Archaeological Discovery, 2019, 7, 31-53
ISSN Online: 2331-1967
ISSN Print: 2331-1959
10.4236/ad.2019.72003 Feb. 1, 2019 31 Archaeological Discovery
World’s First Known Written Word at Göbekli
Tepe on T-Shaped Pillar 18 Means God
Manu Seyfzadeh, Robert Schoch
Institute for the Study of the Origins of Civilization, College of General Studies, Boston University,
Boston, MA, USA
Göbekli Tepe is a prehistoric, man-made megalithic hill site in today’s south-
east Turkey which is riddled with walled circular and rectangular enclosures
lined by and surrounding T-shaped monolithic pillars proposed to represent
supernatural humanoid beings. We examined if H-
shaped carvings in relief
on some of these pillars might have a symbolic meaning rather than merely
depicting an object of practical use. On Pillar 18 in Enclosure D, for example,
one such “H” is bracketed by two semi-circles. An almost
appears as a logogram in the now extinct hieroglyphic language of the Bronze
s of Anatolia and there it meant the word for “god”. Further
supporting a linguistic connection between Luwian hieroglyphs and images at
Göbekli Tepe are to date untranslated Luwian
symbols resembling the
T-shape iconography of Göbekli Tepe and an H-
like symbol which was the
Luwian word for “gate”. We conclude that the T-
shaped pillars at Göbekli
Tepe were in fact built and symbolically marked to represent a god, possibly a
bull-associated being, which guarded the entry to the human and animal af-
terlife. We propose that this theme may have been inspired by real celestial
images of the then prevailing night sky, rit
ually reenacted and celebrated for
centuries by hunter-
gatherer pilgrims to this hill and then spread by their
descendants across Anatolia still
influencing language in the region spoken
and written thousands of years later.
Göbekli Tepe, Luwian, Hieroglyphic, Anatolia, T-Shaped Pillar, Pillar 18,
Enclosure D, God
Origin of Writing. The invention of writing is commonly attributed to Sumer
How to cite this paper:
Seyfzadeh, M., &
, R. (2019).
World’s First Known
Written Word at Göbekli Tepe on T
Pillar 18 Means God
January 10, 2019
January 29, 2019
February 1, 2019
Copyright © 201
9 by author(s) and
Research Publishing Inc.
is licensed under the Creative
Commons Attribution International
License (CC BY
M. Seyfzadeh, R. Schoch
10.4236/ad.2019.72003 32 Archaeological Discovery
and Egypt and the earliest evidence of either language dates to the late fourth
millennium B.C.E. (Damerow, 2006). The first alphabet was created from Egyp-
tian hieroglyphs by Canaanite miners in Sinai approximately one thousand years
later at the beginning of the second millennium B.C.E. (Goldwasser, 2016).
terminus ante quem
of the origin of writing in the world can thus be
traced to the Chalcolithic Age of Egypt and Mesopotamia, prehistoric civiliza-
tions may have expressed thought as recorded symbols long before, but evidence
of such early writing may have been lost due to the decay of the medium, due to
cultural invasion and replacement, or may yet be discovered. For example, traces
of a pictographic script used in predynastic Buto and the region of the Nile Delta
at large survived as hieroglyphic symbols in the mixed phonetic and ideogram-
mic script of dynastic Egypt while the rest of the language was apparently phased
out by the time of Horus Den during the First Dynasty (Helck, 1987, Chapter 11,
The oldest recording system to date appears to have been clay tokens used to
account for food stores which were discovered at Tell Mureybet by the western
Euphrates in that site’s layer III whose beginnings date to circa 9300-8600 B.C.E.
(Senner, 1991: pp. 29-30). From this discovery and others, a widely-held model
of cultural evolution by 20th century archeologists implies that written language
was invented after the development of agriculture based on the domestication of
plants and livestock, and thus, like urban living, social stratification, and reli-
gion, represents an expression and outgrowth of materialistic culture, the ulti-
mate driving force of cultural change in this model. The two main successive
phases of this change from prehistoric hunter-gatherers to ancient historic dy-
nastic city-state or nation dwellers were originally defined as the Neolithic and
Urban Revolutions by V. Gordon Childe (Smith, 2009).
Jacques Cauvin (2000), however, who led France’s CNRS-sponsored excava-
tions at Tell Mureybet in the mid-1970s, proposed the antithesis to this model by
Childe: That symbolic thought and a belief system did not only predate domes-
tication of food sources and the sedentary life-style of permanent settlements,
but that it was instrumental in fostering them. In other words, the Neolithic rev-
olution, according to Cauvin, was first and foremost a prehistoric revolution of
the world-view of the people alive in that epoch at the end of the ice age in the
10th millennium B.C.E. It was this new world-view which shaped the insight to
cope with a changing environment by employing a new life-style based on
farming and settling in larger communities. Thus, ideologic or spiritual belief,
first, enabled inventive thinking, second. Prehistoric people needed a reason to
congregate. Once that happened, innovation and implementation became more
likely when many people, previously physically separated, exchanged ideas,
worked together, and shared the toil of living. In modern economics, this phe-
nomenon is called agglomeration. Recorded symbolic language, like world-view
and spirituality, could thus also be considered an expression of such new aware-
ness, besides sculpture, architecture, and murals, made long before food was
M. Seyfzadeh, R. Schoch
10.4236/ad.2019.72003 33 Archaeological Discovery
grown and stored and needed to be accounted for. Symbolic, “religious” think-
ing and expanded awareness may even have been a requisite (Hodder, 2011: p.
