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A section of the Gre Filla Neolithic site in Turkey. The site’s temple mound is scheduled to be relocated before the area is flooded.        Source: Arkeofili

Gre Filla Neolithic Site in Turkey to be Relocated to Avoid Floodwaters

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Archaeologists in Turkey have spent the past four years excavating at a Neolithic mound in southeastern Turkey that will be flooded once the construction of a huge dam is completed. The waters of the reservoir have already begun to collect, but water levels have risen slowly, which has given the archaeologists enough time to perform extensive excavations in the endangered area.

This highly productive Neolithic site, which has been given the name Gre Filla, has produced a wealth of ancient artifacts left behind by people who lived in the region between 11,000 and 12,000 years ago. The builders of these ancient settlements also erected several stone monuments, arranged in an order that suggests they may have been included as part of a temple that was used for ritual or ceremonial purposes.

Gre Filla was only discovered because of the precautionary excavations that were launched in anticipation of the Ambar Dam project. It is normal in most nations for governments to send in archaeological teams before construction begins on any infrastructure project, to prevent the unwitting destruction of historical treasures.

In this case what was discovered has created great excitement in the Turkish archaeological community, so much so that steps are going to be taken to ensure the ruins of Gre Filla are not submerged and lost forever. Once the current round of excavations is finished, the plan is to uplift, extract, and transport the monumental ruins of the Gre Filla Neolithic site to another as-of-yet undetermined location, so they will remain accessible to researchers, tourists, the media and members of the general public.

An aerial view of the Neolithic site already known as Diyarbakır’s Göbeklitepe, which will be moved as the area will be flooded by a huge hydroelectric dam project. (Arkeofili)

An aerial view of the Neolithic site already known as Diyarbakır’s Göbeklitepe, which will be moved as the area will be flooded by a huge hydroelectric dam project . ( Arkeofili)

Getting a Neolithic Site Ready for the Big Move

The initial explorations at the Gre Filla Neolithic mound were focused on artifact discovery and removal. But the unearthing of the ancient temple created new complications, since heavy stone monuments can’t be removed from an archaeological site quickly or easily.

The government in Diyarbakir, the province where the Ambar Dam is being constructed, has been under pressure to take action to prevent the destruction of irreplaceable historical treasures—and it appears they are now ready to do so, with the rising waters of the dam’s reservoir fast approaching the endangered Gre Filla site.

Speaking on behalf of the government, Diyarbakir Culture and Tourism Provincial Director Cemil Alp explained to the newspaper Mücadele Gazete that the monuments of Gre Filla will be moved very soon and kept entirely intact. 

“You know that this is a rescue excavation,” Alp stated. “A temple was uncovered during the excavations. The temple is the same age as Göbeklitepe and is a very valuable work… we suggested that the works be carried in the same way [removed and relocated just like the site’s artifacts].”

When this idea was proposed to the Diyarbakir Ministry of Culture and Tourism, they responded positively to the suggestion and are now ready to implement the plan. The current challenge is to find a suitable location where the temple remains can be transported and installed, presumably somewhere within Diyarbakir’s borders.

“It is important to protect them rather than [let them] disappear,” Alp declared, referring to the stone ruins . “Therefore, the entire temple will be moved. You won't believe it, but the temple you see will be moved."

To address the doubts of any skeptics, Alp pointed out that large monuments found at archaeological sites in Turkey have been relocated before.

“Let's not forget, Zeynel Bey's Tomb, [a] mosque, [a] minaret and other historical buildings were moved in Hasankeyf,” he pointed out.

What Alp is referring to here is an ancient Turkish village known as Hasankeyf, which was submerged by a reservoir created on the Tigris River by the construction of the Ilisu Dam and hydroelectric power installation in 2020.

Before the dam was built and the area flooded, a handful of large and historically significant structures, also dating to Neolithic times, were removed from Hasankeyf and taken to different places. This delighted archaeologists and preservationists but didn’t provide much consolation to the village residents who were forced to abandon their homes for good.

This part of the Gre Filla site will also be moved to a safer location, and you can imagine the work involved! (Arkeonews)

This part of the Gre Filla site will also be moved to a safer location, and you can imagine the work involved! ( Arkeonews)

The Gre Filla Neolithic Site or Diyarbakır’s Göbeklitepe

Gre Filla is an earthen mound located in Ambar Village in the town of Kocaköy, Diyarbakir. Based on its impressive size and precise design features, Gre Filla and its carefully aligned rock structures have been dubbed “Diyarbakır’s Göbeklitepe,” making an explicit comparison with Turkey’s most famous and most visited ancient monumental site.

Archaeologists have been furiously digging inside and beneath the mound for the last four years, frantically trying to unearth as much of it as they can before time runs out. The Gre Filla excavations have been sponsored by the Diyarbakir Museum Directorate, under the supervision of archaeology professor Ayşe Tuba Ökse from Kocaeli University.

So far, Ökse and her team have uncovered and catalogued 2,687 artifacts, all of which can be traced to Pre-Pottery Neolithic Period settlements .

"Grinding stone, whetstone, stone ax, cutting and piercing tools, earth and stone figures, glass artifacts were found in abundance. 1,023 of these artifacts were delivered to the museum for exhibition while 1,664 will be used for publications and thesis studies," Ökse told the Anadolu Agency news service.

Excavations on the north side of the mound have produced evidence of a settlement that dates back to the year 10,000 BC, which is the oldest community found up to this point.

Given the urgent nature of these excavations, a large contingent of academics and scientists have been involved with this archaeological rescue project. Archaeologists, anthropologists, art historians and artifact preservation experts have all participated, with the goal of removing as many artifacts as possible and delivering them to the Diyarbakir Museum before the Gre Filla site becomes inaccessible. Even if the efforts to move the ruins along with the artifacts from Gre Filla prove successful, the dig team members know they must maintain the rapid pace of the ongoing excavations to ensure that still-hidden artifacts and ruins are not left behind once the dam project commences.

While there is much analysis yet to be done, the artifacts and the stone structures the archaeologists have discovered up to this point have revealed many fascinating details about the culture and spiritual practices of the area’s Neolithic residents .

"We can say that a certain amount of ritual behavior has been exhibited here,” Professor Ökse said. “We can define it as common usage areas where a belief and social life coexist. We don't want to call them temples directly, since we don't have enough data. These are also referred to as special structures, just like in Göbeklitepe."

Thankfully, the Turkish archaeological community will have plenty of time and opportunity to continue studying the profoundly interesting settlement remains found at Gre Filla. As long as the removal of the stone monuments is handled carefully, nothing important should be lost following their relocation to another area. Diyarbakır’s Göbeklitepe will live on, in a spot that is safe and protected from the rising tides of “progress.”

Top image: A section of the Gre Filla Neolithic site in Turkey. The site’s temple mound is scheduled to be relocated before the area is flooded.         Source: Arkeofili

By Nathan Falde

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