The Neolithic Revolution

11 000 - 5000 BC

First Temple Cities and the

Advent of Agriculture

Since the 1960 extensive research - in parts driven by the constrution of two new reservoirs on the Euphrates - have unearthed numerous sites less spectacular than the well-known Mesopotamian sites. They have revolutionized our understanding of the transition from hunting-gatherer societies to those dependent on agriculture and husbandry. The intersting aspect is that in several places large cities with 3-level buildings (e.g., Catalhüyük, Cayönü) predate the agrcultural transition. It must also be remembered that that these settlements predate Mesopotamia proper, Egypt and the Indus sites by more than 2000 years. Whether the flow of artifacts and culture to Proto-Europe, Malta, and Mesopotamia started from here, is an open question.

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Göbekli Tepe the First Temple City
South-Eastern Anatolia
Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (
9120-8760 BC

The mysterious temples at Göbekli, photo
Vincent J. Musi/National Geographic

Göbekli Tepe: Klaus Schmidt from the German Archeological Institute (DAI) in Istanbul knew instantly that this was a very early Neolithic site (PPNA, Pre-Pottery Neolithic A). Between 1995 and 2000 excavations under Schmidt's direction have unearthed 20 round structures, the world's oldest known stone temples (dated to before 9000 BC), and because it contradicts the long-held belief that the introduction of agriculture preceded the construction of large buildings, it is a key location for understanding the origins of agriculture. The stone tools found in Göbekli Tepe show that it was created by hunter-gatherers!

T-shaped pillar decorated with a snake and lizzard, photo Steinhilber/Smithonian

Göbekli Tepe is the oldest known man-made religious structure. So far the archeologists have not found buildings, in which peole lived. Apparently it was a sacred tempel city. The site, located on a hilltop, contains 20 round structures which had been buried, four of which have been excavated. Each round structure has a diameter of between 10 and 30 meters (30 and 100 ft) and all are decorated with massive, mostly T-shaped, limestone pillars that are the most striking feature of the site. The limestone slabs were quarried from bedrock pits located around 100 meters (330 ft) from the hilltop, with neolithic workers using flint points to carve the bedrock. The majority of flint tools found at the site are Byblos and emrik points. That neolithic people with such primitive flint tools quarried, carved, transported uphill, and erected these massive pillars has astonished the archaeological world - and must have required a staggering amount of manpower and labor.

Two pillars facing southeast are at the center of each circle, possibly intended to help support a roof, and up to eight pillars are evenly positioned around the walls of the room. The spaces between the pillars are lined with unworked stone and there are stone benches between each set of pillars around the edges of the wall.

A fierce lion, photo Steinhilber/Smithonian

Many of the pillars are decorated with carved reliefs of animals and of abstract enigmatic pictograms. The pictograms may represent commonly understood sacred symbols, as known from Neolithic cave paintings elsewhere. The reliefs depict lions, bulls, boars, foxes, gazelles, donkeys, snakes and other reptiles, insects, arachnids, and birds, particularly vultures. At the time the shrine was constructed, the surrounding country was much lusher and capable of sustaining this variety of wildlife, before millennia of settlement and cultivation resulted in the near–Dust Bowl conditions prevailing today.

Vultures and a Boar

Vultures and a Scorpion, photo Steinhilber/Smithonian

Vultures also feature prominently in the iconography of Göbekli. It is believed that in the earliest Neolithic culture of Anatolia and the Near East the deceased were deliberately exposed in order to be excarnated by vultures and other carrion birds. (The head of the deceased was sometimes removed and preserved—possibly a sign of ancestor worship.) This, then, would represent an early form of sky burial, as practiced today by Tibetan Buddhists and by Zoroastrians in India. -Note: During the 8-7th millenium BC people buried their dead under their living quarters (e.g., see Çatalhöyük).

Layer II, dated to Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB) (7500–6000 BCE), has revealed several adjacent rectangular rooms with floors of polished lime, reminiscent of Roman terrazzo floors. The most recent layer consists of sediment deposited as the result of agricultural activity. - [The excavations at Göbekli are still going on.]

Thus, the structures not only predate pottery, metallurgy, and the invention of writing or the wheel; they were built before the so-called Neolithic Revolution, i.e., the beginning of agriculture and animal husbandry after 9000 BC. But the construction of Göbekli Tepe implies organization of an order of complexity not hitherto associated with Paleolithic, PPNA, or PPNB societies. The archaeologists estimate that up to 500 persons were required to extract the heavy pillars from local quarries and move them 100–500 meters to the site. The pillars weigh 10–20 metric tons; with one found still in its quarry weighing 50 tons. It is generally believed that an elite class of religious leaders supervised the work and later controlled whatever ceremonies took place here. If so, this would be the oldest known evidence for a priestly caste—much earlier than such social distinctions developed elsewhere in the Near East.