Given that the origin of the Indo-European branch of languages can be traced
both to Anatolia and to a timeframe which overlaps with the aceramic Neolithic
era (Bouckaert et al., 2012), megalithic monuments from this place and time
may hold clues as to the need to capture spoken language with symbols and pre-
serve them in stone for later generations (Schoch, 2012: p. 41). This need may
have arisen with a desire for permanence beyond death and a sentiment for an-
cestry evident in the practice of skull removal of the buried dead, artistic mod-
ifications to human skulls (as found on human skull fragments at Göbekli Tepe;
Gresky et al., 2017), and circulating them throughout the community as is evi-
dent from the archeological record at Çatalhöyük (Hodder, 2011: pp. 114-116).
In this paper, we will present primordial evidence of pre-agricultural symbolic
language related to the religious beliefs of an early Neolithic society of so-called
“hunter-gatherers”1 in southeast Anatolia at Göbekli Tepe. Our investigation,
however, begins with an examination of hieroglyphic Luwian, a language in use
across most of Bronze Age Anatolia thousands of years after prehistoric people
built Göbekli Tepe.
Luwian Hieroglyphic Script. The Luwian hieroglyphic script, while discov-
ered in the early 19th century, was fully deciphered only in the 1970s and shown
to be a close dialect of cuneiform Luwian and a sister language of cuneiform Hit-
tite, the official script of the ruling class of Bronze Age Anatolia during the Em-
pire Period (circa 1200-1000 B.C.E), which it both preceded and survived by
centuries (Goedegebuure, 2016, 2107). Thus, Luwian is one of the oldest, if not
the oldest, known Indo-European languages and a likely descendant of the hy-
pothetical Proto-Indo-European (PIE) common ancestor of all members of this
language family. Current archeological evidence in the form of seals, reliefs,
steles, lead strips, and wood panels, across almost one-hundred Anatolian sites,
including some within 30 km of Göbekli Tepe, dates the emergence of the hie-
roglyphic script used to write in Luwian to the late 15th century B.C.E., i.e. a time
coinciding with Egypt’s 18th Dynasty of the New Kingdom, when Anatolia and
Egypt interacted both in trade, diplomacy, and war. The Luwians, for example,
may have been the “Sea People” with whom Ramses III fought, the Trojans with
whom the Myceneans fought during Homer’s Trojan War, and the confederate
power which brought down the Hittites, all events occurring during the Late
Bronze Age when several civilizations collapsed and recorded history entered a
so-called Dark Age (Zangger, 2016).
Waal (2013) proposed an even earlier time of development of hieroglyphic
1It should be noted that “hunter-gatherers” may be a misnomer, because
the builders of Göbekli
Tepe were probably not equivalent to modern “hunter-gatherers” as discussed in the general ant
ropological literature; if anything, the Göbekli Tepe people may have been closer to so-called “co
plex hunter-gatherers” such as the Northwest Coast cultures of North America (
see, for instance,
M. Seyfzadeh, R. Schoch
10.4236/ad.2019.72003 34 Archaeological Discovery
Luwian, around 2000 B.C.E. Developed exclusively for the Luwian language,
which together with Hittite, Lycian, Lydian, Palaic, and Carian comprises the
Anatolian branch of the Indo-European major language phylum, its origins can
be traced to both spoken Hittite and Luwian (Figure 1). Some Luwian symbols
encode full words in the form of logograms but most encode phonographic
sounds. In the latter case, the phonetic values still relate to the pictographic idea
of the symbols through acrophony, i.e. the sounds of the script’s phonographic
symbols are defined by the beginning of the sound of the words whose ideas they
depict. For example, the Luwian word for walk “tia” produces the phonetic syl-
lable “ti” encoded by a foot symbol. The Luwian word for ox “uwa” produces the
phonetic sound “u” encoded by an ox head symbol. The Luwian word for don-
key “tarkasna” produces the phonetic syllabic sound “ta”. Some Luwian hierog-
lyphic symbols obtained their phonetic value not from the Luwian spoken lan-
guage but from Hittite words. It is this bilingual origin of the script which sug-
gests that the region of its invention was in eastern Anatolia where both lan-
guages were spoken (Figure 1; Goedegebuure, 2016).
The development of the script over time also suggests that it started with pic-
tographs and that phonograms were gradually added later. This development
contrasts with Egypt’s proto-dynastic writing system which incorporated pho-
nograms in its earliest known records discovered in tomb UJ (Baines, 2004). We
therefore asked if the Luwian script, at its inception, may have incorporated sur-
viving themes and especially symbols (i.e. iconic pictographs) of the long-gone
Figure 1. Map of ancient Anatolia showing the locations of Luwian (Luwic) writing dis-
covered from the Empire Period (circa 1480-1200 B.C.E.). Megalithic sites with T-shaped
Pillars west and east of the Euphrates River are indicated in black letters. GT: Göbekli
Tepe; NC: Navali Çori; U: Urfa; HT: Hamzan Tepe; K: Karahan; ST: Sefer Tepe; TT: Tašli
Tepe; K: Kilisik. Four language zones are marked. Palaic, Hattic, Hittite, and Luwic (Lu-
wian). The overlap between Hittite and Luwic occurred in the zone approximated by the
green circle. Map courtesy of Tayfun Bilgin, https://www.hittitemonuments.com, (v.
