Göbekli Tepe; processing of cereals in the Early Neolithic (10th-9th millennium BC)

In this post we present selected parts of the very interesting paper titled “Cereal processing at Early Neolithic Göbekli Tepe, southeastern Turkey“, by Laura Dietrich et al.


Abstract We analyze the processing of cereals and its role at Early Neolithic Göbekli Tepe, south-eastern Anatolia (10th / 9th millennium BC), a site that has aroused much debate in archaeological discourse. To date, only zooarchaeological evidence has been discussed in regard to the subsistence of its builders. Göbekli Tepe consists of monumental round to oval buildings, erected in an earlier phase, and smaller rectangular buildings, built around them in a partially contemporaneous and later phase. The monumental buildings are best known as they were in the focus of research. They are around 20 m in diameter and have stone pillars that are up to 5.5 m high and often richly decorated. The rectangular buildings are smaller and–in some cases–have up to 2 m high, mostly undecorated, pillars. Especially striking is the number of tools related to food processing, including grinding slabs/bowls, handstones, pestles, and mortars, which have not been studied before. We analyzed more than 7000 artifacts for the present contribution. The high frequency of artifacts is unusual for contemporary sites in the region. Using an integrated approach of formal, experimental, and macro-/ microscopical use-wear analyses we show that Neolithic people at Göbekli Tepe have produced standardized and efficient grinding tools, most of which have been used for the processing of cereals. Additional phytolith analysis confirms the massive presence of cereals at the site, filling the gap left by the weakly preserved charred macro-rests. The organization of work and food supply has always been a central question of research into Göbekli Tepe, as the construction and maintenance of the monumental architecture would have necessitated a considerable work force. Contextual analyses of the distribution of the elements of the grinding kit on site highlight a clear link between plant food preparation and the rectangular buildings and indicate clear delimitations of working areas for food production on the terraces the structures lie on, surrounding the circular buildings. There is evidence for extensive plant food processing and archaeozoological data hint at large-scale hunting of gazelle between midsummer and autumn. As no large storage facilities have been identified, we argue for a production of food for immediate use and interpret these seasonal peaks in activity at the site as evidence for the organization of large work feasts.


Introduction Cereal food is one of the main components of the modern human diet. Its integration into the subsistence strategy during the late Epipalaeolithic (c. 12500–9600 cal BC) and Pre-Pottery Neolithic (PPN, c. 9600–7000 cal BC) has been recognized as a very long and complex process involving the selection and utilization of plants, strategies of exploitation of plants and land, the development of cultivation, and ways of processing, storing and consuming plants.The establishment of agricultural economies at the end of the later part of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic (PPNB, c. 8800–7000 cal BC), comprising the deliberate, large-scale cultivation of domesticated cereals and other domesticated plants, was predated by a longer period of experimentation and technological modifications that led to the development of a specialized tool kit for plant food processing. Typical implements for cereal processing are pounding and grinding tools used in pairs, comprising a static low implement (mortar, grinding slab or grinding bowl) and an active upper tool that is moved across its surface (pestle or handstone). The different processes for fragmenting cereals include de-hulling, pearling, polishing or grinding to fine flour and are also ethnographically attested. The aim of all these techniques is to enhance the digestibility of cereals, lower their cooking time and raise their dietary energy. Early direct evidence for the processing of cereals to fine flour through grinding was found in the Early Epipaleolithic site of Ohalo II, dated to c. 21000 calBC and the Early to Late Natufian site of Shubayqa, dated to 12500–9600 cal BC. However, the regular processing of wild cereals through grinding seems to have been established first in the Late Natufian, as suggested by macrobotanical evidence as well as by morphological changes in grinding stones combined with use-wear analyses. The increase of grinding stones with typical use-wear in Late Natufian contexts and the reduction of forms of bed-rock mortars at the end of the Natufian and during the PPNA (c.8800–7000 cal BC) can be interpreted as indicating increased processing of cereals as food sources and the establishment of grinding as a more effective processing technique. New analyses seem to confirm the important role these features played in the processing of cereals and the production of beer in the Late Natufian. Flat, large grinding stones and handstones became a supra-regional standard during the subsequent Levantine PPN, constituting an integral part of the architecture. This development seems to coincide with the general trend of increasing use and production of cereals. However, there was significant regional variability in the establishment of cereals as one of the main food sources.

