Gobekli Tepe’s hilltop site was not defensive or residential and the indications are that it was a sacred area and that the two pillars outside the entrance of some of the circles represented a gateway between secular and religious ground.
Three layers could be distinguished up to now at the site. The oldest Layer III (10th millenium BC) is characterized by monolithic T-shaped pillars weighing tons, which were positioned in circle-like structures. The pillars were interconnected by limestone walls and benches leaning at the inner side of the walls. In the centre of these enclosures there are always two bigger pillars, with a height of over 5 m. The circles measure 10-20 m.
Two huge central pillars are surrounded by a circle formed by – at current state of excavation – 11 pillars of similar T-shape. Most of these pillars are decorated with depictions of animals, foxes, birds (e.g. cranes, storks and ducks), and snakes being the most common species in this enclosure, accompanied by a wide range of figurations including the motives of boar, aurochs, gazelle, wild donkey and larger carnivores.
In particular these central pillars of Enclosure D allow demonstrating the anthropomorphic appearance of the T-shaped pillars. They might have been gods who had T-shapes instead of heads because it was forbidden to see their faces. The T-shaped stones around the circle may have been their companions.
The oblong T-heads can be regarded as abstract depictions of the human head, the smaller side representing the face. Clearly visible are arms on the pillars’ shafts with hands brought together above the abdomen.
The depiction of belts and loincloths in the shape of animal skins underlines the impression that these T-shaped pillars own an anthropomorphic identity and therefore should be regarded as pillar-statues more precisely. Some small bones from a foxtail found in front of one of the central pillar’s hints at the presence of a real fur here once, maybe as some kind of offering or indeed to be understood as a genuine counterpart to the loincloth depicted.
Since this relief of a loincloth is covering the genital region of the pillar-statues, we cannot be sure about the gender of the two individuals depicted in the centre. But some help may come from the clay figurines from the PPN B site of Nevalı Çori about 50 km north of Göbekli Tepe, now flooded by the Atatürk dam reservoir.
Apparently, of those figurines depicting both, male and female individuals, only the male ones are wearing belts. Thus, it is highly probable to assume that the pair of pillars in Enclosure D should represent two male individuals, too.
In the knowledge that megalithic monuments worldwide have been found to possess alignments towards celestial bodies, such as the sun, moon and stars, it is reasonable to suggest that something similar might have been going on at Göbekli Tepe, with the most obvious candidates for orientation being the various sets of twin pillars at the center of the monuments.
These could well have acted as astronomical markers of some kind, especially in the knowledge that in the past a clear view of the local horizon in all directions would have been available from the position of the various enclosures, which grace the summit of a mountain ridge visible for miles around.
Even a cursory glance at the positioning of the different sets of twin pillars shows them to be aligned roughly north-south, suggesting that they are unlikely to have targeted the sun, moon, or planets, which rise in the east and set in the west.
Clearly, if their orientations meant anything, then the enclosures must have been built to target a star or stellar object of some kind that either rose or set close to the north-south meridian line that divides the sky in two and crosses directly overhead.
Establishing the orientations of the enclosures’ central pillars was put to chartered engineer Rodney Hale, who for the past 15 years has made a detailed study of stellar alignments at prehistoric and sacred sites around the world.
He examined survey plans of the monuments at Göbekli Tepe and determined that the central pillars in Enclosures B, C, D and E (the “Felsentempel,” or “rock temple,” located to the west of the main group) all seemed to be aligned just west of north and, equally, just east of south.
Among the southern star groups and constellations looked at by Hale were the Hyades, Taurus, the Pleiades and Orion (more specifically its three “belt” stars), all of which have been claimed to match the orientations of the twin pillars in the various enclosures at Göbekli Tepe during the epoch of their construction, c. 9500–8000 BC.
Out of these, just one candidate emerged as perhaps playing some role at Göbekli Tepe, and this was Orion, the celestial hunter. However, there is a fundamental problem in even assuming that the enclosures were built to face south, for although the human-like features of the central monoliths are all turned in this direction, there is no reason to assume they are observing the southern skyline.
More likely is that they face the entrant approaching from the south, in the same manner that statues in churches face the worshipper approaching the high altar. Church altars are placed in the east, since this is the direction of heaven in Christian tradition. Just because Jesus, St. Michael, or the Virgin Mary might face away from the high altar, does not mean that they gaze out towards the western skyline.
In Göbekli Tepe’s case, if its enclosures did have a high altar, then it would be in the north, the direction of darkness, where the sun never rises. It is, on the other hand, the direction of the celestial pole, the turning point of the heavens.