M. Seyfzadeh, R. Schoch
10.4236/ad.2019.72003 35 Archaeological Discovery
people who had lived nearby in southeast Anatolia and had built one of the old-
est known megalithic complexes in the world from which the Neolithic Revolu-
tion expanded across the fertile crescent and eventually further into the conti-
nents of Europe, Asia, and possibly parts of Africa and elsewhere.
Göbekli Tepe. Göbekli Tepe Layer III is a Neolithic Pre-Pottery, megalithic
phase at a prominent and widely visible location in the upper Euphrates Valley
zone, which makes up the northern extent of the fertile crescent marking the tran-
sition between ancient Mesopotamia’s plains to the southeast and Anatolia’s
mountainous highlands to the northwest. The complex was built on a limestone
ridge over a period of about 800 or more years in the 10th and 9th millennia, further
extended with ancillary structures in Layer II for a period of 1800 years during the
9th and 8th millennia, and then completely buried and abandoned by circa 7000
B.C.E. (Schmidt, 2000, 2011, 2012). Originally discovered as a possible site of in-
terest in 1963 by the Universities of Istanbul and Chicago led by Halet Çambel
and Robert Braidwood, respectively, it was found to be a very ancient megalithic
site in 1994 during initial excavations undertaken by the German Archeological
Institute’s late Klaus Schmidt (Schmidt, 2000, 2011). Schmidt’s excavations over
the years into this man-made hill unearthed several stone circles surrounding,
and lined with, T-shaped pillars (Figure 2) onto which animal figures and, as he
had already witnessed at Navali Çori, humanoid features like arms and hands
were carved in relief (Figure 3(a)), for example on Pillar 18 at the center of En-
closure D in the hill’s southeast quadrant (Figure 3(b) & Figure 3(c)).
Pillar 18 rests on a pedestal with bird reliefs on its façade (Figure 3(c)). Be-
sides a foxlike animal on its “torso” (Figure 3(b)), it features a finely carved belt
with several “H”-shaped symbols (Figure 3(g) & Figure 3(h)) and a buckle
from which an animal hide loincloth hangs (Figure 3(c)). At the top front of the
pillar is a set of three symbols composed (from top to bottom) of another
“H”-shaped symbol and an umbilicated disc hovering within the concavity of a
Figure 2. Göbekli Tepe’s Layer III site plan looking west from the east with north to the
right in this image. Four enclosures are shown, and their conventional designations A, B,
C, and D are indicated above. All eight central pillars and some of the peripheral pillars
are marked including all those discussed in this paper. Pillar 33 in Enclosure D is nestled
between Pillars 32 and 38 and is not fully visible in this image. Composite image courtesy
of Robert Schoch and Catherine Ulissey.
M. Seyfzadeh, R. Schoch
10.4236/ad.2019.72003 36 Archaeological Discovery
Figure 3. Central and peripheral pillars, limestone plate, and porthole, Göbekli Tepe,
Turkey. (a) Pillar 31 and (b-d; g-h) Pillar 18, from Enclosure D; (e-f) carved limestone
plate found by Pillar 31 showing severed heads (marked in red by D.A.I.); (i) Pillar 28
from Enclosure C; (j) Pillar 43 from Enclosure D; (k-l, red arrow in (l) by D.A.I.) Porthole
stone close-up and
from above, Enclosure B; (m-n) Pillar 33 from Enclosure D.
Images courtesy of Robert Schoch and Catherine Ulissey (b-d, g-i, m-n), Berthold Stein-
hilber (j) and the German Archeological Institute (D.A.I., a, e-f; D.A.I.’s N. Becker, k-l)
crescent (Figure 3(d)). Of note, the “head” of the pillar is unmarked, though there
are other pillars whose topmost parts are ornately carved with animal and geo-
metric motifs. No facial features have been found on any pillar unearthed to
date. The significance of the T-shape and its association with humans remain a
mystery, but most agree that supernatural beings were meant to be displayed in
Within the back-fill debris surrounding Pillar 31, the other megalith in the
center of Enclosure D next to Pillar 18, a limestone plate with reliefs showing
severed heads (Figure 3(e) & Figure 3(f); marked with red circles) next to a
vulture and also two life-size human limestone heads were discovered demon-
strating that the humanoid T-shape of the pillar heads was deliberately chosen to
contrast with the realism of the human heads. Seemingly complementing the se-
vered heads by Pillar 31 (see Gresky et al., 2017: p. 5, their Fig. 4a, for a photo-
graph of a decapitated human statue from Göbekli Tepe), a small headless torso
is depicted in relief at the bottom of Pillar 43’s west-facing side (at the bottom of
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10.4236/ad.2019.72003 37 Archaeological Discovery
the pillar, again next to a vulture; Figure 3(j)). Pillar 43 was integrated within
the enclosure wall immediately behind Pillar 31 (see Figure 2) to the northwest
(the enclosure wall is most likely of a later period—that is secondary—relative to
the pillars; see Schoch, 2017: p. 458). The headless torso on Pillar 43 appears
small next to the much larger animals also shown (Figure 3(j)), for example a
vulture immediately next to it. These motifs of vultures and headless human
torsos reappear two-thousand years later on murals of a temple-like structure at
Çatalhöyük hundreds of kilometers to the west demonstrating their cultural im-
portance (Sandars, 1979).
