Buried face-down. A statue from Göbekli Tepe’s southwestern hilltop

Starting from 2007 new excavation areas were opened at Göbekli Tepe´s southwestern hilltop. The aim was to get a better understanding of the architecture of the tell – would the stratigraphical situation from the southeastern excavation areas repeat here? And indeed, soon buildings characteristic for the younger Layer II appeared.

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The sculpture of a standing person and its find spot at Göbekli Tepe’s southwestern hilltop (copyright DAI, photos D. Johannes, K. Schmidt, drawings excavation team).

Many of the rectangular or subrectangular buildings discovered at Göbekli Tepe show evidence of rebuilding, repairing or other modifications. One very large room, discovered in area L9-17, for instance was at some point in its life-cycle subdivided by two walls into one large approximately square central room and two adjacent smaller chambers. No entries to these chambers could be identified. Maybe access was possible through the roof, but this remains speculation. In the eastern chamber soon a pillar fragment was discovered, and, when excavation continued, just to the north of it an anthropomorphic sculpture.

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Anthropomorphic sculpture found face-down in a room in the southwestern hilltop excavation areas at Göbekli Tepe (copyright DAI, photo D. Johannes).

The sculpture was complete and lying face down. The deliberate deposition of sculptures next to pillars is a well-known phenomenon at Göbekli Tepe. The physical separation of the space the sculpture was found in from the rest of the room further strengthens the impression of an intentional placement.

The 66 cm high image shows a standing person, with bent arms and hands brought together at the belly, not unlike the posture of the T-shaped pillars. The person is looking upwards and wearing a cap. Further details of the face and the frontside of the statue will become visible only after restoration, as a thick layer of sinter is covering them. The legs are not shown, instead the sculpture has a conical tap that allowed it to be set into the ground.

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18 thoughts on “Buried face-down. A statue from Göbekli Tepe’s southwestern hilltop

  1. A brief note of thanks from a non-academic re: this site and its information on a new-to-me aspect of current (relatively speaking) archaeological investigation. Your willingness to share your discoveries and insights in this manner is greatly appreciated.

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  2. There seems to have been a lot of emphasis on this gesture of the hands pointed at the navel (or lower)…it’s on the anthropomorphic central pillars, it’s on this little statue, it’s (kind of) on the “Urfa man” statue…can only wonder and speculate as to what it all meant. Such a fascinating site.

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    • Concerning the Urfa statue the gesture most likely aims at the erect phallus which is depicted quite prominently. Ethnographically and historically speaking such gestures signal aggression, power, or have an apotropaic function.
      It is not sure however whether the position of the hands on the pillars has the same meaning.

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  3. There are several large gesture signs that involve both arms or both legs. These signs could be found world wide in ancient times. For example, the “splayed legs” sign represents “birthing.” The arms with the hands ending in the stomach area can be confusing. If the hands are resting over the stomach area (sometimes the stomach is depicted as enlarged) then it means, “pregnant.”

    If the hands do not extend over, or rest upon, the stomach then it means, “the Hand(s) on the side(s).” The Arm represented, “a warrior” while the Hand indicated, the Hand of the Sun, “a steward of the Sun”, or a Sun-priest. The meaning of this sign cannot be determined from observing just one instance of its use. One has to research the sign, within its context, in numerous ancient compositions in order to understand its reserved meaning.

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    • I think we should account for the fact that signs/signals/gestures are in many cases highly culture specific.

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      • Do you have any documentation for such cases related to cultures contemporary with Gobekli Tepe? We are talking about a very ancient sign system that accompanied migrating peoples when they left the old world and took, who knows how long, to reach the Americas. Thus the system in the Americas was very ancient and not susceptible to changes, due to their isolation, that may have occurred in the old world. Fortunately, we have historical documentation for over 300 signs from the Americas. The depicted signs at Gobekli Tepe follow the same underlying organization and use the same gesture signs as those found in the Americas. The main reason for the signing system was to allow communication between peoples using different verbal languages. Changing the system would have destroyed its value for inter group communication. Depicted sign language also allowed people to preserve concepts that were important to them over the ages much as writing does today.