Northerly orientations of early Neolithic cult buildings have been determined in southeast Anatolia at various other early Neolithic sites such as Çayönü, Nevali Çori, and Hallan Cemi. Thus it seems likely that Göbekli Tepe’s enclosures are oriented towards the north, and not the south. Indeed, the T-shaped termination of Enclosure D’s eastern central pillar is tilted downwards in order to greet the entrant, like some kind of god-king receiving his subjects.
Vega and Deneb
There is a possibility that the twin pillars represent the position of Vega, also designated Alpha Lyrae (α Lyrae, abbreviated Alpha Lyr or α Lyr), and/or Deneb, also designated alpha Cygni (α Cygni, abbreviated Alpha Cyg, α Cyg).
Both of these stars would have appeared somewhat higher in the sky and slightly to the right (north) of the ‘downward wriggling snake’ (Serpens) around 10,950 BC. Vega has been extensively studied, and it is said to be the next most important star in the sky after the Sun.
These bright stars would have been pole-stars in earlier millennia (Vega in circa 12,000 BC and Deneb in circa 16,000 BC), and it is possible that the people of Göbekli Tepe still referenced at least one of them, and even continued to use them to define north or a preferred direction.
This possibility is supported by the general orientation of enclosure D, which is in the region of 5 to 10 degrees west of true north. This correlates reasonably well with the position of Vega in 10,950 BC, which would have been around 8 degrees west of true north at the sunset of the summer solstice.
Vega is the brightest star in the constellation of Lyra. It is the fifth-brightest star in the night sky, and the second-brightest star in the northern celestial hemisphere after Arcturus. It is relatively close at only 25 light-years from the Sun, and, together with Arcturus and Sirius, one of the most luminous stars in the Sun’s neighborhood.
The Assyrians named Vega Dayan-same, the “Judge of Heaven”, while in Akkadian it was Tir-anna, “Life of Heaven”. In Babylonian astronomy, Vega may have been one of the stars named Dilgan, “the Messenger of Light”.
To the ancient Greeks, the constellation Lyra was formed from the harp of Orpheus, with Vega as its handle. For the Roman Empire, the start of autumn was based upon the hour at which Vega set below the horizon.
Vega and Deneb would have had an altitude of 42 and 67 degrees respectively at the time, and so both should have been visible from enclosure D (GT is built on the south side of a hill, near the top, on ground with a shallow gradient).
According to Andrew Collins the central pillars of Enclosure D target Deneb, the brightest star in the constellation of Cygnus, also known as the celestial bird, or swan, and one of the brightest stars in the night sky and one corner of the Summer Triangle, as it extinguishes on the north-northwestern horizon.
Before 9500 BC, Deneb was circumpolar, in that it never set, although after this time, due to the effects of precession, it started to extinguish each night on the north-northwestern horizon.
As the centuries went by, the star’s setting position moved further and further west of north in a manner that not only makes sense of the alignments of the various sets of twin pillars at Göbekli Tepe, but also provides realistic construction dates for the enclosures in question.
Together with other avian constellations near the summer solstice, Vultur cadens and Aquila, Cygnus may be a significant part of the origin of the myth of the Stymphalian Birds, one of The Twelve Labours of Hercules.
In Huindu mythology, Vega is called Abhijit, and is mentioned in Mahabharata: “Contesting against Abhijit (Vega), the constellation Krittika (Pleiades) went to “Vana” the summer solstice to heat the summer. Then the star Abhijit slipped down in the sky.” P. V. Vartak suggests that the “slipping of Abhijit” and ascension of Krittika might refer to the gradual drop of Vega as a pole star since 12,000 BC.
The Pleiades, also known as the Seven Sisters, are an open star cluster containing middle-aged, hot B-type stars located in the constellation of Taurus (Latin for “the Bull”), one of the constellations of the zodiac, which means it is crossed by the plane of the ecliptic.
Taurus is a large and prominent constellation in the northern hemisphere’s winter sky. It hosts two of the nearest open clusters to Earth, the Pleiades and the Hyades, both of which are visible to the naked eye. At first magnitude, the red giant Aldebaran is the brightest star in the constellation.
It is one of the oldest constellations, dating back to at least the Early Bronze Age when it marked the location of the Sun during the spring equinox. Its importance to the agricultural calendar influenced various bull figures in the mythologies of Ancient Sumer, Akkad, Assyria, Babylon, Egypt, Greece, and Rome.
In Babylonian astronomy, the constellation was listed in the MUL.APIN as GU.AN.NA, “The Bull of Heaven”. As this constellation marked the vernal equinox, it was also the first constellation in the Babylonian zodiac and they described it as “The Bull in Front”. The Akkadian name was Alu. To the early Hebrews, Taurus was the first constellation in their zodiac and consequently it was represented by the first letter in their alphabet, Aleph.
