Symbolism at Göbekli Tepe


Article version: 10-2-2024

Peter van den Hoek (Archaeoastronomer)

In the category ‘my hunebed’ we invite people to write about their own personal thoughts about hunebeds and megalithic monuments. Here is a story of Peter van den Hoek (Archeaoastronomer)

In the past year I have investigated from the celestial bodies, so the field of Archaeoastronomy, whether a connection could be found with the circular structures A to D of Göbekli Tepe, see drawing Göbekli Tepe Ground Plan. This revealed that the central T-pillars of the four structures appear to be aligned at the setting point of the brightest north star Arcturus. This main star of the constellation Oxherd (Boötes), together with the opposite star, appears to function as the hour hands of a huge celestial clock around the north celestial pole, see drawing Göbekli Tepe as Clock. I have written the article: ‘Göbekli Tepe as Celestial Clock and Calendar’¹ about it, which can be found on the site of the Dutch Dolmen Center. In here I explain in great detail how this celestial clock seems to work, so I am not going to do that again here. I like to advise everyone to read this article for a more nuanced picture of my vision on Göbekli Tepe.

During the debate with other researchers, such as Andrew Collins and Martin Sweatman, I came up with the idea to dig even deeper into the symbolism of the many (animal) reliefs on the T-pillars in order to gain an even better understanding of the purpose or function of these structures. In this article I describe my discoveries and test them on my vision as a celestial clock.

As I’ve already indicated, the brightest north star, Arcturus, seems to play a central role in my story. This star is the main star of the constellation Oxherd (Boötes in Greek). It can be recognized as a striking kite in the night sky that rotates beautifully around the north celestial pole. I took this constellation as the starting point of my literature research into its symbolism in antiquity. Little is known about the builders of Göbekli Tepe, because the structure is at least 11.700 years old. Fortunately, the structure is located in an area where the oldest civilizations in the world are rooted. I started my research with the Sumerian culture that originated about 6.000 and according to some sources even 7.000 years ago in the basin between the Euphrates and Tigris. According to this culture, the constellation Oxherd (Boötes) is the representation of their main god Enlil². This god is also known as Nunamnir. Enlil, see drawing, is the god of the wind, but more broadly also of the spirit. He determines the fate of everything and thus manages the order within the cosmos. Even the movement of the stars around the north celestial pole is under his authority. His brother Enki was responsible for the movement of the stars around the south celestial pole. In some images Enlil is wearing some kind of handbag, but in others the handbag has been replaced by a Shen Ring, see drawing. This ring, which was also very well known within the Egyptian culture, represents the endless movement of the stars around the north celestial pole, so eternity or infinity. Automatically, it is also connected to the concept of time. Later, the well-known Ankh sign arose from this symbol, see drawing, which has become very well-known and is even now worn by people as a talisman. Within the Greek culture, the shen ring has been transformed into the Ω (Omega) sign that means the end but also endlessness.

Coincidentally, three of these handbags are depicted on T-pillar 43 of construction D within Göbekli Tepe, see drawing. You could conclude that these handbags symbolize the north celestial pole, the movement of the stars around it in 24 hours and therefore also the concept of time. Time is also the only component that separates us from our future destiny and Enlil is its custodian. Now let’s zoom in on these three handbags. Each of these handbags has an animal depicted and in my opinion that was not done lightly. To explain this, I first need to tell you a little more about Enlil. His father An represents the cosmos, but as a unity. Through Enlil, heaven was separated from earth, creating space for trees, plants, animals, and people. In this way, Enlil actually created three worlds: The upper world inhabited by the gods, the underworld inhabited by the (dead) souls and the in-between world inhabited by the living plants, animals and humans. I believe that the bird on the left handbag symbolizes heaven, the frog on the right handbag the underworld and the ram or goat on the middle handbag the world of humans and animals.