Around the beginning of the 8th millennium BC "Potbelly Hill" lost its importance. The advent of agriculture and animal husbandry brought new realities to human life in the area, and the "stone-age zoo" (as Schmidt calls it) depicted on the pillars apparently lost whatever significance it had had for the region's older, foraging, communities. But the complex was not simply abandoned and forgotten to be gradually destroyed by the elements. Instead, each enclosure was deliberately buried under as much as 300 to 500 cubic meters of debris consisting mainly of small limestone fragments, stone vessels, and stone tools; many animal, even human bones, are also found in the burial refuse. Why exactly the enclosures were backfilled is unknown, but it preserved them for posterity.
Text with small changes from Wikipedia

Schmidt, for one, is certain the secret is right beneath his feet. Over the years, his team has found fragments of human bone in the layers of dirt that filled the complex. Deep test pits have shown that the floors of the rings are made of hardened limestone. Schmidt is betting that beneath the floors he'll find the structures' true purpose: a final resting place for a society of hunters.
Perhaps, Schmidt says, the site was a burial ground or the center of a death cult, the dead laid out on the hillside among the stylized gods and spirits of the afterlife. If so, Gobekli Tepe's location was no accident. "From here the dead are looking out at the ideal view," Schmidt says as the sun casts long shadows over the half-buried pillars. "They're looking out over a hunter's paradise”
Smithonian Magazine
More on this conundrum: National Geographic

The Forty Days after Death

To my knowledge there exists no comprehensive interpretation of the icnongraphy on the T-steles: snakes, vultures, carrion birds, wild lions, and scorpions.

However, There exist at least two desriptions of the experiences after death: the Tibetan Buddhist “Bardo Thödöland the Christian “Purgatory”.

The Tibetan Book of the Dead” the “Bardo Thödöl” describes the after-death experience in psychological terms: It is intended to guide a dying person through the visions that the consciousness has after death. The object is to enable the dying to chose whether he leaves the Wheel of Rebirth or to be reborn as another person. It is non-judgemental and depends enterly on the dying man's awareness and clarity of mind. This 40-day interval is known in Tibetan as the Bardo. The dying is supposed hear during this time. So the text is read to him. It also includes chapters on the signs of death, and rituals to undertake when death is closing in, or has taken place. It is the most famous and widespread work of Tibetan Nyingma literature (11th cent AD).

The Christian Purgatory, (Last Judgment) is embedded into Christian religious imagery: the dying is subjected to tests that decide whether his life has been morally good or bad and is sent to Hell or Heaven the Angel of Death. He has no longer an influence on the outcome. In Orthodox Religion this intermediate period also lasts 40 days – during which time the dead person's return is much feared and dreaded - Hell yes, Heaven too, but not to the living (ghosts)....
Apart from the “judges” (the Angel of Death, Godfather, Christ, the Buddhas) like in the Bardo the images of the Purgatory are not a part of religion but arise from our common subconscious. They are older than religon, which leads me to suggest that the Göbekli imagery may be a ducumentary of man's
pre-religious subconscious: his frightening visions on the way to rebirth.

The discovery of blood stained stone tools lead to the conjecture of animal sacrifices - but also (human blood) to that of human sacrifice, or to the butchery (like in Tibetan sky burials) of human corpses to feed them to the vultures.

Nevali Çori
Submerged in Attatürk Dam,
45 km north-west of of Göbekli Tepe
9000 - 6000 BC (PPNA, PPNB, and PN)

The temple at Nevali Çori

A second, closely related site was examined between 1983 and 1991 in the context of rescue excavations during the erection of the Atatürk Dam below Samsat. Excavations were conducted by a team from the University of Heidelberg under the direction of Professor Harald Hauptmann. Together with numerous other archaeological sites in the vicinity, Nevali Cori has since been inundated by the dammed waters of the Euphrates.

The haunting faces of Nevali Çori

The local limestone was carved into numerous statues and smaller sculptures, including a more than life-sized bare human head with a snake or sikha-like tuft. There is also a statue of a bird. Some of the pillars bore reliefs, including ones of human hands. The free-standing anthropomorphic figures of limestone excavated at Nevali Cori belong to the earliest known life-size sculptures. Comparable material has been found at Göbekli Tepe.