Both mortars / pestles and handstones / grinding slabs / bowls can be used for the processing of cereals like a variety of ethnographic examples show. Many factors, like the available raw material, customs or technological knowledge can theoretically influence changes in tool morphologies. The functions of grinding stones therefore have to be established using an integrated program of contextual, formal and use-wear analyses.

Recent investigations have highlighted the area between the upper reaches of Euphrates and Tigris as one region where the transition to food-producing subsistence took place early during the Epipalaeolithic and the Pre-Pottery Neolithic. The distribution areas of the wild forms of einkorn, emmer wheat, barley and other ‘Neolithic founder crops’ overlap here and DNA fingerprinting has pinpointed the transition of two wild wheat variants to domesticated crops to this part of the Fertile Crescent. Systematic early plant use has been found at a variety of sites, like Cafer Höyük, Çayönü, Hallan Çemi, Jerf el Ahmar, and Körtik Tepe. Some of these sites have produced large quantities, in some cases several hundreds, of items for plant food processing (handstones, large grinding bowls and slabs as well as mortars and pestles).


Typical early PPN residential structures are small, round to oval and semi-subterranean huts, which are later, during the PPNB, replaced by planned settlements with large rectangular buildings. Already at the start of the PPN, ‘special buildings’, often monumental innature and with a common iconography, appear in Upper Mesopotamia at sites like Çayönü, Djáde al Mughara, Göbekli Tepe, Gusir Höyük, Hallan Çemi, Jerf el Ahmar, Mureybet, and Nevalı Çori. These ‘special’ buildings have been interpreted as being related to ritual, as places that served as ‘external memorial storage’ for the societies constructing them, or as ‘communal buildings’ for a variety of tasks. A connection of (some) ‘special buildings’ with cereal use has been stressed especially for one site so far. At PPNA Jerf el Ahmar, subterranean circular ‘communal’ buildings were surrounded by residential architecture. One of them, building EA 30, was a round semi-subterranean construction divided into cells. As these cells contained higher than average concentrations of cereals (mostly barley), the building was interpreted as a communal silo. It was surrounded by rectangular limestone buildings, which in some cases showed installations of several querns in a row.

The by far largest assembly of ‘special buildings’ so far known is that of Göbekli Tepe in southeastern Turkey. At this site, from the second half of the 10th millennium BC onwards, early Neolithic groups constructed several monumental circular limestone buildings up to 20m in diameter and with pillars that were up to 5.5 m high and often richly decorated. The buildings have been interpreted as the loci of cultic activities, and large-scale workfeasts have been discussed as a model to explain the gathering of a workforce large enough for the building activities. Arguments regarding the subsistence of the builders and the likelihood of feasting have so far concentrated very much on hunting and the animal bones found at the site. Göbekli Tepe has not played any role in discussions of early cereal use, although the late excavator of the site, Klaus Schmidt, proposed that the necessity to supply food for extensive construction activities could have contributed to a need for reliable food sources, accelerating the process of domestication. The reasons for this contradiction can be found–at least in part–in the problematic nature of direct evidence for cereals on site.

Although analysis of macrobotanical remains by R. Neef indicate the presence of wild einkorn (Triticum cf. boeticum/urartu), wild barley (Hordeum cf. spontaneum) and possibly wildwheat/rye (Triticum/Secale), as well as almonds (Prunus sp.) and pistachio (Pistacia sp.) at Göbekli Tepe, the same study points out that only a conspicuously low amount of carbonized plant remains has been recovered, both in handpicked and in flotation samples. The poor preservation was explained by the large-scale relocation of the sediments the samples were taken from, which would have had a negative impact on the fragile plant remains. They therefore cannot be used to estimate the intensity of plant processing on site. On the other hand, excavations recovered large numbers of grinding tools, but these have not yet been analyzed.

