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The Burial of Göbekli Tepe

— Filed under: People & Culture
Urfa - Göbekli Tepe #2

Image by Deniz Tortum via Flickr

Q: Why was the site buried in 8,000 BC?

A: No one knows. But the way the dust is packed around the stones shows that Gobekli was entombed deliberately, and with some care.

Source: The First Post

The site named Göbekli Tepe was in use for thousands of years. Over time it was expanded time and again. Most of the unearthed portions of the site also contain more rooms with the T-stones which are seen in the excavated portion. So far, there is no evidence that it housed a permanent settlement. However, when it was in use, thousands of people could be contained within it.

As its age increased it became both more valuable as a meeting site, and less inviting because of poor sanitation. It was aired out during the time it was not used, but it did not take long to begin to stink when use was resumed.

Then something seriously threatening happened. Users got sick and died. Neither the clan elders nor the clan Shamen were successful in stopping this from happening for several years. Probably there was contamination of the water supply or areas used for toilet facilities. Perhaps it became infested with rodents carrying plague. In any case, a time came when two things became clear to the clans who used Göbekli Tepe: It stank, and people who went there died.

What did the hunter gatherer people do when people died? They buried them, with ritual gifts and flowers. What did they do with the unwanted bones of the animals they had butchered and eaten? They threw them out so the wild animals could use them and pick them clean. What did they do? How did they treat Göbekli Tepe? They treated it with respect. They carefully buried it.

Burying Göbekli Tepe was a huge undertaking. The site covers about 900 square meters. It is about 2 meters high. It was not buried by throwing earth into it in a harmful or haphazard way. It was buried with respect and the feeling of loss that accompanies the death of a parent, or of a spiritual place. The clans had to bury it. They had to bury it to keep the youngsters out of it and to stop its further use. Perhaps they were also burying the evil spirits that had come to punish the clans for some unknown - or to them, known - misdeed. But it had to be done. The clan elders and Shamen agreed, and it was so ordered.

In their time, the loss and burial of Göbekli Tepe was one of the major tragedies of all time.

In our time, as excavation continues, and more is understood about Göbekli Tepe, we will understand more about the people who survived by their strength and wits in a world where food had to be hunted and gathered, where people were also considered food by the great predators of the Tigris and Euphrates river valleys. These people survived and became our ancestors. Respect and honor is due them, and we should take care of what remains of them: Göbekli Tepe.

DerekB's picture

So you're suggesting they

So you're suggesting they buried it because the slaughtering of animals caused it to smell bad, and then they covered it up so that it wouldn't spread disease anymore?  That assumes that they had even the foggiest idea of viruses and disease, and that they cared about smells at all.  These are people who probably didn't take baths for long periods.  I don't think they were concerned about smell, personally.

Anonymous's picture

Come on now...

Not that I agree with chinajon's explanation, but you're being a little closed minded. Ancient man did not need to understand the WHY to understand cause and effect. This basic fact is what the progression of mankind is based off of. Imagine if a deep understanding of metallurgy at a molecular level was required for man kind to achieve the successes of the bronze age? Never would have happened. The assumption that was made was NOT that they knew about viruses and disease, but that they made the connection "people go here, and then they die" (and that that was, indeed, happening). Also, the idea that ancient man would be oblivious to the smell is outrageous. Being naturally deterred by the smell of rotting flesh and feces is built into our DNA, as a survival mechanism, and has been for many thousands of years prior to Gobleki Tepe. Again, I'm not quite buying the explanation that chinajon proposes, but it needs to be acknowledged as at least interesting, thought provoking, and well founded.

DerekB's picture

Yea, chinajon's explanation

Yea, chinajon's explanation is interesting and thought-provoking.  I didn't mean to say otherwise.

And I can accept your argument that revulsion to rotting flesh might be ingrained.

But if people picked up disease at Gobekli Tepe, there's a good chance they didn't die immediately, or even at Gobekli Tepe.  They could have died much later, at any place.  They didn't need to have a molecular understanding of illnesses.  But I don't think they had ANY understanding of illnesses.  People at that time, and for thousands of years afterward, believed that illness and death came from the spirits.  It was only in the Middle Ages that the concept of washing one's hands and bathing to keep clean was even introduced!  Until that point, many believed that staying filthy was the way to go.  I just don't think that humans at that time had even the first inkling that things which are too small to see could be making them sick.