While we’re on the subject of the symbols on pillar 43, let’s take a look at the other symbols on it. In the middle under the handbags is a clear circle with two more or less the same cranes or flamingos on the right side and a kind of vulture on the left. In the two birds on the right, I see twice the constellation Oxherd (Boötes) with the bright star Arcturus. In my opinion, this constellation is depicted twice next to the circle to indicate that it revolves around the north celestial pole. This bird thus forms a kind of prototype of the Sumerian god Enlil, who is also often depicted with wings and sometimes also a bird’s head. The bird’s-headed version was also seen as his son Ninurta, but there is ambiguity about that. The vulture on the left side of the circle is very similar in shape to our current constellation Swan (Cygnus) on the other side of the north celestial pole that rests on its wing. I have to admit that Andrew Collins³ first suggested this idea, but I fully agree with it. My studies seem to point in the same direction. From the Sumerian culture, looking at this constellation, I come across the names of two goddesses. The first is Ereshkigal⁴, who, as goddess of the underworld (Kur), guides the souls through the celestial pole towards this world. That is why she was depicted as a woman god with wings, legs of a vulture and a shen ring in both hands as a symbol for the north celestial pole. The second goddess is that of fertility Inanna⁵. She was depicted in the same way as her sister Ereshkigal, but there is also ambiguity about this and it sometimes seems to be the same goddess with a double name and function. She was also depicted with a shen ring in both hands, but in this case to guide souls back from the underworld through the north celestial pole towards birth. Parallel to the Sumerian culture ran the Egyptian one about 5.000 years ago. It was here that the goddess Nekhbet⁶ was associated with the cult of the dead. She was portrayed as a vulture with a shen ring in her talons, see drawing. Again, it seems to be the same symbolism. This depiction most closely resembles the image of the vulture on pillar 43. The Babylonian culture adopted many gods from the Sumerian culture. One of their gods or constellations consisted of an eagle with a dead man in its talons. I believe that this is the same bird as the vulture I have just zoomed in. At the bottom of pillar 43 is an image of a headless man (dead man) next to the head of what appears to be a vulture. I think this is the same vulture as higher up the pillar. Here the story is told of the proto vulture, later represented as Ereshkigal and/or Nekhbet, who guides the soul of the deceased man through the north celestial pole to the realm of the dead or underworld. In the middle of the pillar a kind of crab or scorpion can be seen right below the vulture. This shape could be a representation of the constellation Hercules, which was exactly below the north celestial pole at the time when Göbekli Tepe was in office. The shape certainly has some resemblance. It could also be a representation of the constellation Scorpion (Scorpius), but more stocky. This very old zodiac sign is also associated with the underworld. Under the influence of the church, we have come to see this underworld as hell, but originally there was a much more positive association with this world among many ancient civilizations. This is where the souls stayed before their birth and after their death. I believe that the circular buildings of Göbekli Tepe, in addition to their clock function, were also used as temples to make contact with this world and thus exchange knowledge and information.

Enlil was also seen as the god of agriculture within the Sumerian culture. Maybe that’s why he has some kind of seed in his other hand, see drawing. Nevertheless, there are no indications of agricultural activities at Göbekli Tepe. The builders were hunter-gatherers. When I look closely at this performance, I get the idea of a kind of pinecone. This reminds me of our pineal gland (epiphysis). This hormone gland in the middle of our head and under our crown is responsible for our day and night rhythm and thus determines the ’time’ for us. As I have already explained, Enlil is the keeper of time and his handbag also refers to this. It represents the movement of Arcturus and the other stars around the north celestial pole in 24 hours (one day and night). All those circles added together can be seen as an endless spiral that is also symbolized by the shen ring and is the basic shape of a pinecone. Is this all a stupid coincidence or did the people of the Sumerian civilization know more about our brain and the functioning of hormone glands than we now suspect?

Finally, I would like to discuss one more symbol on pillar 43 and that is the fish, snake or seahorse upside down next to the flamingo (Boötes). As an agricultural god, Enlil was also often depicted with a hoe or plow in his hand. I think the fish or snake looks a lot like it. Now I have just told you that the builders of Göbekli Tepe were hunter-gatherers and did not practice agriculture. But collectors used tools to dig out edible roots, tubers and plants. At the same time, the hoe or snake is very similar to the constellation Dragon (Draco). This is the constellation in which the center (North Ecliptic Pole) can be found around which the north celestial pole rotates in a cycle of 26.000 years. Even this long cycle is in the power of Enlil and the hoe or snake is the symbol for it. So, in the representation of pillar 43 we see almost all the attributes with which the god Enlil is equipped and that is quite ‘coincidental’ for a god who also controls that aspect!?!

