Göbeklitepe takes European’s roots back to Anatolian lands
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Göbeklitepe, the prehistoric site situated 15 kilometers away from the city of Şanlıurfa in southeastern Turkey represents a reset in terms of our knowledge about civilization, according to an expert. It is more evidence that Anatolia’s contribution to the rise of civilization is much greater than we thought, said Nezih Başgelen. The site is about 7,000 years older than Stonehedge in England.
The government has declared 2019 the “Year of Göbeklitepe.”
“Research has revealed that Europe transitioned to agriculture and therefore to civilization thanks to those in Anatolia who migrated to Europe. The farmers in Anatolia migrated to Europe seven or six thousand years ago taking their knowledge on agriculture and all their knowledge accumulated ever since Göbeklitepe,” said Başgelen.
Some describe Göbeklitepe as the point zero of history? Would you agree with that description?
I would rather say it represents a reset, especially in terms of our knowledge on civilization and architecture. These are monumental sites which we did not know it would have been possible to be built with the tools that existed at that time. We have come across these type of elaborate and complex monuments only after five or six thousand years. The site is 7,000 years older than Stonehedge in England. What also makes the structures remarkable are their carved reliefs of animals, like boars, foxes, lions, birds, snakes. Figures are 99 percent male. It is a patriarchal organization. There are no women. It might symbolize the beginning of a male-dominated religious understanding. There is only one woman figure, and she gives birth. We can see it as the beginning of religious architecture.
Can it be considered as the oldest site of faith, the first temple complex?
Let’s call it the oldest sacred place because it is still being debated whether they are temples or not.
The site is said to change the conventional view on the rise of civilization. Put simply agriculture was seen as the key factor to pass from nomadic to sedentary life, whereas maybe it was faith that was a catalyzer to pass to sedentary life.
In contrast to the hunter gatherer bands, they had some sense of social organization and coordination. Göbeklitepe represents the beginning, the introduction to civilization. It is a turning point. The roots of civilization date back to the Neolithic age, and Göbeklitepe, together with other sites in Anatolia, show that the contribution of Anatolia to the birth of civilization was much more than we thought.
Recent findings show that the ancestors of the ancestors of those who built Stonehedge in England went from Anatolia. Again research in Europe made public in 2017 in Berlin revealed that European civilization was started by those who came from Anatolia.
In one of your articles, you make a connection with the current flow of migration from the Middle East to Europe.
Throughout history, Anatolia has been a geography where people came and go. Today, we see Syrian refugees coming and going. In a way, migration flows to and from Anatolia, the movement of masses, dates back to prehistoric times. The EU’s project called BEAN (bridging the European and Anatolian Neolithic) has revealed that Europe transitioned to agriculture and therefore to civilization thanks to those in Anatolia who migrated to Europe. The farmers in Anatolia migrated to Europe seven or six thousand years ago taking their knowledge on agriculture and all their knowledge accumulated ever since Göbeklitepe. The DNA research shows an affinity between people, animals in Anatolia and in Europe. These are very interesting findings which people in Europe and Anatolia are still not aware of. It takes time for ordinary people to find out and realize the importance of scientific research.
Perhaps that’s why it is important that Göbeklitepe has been added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List and Turkey declared 2019 as the “Year of Göbeklitepe.”
Indeed, there is an explosion of interest in Göbeklitepe in Turkey. Turks have discovered Göbeklitepe. There is huge curiosity. But the U.S. travel warning includes that area, and this is creating a huge obstacle for foreign tourists. There is no mass foreign tourism to Göbeklitepe. But in reverse, there is a huge rise in domestic tourism. You can’t find rooms in hotels; there are huge queues in the site.
Could there be some negative consequences to the huge rise in the numbers of tourists visiting the site?
The excavations have been stalled. When it has all of a sudden become a center of attraction, it started to face uncontrolled tourism. This is like a pendulum in Turkey; you go from one extreme to the other. Currently, there is no sufficient infrastructure to cater to the increasing numbers. There is chaos.
Yet Urfa can become a special center of attraction as important as Jerusalem, due to Prophet Abraham (who is believed to have been born in Urfa) who is a common figure for all monotheist religions. And now there is Göbeklitepe with its mystical dimension of faith. In fact, Urfa is discovering its true identity only recently. If only Turkey could use this better.
But currently, another problem is one of maintenance of the site and the findings.
But a structure was built by the Germans to protect the site?
Yes, but it was not built accordingly. German Archeology Institute took ownership of the project, and it was done using EU funds. No one from Turkey was involved, and it was done without calculating the climate of the country, as if they were covering a football stadium in Berlin. They did not foresee the amount of rain for instance.
Are there still many things left undiscovered in Göbeklitepe?
We are only at the beginning. We barely know 10 percent of it. It will continue to surprise us and make us forget what we already knew.
The government seems to endorse the trend of highlighting the historic, especially archeological sites. In 2018, it was the year of Troy, for instance.
If you have current account deficit and if the panacea is foreign tourists, then you have to take such action. But rather than foreign tourists, it was domestic tourism that saw a high growth. On the other hand, taking such initiatives is highly beneficial in terms of triggering an awareness especially of old civilizations dating back to pre-Ottoman times.
Indeed, local people used to describe prehistoric sites nearby as “just some stones.”
Previously, people did not take ownership of prehistoric heritage in Turkey. They used to say: “This is not ours.” Now, they realized their importance and say: “They are ours.” They are taking ownership. They open restaurants in Urfa and give it names belonging to antiquity. There is a rivalry with Gaziantep, which highlighted Zeugma. Locals in Urfa are proud of hosting Göbeklitepe. This is a real gain. Locals are very protective about Göbeklitepe.
What we call civilization was born in these lands, and the young generations are growing with this knowledge. In addition, Göbeklitepe can play a catalyzing role to change Urfa, a very conservative, pious city.
WHO IS NEZİH BAŞGELEN?
Nezih Başgelen was born in Istanbul in 1958 and is the publisher of Turkey’s first magazine on archeology, “Art and Archeology Magazine,” published since 1978.
He founded the Archeology and Art Publishing house in 1982. The company published numerous catalogues and research papers on ancient civilizations in Anatolia.
In 1986, Başgelen established the Celsus Picture library, a visual documentary archive of this country’s historic and touristic richness.
He has been photographing Turkey’s archeological treasures while also collecting old books and maps.
Overall, he has published a total of around 1,000 works on archeology, art history, tourism and historic and environmental protection.
He also started a project of educational painting books to familiarize children with archeology.
He is a member of the UNESCO Turkey national committee.