Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Unveiling Ancient Anatolia: Discoveries from the Taş Tepeler Project

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Two conferences on the Taş Tepeler Project took place on 25 March 2024, first at the Yunus Emre Institute in Amsterdam and later at Leiden University. Professor Dr. Necmi Karul, the project coordinator and director of the Göbeklitepe-Karahantepe excavation, delivered a lecture titled “Taş Tepeler: The Land of Great Transformation” at the Yunus Emre Institute. The conference centered on the emergence of sedentary life and Anatolia’s significant role in human history during this era.

Approximately 12 thousand years ago, the conclusion of the Ice Age brought about substantial changes, especially in Southwest Asia, notably Anatolia. The archaeological excavations at Göbeklitepe in Şanlıurfa since 1995, alongside numerous other sites, have provided evidence of this transformative period. Launched by the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism in 2021, the Taş Tepeler Project focuses on this epoch, conducting research at 10 distinct sites.

Led by teams from various global universities including Japan, England, Germany, Italy, and Turkey, this project is among the most comprehensive archaeological endeavors in recent years. It offers unique insights into the origins of sedentary life, a pivotal transformation in human history. Initial findings underscore the significance of communal structures designed for specific purposes, alongside domestic dwellings, for prehistoric communities in the region. These sophisticated architectural marvels hold strong symbolic value, with pillars reaching heights of up to 6 meters, symbolizing human figures. Adorned with anthropomorphic reliefs and animal representations, these structures likely narrate mythological stories.

A noteworthy outcome of the Taş Tepeler Project is the revelation that despite settling down, the inhabitants of the region 12 millennia ago remained hunter-gatherers. Contrary to prior beliefs associating settled life with agriculture and animal husbandry, no evidence of domesticated animals or agriculture has been uncovered in these settlements. This paradigm shift is attributed to the abundance of resources available in Anatolia during that era.

The lecture at the Faculty of Archaeology, Leiden University, delved into communal buildings. Initially circular and sunken into the ground, these structures evolved into quadrangular forms with advancements in architectural techniques. While the precise function of these colossal structures, some spanning 30 meters in diameter, remains elusive, they are believed to have served as gathering places for communal rituals. The distinctive pillars, adorned with animal representations, are a hallmark of these communal buildings. Karahantepe boasts several such structures, including one with a human head carved from rock, surrounded by 11 phallus-shaped pillars, likely serving as a site for rites of passage.

An intriguing aspect of these communal buildings is their intentional burial after use, preserving the experiences within rather than the structures themselves. This practice, though its rationale remains unclear, is believed to have been motivated by a desire to encapsulate the lived history within these edifices. Notably, numerous human, animal, and composite sculptures, as well as intricately crafted stone vessels and plates, were deliberately deposited within the structures during the filling process.

Significant discoveries in 2023 include painted human and animal sculptures. The wild boar statue found at Göbeklitepe, adorned with red and black-and-white paint, stands as the oldest known painted animal sculpture. Similarly, a human statue discovered at Karahantepe, seated on a bench and standing at 2.45 meters tall, boasts intricate details including rib and phallus representations on its chest.

The continuing excitement that Göbeklitepe has generated for prehistoric archaeology is perhaps one of the most important benefits of this project for society. In this regard, the missions of the Republic of Turkey have made it a priority to share these developments with the public.

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