Since the first scholarly recognition of its significance in 1994, by German Archaeologist Klaus Schmidt, a vast and mysterious ruin in southeastern Turkey has caused an archaeological sensation—if not a lot of academic heartburn. Dating to long before its final burial in 8,000 BC, the sophisticated carved structures of Göbekli Tepe are more than four thousand years older than the commonly accepted age of Stonehenge or the Great Pyramid. In other words, it completely destroys the conventional view of prehistory, namely that humans of that period were but primitive hunter-gatherers and nothing more. For over 20 years, British writer Andrew Collins has been at the forefront of research on the site. His 2014 book, Göbekli Tepe: Genesis of the Gods, provides one of the most complete studies yet on the subject. (You can read more on Collins’ work in the AR #100 cover story “Göbekli Tepe: The Cosmic Connection”.) Now, a remarkable new discovery is providing further evidence of the great—and entirely puzzling—sophistication of Göbekli Tepe’s builders. In the following article Collins considers the implications of a small, but amazing, piece of ancient 3-D-perspective art. —ED
CAPTIONS: The ruins at Göbekli Tepe. Bone artifact found by Matthew Smith depicts a pair of Göbekli Tepe T-shaped pillars (not necessarily the ones shown in the large image).
A tiny bone plaque in Sanliurfa museum could hold the key to the orientation of the 11,500-year-old temple complex. It was found during routine excavations at Göbekli Tepe, but no one had recognized exactly what the carved lines on the small bone plaque depicted, until Matthew Smith, a British telecommunications consultant living in Qatar, visited the museum containing a large collection of objects found at the proto-Neolithic site located just eight miles (13 kilometers) away toward the northeast. Smith seems to have recognized something everyone else had missed. The little plaque—just six centimeters long, two-and-a-half wide, and three-quarter millimeter thick—bore on its upper surface two T-shaped features positioned side by side. The context of the discovery at Göbekli Tepe, makes it clear these etchings are pictorial representations of the T-shaped pillars, which are found in all the key enclosures uncovered so far at the site.
So minute, so contained, are the carved images on the plaque that few would have had eyes sharp enough to correctly identity what it depicted. Certainly, the exact nature of its highly significant art was missed by this present writer, who was beside Smith when the breakthrough was made in our understanding of the unique mindset of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic culture of Göbekli Tepe. Indeed, everyone has probably overlooked the plaque’s highly significant etching, since nothing about it has appeared in print so far.
Twin Central Pillars
What are we to make of this tiny bone plaque on display in a glass cabinet since the new museum’s grand opening in May 2015? What does it actually represent? The fact that two, side-by-side T-shaped pillars—their heads clearly visible—are shown, would seem to imply that they represent pillars like those found at the center of all the major enclosures investigated so far at Göbekli Tepe. Some of these twin monoliths, like those in enclosures C and D, were originally five to six meters in height and weighed as much as 15 to 20 tons each.
Although an entrant approaching from the south (the direction of entry into the main enclosures investigated so far), would see the twin pillars edge-on, it seems plausible that the imagery on the bone represented the pillars face-on, in order to allow an observer to understand exactly what he or she is seeing.
Exactly which enclosure is represented on the plaque may never be known. Although seven major enclosures have been excavated so far at Göbekli Tepe, radar and geophysical surveys indicate that as many as 20 more of a similar size and complexity await discovery beneath the site’s 300-by-200-meter occupational mound, constructed over a period of some 1,500 years before the site’s final abandonment around 8,000 BC. Confusing the matter still further is that the plaque may not have been found at its place of manufacture. Earth, rubble, stone chippings, and human debris were constantly moved around during Göbekli Tepe’s heyday in order to serve as infill for enclosures no longer in use. In other words, it could have come from anywhere on the site before its final burial.
Why then was the bone plaque created? Even though it bears no holes that might indicate its use as a pendant, the chances are it was intended as an amulet or talisman. Capturing the likeness of the twin central monoliths in one of the enclosures at Göbekli Tepe might perhaps have been thought to imbue the plaque with some kind of mystical energy or link with the place. Moslems on the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca can buy pendants showing the Kaaba, the square-shaped building at the heart of the religious sanctuary, which are thought to bathe the beholder in “good luck.” Arguably the bone plaque was made with a similar purpose in mind.
Yet the plaque’s importance as the first recorded pictorial representation of T-shaped pillars at Göbekli Tepe is just the beginning of the story. A more detailed examination of its imagery shows several other truly remarkable features. For instance, it might well be one of the earliest known examples of a three-dimensional perspective. This can be seen about halfway down the right-hand edge of the left pillar. Here a line rises at an angle towards the center of the image. This rising line appears to show a retaining wall linking the pillar with an inner area of the enclosure. At Göbekli Tepe the pillars making up the stone circles that surround the twin central monoliths are set within retaining walls, their blocks held together by a light mortar.
Centrally placed below the plaque’s twin pillars is what looks like a pedestal from which rise two lines that converge at the center of the design. Visually, these convey the impression of a walkway leading into the enclosure, the lines converging through the process of parallax.