The Dance with the Turtle (death?), photo Vincent Musi/National Geographic

Nevali Cori is 500 years later- but still pre-pottery and inahbited by hunter-gatherers. Its T-shaped pillars are considerably smaller, and its shrine was located inside a village; the roughly contemporary architecture at Jericho is devoid of artistic merit or large-scale sculpture; and Çatalhöyük, perhaps the most famous of all Anatolian Neolithic villages, is 2,000 years younger.Several hundred small clay figurines (about 5 cm high), most of them depicting humans, have been interpreted as votive offerings. They were fired at temperatures between 500-600°C, which suggests the development of ceramic firing technology before the advent of pottery proper.

Abu Hureya
Syria, submerged in Lake Assad

Pre-Agriculture 11 500 and Second inhabitation Agriculture 9000-7 000 BP
Abu Hureyra is an archaeological site dating from the early Neolithic Located in Syria near the Euphrates. Now drowned beneath the waters of Lake Assad. It was excavated between 1972 and 1973, during preventive excavations carried.

The hunter-gatherers of the first occupation eventually abandoned Abu Hureyra, probably at the advent of the Younger Dryas, an intense and abrupt return to glacial climate conditions which lasted nearly 1000 years. The drought disrupted the migration of the gazelle, and decimated the forageable plant food sources. It is likely that the inhabitants had to give up farming and returned to life on the move.

Around 9,000 BC the people returned, and a Neolithic settlement was established, perhaps ten times as large as the earlier settlement and one of the largest at that time in the Middle East. Mud-brick houses were constructed and a large mound was built up under the settlement mainly from the remains of old houses. An increasingly wide variety of plants was cultivated and examination of human skeletons has shown various deformities that have been associated with laborious agricultural work, particularly the grinding of grain. Animals were also herded. Pottery was used from around 7,300 BP and weaving some time before that. The village was abandoned around 7,000 BP

Çayönü Tepesi
Near Elazig, 40km northwest of Diyarbakir Turkey
7,250 - 6,750 BC (PPNA, PPNB, PN).

The first excavations were conducted by Robert John Braidwood between 1964 and 1978, and later between 1985 and 1991. The settlement covers the periods of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA), the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB), and the Pottery Neolithic (PN).

Çayönü is possibly the place where the pig (Sus scrofa) was first domesticated. The wild fauna include wild boar, wild sheep, wild goat and cervids. The Neolithic environment included marshes and swamps near the Bogazcay, open wood, patches of steppe and almond-pistachio forest-steppe to the south.

The area of the settlement consists of an occupation mound 200 meters in diameter. Five to six occupation levels have been discovered over the 600 years of occupation with the earliest from a hunting, pre-farming culture.The earliest levels do not include buildings, only cooking pits.

The second layer has a grill like foundation with pebble pavement, parallel walls which probably supported wooden beams and plaster-like floors.

The third level had 9 x 10 meter buildings that had terrazzo floors and homes constructed of white limestone cobbles and crushed rock. This level also had a number of decorative ornamentations included in the design.

The fourth occupation level had stone foundations and formed cell-like units with walls built of mud. The final levels consisted of residential buildings arranged in a rectangular fashion with a number of the buildings housing larger rooms possibly used for public functions. It is believed that the total population was between 100 and 200 people and the community consisted of twenty-five to fifty buildings.

The overall layout of the village’s design showed a square in the center of the town with rectangular shaped buildings and housing surrounding it. The majority of the houses have the upper level built with mud bricks and the lower level made out of stones. Some floors were made of plastered clay while others were terrazzo floors. In addition to the buildings, there are also indications that Cayonu had a number of storage facilities probably used for grains. A deep cylindrical hole with remains of clay and a domed structure was also discovered at this site and was more than likely used for storage of various products

Çayönü was also the site of the earliest known of piece of cloth, 'which was found still wrapped around an is 9,000 years old and it thought to be a linen fabric, woven from locally grown flax.

The people of Cayonu are believed to have been tribal and were the first farmers of Anatolia. The figurine of a female deity was found on this site and provides sound evidence that religion was an important aspect of everyday life. This female deity is one of the earliest traces of a cult that has come to be known as the Mother Goddess of Anatolia and the female deity has been worshiped for millenniums by the name of “Cybele.”

From the analysis of traces of blood on stone tools, it appears that around 9000 BP humansacrifice was practiced in Canönü Tepe.