While the purpose of the entire complex at Göbekli Tepe, still largely unexca-
vated, continues to be debated, the anthropomorphic yet “alien” character of the
over-sized T-pillars suggests that they depict supernatural beings or gods and
that the site therefore had a spiritual congregational function though other, pos-
sibly more secular, purposes cannot yet be ruled out given, for instance, evidence
of feasting and other activities at the site (see, e.g., Banning, 2011). T-shaped pil-
lars have also been discovered at nearby sites east and west of the Euphrates, i.e.
Navali Çori, Urfa, Hamzan Tepe, Karahan, Sefer Tepe, Tašli Tepe, and Kilisik,
with Göbekli Tepe assuming the central focus of this cultural zone (Figure 1).
Symbolism and Meaning. The meaning of the animal depictions and other
relief markings on the T-pillars, as well as the pillars themselves and the circles
they form, remain a mystery to date and while several theories have been pro-
posed, such as relating them to Orion’s belt stars (Schoch, 2012: pp. 54-55), to
stars in the north (Deneb; Collins, 2014: pp. 80-82), Sirius (Magli, 2013, 2016),
or foreign symbols (e.g. Putney, 2014), unequivocal proof remains elusive. The
fact that dwellings at Çatalhöyük were found to contain adult burials always on
the north side of the living space (Hodder, 2012: p. 305) sometimes marked by
aurochs skulls and often by vulture paintings with headless corpses (Hodder,
2012: p. 306), lends support to the hypothesis that the approximate north-south
orientation of most of Göbekli Tepe’s T-pillar circles may be integral to the ideas
which inspired their construction. The central T-pillars themselves may represent a
god or gods “looking” out to the sky at a bull (for instance, Taurus) or associated
with a bull (for instance, Orion, who is in the same general portion of the sky as
Taurus; see Schoch, 2012: p. 55). Virtually all the other animals depicted on the
pillars and associated stone carvings, i.e. snakes, lizards, spiders, scorpions, fox-
es, boars, lions, leopards, and various birds including a vulture, cranes, and an
eagle were indigenous to the regional fauna of Holocene southeast Anatolia
(Schmidt, 2011, 2012).
Klaus Schmidt interpreted Göbekli Tepe as a ritual center to which hunt-
er-gatherers from surrounding settlements congregated to feast and commemo-
rate or even bury some of their significant dead but did not rule out a shamanic
purpose (Schmidt, 2011, 2012). He read the pillar carvings as a form of storytel-
ling while the high-relief animal sculptures had a symbolically protective func-
tion. He emphasized the significance of the symbolic dominance of the human
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features of the megaliths over those of the fear-instilling animals and singled out
Göbekli Tepe as unique in this respect among other contemporary Neolithic
sites. To Schmidt, Göbekli Tepe’s main theme was the conquest by man-like
gods of the wilderness world and this spiritual theme unmistakably predated the
pragmatically driven transition from hunting and gathering for food to growing
and storing it as the changing environment after the Younger Dryas may have
Here, we present new evidence that one, especially peculiar, carving may
represent a written symbol, as previously suspected (Ercan, 2015), which identi-
fies one of the most prominent and central of the T-pillars as a deity and thus
supports the idea that Göbekli Tepe was in fact a temple complex2 dedicated to
at least one god which formed perhaps a symbolic gateway to the afterlife as well
as protecting the still living. We discuss the possible origins of this symbol, its
significance within the ritual context of the entire site, which may have its ori-
gins in imagined celestial images.
One often-appearing Luwian symbol is the word for “god”, Laroche #360
“DEUS3” (Figure 4; Laroche, 1960). Many examples can be observed at the al-
most one-hundred sites from which written records were discovered. This sym-
bol depicts an oval with two opposing semi-circles and two vertical parallel lines
between them. For example, it is well shown on rock inscriptions in Develi by
Fraktin (Figure 5) and from Arslan Tepe (Figure 6) and several instances of it
can be seen on a storm god stele from Aleppo (Figure 7). At Hanyeri, a symbolic
association can be observed between “DEUS” and “MONS”, where both are used
on the same line of text translated as “king of the mountain god” (Figure 8).
Close inspection of “MONS” (Figure 9), reveals that the only difference to “DEUS”
are the long converging lines in “MONS” separating its opposing semi-circles as
opposed to the two parallel vertical lines separating them in “DEUS”.
The “H”-shaped Luwian symbol is the logogram for PORTA (“gate”; Petra
Goedegebuure, personal communication) and is seen in detail for example in an
inscription from Arslan Tepe (Figure 10). There are “T”-shaped Luwian sym-
bols, the meaning of which still eludes translation. One such symbol, Laroche
#457 (2) (Figure 11) shows a “T” on a steep mount. An example can be seen
at Sivasa (Figure 12).
Linguistic link between Luwian and Göbekli Tepe’s Iconography. It appears
that when the Luwian script was invented, it adopted some Anatolian icons pre-
dating its inception (between 2000 and 1400 B.C.E.) by thousands of years. Since
a “temple complex”, as Göbekli Tepe is often referred to, or something more, such
as the equivalent of a center of learning, ritual, teaching, and protecting traditions and knowledge,
is a subject that is up for discussion based on further evidence.
Luwian logograms are translated into Latin by convention.
M. Seyfzadeh, R. Schoch
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Figure 4. Laroche #360 Luwian hieroglyph denoting “god”. From Laroche (1960: p. 187).
Figure 5. Luwian rock inscription, Gümüşören (Fraktin) village of Develi, circa 1300-1200
B.C.E. The “god” symbol Laroche #360 is shown at the top next to the head of the figure on
the left. Image courtesy of Tayfun Bilgin, https://www.hittitemonuments.com, (v. 1.61).
