Carved human skulls found in ancient stone temple

Archeologists have found a 12.000 year old stone temple in the southeastern Turkey. Among tens of thousands of animal bones and a statue that may depict a kneeling figure holding a human head, researchers have found the rest of human skulls that removed their flesh and carved with deep grooves running from back to head.

The carvings represent for the first evidence of skull decoration in archeological record of the region. Gary Rollefson, an archeologist says: ” This is absolutely new and we do not have a model to go on. The purpose of carving is not clearly, he says, but they may have been a part of ancient religious practice. ” There seems to be a focus of ritual reuse after decapitation.”

This place, is known as Gobekli Têpe, has already changed the way archeologists think of the origins of civilization. Located not far from Syria border, on the hill with the view of surrounding landscape, it boasted multiple enclosures with tall, T-shaped pillars, surrounded by stone rings, many carved with relief. Theses such structures are unique for human at this time – a period that predates agriculture or even pottery. Researchers once thought  that sophisticated religion and society only appear after agriculture guaranteed a earlier society a food surplus. But, Gobekli Tepe – which predates most agriculture – suggested it might have been another way: gatherers might have started domesticated crops in order to supply reliable food for labor at the site where they gathered for ceremonies.

When excavations at this area have begun since the mid-1990s, archeologists expected to find burials. Instead, they found a thousands of animal bones. Mixed about 700 fragments of human bone, scattered throughout a loose fill of gravel and stone. They distribute everywhere, inside and around the structures. We cannot put any individuals together.” More than  half of human bones fragments analyzed until now are from skull. In a article published on Science Advances, Gresky and co-author depict three large bone fragments, each has size of a hand. The cut marks on bones suggested that someone remove the flesh then carved on bones with deep, straight grooves, running front to back. Each skull has a hole drilled into it, even though only a half of hole preserved.

Heads – missed or decapitated – are also represented in site’s stone artwork. The heads of some stone statues were removed deliberately or knocked off; anthropologists think that a statue, called “Gift-Bearer” depicts a kneeling figure holding human head.

Though many sculptures and stone statue at Gobekli Tepe stand out for their craftsmanship and  artistry, including detail depictions of birds, predators and insects, the marks on skulls seem to belong to a different, cruder class of carvings. “They are deep incisions, but not perfect. Someone wanted to make a cut, but not in a decoration way. It could be to mark them differently, or to fix decoration elements, or to hang skulls somewhere.”

Whatever their purposes, incisions seem to mark skull as outliers: Dozens of skull fragments have been found at Gobekli Tepe with no sign of carving or cutting. That suggests skulls were chosen after their owner’s death for some reasons. Gresky says:” They are very special, these three individuals. Skulls might have been displayed as part of ancestor worship, or as trophies to show off the remains of dead enemy.

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