Detailed analysis of the grinding tools from Göbekli Tepe has the potential to add valuable information about plant food processing and feasting at the site and to further understanding of the transformation processes occurring during the Early Neolithic in Upper Mesopotamia. The presence of grinding tools on a site is often used as proof for plant processing in archaeological analyses, but use-wear studies have proposed multiple functions for such tools in the Near East, including processing of meat, animal skin, or minerals. As a first step in our analysis it is necessary to outline the ground stone materials recovered in excavation, and to discuss the functional variation of these. Grinding and pounding equipment, consisting of handstones, grinding bowls (larger basalt boulders deepened by use into the form of bowls), plates and pestles, was documented through 3D-modelling by structure from motion, the surfaces were macro- and microscopically analyzed for use-wear. We used replicas of the equipment identified on site to experimentally grind different materials and establish a reference collection for the identification of the observed traces. Further, phytolith samples taken from the sediments inside and outside buildings at Göbekli Tepe and from grinding stone surfaces allowed us to determine and quantify the presence of plants. To contextualize the results, we assessed the spatial distribution of grinding equipment and identified potential activity areas. Here we report on the results of this interdisciplinary approach that has led for the first time to deeper insights into the role of cereal processing and use at Göbekli Tepe. We argue that collecting and processing cereals was an integral part of the subsistence system of the Early Neolithic groups who erected the megalithic buildings at Göbekli Tepe, that work feasts are a likely model to explain their ability to concentrate the necessary work force at the site, and that providing food (and drink) for these work feasts would have required large-scale food supplies and their processing at certain times of the year.


Functional analysis of grinding stones In archaeological analyses, the functions of grinding equipment are usually assessed by use-wear analysis on original finds and comparison of traces to experimentally obtained reference collections. There has also, however, been a trend to separately evaluate use-wear and surface transformations of objects and their formal development. These two lines of analysis should be brought together for a consistent interpretation of tool functions. At Göbekli Tepe, handstones, grinding bowls and plates, mortars and pestles have been discovered in large numbers. These tools are made of basalt, which occurs as an outcrop approximately 2 km from the site.

Almost 3400 handstones of coarse and middle-coarse basalt were found. They come in a variety of shapes and sections, which is characteristic for this find category.

Shapes define the handling, while sections, sizes and weights are determining factors for grinding motions and thus surface transformations during work processes. Handling and motions define the degree of efficiency and productivity.

We were able to experimentally verify the link between microscopically visible loose agglomerations of short grooves of differing densities and plateaus with U- or V-shaped profiles on the high topography of grinding stones and the processing of cereals as proposed by L. Dubreuil. We further observed that the shape and weight of handstones determine the motion and the resulting traces, as they force the worker to adopt certain standardized patterns of movement when grinding material of a certain texture and hardness. The exact replication of shapes and weights of active grinding implements should be considered in further experimental programs for establishing of reference collections. 3D modeling through structure from motion allows a good visualization of the shape and an exact calculation of volumes, which objectify the replication process. As a result, within our sample, assessing the shape and section and macroscopically visible traces can determine the use of grinding equipment in many cases, while microscopic observations support such findings.