Figure 6. Luwian rock inscription from Arslan Tepe at the Anatolian Civilizations Mu-
seum in Ankara, Turkey; circa 900 B.C.E. The “god” symbol Laroche #360 is shown at the
top next to the head of the storm god (Tešup) figure on the left. Immediately below is the
logogram for “lightning”, Laroche #199. Image courtesy of Tayfun Bilgin,
https://www.hittitemonuments.com, (v. 1.61).
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Figure 7. Storm God Relief and Stele from Aleppo, Istanbul Archeology Museum.
Marked with red circles are instances of Laroche #360 on the stele and its transcription.
Images courtesy of Tayfun Bilgin, https://www.hittitemonuments.com, (v. 1.61), modified.
Figure 8. Luwian rock inscription at Hanyeri, circa 1300-1200 B.C.E. The three-part relief
is shown on the left and the magnified left part on the top right. Below is the transcrip-
tion. The top row of symbols reads from right to left: “King of the Mountain god, Shar-
ruma” (REX MONS DEUS.
) and the second row reads “Sword, the divine moun-
tain” (ENSIS DEUS.MONS). Images and graphic courtesy of Tayfun Bilgin,
https://www.hittitemonuments.com, (v. 1.61), modified.
Figure 9. Laroche #207 Luwian hieroglyph denoting “Mountain”. From Laroche (1960: p.
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Figure 10. Luwian rock inscription from Arslan Tepe at the Anatolian Civilizations Mu-
seum in Ankara, Turkey; circa 1100-1000 B.C.E. The “H”-shaped symbol is shown
marked in red. Image courtesy of Tayfun Bilgin, https://www.hittitemonuments.com, (v.
Figure 11. Laroche #239, 261, 263, and 457. #457 (1) has the phonetic value of “li”. #239
translates into “Gate” and #263 and #457 (2) are unknown (Petra Goedegebuure, personal
communication). #261 is uncertain. From Laroche (1960: pp. 129, 137, 237); modified.
M. Seyfzadeh, R. Schoch
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Figure 12. Transcribed Luwian rock inscription from a rock still
sa/Suvasa/Gökçetoprak. Laroche #457 (2) is marked with the red arrow. Graphic courtesy
of Tayfun Bilgin, https://www.hittitemonuments.com, (v. 1.61), modified.
Luwian contains, by our survey, at least four symbols directly related to icono-
graphy found at Göbekli Tepe, we think random chance is unlikely. However,
even if Luwian adopted symbolic themes from its distant ancestors, we have to
consider the more trivial scenario that people who lived in southeast Anatolia
during the Bronze Age may have discovered decorated T-shaped pillars, ascribed
importance to the symbolism of the pillars and some of the reliefs found on
them, and consequently attached a meaning to these icons unrelated to that in-
tended by the builders of Göbekli Tepe, which itself may be a trivial depiction of
the details of a hunter’s belt. The main reasons why we think this is unlikely are
that: 1) the “H” symbols occur both as part of the belt bracketed by semi-circles
on Pillar 18 of Enclosure D, as a part of an apparently purely symbolic element
on the front of Pillar 18 along with a disk inside a crescent, alone on the front of
Pillar 28 in Enclosure C bracketed by two semi-circles (Figure 3(i)), and as a
focal point for the direction of where animals are heading as shown on Pillars 43
and 33 in Enclosure D (Figure 3(j), Figure 3(m) & Figure 3(n)), and 2) that
this idea of a focal point is consistent with the concept of a gate, the meaning
given to the “H”-shaped symbol in Luwian. Therefore, it is possible that the
original meaning behind Göbekli Tepe’s iconography was verbally preserved in
Anatolia’s prehistoric and ancient legends and myths until a written script was
made incorporating those prehistoric symbols along with their archetypal meaning.
The Luwian “god” symbol is not perfectly identical though close to the
“H”-shaped symbol inside two semi-circles as seen on the belt of Pillar 18
(Figure 3(g)) and the chest of Pillar 28 (Figure 3(i)). The main difference is that
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the cross bar is missing, and the two vertical bars are closer together. Neverthe-
less, we think this Luwian iconography still preserves the concept of a passage,
originally depicted blocked, then open in the Luwian symbol. The common po-
sition of Laroche #360 in Luwian texts is at the top of a column of symbols
within a row of text suggesting that the god so named was in the sky. One way to
interpret the idea of a gate inside a circle in the sky is a passage through a vortex
such as the celestial north pole of the night sky around which the circumpolar
stars slowly wander each night and whose focal point gradually shifts due to the
combined effects of axial and apsidial precession.
Our analysis does not reveal if the Luwian T-shaped symbols, Laroche #261,
263, and 457 (2) (Figure 11) are words or sounds. However, the fact that an au-
rochs’ cranium is depicted on the front of Pillar 31 in Enclosure D (Figure 3(a)),
on top of the porthole of Enclosure B (Figure 3(k) & Figure 3(l)), and on later
Anatolian pottery decorations where the T-shape is evidently part of a bull head
(Figure 13 and Figure 14) suggests that they represent the prehistoric word for
“bull” or a syllable sound related to that word.
Spiritual Theme. Taken together, this evidence suggests that the T-shaped
pillars at Göbekli Tepe were likely meant to represent a god in the form of a
bull-like being. But what was its power or function within the context of circles?
