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.
A Matter of Orientation
The appearance of the pecked soul hole between the twin pillars on the carved bone plaque found at Göbekli Tepe only intensifies the already heated debate over the direction of orientation of its main enclosures. The existence of the soul hole stones in Enclosures C and D, the fact that the carved relief on their twin central monoliths faces the entrant approaching from the south, along with the southerly placed entrances into the enclosures, all strongly indicate that these prehistoric cult structures were aligned towards the north (see fig. 9).
Fig. 9. Plan of Göbekli Tepe’s main enclosures showing their orientations (picture credit: Rodney Hale).
Some researchers of the ancient mysteries field have chosen to ignore these data and announce that the twin central pillars of key enclosures at Göbekli Tepe are directed south, their twin central monoliths aligned to target the rising of either the three belt stars of Orion (Schoch, 2014, 54-55) or the bright star Sirius (Magli, 2014). However, not only have these alignments been shown to be either dramatically flawed or, in the case of Orion, non-existent (Collins, 2014, 77-80; Collins and Hale, 2014), but there are far better reasons to assume northerly orientations of key enclosures at Göbekli Tepe.
Both the mean azimuths of the twin central pillars in Enclosures C and D, along with the positioning of the soul hole stones, target the setting of the bright star Deneb in the constellation of Cygnus on the north-northwest horizon during the epoch of their construction, ca. 9500-8900 BC (Collins, 2014, 80-82, and see fig. 10).
Fig. 10 The alignment through the holed stone in Göbekli Tepe’s Enclosure D towards the Cygnus star Deneb (picture credit: Rodney Hale).
The stars of Cygnus sit astride the Milky Way, exactly where it bifurcates or forks to create two separate streams known as the Dark Rift or Cygnus Rift (see fig. 11). This area of the sky has long been seen as an entrance to the sky-world, and seems even to be depicted within the ice age cave art at Lascaux in Southern France, created by Solutrean artists ca. 16,000 BC (Rappenglück, 1999).
Fig. 11. The Cygnus constellation as the celestial swan flying along the Milky Way by English astronomer John Flamsteed (1646-1719).
It thus makes sense why the Göbekli builders might have orientated key enclosures north towards this already ancient entrance to the Upper World, where access to the Milky Way – long seen as the river, road or path along which souls reached the afterlife – was located.
A northerly orientation towards the soul hole stones in the main enclosures at Göbekli Tepe is now supported by the discovery of the bone plaque displayed at Sanliurfa Museum. The manner in which its carved imagery clearly implies that the entrant’s eyes are drawn towards the soul hole, like those seen in Enclosures C and D, bears out this supposition, and supports the likelihood that the Milky Way, and in particular the Dark Rift and Cygnus stars, were of primary importance to the beliefs and practices of the Göbekli builders.
This conclusion is, however, challenged by journalist and ancient mysteries writer Graham Hancock in his new book Magicians of the Gods. He states that a northerly orientation of the main enclosures towards the stars of Cygnus would have been impossible as “Enclosure D is built into the side of the steep ridge of the Tepe that rises to the north of the main group of enclosures (Hancock, 2015, 331).” However, this is not so. The occupational mound, which is 15 metres in height, and 300 by 200 metres in extent, is entirely artificial, each layer being built up on the level bedrock in order that younger structures might be placed one on top of the other (see figs. 12 & 13).
Fig. 12. The compacted infill behind Göbekli Tepe’s Enclosure D. Credit: Andrew Collins.
Fig. 13. Overhead image of Göbekli Tepe showing the position of main enclosures (A, B, C & D) overlaid with contours showing the height and extent of the occupational mound (picture credit: Google Earth/Rodney Hale).
Obviously, whether or not other features, such as earlier structures and monuments, might have impeded the view between the enclosures seen today and the northern horizon remains to be determined. This data will only come from future excavations at the site. Right now the tiny bone plaque found at Göbekli Tepe is compelling evidence that those who came here during its heyday gazed beyond the enclosures’ twin central pillars towards the northerly placed holed stones in order to orientate their ritualistic activities.
In symbolic form at least, the creation of the bone plaque was to help its owner channel these same energies, even when away from the site itself. Yet somehow it remained at Göbekli Tepe. Whatever the reason for this, its existence dramatically increases our knowledge regarding the function and orientation of this incredible ancient site, and provides us with a valuable insight into the mindset of those who created its earliest enclosures some 11,500 years ago.
Featured image: Main: The twin pillars at Göbekli Tepe (g.frilli / flickr). Inset: The tiny bone plaque found at Göbekli Tepe and now on display at Sanliurfa’s new archaeological museum. Credit: Andrew Collins.
Collins, Andrew. Göbekli Tepe: Genesis of the Gods. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 2014.
Collins and Hale, “Göbekli Tepe and the Rising of Sirius,” 2013, https://www.academia.edu/5349935/GÖBEKLI_TEPE_AND_THE_RISING_OF_SIRIUS (accessed September 15, 2015).
Hancock, Graham. Magicians of the Gods: The forgotten wisdom of earth’s lost civilisation. London: Coronet, 2015.
Magli, Giulio. “Possible Astronomical References in the Project of the Megalithic
Enclosures of Göbekli Tepe,” Cornell University Library online, 2013,
http://arxiv.org/abs/1307.8397 (accessed September 15, 2015).
Rappenglück, Michael A. Eine Himmelskarte aus der Eiszeit? Frankfurt am Main, Germany: Peter Lang, 1999.
Schmidt, Klaus. Göbekli Tepe: A Stone Age Sanctuary in South-eastern Anatolia. Berlin, Germany: ex oriente e.V., 2012.
Schoch, Robert. Forgotten Civilization: The Role of Solar Outbursts in Our Past and Future. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 2012.
Thanks to Matthew Smith, Hugh Newman, Rodney Hale, and Catherine Hale for their help in the preparation of this article.
Andrew Collins is the author of Gobekli Tepe: Genesis of the Gods. His website is www.andrewcollins.com