Handstones are tools diagnostic for certain tasks, which is not the case with grinding bowls, plates and mortars. In Göbekli Tepe, grinding stones are not standardized, and they usually show multiple uses or are highly fragmented. Grinding bowls (or ‘troughed slabs’ in Davis’ terminology) are larger basalt boulders up to 50 cm in length which were deepened by use through both bidirectional and circular motions (as the wear patterns on their walls show) into the shape of bowls. Their surfaces are mostly circular and oval, but the actual shape mirrors only the last use. The presence of scars suggests that people utilized pounders to process food here in addition to handstones. This could indicate that other materials besides cereals were also processed in the grinding bowls; there is evidence of ochreon a few of them. A special type of grinding bowl has a hole in its bottom, which was intentionally made after a period of use, as the striking negatives show. Four finds of this type are known so far. Scars on their margins and their placement on roofs hint that they were used for dehusking cereals. Grinding plates are thin (up to 10 cm) compared to the grinding bowls and were also used both with bidirectional and circular movements. Only a few examples have been found though. Additionally, massive mortars with small round working surfaces (up to 12 cm diameter, on average 6 cm deep) have been found. They were used in combination with pestles and show traces of circular motions on their walls. Their use in cereal processing has not yet been experimentally tested. Pestles from Göbekli Tepe have highly fragmented working surfaces that do not easily permit use-wear analyses. Studies on materials from other Neolithic sites, however, attest the use of mortars in cereal processing.

The use-wear studies show that cereal processing was the most important task performed with a large proportion of the grinding equipment from Göbekli Tepe. However, despite the soundness of this evidence, we chose phytolith analysis as a further approach to prove cereal use at the site due to the absence of charred plant remains. We took samples from the different strata to verify the presence of cereals in different stratigraphical units and give an impression of the intensity of this presence. Samples from grinding stone surfaces were analyzed to further substantiate their connection to cereal processing.


Phytolith analysis In a first step, we conducted phytolith analyses on nine soil samples. Eight of the soil samples were taken from the major N-S profile in the main excavation area.

In order to compare the phytolith records of the archaeological sediments with those of selected grinding stones, we took and analyzed a total of fifteen samples from four grinding stones (GS-1 to GS-4; including two handstones type 1, one grinding slab and one grinding bowl) from three different archaeological contexts. Samples belonging to GS-2 and GS-3 were obtained from a handstone and grinding slab fragment from a rectangular building (building 125) belonging to layer II, found in a floor layer. We took sample GS-1 from a handstone from the filling of building F, and GS-4 from a grinding bowl fragment from building 134 on the floor level, dating to layer II. Since the grinding stones could not be sampled in situ, each stone was sampled both by dry and wet brushing, assuming that the majority of phytoliths extracted from the pores of the stones by washing with distilled water were produced during the processing of plant food. In order to obtain control samples, we sampled not only the grinding sides but also the break sides and back sides of the stones wherever possible.

A minimum of 290 phytoliths with recognizable morphologies were counted per soil sample, while at least 150 visual fields were considered in the counting of the grinding stone samples. Unidentifiable phytoliths were counted and recorded as weathered morphotypes. To allow quantitative comparisons between the samples, we estimated phytolith numbers per gram of sediment by relating phytolith amounts and weights of the processed sample material to the initial sample weights. Morphological identification of phytoliths was based on standard literature as well as on modern plant reference collections from the Mediterranean area. The International Code for Phytolith Nomenclature was followed where possible. A total of twenty-one morphometric parameters relative to size and shape for seventy elongate dendritic phytoliths, which are unique to inflorescence bracts, were measured for four selected samples. We obtained descriptive statistics of the means, range, and standard deviations for the parameter largest width for each sample and compared these to the morphometric results obtained from selected wheat and barley species by Ball et al.

Phytoliths were abundant in all nine soil samples examined, ranging from 0.5 to 3.0 million phytoliths per gram of sediment. Overall, the low proportions of weathered phytoliths (mean = 1.8%, σ= 0.8%, n = 9), together with the presence of multicell phytoliths in all samples, indicate that the assemblages are well-preserved. The morphological analyses show that all samples are similar in their morphotype assemblages.

We observed multicell phytoliths in all samples, although in different proportions. They commonly derived from the husks and culms of Pooids, including Triticum sp. and Hordeum sp.