The answer to this question may come from the lay-out of the dwellings found at
Çatalhöyük. There, the adult dead were commonly buried on the northeast side
of the homes and sometimes marked with bucrania (Figure 15). This suggests
the god in question was a guardian of the dead. In the same context, the vulture
with the headless torso marked the north side of the dwelling. At Göbekli Tepe
the general orientation of most circles unearthed so far is approximately south to
north (Figure 16). The animals are shown to seemingly migrate towards the
Figure 13. Terracotta vase from southwest Turkey at Haçilar, late 6th millennium B.C.E.
National Museum of Oriental Art, Rome, Italy. Photo courtesy of MM-Own work, CC
BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29823064.
M. Seyfzadeh, R. Schoch
10.4236/ad.2019.72003 44 Archaeological Discovery
Figure 14. Decorated pottery from southwest Turkey at Haçilar, late 6th millennium
B.C.E. Ankara Anatolian Civilizations Museum, Ankara, Turkey. Image courtesy of Dick
Osseman, with permission: http://www.pbase.com/dosseman/profile.
Figure 15. Northeast platform burial site in building 77 of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B
settlement in south Turkey at Çatalhöyük, 8th to 7th millennium B.C.E. Image courtesy of
Verity Cridland-Çatalhöyük, CC BY 2.0,
Figure 16. Aerial view of Enclosures A-D from the south looking north. Image courtesy
of the German Archaeological Institute’s (D.A.I.) E. Kücük, with permission.
M. Seyfzadeh, R. Schoch
10.4236/ad.2019.72003 45 Archaeological Discovery
bull-like god represented, we argue, by the gate symbol “H”, and on the north
side of Enclosure D, a vulture is shown next to a headless torso (i.e. the limes-
tone plate found by Pillar 31, Figure 3(e) & Figure 3(f), and Pillar 43 imme-
diately northwest, Figure 3(j)) in analogous fashion as to what is seen on
north-wall murals inside dwellings at Çatalhöyük (Figure 17). Therefore, the
view of the world suggested by this iconography could be interpreted as revolv-
ing around the inevitability of the death of all creatures, animals and humans,
symbolized by the vulture and the headless torso, and that this passage from life
to death involves an encounter with a god who stands at the gate of a passage
(Collins, 2015) between life and death4. The discovery of limestone heads by Pil-
lar 31, decorated fragments of human skulls at Göbekli Tepe, and plastered
skulls at Çatalhöyük suggests that this word-view also made room for the notion
of coming back to life (also suggested by Collins, 2014) and that this resurrected
life spiritually resided inside of the head of the dead.
Astronomical Imagery. This idea of an H-shaped gateway to the afterlife and
the head as the seat of the life force may originate from what was visible in the
night sky of the time. During the 10th Millennium B.C.E., the north pole was oc-
cupied by the H-shaped constellation Hercules near the bright star Vega in the
constellation Lyra next to Cygnus (Figure 18). We think this iconography of a
rotating, never-setting “H” in the night sky next to a bright point source of light,
therefore, may have been interpreted as a headless being with its detached head
next to a vulture-like figure nearby and its eternal life related to the fact that it,
unlike most other stars, was visible every night. An alternative interpretation of
either Vega or the star Deneb (in Cygnus) suggests that it may have inspired the
“H”-symbol (Sweatman & Tsikritsis, 2017: p. 239) though Collins has suggested
that Deneb was instead represented by the “Soul Holes” found in two of the en-
closures (see Figure 9 and Figure 10 in Collins, 2015). The celestial torso from
which the head (i.e. Vega in our interpretation) was severed may also have been
inspired by the constellation Orion, also possibly imagined as a headless huma-
noid figure (Schoch, 2012: p. 55).
The snake-like constellation Draco (Figure 18) may explain the iconography
of the many snakes on the T-shaped pillars and on the back of a limestone head
found at Nevalı Çori and their seeming migration depicted on some pillars to-
wards the “H” symbol (e.g. Figure 3(m)) is neatly explained by Draco’s and
Boötes’ (possibly imagined as a scorpion) proximity to Hercules. The vulture
“flying” and “chasing” after the “torso” of Hercules during the hours of the night
could have been seen in Cygnus (represented on Pillar 43; Collins, 2017) and we
agree that this is more likely than another interpretation which suggests it was
meant to represent Sagittarius (Sweatman & Tsikritsis, 2017: p. 237), as the
Andrew Collins has interpreted the meaning of a bone plaque found at Göbekli Tepe to show a
path taken by a person in between two T-
shaped pillars and towards the “soul hole”, opening
through limestone slabs placed at the north ends of Enclosures C and D (Collins, 2015)
. A similar
passage-like iconography is shown in Laroche #207 (
Figure 9), a ligature of “god” and “path” which
was the Luwian word for “mountain”.
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10.4236/ad.2019.72003 46 Archaeological Discovery
Figure 17. Recreation of a typical wall mural on the north wall of a dwelling at Ça-
talhöyük showing a vulture and headless human torsos reminiscent of a T-shape with
arms and legs. Çatalhöyük site museum, Turkey. Image (2013) courtesy of Robert Schoch
and Catherine Ulissey.
Figure 18. View of the northern star zone from the perspective of Göbekli Tepe in 9600
B.C.E. (Julian year-9599) recreated using Stellarium (version 0.14.3). In the center is the
constellation Hercules. The brightest star in the northern star zone Vega is highlighted.