Just as intriguing as this use of 3D perspective is the fact that the convergence of the various lines at the center gives the added impression of a long-legged stickman, standing either between or in front of the twin pillars. This does not appear to be coincidence, implying a multi-layered interpretation of the imagery, something already noted in the prehistoric art of Göbekli Tepe’s Pre-Pottery Neolithic culture.
At another Neolithic site named Nevalı Çori at the extreme northern end of Sanliurfa province, a large stone head was found with its face sliced off. It has a completely shaven head, save for a long tuft or lock of hair, similar to the sikha sported by Hindu priests. Yet, in addition to acting as a stylized ponytail, the curled tuft doubles as a rising snake with a crescent-shaped head bearing an uncanny resemblance to the head and stalk of a Psilocybin-like mushroom.
Even more remarkable is that above the head of the plaque’s stick figure, and directly between the T-shaped 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. This was pointed out by my colleague Hugh Newman moments after Matthew Smith’s dramatic discovery in Sanliurfa Museum in September 2015.
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 the holed stones are found in the north-northwest section of the enclosure’s retaining wall in a position reflecting the exact alignment of its twin central monoliths. This suggests that these standing stones, with circular apertures, around 25-30 centimeters in diameter, were bored centrally through their widest faces in order that someone standing within the structure could gaze through their openings. This had formed a key role in the religious beliefs and practices of the Göbekli builders. Indeed, their positioning would indicate they acted as the structure’s altar or holy of holies, forming a bridge or point of connection between the liminal space created by the enclosure’s interiors and the otherworldly realms and supernatural forces thought to exist beyond the physical world.
Although the late Professor Klaus Schmidt, the head of excavations at Göbekli Tepe between 1994 and his untimely death in 2014, never commented on these holed stones, found in two of the most accomplished enclosures so far uncovered at Göbekli Tepe, he did pass comment on the fragments of strange stone rings found at the site (one of which is now on display at Sanliurfa Museum). 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 holes” (Schmidt, 2012, 99).
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. Generally, these openings, which like the examples at Göbekli Tepe, are usually between 25 and 40 centimeters in diameter, are too small to enable a person to pass through easily.
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, that enables the soul to leave its physical environment and enter the Upper or Lower Worlds while in 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
That a pecked soul hole should appear between the twin pillars on the carved bone plaque found at Göbekli Tepe is a revelation, as it intensifies the already heated debate over the direction of orientation of its main enclosures. The existence of the soul-hole stones, the fact that the carved relief on the twin central monoliths faces the entrant approaching from the south, along with the southerly placed entrances into the main enclosures, all strongly indicate that these prehistoric cult structures were aligned towards the north.
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. 11).
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. For many thousands of years this area of the sky has been seen as an entrance to the sky-world, and it even seems to be depicted within the Ice Age cave art at Lascaux in Southern France, created by Solutrean artists, ca. 16,000 BC (Rappenglück, 1999).
It thus makes sense that 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, who has come out in favor of the idea that the enclosures at Göbekli Tepe are orientated towards the stars of the southern night sky. Hancock argues 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 the case. The occupational mound, which is 15 meters in height, 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.
The idea that some kind of “core mound,” of solid rock might exist to the north of the main enclosures was a theory originally proposed by Professor Klaus Schmidt (personal communication with the present author in September 2013). However, to date, no physical evidence for a “core mound” at the site has come to light. Indeed, the geo-radar survey conducted in 2004 failed to accurately map even the deepest enclosures, a fact admitted by Schmidt to Hancock in 2013, with the words, “Our geophysical mapping did not give us complete results and we cannot really see inside [the occupational mound],” Hancock, 2015, 11). What is more, the orientation of the rocky spur jutting out towards the south immediately southeast of Göbekli Tepe indicates that the bedrock actually slopes very slightly downwards towards the north. This suggests there would have been a clear view from the site of the occupational mound across to the northern horizon.
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. Yet right now the tiny bone plaque found at Göbekli Tepe is compelling evidence that those who entered Enclosures C and D during their heyday gazed beyond their twin central pillars towards the northerly placed holed stones in order to orientate their ritualistic activities. Here, in this direction, was to be found the entrance to the astral realms accessed during altered states of consciousness, as well as the supernatural forces perceived as pouring through the soul holes into the physical world.
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 for some reason, it remained at Göbekli Tepe, either deposited here by its artist or left here by a priest or some later visitor to the site. Whatever the reason, its existence dramatically increases our knowledge regarding the function and orientation of this incredible ancient site, and it provides us with a valuable insight into the mindset of those who created its earliest enclosures some 11,500 years ago.
Andrew Collins is one of the foremost experts on Göbekli Tepe, having visited the site may times since 2004. He has been investigating its mysterious culture for over 20 years, and is the author of various books relating to the subject, including From the Ashes of Angels (1996), The Cygnus Mystery (2006) and Göbekli Tepe: Genesis of the Gods (2014). His website is http://www.AndrewCollins.com.