The sediments inside the rectangular buildings largely contain markers for the upper and middle part of plants. This could be indicative of harvested cereals, as plants are usually collected and transported in sheaves. Discerning between different wild and domesticated wheat and barley species by morphometric analysis of phytoliths is a challenging task. The morphometric means of elongate dendritic phytoliths of four of the samples examined were in line with available morphometric data and could indicate the presence of T.monococcum (samples M11-269, M11-270), H.spontaneum (sample M11-133) and H.vulgare (sample M11-133), both in layer II and layer III structures. This contrasts with earlier studies, which emphasized that no domestication markers were visible at Göbekli Tepe and should be checked by further sampling.

The observation that phytolith amounts in wet-brushed stone surface samples are usually higher than in the corresponding dry-brushed samples supports the hypothesis that the sediments extracted from the pores of the grinding stones contain old phytolith assemblages. With concentrations of 92000–391000 phytoliths per gram of sediment, the samples from the grinding sides contain about twice to three times as many phytoliths as the samples from the break sides and back sides of the respective grinding stones (c. 28000–166000 afterwet brushing of GS-1, GS-3, GS-4), indicating that they were used for processing plant material.


Discussion This integrated scientific archaeological approach has for the first time produced a basis for assessing the role of cereals at Göbekli Tepe. The massive presence of grinding equipment and standardization in the production and use of handstones hint at large-scale cereal processing in layer II. This is supported by use-wear traces and the presence of phytoliths in samples from their surfaces.

While charred plant remains are rare, probably due to site formation processes, phytolith analyses verify the significant presence of cereals for all layers at Göbekli Tepe. In building D, however, grinding equipment from the deepest layer, which appears to be connected to the partially intentional refilling of the structure, also shows traces of ochre. The partial contemporaneity of layers III and II, as indicated by radiocarbon data and analyses of building history, could mean that cereal processing was conducted mainly in the rectangular buildings. Before the construction of the rectangular buildings, open spaces between or next to the monumental buildings could have served as activity areas for cereal processing. Also, some of the bedrock features on the limestone plateaus surrounding the site are comparable to what has been interpreted as ‘rock-cut mortars’ in the southern Levant. But even if we focus exclusively on the mobile tools used for cereal processing, their apparently high number suggests a high intensity of cereal processing and use throughout the site’s history.

During the experiments we observed that pendula-like bidirectional grinding motions are the most efficient method for grinding and producing fine grained flour. 500 g of einkorn was processed in 40 to 60 minutes, producing around 500 g of flour (ground cereals mixed with stone particles). A single handstone of types 1 or 2 –used bidirectionally–could therefore have produced an average of 4800 g flour within eight working hours. If we assume that one person needs between 500 g and 1000 g of cereals daily as nutrients for survival, this amount would be enough to feed five to ten people. However, it is hard to establish the number of grinding stones used contemporaneously at any given phase at the site. Domestic features contemporary to the older phases of the monumental buildings have not yet been clearly identified. Not all layer II buildings were used for domestic activities and, as explained above, it is difficult to determine how many ‘households’ might have been contemporaneous. A more detailed diachronical study comparing different contemporary ‘household’ inventories, as performed by K. Wright for Çatalhöyük, is therefore not feasible at Göbekli Tepe.

