientations of all three of the enclosures that the triangle embraces, even though all three have slightly different orientations.
The reason why these enclosures do not all have the same axial alignment could well be because they each target the setting of Deneb on different dates. During the epoch of their construction the earth’s axial wobble, known as precession, caused the star to set ever farther west, suggesting that the closer the axial orientation of an enclosure is towards north, the earlier the monument was constructed.
So, based on the mean average of the existing positions of the enclosures’ twin central pillars their individual orientation provides the following dates as defined by the corresponding setting positions of Deneb (based on an extinction height of the star at 2 degrees and using the Carte du Ciel software program):
Enclosure D @ 350.5° = 9560 BC
Enclosure C @ 340.5° = 8860 BC
Enclosure B @ 342.2° = 9005 BC
If the Göbekli Tepe enclosures really were aligned towards the setting of Deneb at the time of their construction, was the orientation of Haklay and Gopher’s triangle also determined in a similar manner? With the triangle’s axis calculated to be 344.5 degrees this would mean that it aligned with the setting of Deneb around 9165 BC. This is almost 400 years after the suspected construction of Enclosure D, and some time before the suspected dates of construction of both Enclosures B and C.
All these dates have to be taken as provisional only, since we have no idea what type of accuracy they reflect either in the position of stars or the construction of the Göbekli Tepe monuments in question. This said, if the equilateral triangle was not part of an original grand scheme, perhaps it was employed sometime following the building of Enclosure D to determine the intended positions of Enclosures B and C; these being built thereafter in accordance with the triangle’s baseline.
The twin central pillars at the center of Göbekli Tepe’s Enclosure D. (Credit: Andrew Collins)
Whatever the answer, this suggests that knowledge of triangulation, perhaps used in association with the rising and setting of stars, was employed at Göbekli Tepe to determine the axial orientation and spatial relationship of individual enclosures. Much later, both here and at other Pre-Pottery Neolithic sites in the region, the axes of cult buildings shifted dramatically to reflect azimuths important to the movement of the sun.
The older stellar traditions were, it seems, on the way out, although why this might have occurred is a matter beyond the scope of the present article. There is, however, now every reason to believe that this sophisticated style in architectural engineering begins at places like Göbekli Tepe in Anatolia and is much later adopted in the design of stone and earthen monuments in many parts of the world, a theory proposed originally in the mid twentieth century by Scottish engineer Alexander Thom (1894–1985). It is to his memory that this article is dedicated.
In September 2020, Ancient Origins Tours is partnering with award-winning tour operator Travel the Unknown to provide its readers with comprehensive escorted tours. We will explore the mysteries of Göbekli Tepe and Turkey, visiting classic destinations as well as more obscure locations where the magic of the past remains as strong today as it did thousands of years ago. Your hosts are Jim Willis, author of ‘ Lost Civilizations: The Secret Histories and Suppressed Technologies of the Ancients ,’ and Micki Pistorius, Ancient Origins Premium Editor.
Top Image: Göbekli Tepe’s construction secrets may be tied to the stars. (Deriv.) Source: Brian Weed /Adobe Stock
Andrew Collins is a history and science writer. His most recent book is Denisovan Origins, co-authored with Gregory L. Little (Bear & Co, 2019).