The circumpolar region was then populated by the constellations Hercules, Draco, Cyg-
nus, Aquilla, Lyra, and Boötes.
former view is better anchored in our own reconstruction of prehistoric Anato-
lia’s imagined afterlife and better supported by the evidence from Çatalhöyük as
Collins (2017) has also noted. This astronomical interpretation is also consistent
with the general north-south orientations of enclosures A-D, but the exact posi-
tions of Hercules and Vega and the circumpolar constellations in remote times
need to be confirmed using astronomical software which can recreate remote
M. Seyfzadeh, R. Schoch
10.4236/ad.2019.72003 47 Archaeological Discovery
periods of time (e.g. the Carte du Ciel star mapping project; see Conclusion in
De Lorenzis & Orofino, 2015).
Another confounding variable may be introduced by tectonic plate move-
ment. Göbekli Tepe is located northwest of the East Anatolian Fault on the
Anatolian plate and rotates counterclockwise due to northward push from the
Arabian Plate on its eastern end (Cavalié & Jónsson, 2013, see Figure 1 of cita-
tion). This means that the perspective from Anatolian monuments on the
ground very slowly rotates west of north relative to the stars in the night sky.
The extent to which this may affect alignments to certain stars measured today
should be confirmed to be negligible, but it cannot be ignored
The bull-like T-shaped god statues of Göbekli Tepe are not facing toward the
north and the circumpolar region, but are rather turned toward the south. It is
possible that the southeastern night sky with the constellation Taurus and Orion’s
belt asterism, previously suggested by one of us (Schoch, 2012: p. 55), may have
been associated with the T-shaped anthropomorphic pillars, and with the cranium
of an aurochs. Indeed, the god in question (represented by the central pillars of
Enclosure D) was facing toward the region of the sky containing Orion—with its
strong belt stars, perhaps represented by the belts on the pillars—and Taurus, the
bull or aurochs, on the vernal equinox during Göbekli Tepe times (Schoch, 2012).
It is also possible that prehistoric sky watchers associated either the bull, or
the T-shape, or both with the southern hemispheric cross-shaped constellation
Crux, which was visible in Anatolia during the 10th Millennium B.C.E. Likewise,
the nearby constellation Centaur’s inverted “U”-shape may have inspired the
same symbol on the belt buckle of Pillar 18, the circular shape of Enclosures
A-D, and the “U”-shaped stone entrance to Enclosure C to its south. The Milky
Way, on which Crux can be seen, forms a starry path to the circumpolar region
and this may have been symbolized as the path to the afterlife in the north.
T-shaped megalithic pillars on the southern side of the island of Menorca called
Taulas surrounded by horseshoe-shaped enclosures built by the Talayotic (Ta-
laiotic) Civilization (circa 1300-800 B.C.E.) were also likely oriented to the low
altitude constellations Crux and Centaur (Hoskins et al., 1990) and the sites were
abandoned at the same time when Crux disappeared in the northern hemisphere
due to Earth-axial precession hinting at a causal connection5. The Taulas are a
compelling example of an ancient monumental recreation of starry images im-
agined in the night sky (Figure 19).
Animal Imagery. We may ask if it is necessary to invoke an association with
celestial images in order to explain the ancient worship of animal-like gods or
gods associated with certain animals. From the perspective of ancient people, the
wild aurochs must have been an imposing and ferocious animal (Figure 20)
Klaus Schmidt did not believe that the Bronze Age Menorcan Taulas had any relationship to the
shaped pillars at Göbekli Tepe because they were made from two stone elements instead
of one monolith (Schmidt, 2012, Q & A sessi
on). However, it is not clear if Schmidt had considered
that both, despite different manufacture, may have been inspired by the same imagined celestial
image or by objects in the sky at all.
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Figure 19. Above, a Taula on Menorca, Spain. Below, a screenshot view of the southern
star zone in 1301 B.C.E. (Julian year-1300) from the perspective of Menorca recreated
using Stellarium (version 0.14.3). In the center is the Constellation Crux (gamma Crux is
highlighted), the southern cross. The constellation Centaur featuring the bright stars Al-
pha and Beta Centauri forms a horseshoe-like enclosure around Crux and this starry im-
age may have concretely inspired the Taulas. Image (modified) courtesy of Shutter stock,
Standard License #672366646 (January 2, 2019).
Figure 20. Wall mural at Çatalhöyük showing an aurochs hunt, discovered by James Me-
laart (1961). Çatalhöyük site museum, Turkey. Image (2013) courtesy of Omar Hoftun,
CC BY-SA 3.0,
M. Seyfzadeh, R. Schoch
10.4236/ad.2019.72003 49 Archaeological Discovery
perfectly suited to symbolize power and this association continued into the
Bronze Age when the Anatolian storm god Tešup is seen with a bull (Figure 6
and Figure 8). The vulture could have been uniquely associated with death as
this bird could have commonly been witnessed consuming the carcasses of dead
animals and humans, unlike other meat-eating animals which eat freshly killed
prey. In ancient Egypt, as today, lions bask in the sun, baboons cheer at sunrise,
falcons perform acrobatics in front of the glowing sun disk (Robert Bauval, per-
sonal communication), and scarab beetles emerge from the sands. Is it the beha-
vior of these animals which turned them into Tefnut, Mehit, Horakhty, Babi,
Horus, and Kheper, or was it their imagined likenesses in the starry night sky,
that place no ancient human could ever reach, which made them god-like? We
think one must consider both aspects of animals, how they behaved and how
their likenesses might have been recognized in prominent groups of stars, to re-
construct what likely mattered in each case to ancient peoples’ worship of ani-
mal-like gods. However, caution must be exercised when attempting to recon-
struct what animal or human shapes different ancient cultures at different times
imagined certain groups of stars to represent. The ancient Egyptians of the New
Kingdom, for example, likely saw the hippopotamus goddess “reret”, the scor-
pion goddess “serket”, the falcon god “anu”, and the ox thigh “mesekhtiu” in the
circumpolar star group, while Claudius Ptolemaeus’
century C.E.) listed Draco, Ursa major and minor, and Boötes (Lull & Belmonte,
2009, Chapter 6, pp. 164-168).