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      • A colleague is working on possible meanings of gestures typic for Neolithic sculpture. I’ll post something here when his article is out. I highly doubt that there is any direct interrelation between these and American sign language. Instead, there may be a small set of basic gestures common to humans, like Eibl-Eibesfeldt has proposed.

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  4. I must concur with others, this is a fantastic website offering readers up-to-date discoveries from an archaeological site that is of monumental significance for understanding human history and the origins of civilization.

    Thanks guys and keep up the good work!

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  5. Of course the point is that the signing system was not an “American” invention. Even ancient man did not live in a vacuum. Your colleague apparently believes that the imagery on neolithic sculpture was based in gestures. I will be looking forward to his findings.

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    • American Indian sign laguage evolved in a highly specific cultural setting and is considerably younger. I still very much doubt that it has commonalities with the gestures displayed on Neolithic images. As I said, there may be a basic set of gestures common to humans in general though.

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  6. I don’t understand how you can say that sign language evolved in a highly specific cultural setting and is considerably younger (than the neolithic). You mean a tribe that took thousands of years migrating from the old world to the new is automatically younger than the tribes they left behind? I don’t know how one would go about historically documenting the origin of the signs since the people closest to sign language (in the1800s ) were unable to determine where the signs originated. Tribes always seemed to credit the next tribe over the hill with its invention.

    I am not an archaeologist so I do wonder why archaeologists go to the trouble of documenting the ancient depictions if they believe the signs can never, or will never, be understood. Of course, one can never be accused of being mistaken or wrong if one only writes in vague generalities that provide little or no actual information. Flatly denying the existence of, or the possibility for, any correlation between the appearance of the same signs across time and space seems only to discourage attempts to find and understand such correlations.

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    • I am not suggesting that ancient depictions can´t be understood. All I am saying is that you need hard proof to compare a sign language system that was – as you say – first documented in the 1800s in America to gestures on Neolithic imagery of northern Mesopotamia. Where should the common root lie, and what changes may this system have undergone through millennia?

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    • Surely the researcher only can speak in generalities if proof is absent. Leaping to conclusions may only lead down blind alleys. And what evidence is there that American Indian sign language was uniform throughout the Americas?

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  7. I agree. There is, of course, freedom to speculate. I was responding to a rather blanket denial of possibilities that was not backed up by any evidence. There is some documentation that when the US government brought several tribes together to meetings in Washington the tribes were able to communicate with each other through gesture signs.

    I don’t think that there was absolute uniformity in sign language across the Americas. Today we may try to compare depicted signs without realizing something that, in terms of its imagery, looks quite different may in actuality just be a concept that was paraphrased. I think this may cause some confusion when trying to compare signs found in petroglyphs and attach such signs to different cultures. In general it must have been uniform enough to allow people to communicate, exchange ideas, and engage in trade.

    Historically documented signs are important because they allow us to test unknown signs within the context of the known signs. By using a form of depicted sign language ancient cultures slowed down changes in depicted signing. This written word has the same effect today.

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    • But what you say does suggest that signs which may (or may not) exist on the Gubekli Tepe, or other lithic structures are unlikely to have a direct correspondence in meaning with those found far outside of their cultural area. And from what I can see there is no provable symbolism anyway. Sorry but for me it’s too theoretical to take farther.

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  8. First of all, depicted signs are not icons or symbolism. They are part of a language system. There is no doubt that the sign language system existed and that the same signs can be found all over the ancient world. I find it difficult to understand why people reject one of the few scientific avenues to explore what ancient people were thinking when they left behind such a plethora of signs. It is a rather complicated and dry subject but you might read:

    https://www.academia.edu/11314798/Ancient_Depicted_Sign_Language

    It is hard to defend this subject in short comments and this might not even be the place for such discussion. I do appreciate the work being done at Gobekli Tepe and the updates provided here. I offered my comments hoping people will look into the potential of depicted sign language in an attempt
    to understand the meaning behind the Gobekli Tepe site. After all, I am not proposing than lizard headed beings from outer space created Gobekli Tepe to confound future generations of human beings.

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