However, the overall quantity of 7268 analyzed grinding tools from Göbekli Tepe appears to be too high for simple daily use, given their relatively high productivity. Comparisons to other (partly) contemporary sites are hard to make, as often the total quantity of grinding equipment is not clear from the reports, and while plans show the total area exposed the amount of sediments excavated is not mentioned. Davis described 869 complete or fragmented handstones and 479 grinding slabs (7 whole) for Çayönü. At Jerf el Ahmar, 400 querns were found. Wright’s sample of contextualized material from Çatalhöyük includes 1129 querns / slabs, 26 roughouts and 168 handstones. PPNB assemblages from the Southern Levant do not exceed 500 grinding stones per site, and even Late PPNB assemblages have no more than 1000 grinding stones. There are, however, several factors affecting the distribution and density of grinding stones, like the number of inhabitants of the sites, access to raw materials for their production, the impact of curative technologies on their frequencies, environmental conditions, and culinary preferences. Also, processes of site formation and post-depositional factors impact on the circulation of objects, affecting each comparison between relative and/or absolute frequencies. It is impossible to define the number of grinding stones being used at the same time. However, the better preserved and extensively excavated rectangular buildings at Göbekli Tepe have produced an average number of 2 grinding stones/m3, which at the actual state of research appears to be very high for the time and region. Building D has an average of 2.45 grinding stones/m3. But while there is a high concentration of tools for certain domestic activities like grinding–and also hunting–other categories of material culture are missing from both layers II and III (bone points and awls are very rare, and clay figurines are completely missing). Only a selection of domestic tasks was performed at the site. As mentioned, there is also no evidence in form of hearths or fireplaces suggesting cooking activities in fixed locations inside or outside the rectangular buildings or in the monumental round structures. When interpreting the massive presence of grinding equipment, it is thus necessary to take the peculiarities of Göbekli Tepe into account, as it differs in various aspects from other Neolithic sites.

Göbekli Tepe has a high concentration of distinctive architecture, often addressed as ‘special buildings’, which do not repeat the characteristic plans of domestic buildings from contemporaneous settlements. Extensively excavated settlement sites like Nevalı Çori or Çayönü have one ‘special building’ per settlement phase, while Göbekli Tepe has several, likely contemporary buildings of this type, which different groups of people likely used. For the buildings excavated so far, we have observed certain regularities governing the decoration of the 69 known pillars–mostly with animal motifs, but also with abstract signs. While in building A snake images prevail, in building B foxes are dominant. In building C boar take over, and in building D the imagery is more diverse with birds, especially vultures, playing a significant role. In building H felines are of importance. We see these differences in figurative expression as evidence for different groups of people ornamenting the buildings with the emblematic animals central to their group identities. Göbekli Tepe has also produced a wide range of stationary and portable art, far outnumbering such finds from other contemporary sites. Many of the animal and human depictions are clearly marked as male, there are almost no female depictions, a situation contrary to the materials known from contemporary settlements. Göbekli Tepe’s remote location on a barren mountain ridge is very unusual compared to the setting of contemporaneous Neolithic settlements, which are regularly located next to water sources. No springs are known near Göbekli Tepe. Today, a small seasonal stream, the Mucid Dere, runs at a distance of ca. 3 km to the west; the nearest outlet lakes are located ca. 5 km away at Edene to the northeast and Germuş to the southwest. There is evidence for a system of possibly Neolithic cisterns on the limestone plateaus to the west of the site. The overall capacity of the cisterns found so far is 153 m3. This limits the possible number of people permanently present on site, as rainwater would only be constantly available during autumn/winter to refill the cisterns. We see these peculiarities as evidence for a specialized site, with a high concentration of ‘special buildings’. This does not rule out the possibility that a smaller group of people actually lived at Göbekli Tepe permanently. Some of the layer II buildings are domestic in nature, and their existence overlaps with the monumental buildings, even if we still do not know of domestic architecture contemporary to the older phases of the latter.


The construction of monumental architecture at Göbekli Tepe, and other similar sites in its vicinity, would have necessitated a workforce of hundreds of people even by conservative estimates. One model to explain cooperation in small-scale communities involves ritualized work feasts. M. Dietler and E. Herbich define work feasts as events in which “commensal hospitality is used to orchestrate voluntary collective labour,” the incentive to work together is provided by the prospect of large amounts of food and drink. Work feasts can mobilize hundreds of people across kinship or friendship networks, they are temporally finite and no obligations remain after their end. The number of people mobilized depends directly on the quantity and quality of food and drink provided. The main archaeological marker for feasting would be evidence of the presence of larger amounts of foodstuffs and tools than needed by the inhabitants of a site for their subsistence. We have presented evidence for Göbekli Tepe that fits that pattern for plant food. To characterize the intense production at Göbekli Tepe, a comparison with Jerf el Ahmar is helpful. Although there are similarities in site structure (rectangular buildings for plant processing next to round buildings), there is one important difference: at Göbekli Tepe no large silos have been identified. Production was not for storage, but for immediate use.