Now let’s turn to T-pillar 12 in construction or circle C, see drawing. The same flamingo can be seen five times as on pillar 43. According to my view, this bird represents the constellation Oxherd (Boötes), with the brightest north star Arcturus, and thus forms the prototype of the god Enlil. To the right below this bird is a hole in the pillar. I think this hole is also a symbol of the north celestial pole. The image shows the flamingo moving in a circle around the celestial pole. Opposite this constellation there is no vulture to be seen here, but a boar. In my opinion, this boar represents the constellation Pegasus, because during the construction of circle C, this constellation was exactly opposite the Oxherd (Boötes) on the other side of the north celestial pole. Pegasus is easily recognizable by the night sky as a large rectangle. The Sumerians called it ‘Iku’ which means field and also drew the constellation as a large rectangle. But where does this image of a boar come from? For this answer, I had to dig very deep back into Greek antiquity. Here, the flying horse Pegasus also seems to have a twin brother and that was Chrysaor⁷, the flying boar. Over the years, the boar has faded into the background and has been supplanted by the ‘nobler’ horse. In my opinion, a metamorphosis has taken place here, just as the vulture has become a ‘noble’ swan. I believe it is simply the same constellation that we now know as Pegasus.

At first sight, it seems strange that the north celestial pole, which occupies such an important position at Göbekli Tepe, is not depicted in the center of pillar 12. Yet the builders had a very good reason for this. Calculating back to the position of Arcturus at its setting point between the two central T-pillars, I arrive at a date of 10.100 BC. This main star Arcturus of the constellation Oxherd (Boötes) then set at 345° and the main star Markab of the constellation Pegasus at 290°. Both set to the west and thus to the left of the north celestial pole, which looks like pillar 12. At that time, both stars were exactly opposite each other and thus formed the hands of a huge celestial clock with the celestial pole as the pivot point, see drawing Göbekli Tepe as Clock. In 24 hours (one day) the two stars make a circle and so the time could be read and tracked. If one star was at its highest point, the other was below the horizon at its lowest point and vice versa. Two stars were used as hour hands because then one star was always visible in the night sky. The clock also worked as a calendar. Arcturus was at its lowest point around 0:00/24:00 in spring and at its highest point around the same time in autumn. For the star Markab, the exact opposite was true.

Looking at the setting point of Arcturus in construction D at 353° (almost north), this circle appears to have been built in 9.700 BC. Extensive carbon dating of the structure seems to confirm this. Two hundred years later, in 9.500 BC Arcturus touches the horizon at its lowest point at 360°, so exactly north and directly below the celestial pole, see also the drawing Göbekli Tepe as Clock. The star Sadr of the constellation Swan (Cygnus) is exactly opposite and so these stars in this structure work like the hour hands of the celestial clock. Sadr is at its lowest point, about 3° above north, at 360° and directly below the celestial pole in 9.500 BC. For this reason, the north celestial pole is placed exactly in the middle of pillar 43.

For thousands of years, Göbekli Tepe’s celestial clock with two opposite stars ran exactly on time, but that changed after 8.000 BC. At that time, the star Deneb (Swan) and Arcturus (Oxherd) formed the clock’s hour hands. Around 7.800 BC The difference has now risen to almost half an hour when one star is at its highest and the other at its lowest point. The difference is widening, and it would be thousands of years before two stars would again occupy such a position relative to each other. That is why it was decided to carefully bury the entire complex in order to preserve it, so that it could be reused as a celestial clock in the distant future.

So, this whole story seems to literally revolve around the north celestial pole. Several stone rings have also been found within the various structures which, in my opinion, symbolize this celestial pole. Klaus Schmidt, who led the archaeological research for the German Archaeological Institute until his death in 2014, labelled these rings as a ‘Seelenloch’, which is German for ‘Soul hole’. Within constructions C and D, stones have also been found in the circular wall with a hole in it on the north side, and thus below the north celestial pole. According to Andrew Collins, these stones with a hole also refer to the north celestial pole. How did these men come to this understanding? Would they have studied the symbolism of the oldest civilizations on Earth and come to the same view, as I have done here? I’m going to ask Andrew!

Peter van den Hoek










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