The Role of Cult and Feasting in the Emergence of Neolithic Communities. New Evidence from Gobekli Tepe, South-Eastern Turkey

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Few fields of research have undergone such dramatic changes over a relatively short time span as the advent of the Neolithic in the Near East. Since the seminal work of Kenyon at Jericho, the roots of food-producing were sought in the southern Levant (Kenyon 1981). With the influential research of the Braidwoods at Jarmo, the focus shifted to the north-east of the Fertile Crescent, or, as Braidwood put it, to its 'hilly flanks' (Braidwood & Braidwood 1953; Braidwood 1974, 1981). In recent years it has become clear that the region between the middle and upper reaches of the Euphrates and Tigris and the foothills of the Taurus Mountains, Upper Mesopotamia, has the potential to be the cradle of the new way of life. Aurenche and Kozlowski (2001) termed this region, where wild forms of several early domesticated plant species concentrate, the 'Golden Triangle' and Lev-Yadun et al. (2000) refer to it as the 'cradle of agriculture' (Figure 1). The distribution areas of the wild forms of einkorn and emmer wheat, barley and the other Neolithic founder crops overlap here, and the transition of the two species of wheat to domesticated crops has been pinpointed to this area (Harlan & Zohary 1966; Nesbitt & Samuel 1996; Heun et al. 1997, 2008; Lev-Yadun et al. 2000; Ozkan et al. 2002, 2011; Luo et al. 2007).

At the same time, this region has yielded evidence for a degree of social complexity that was hitherto quite unsuspected. Nearly every site excavated at the appropriate scale shows a spatial division of residential and specialised workshop areas, and special buildings or open courtyards for communal and ritual purposes, as well as evidence for extensive feasting (Hauptmann 1993; Cauvin 1994; Ozdogan & Ozdogan 1998: 583-88; Stordeur 2000; Watkins 2004; Schmidt 2006). Cayonu (Schirmer 1990: 378-85), Nevah Cori (Hauptmann 1993, 1999: 70-78), Hallan Cemi (Rosenberg & Redding 2000), Nemrik (Kozlowski 2002: 41-47) and Qermez Dere (Watkins et al. 1995: 3-9; Watkins 2004: 7), as well as Mureybet, Jerf el Ahmar (Stordeur et al. 2001), Tell 'Abr 3 (Yartah 2004) and Tell Qaramel (Mazurowski 2003, 2004), are well-known examples. They date to the PPNA/early PPNB, the second half of the tenth and ninth millennia cal BC.

Gobekli Tepe: a PPN cultic centre

The tell of Gobekli Tepe on the Germus range has an outstanding role, not as a settlement, but as a hill sanctuary (Schmidt 2001, 2006, 2010). Gobeldi Tepe is characterised by an early layer (III) dating to the PPNA (for [sup.14]C data compare Dietrich & Schmidt 2010; Dietrich 2011), which produced monumental architecture with huge, T-shaped pillars arranged in circle-like enclosures around two even taller central pillars (Figure 2). The pillars are interconnected by walls and stone benches and are decorated with varied animal motifs, including foxes, snakes, scorpions, boars, aurochs, gazelle, wild ass and birds, as well as, in some cases, arms and hands, showing that they are sculptures representing stylised human-like individuals. A later phase (layer II, early and middle PPNB) consists of smaller, rectangular buildings containing often only two small central pillars or none at all. A geophysical survey showed that the older, round megalithic enclosures were not restricted to a specific part of the mound but existed all over the site, and it seems very probable that at least 20 enclosures existed in total (Figure 3). The mound is the result of the rapid and intentional backfilling of these circles after some time of use.

The excavated enclosures A-H have been named in their order of discovery. Two of them (C and D) were excavated to floor level in the recent campaigns and can serve to give an impression of the architecture discovered at Gobekli. The central pillars of Enclosure C (Figure 4) were destroyed in ancient times, the smashed pieces being found in the lower part of a large pit dug to carry out the destruction work. …