Cut marks on skulls from Göbekli Tepe found

Analysis of skeletal remains from the site of Göbekli Tepe, Turkey, considered as world’s oldest temple, revealed cutting marks and holes on skulls, believed to be connected with Neolithic rituals.

Details of the cut marks, A, C, D – carvings, D – drilled hole (by Julia Gresky)

The markings have been found on three skulls, dated around 9000 BC. The find is considered as being unique, and not seen elsewhere among human remains of that time. The researchers used scanning electron microscopes to look at the features of the cuts and found they were inflicted using a flint utensil sharp flint tools after death of the individuals. Among the cut marks a drill hole has also been found, so the various marks consist of deeply gouged strips across the surface and holes drilled into the top of skulls.

Overview of the archaeological site (by Deutsches Archäologisches Institut)

The researchers state that throughout history there are different known cases of worship of the skulls known, for different reasons. including as part of spiritual rites or as a way to honour the deceased – depending on cultural context. Skull cults have been known in Neolithic times in Anatolia and in the Levant. It is assumed that people believed that skulls had a special force or power and so it was a habit to take skulls out from primary burials and to place them elsewhere. Skulls were painted with colours or in the Levant, they even put some plaster on them and remodelled the facial structure. The marks found on the samples from Göbekli Tepe show carvings that suggest a previously undocumented version of a skull cult that took place at the site.

Sample of the cut marks (by Julia Gresky & Juliane Haelm)

Archaeologists state, that the carvings on these skulls are quite simple. The people that made them appear to have paid much attention to making these marks precise. So one hypothesis is that these carvings are not the decorative element itself, but might have been used to fix other decorative elements, such as feathers or cords to prevent the skulls from slipping when suspended. It is also suggested that the skulls might either have been used for ancestor veneration or enemy display. So maybe the incisions on the bone are branding signs to make these skulls different from other skulls.

Sample of the cut marks (by Julia Gresky & Juliane Haelm)

During the past 8 years of excavations at the site the team of researchers have found a few fragments of the remains of people living at Göbekli Tepe. They belong to male and female adults, some of which lived to be as old as 50, as well as remains of children. It is believed that the site could be a place of ritual, but what kind of rituals is yet not known.

(after Daily Mail Online, International Business Times, Popular Archaeology, Julia Gresky, Juliane Haelm & Deutsches Archäologisches Institut)

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