The burial practices of the settlement indicate a variety of burial practices including interment under the house floors with special orientation differences between male and female members. Jewelry such as bone belt buckles and necklaces of stone or shell beads have been found with some of the burials. The village was dependent on wild and domesticated plants, especially wheat and barley and some hunting of large numbers of deer and aurochs.
Cayonu was one of the first areas where domestication of goats and sheep occurred although a number of anthropologists believe that sheep were consistently more common than goats. It is also believed that the dog was the very first domesticated animal in the village followed by pigs, then goats and sheep.
From an excellent article in Ancient Wisdom

90 km southeast of Konya,
7500-5000 BC
Excavated in 1961-65, Çatalhöyük was a very large Neolithic and Chalcolithic agricultural settlement (5 000 - 8 000 people) in south-eastern Anatolia, dating from around 7500 BC for the lowest layers. It is the largest and best preserved Neolithic site found to date. The entire settlement of Çatalhöyük was composed of domestic buildings; the site has no obvious public buildings. While some of the larger buildings contain rather ornate wall murals, the purpose of such rooms remains unclear. The prehistoric mound settlements were abandoned before the Bronze Age.

Vivid murals and figurines are found throughout the settlement, on interior and exterior walls. Distinctive clay figurines of women, notably the Seated Woman of Çatalhöyük have been found in the upper levels of the site. Although no identifiable temples have been found, the graves, murals, and figurines suggest that the people of Çatalhöyük had a religion rich in symbols. Rooms with concentrations of these items may have been shrines or public meeting areas. Predominant images include men with erect phalluses, hunting scenes, red images of the now extinct aurochs (wild cattle) and stags, and vultures swooping down on headless figures.[6] Relief figures are carved on walls, such as of lionesses facing one another.

The Mother Goddess Controversy

One of several Goddess, this one seated between two Lions (6000-5500 BC).
The site, predating Mesopotamian neolithic agricultural sites is the archeological link between Mesopotamia,Anatolia, Malta, and the Proto-European sites.

A striking feature of Çatalhöyük are its female figurines. Mellaart, the original excavator, argued that these well-formed, carefully made figurines, carved and molded from marble, blue and brown limestone, schist, calcite, basalt, alabaster, and clay, represented a female deity. Although a male deity existed as well, “…statues of a female deity far outnumber those of the male deity, who moreover, does not appear to be represented at all after Level VI. To date, eighteen levels have been identified. These careful figurines were found primarily in areas Mellaart believed to be shrines. The stately goddess seated on a throne flanked by two female lions (illustration) was found in a grain bin, which Mellaart suggests might have been a means of ensuring the harvest or protecting the food supply.

Goldsheet Twin-Goddess

The Anatolian Goddess

Images of the Near-Eastern Goddess from the above sites
11 000 - 2600 BP

Whereas Mellaart excavated nearly two hundred buildings at Catalhöyük in four seasons, the current excavator, Ian Hodder, spent an entire season excavating one building alone. Hodder and his team, in 2004 and 2005, began to believe that the patterns suggested by Mellaart were false. They found one similar figurine, but the vast majority did not imitate the Mother Goddess style that Mellaart suggested. Instead of a Mother Goddess culture, Hodder points out that the site gives little indication of a matriarchy or patriarchy.

There are full breasts on which the hands rest, and the stomach is extended in the central part. There is a hole in the top for the head which is missing. As one turns the figurine around one notices that the arms are very thin, and then on the back of the figurine one sees a depiction of either a skeleton or the bones of a very thin and depleted human. The ribs and vertebrae are clear, as are the scapulae and the main pelvic bones. The figurine can be interpreted in a number of ways - as a woman turning into an ancestor, as a woman associated with death, or as death and life conjoined. It is possible that the lines around the body represent wrapping rather than ribs. Whatever the specific interpretation, this is a unique piece that may force us to change our views of the nature of Çatalhöyük society and imagery. Perhaps the importance of female imagery was related to some special role of the female in relation to death as much as to the roles of mother and nurturer.
In an article in the Turkish Daily News, Hodder is reported as denying that Çatalhöyük was a matriarchal society and quoted as saying "When we look at what they eat and drink and at their social statues, we see that men and women had the same social status. There was a balance of power. Another example is the skulls found. If one's social status was of high importance in Çatalhöyük, the body and head were separated after death. The number of female and male skulls found during the excavations is almost equal
During the later periods the people of Çatalhöyük buried their dead within the village. Human remains have been found in pits beneath the floors and, especially, beneath hearths, the platforms within the main rooms, and under beds. Bodies were tightly flexed before burial and were often placed in baskets or wrapped in reed mats. Disarticulated bones in some graves suggest that bodies may have been exposed in the open air for a time before the bones were gathered and buried. In some cases, graves were disturbed and the individual’s head removed from the skeleton. These heads may have been used in rituals, as some were found in other areas of the community. Some skulls were plastered and painted with ochre to recreate faces, a custom more characteristic of Neolithic sites in Syria and at Neolithic Jericho than at sites closer by.

Siblings' Burial under a house floor