Early Artistic Skills Amaze at Turkey’s Neolithic Karahantepe Site

Turkey’s Karahantepe site (also written as Karahan Tepe) is believed to be nearly 11,500 years old, and some of the recent finds are truly sensational. Archaeologists have recently discovered early Neolithic artworks that are “crude” three-dimensional depictions of human and animal figures. And what is truly astonishing is that these huge artworks were carved into the Taş Tepeler (literally, “Stone Hills”) hill region using stone tools!

Although not as famous as the nearby UNESCO World Heritage site of Göbeklitepe (also written Göbekli Tepe), Karahantepe is emerging as a site of equal importance in all ways. Karahantepe exploratory surface excavations began in 1997 and revealed some T-shaped obelisks that resembled the obelisks with wild animal figures on them at Göbeklitepe.

Talking to Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency , Prof. Necmi Karul, who leads the excavations at Karahantepe, said that the digging first began there in 2019 and two very productive seasons have followed. The newspaper Daily Sabah reported in 2020 that archaeologists working at the Karahantepe site were of the opinion that they may uncover a settlement even older than Göbeklitepe.

Human depictions and 3D sculptures are seen after they were unearthed in Karahantepe. (Anadolu Agency)

Human depictions and 3D sculptures are seen after they were unearthed in Karahantepe. ( Anadolu Agency )

From Amazing Göbeklitepe to Outstanding Karahantepe

The first digs started at the Göbeklitepe site 25 years ago and revealed what is believed to be the oldest temple site found so far in the world, which is about 11,500 years old. Megalithic stone pillars weighing up to 10 imperial tons (11.2 American tons), carved into the hill’s limestone bedrock were discovered at the site. They had stylized human figures with folded hands and fox-pelt belts carved on them. There were also animal figures of foxes, leopards, serpents, and vultures. Some animal figures were shown crouched in attack position.

According to archaeologists, the T-shaped pillars were probably carved with stone tools before being hauled across the hilltop using ropes and log beams. Obviously, the manpower for lugging them was a result of collaboration between the earliest Neolithic hunter-gatherers living around the site. One theory is that small groups cooperated in this project, which were likely also significant in a ritualistic sense.

One of the human heads found at Karahantepe, which are unlike anything found at Göbeklitepe. (Ancient Architects / YouTube screenshot)

One of the human heads found at Karahantepe, which are unlike anything found at Göbeklitepe. (Ancient Architects / YouTube screenshot )

Dr Julia Gresky of the German Archaeological Institute who has been researching at the site along with her team said that several years of excavations have thrown up few clues about the Neolithic people who built the Göbeklitepe site.

She told Mail Online , “So far we have only found a few fragments of the people living at the site. We have found male and female adults, as well as children, and we know some of them lived to be as old as 50. The structures at the site tell us they were very strong – the stone pillars are up to 4 metres (13 feet) high and very heavy, and they moved everything by hand. They must have had a good reason to build it, which is what makes us think Göbekli Tepe was an early religious site.”

The Karahantepe dig site. (Ancient Architects / YouTube screenshot)

The Karahantepe dig site. (Ancient Architects / YouTube screenshot )

Karahantepe and the Tepeler Bag Project

Prof. Karul, who heads the Karahantepe dig , is reported by Today UK News to have said that artifacts found at Karahantepe were similar to those discovered at the Göbeklitepe site, which was built 6000 years before Stonehenge.

More than 250 obelisks with animals carved on them have been discovered at the site so far, along with some three-dimensional human heads and figures. A building with a 7-meter (23 foot) diameter, a large part of which is carved into the bedrock and reaches a depth of 18 feet (5.5 meters), has also been excavated. According to the Mail Online , archaeologists believe that this suggests it was built by many people working together.

One sculpture found at the Karahantepe site that is even more fascinating than the rest is of a human figure carrying a leopard on his/her back. Prof. Karul told the Anadolu Agency that while it is hard to fully comprehend what this was trying to show, it did indicate that human–animal relations 11,000 years ago were very different.

The three-dimensional human heads and figures found at Karahantepe set it apart from Göbeklitepe, although that doesn’t mean such figures will never be found at Göbeklitepe, clarified Prof. Karul.

The Şanlıurfa Archaeological Museum is currently hosting an exhibition featuring some of the artifacts found at the Karahantepe site.

The Sanliurfa region is believed to be home to a number of prehistoric sites similar to Göbeklitepe. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the Republic of Turkey together with the Turkish Tourism Promotion and Development Agency (TGA) have recently launched the Tepeler Bag project. This Neolithic heritage project will undertake excavations at 12 such sites including Karahantepe in the 124-mile (200 kilometer) Tas Tepeler region between 2021 and 2024.

These sites are thought to be home to the first examples of organized and specialized labor in human history. The project, it is hoped, will offer new insights into prehistoric human settlements, and answer many questions about how humans lived and worked together before written human history began.

Top Image: A human head in an ancient wall at the Karahantepe site in Turkey.  Source: Ancient Architects / YouTube screenshot

By Sahir Pandey


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