Conclusions. In summary, we have drawn a semantic link between the do-
minant symbolism of Göbekli Tepe, T-pillars and H-symbols, and the words for
god and gate in the Luwian script. Thus, the central pillars inside Göbekli Tepe’s
enclosures were meant to be gods, or one god, associated with bulls and the
H-symbols on them were meant to explicitly mark them as such, i.e. beings, or
one supreme spiritual being, presiding over the imagined path from life to death
in the form of a symbolic gateway. This link confirms what others have long
suspected: That Göbekli Tepe, at least in part, served as a temple site. The details
of the rituals practiced there (as well as other activities) may not come to light, if
ever, until the remaining circles are excavated; however, our analysis suggests
that a passage rite involving decapitation of the deceased, and thus resurrection
from the realm of the dead, may have been involved. The role of the god asso-
ciated with a bull was that of the gatekeeper between the realms of the living and
the dead and so it is possible, we might speculate, that resurrection in the form
of decapitation required a price to be paid, possibly a sacrifice which was enacted
inside of the circles. This may have been a spectacle watched by pilgrims to the
site, and the incentive to make the long journey to Göbekli Tepe from the sur-
rounding camps would have been the feasts held made from the animals sacri-
ficed on these prehistoric altars.
From these early beginnings, the essential elements of this ritual would have
eventually been “domesticated” at the later settlements of the region in a more
M. Seyfzadeh, R. Schoch
10.4236/ad.2019.72003 50 Archaeological Discovery
ritualized form of skull preservation and reverence as part of staying connected
to ancestors. The roots of this ancestral worship however bear the marks of
hunters and nomadic gatherers, not settled farmers. Only later, when edible
plants were cultivated, a more relevant to farming, likewise astronomically in-
spired, shift of focus from the stars in the north and south to the Sun and
Moon in the east and west may have occurred explaining the variant circle
orientations of Enclosures A and F, the latter of which 14Carbon-dates to the
late 9th Millennium B.C.E. (De Lorenzis & Orofino, 2015: pp. 43-47). A similar
more symbolic, and less actual, reenactment of a primeval, more physical, ri-
tual would be the Mouth Opening Ceremony of Dynastic Egypt as the stylized
version of the Statuette Making Ritual or the ritual killing and revival of an
Egyptian king during the Heb-Sed festival as the stylized, i.e. more civilized,
version of the actual killing of an ageing chieftain having to prove that he can
still lead a hunt to procure food for his tribe or else be killed (Helck, 1987,
Chapter 2, page 5).
The advent of the Neolithic Revolution in this model rested on a unifying
concept of a superhuman, yet both human-like and bull-like spiritual being, a
god, which brought otherwise scattered people into one location to build a mo-
nument for worship, perform rituals for the afterlife, and feast. Why this unify-
ing spirituality arose during and after the end of the Younger Dryas in southeast
Anatolia and was eventually buried together with the monumental creations ex-
pressing it remains unknown. It may have been epic ecological changes caused
by a wide-spread catastrophe (Schoch, 2012: p. 99-103; Sweatman & Tsikritsis,
2017: p. 243), it may have been a charismatic shaman or tribal leader, and even
distant origin cultural transfer has been proposed including from Australia
(Fenton, 2017)6. Whatever inspired it—fear, charisma, or cultural transfer from
elsewhere—the congregation it catalyzed made innovation7, division of labor,
and team work more likely, eventually (circa 8th millennium B.C.E. or earlier)
setting the stage for the domestication of plants (Demiral, 2016: pp. 131-133)
and animals by larger groups of people united by the same beliefs conveyed by
its powerful spiritual symbolism. This, then, may have been the real catalyst in
Cauvin’s model of the origins of agriculture: The communal spirit of interact-
ing in a large group captivated by iconic symbols recognized by many as op-
posed to hunting in the isolation of small bands composed only of a few close-
ly-nit family members. It is this power of symbols which we think was the driv-
ing force behind the desire to record them in stone and the word for God fit-
tingly would be the first such symbol recorded, making it the first word in recorded
6Bruce Fenton has suggested a close match between the H-symbols carved onto Pillars 18 and 28
Göbekli Tepe and an Australian Aboriginal symbol for exchanging knowledge seen on some Ch
7For example, stone cutting and transporting technology and the insight by accidental
that the seeds of edible wild grasses could be planted in the soil in the spring to produce a new ed
ble plant in the fall, thus providing a renewable food source.
M. Seyfzadeh, R. Schoch
10.4236/ad.2019.72003 51 Archaeological Discovery
We would like to dedicate this paper to Professor Dr. Klaus Schmidt, the disco-
verer of Göbekli Tepe’s megalithic stone circles, who tragically passed away on
20 July 2014.
Conflicts of Interest
The authors declare no conflicts of interest regarding the publication of this pa-
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