K. Twiss has argued that meat is often the most common food at feasts, and large animals are often of peculiar importance as they provide large amounts of meat and–due to the dangers involved in killing them–also prestige to hunters. For the early Neolithic, she emphasizes the importance of the aurochs, which also plays a big role in PPN imagery and ritual deposits. At Göbekli Tepe, the aurochs takes second place among the hunted species but far more impressive is the amount of gazelle bones. Gazelle is migratory; an easily accessible large-scale supply of gazelle meat was available between midsummer and autumn. The mass of bones recovered hints at mass killings in that short period of the year. While the prestige aspect of hunting large game like aurochs is evident, aurochs also provide lots of fat, essential to people for surviving the winter months, indifferent of how many actually stayed on site. Hunting large numbers of gazelle and Asiatic wild ass, the third important species at Göbekli Tepe, cannot, however, be explained by this “quest for fat”. It is likely that they were hunted to supply a large quantity of meat for seasonal peaks in site use, which we identify as work feasts.

Alcoholic beverages are another important aspect of feasts, and producing them is an important use of cereals. Tentative evidence for the consumption of alcohol at Göbekli Tepe has been published. Consumption during feasts may be associated with special serving paraphernalia. Göbekli Tepe has produced around 80 sherds of stone drinking vessels. The vessels are thin-walled and made in part of varieties of ‘greenstone’. About half of the fragments were decorated. Stone vessel fragments appear in all strata at Göbekli Tepe; some have marks of repair (holes to fit fragments together) and some sherds were reused as ‘shaft straighteners’. Both likely indicate the high value of the raw material.

Besides food and drink, Twiss identifies a special physical setting, ritual / performance and commemoration as key indicators to prove feasting in the archaeological record. As has been discussed in detail elsewhere, many of these indicators fit the evidence from Göbekli Tepe. At Göbekli Tepe, the non-domestic monumental buildings with their benches hint at a gathering of some sort, while ritual and performance inside or near these buildings are highlighted by evidence in the form of several miniature stone masks, suggesting masquerade. We assume that the stone masks are miniature representations of real organic masks actually worn, as there are further hints towards the importance of masquerade. It was remarked early on that crane depictions at Göbekli Tepe feature human legs–whereas the anatomy of other birds is depicted correctly–and therefore might indeed indicate masked humans.

Thus, at Göbekli Tepe, we have evidence of feasting, tentatively including the use of fermented beverages, as an incentive to participate in large-scale construction work. The necessity to provide food and drink for these work feasts would have resulted in the need for large-scale food supplies and their processing at certain times, which would explain the extraordinarily high number of dedicated tools for cereal processing, analyzed for the first time here. K. Schmidt had hypothesized that the amount of food needed for work feasts could have been a contributing factor in the search for more reliable food sources and ultimately domestication. Our study further proves his argument that feasting was an important social practice and provides an explanation for the possibility of large-scale building activities at Göbekli Tepe. However, our findings rather suggest that such feasts were held strategically in seasons favorable to the natural availability of plant food and meat between midsummer and autumn.

Much prior work has focused on Göbekli Tepe’s special character as a cultic center. A new and detailed engagement with those aspects of the site so far not in the center of attention helps to fill in gaps and modify this interpretation. We still believe that the monumental round buildings served ritual purposes and were not just elaborately decorated residential spaces, but we have to move towards a more integrative view of domestic and ritual activities at the site using newly available scientific methods and integrating new insights from recent work in the region.



Research-Selection for NovoScriptorium: Philaretus Homerides


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