Karnak's picture

On Bathing...

It's reasonable to assume that hunter-gatherers DID bathe on a regular basis, because if you stink you won't be able to sneak up on animals (this is why modern hunters spray themselves with scent-killers). People in the Middle-Ages may not have bathed, but that could be because they'd gone agricultural and no longer had an incentive to prevent animals from detecting their scents on a daily basis. When Lewis and Clark traveled across America the Indians they encountered--as well as George Drouillard, their half-Shawnee/half-French guide--were observed to bathe EVERY DAY regardless of the season or air temperature. The other men in the Corps of Discovery--many of whom never bathed at all on the whole trip--thought Drouillard was insane because he would go down to the Missouri River and spend an hour busting the ice so he could wash himself. This practice was true for all Native peoples in North America who subsisted as hunter-gatherers; there would be no reason to suspect it was any different 11,500 years ago. Only when a tribe or culture gives up the tradition of hunting does it cease to care about smelling strange--the same thing has actually happened today with people who drench themselves in perfumes, colognes, and body-sprays. If you're wearing something as seemingly innocuous as plain unscented deodorant a deer could still smell you from half a mile away. If the hunter-gatherers never had any concern about how they smelled, we'd be calling them "gatherers" right now because they would've been vegetarians by consequence.

DerekB's picture

Point well taken on the

Point well taken on the bathing thing.  I was not aware that hunters bathed so long ago, but what you said makes sense.  I still stand by my statement about people of those times having no concept of illness being caused by the unseen, but if I'm wrong on that, please let me know.

Karnak's picture


No one can say for sure what ancient hunters knew about diseases, but there is plenty of evidence from observations of indigenous hunter-gatherers from the 18th and 19th centuries who were, with the exception of using horses and firearms, living almost entirely as their ancestors lived thousands of years earlier. These people may have honestly believed that evil spirits or karma played a role in bad luck or getting sick, but it's not wise to dismiss it all as mere superstition. Cause and effect is learned through trial and error; when you've got a tribe of people formed and refined by a million years of evolution they will be able to put two and two together: the Cheyenne didn't know why anyone who killed and ate marmots during the summer got sick and died (we now know they were contracting Rocky Mountain spotted fever from a mite the animal carries during the summer), but they knew that it happened with enough regularity to teach their children that marmots shouldn't be hunted until after the first frost. Likewise the Inuit learned through trial and error that the liver of the polar bear shouldn't be eaten because the high concentrations of Vitamin A would kill you; they didn't know what Vitamin A was, they couldn't physically see the cause of their illness, but they knew something was wrong because the frequency of sickness was so high. These kinds of lessons were deduced by circumstantial evidence (basically the same way Sherlock Holmes operated) and passed down through hundreds of generations. When you have hundreds of thousands--if not millions--of years to endure snakebites and bee stings and arthritis and tapeworms, you're going to look for a cure and eventually you're going to find it. If you've got tapeworms, eat pumpkinseeds. If you've got arthritis, smoke cannabis. If you get stung by a bee, put honey and mud and onions on it. It wasn't uncommon for Apaches to live to be 80 years old, in one of the harshest and most inhospitable environments on the planet. Every natural ailment has a natural antidote, just as every plant has a complimentary rotational partner--cucumbers, for instance, grow best in soil that was previously sown with rye grass. Most researchers agree that if we ever find a cure for cancer, it'll probably be some plant in the Amazon rainforest. There's even a chance we could find it in a microbe under Yellowstone,8599,1686700,00.html

Ancient people may not have had specific knowledge of organic chemistry, but they had a superior observational capacity that comes from living in nature and not being bombarded by artificial sights, sounds, colors, and smells. With a heightened awareness of their surroundings they were able to notice things that modern people would miss. When you're out hunting every day, most of your time is spent just watching and waiting. Over the course of a million years they became more intimately familiar with the workings of the natural world than we modern humans presently are with formal laboratory science, which has only really existed for a few hundred years.