Excavators at the site of Gobekli Tepe in southeastern Turkey have uncovered the life-size statue of a wild boar, carved out of limestone. According to a statement by the German Archaeological Institute, the statue dates to the early Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (c. 8700–8200 BCE). The boar is yet another of the dozens of statues and reliefs discovered at the incredible cultic site of Gobekli Tepe. Described as Turkey’s Stonehenge, Gobekli Tepe predates that site, as well as the Egyptian pyramids and even the invention of writing, by more than 5,000 years.
The boar statue was discovered within the remains of one of the site’s buildings, dubbed Special Building D. Placed on top of a long and decorated bench between two pillars, the boar occupied a central position within the building. The decorations of the bench include depictions of snakes, human faces, and geometric designs. Roughly the size of an actual boar, the statue is 4.5 feet long and a little over 2 feet tall.
Archaeologists were also able to detect various pigments on the statue, including red, black, and white. While red was found on the boar’s tongue, black and white were found on the body, indicating that the entire piece was likely once painted. It has long been believed that many of the pillars and statues at Gobekli Tepe were decorated with color, but this is one of the first to provide clear evidence to support this hypothesis.
Gobekli Tepe (which means “Potbelly Hill” in Turkish) is thought to be one of the oldest religious sites in the world and has been called the “world’s first temple.” Predating sites like Stonehenge (c. 3000–2000 BCE) and the Stepped Pyramid of Djoser (c. 2660 BCE) by many thousands of years, Gobekli Tepe has drastically altered what anthropologists think about the origins of ancient religion. Previous theories had suggested religion only developed after the establishment of agriculture and village life. However, Gobekli Tepe appears to appeared earlier, having been built by what was likely a hunter-gatherer society. While there is plentiful evidence of Neolithic religion around the ancient Near East, almost all of this evidence postdates Gobekli Tepe by thousands of years, although the tower of Jericho, which some believe to have also been a cultic installation, possibly dates to only a few hundred years later.
Gobekli Tepe includes a number of circular enclosers, consisting of massive T-shaped pillars, some as tall as 16 feet and weighing 50 tons. Many of the pillars are ornately decorated with elaborate carvings, including depictions of vultures, scorpions, lions, bulls, boars, foxes, gazelles, donkeys, snakes, human figures, and more. Some of the anthropomorphic figures even include details such as arms, legs, and clothes.
Excavations at Gobekli Tepe have uncovered tens of thousands of animal bones, indicating that many different species—including those depicted on the pillars—were slaughtered, sacrificed, and presumably eaten at the site. While it is uncertain to whom these sacrifices were made, it is possible they were offered to the site’s anthropomorphic pillars, which, as some have suggested, may represent priests, deities, or revered ancestors. Given that human bones were also found, others believe the Göbekli Tepe ruins may have been a Neolithic burial ground where funerary rituals and perhaps even excarnations were practiced.
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