Michael Rappenglück of the University of Munich believes that Taurus is represented in a cave painting at the Hall of the Bulls in the caves at Lascaux (dated to roughly 15,000 BC), which he believes is accompanied by a depiction of the Pleiades.
The name “seven sisters” has been used for the Pleiades in the languages of many cultures, including indigenous groups of Australia, North America and Siberia. This suggests that the name may have a common ancient origin.
Taurus marked the point of vernal (spring) equinox in the Chalcolithic and the Early Bronze Age, from about 4000 BC to 1700 BC, after which it moved into the neighboring constellation Aries. The Pleiades were closest to the Sun at vernal equinox around the 23rd century BC.
The Pleiades are a prominent sight in winter in the Northern Hemisphere, and are easily visible out to mid-Southern latitudes. They have been known since antiquity to cultures all around the world. The earliest known depiction of the Pleiades is likely a Northern Germany bronze age artifact known as the Nebra sky disk, dated to approximately 1600 BC.
The Babylonian star catalogues name the Pleiades MULMUL, meaning “stars” (literally “star star”), and they head the list of stars along the ecliptic, reflecting the fact that they were close to the point of vernal equinox around the 23rd century BC.
In Hinduism, the Pleiades are known as Krittika and are associated with Kartikeya, the war-god also known as Murugan, Skanda, Kumara, and Subrahmanya. He is the son of Parvati and Shiva, and brother of Ganesha.
Mangala is the name for Mars, the red planet, lord of Mangal Dosha, in Hindu texts. Also known as Lohit (meaning: red), he is the god of war, celibate and sometimes linked to god Karttikeya (Skanda). His origins vary with different mythological texts; in some, he is the son of Bhumi, the Earth Goddess and Vishnu, born when he raised her from the depths of water in Varaha avatar. In other myths, he is born from Shiva’s sweat or blood drop.
Mangala is the root of the word ‘Mangalavara’ or Tuesday in the Hindu calendar. The word “Tuesday” in the Greco-Roman and other Indo-European calendars is also dedicated to planet Mars, referring to “Tīw’s Day”, the day of Tiw or Týr, the god of war and victory. Tiw was equated with Mars in other Indo-European mythologies.
The name of the Pleiades comes from Ancient Greek. It probably derives from plein (“to sail”) because of the cluster’s importance in delimiting the sailing season in the Mediterranean Sea: “the season of navigation began with their heliacal rising”.
However, in mythology the name was used for the Pleiades, seven divine sisters, the name supposedly deriving from that of their mother Pleione and effectively meaning “daughters of Pleione”. In reality, the name of the star cluster almost certainly came first, and Pleione was invented to explain it.
The traditional name Vega (earlier Wega) comes from a loose transliteration of the Arabic word wāqi‘ meaning “falling” or “landing”, via the phrase an-nasr al-wāqi‘, “the falling eagle/vulture”. The constellation was represented as a vulture in ancient Egypt, and as an eagle or vulture in ancient India.
Vultures are also prominent in ancient mythology. They were amazed by the vultures ability to only consume death and still produce life. The vulture became associated with rebirth and many gods featured vulture wings or faces.
Vultures were also believed to being the creature that kept the balance of life and death in order. As long as the vultures consumed the dead and were able to reproduce the balance of life was in working order. Vultures also became a feminine symbol because of its rebirth myths.
Clear carvings and depictions of vultures, as well as representations of birdmen, have been found at Göbekli Tepe and other PPN sites in SE Turkey and North Syria. The main relationship between key PPN sites such as Göbekli Tepe and Nevali Çori is the fact that their layout, design and art are the same. They were constructed by the same unique people.
They connect with Çatal Hüyük, the oldest Neolithic city anywhere in the world, situated in southern-central Turkey and dating to 6500 BC, because this was a latter development of the same high culture, and so this city – excavated first in the early 1960s by British archaeologist James Mellaart – can tell us much about the earlier cults at places such as Göbekli Tepe and Nevali Çori.
Like, for example, the Neolithic cult of the dead. At Çatal Hüyük, we find frescoes of vultures accompanying the soul of the deceased into the next world, and also of shamans taking the form of vultures for presumed shamanic practices, such as contacting or journeying into the other world.
Since statues of birdmen, as well as those of vultures, have been found at both Göbekli Tepe and Nevali Çori, we can be pretty sure that the same cult existed here as far back as 11,500-10,000 BP.
There is some evidence to suggest that over time as this culture developed the bird image evolved into that of a vulture-goddess. But most importantly at least one of the murals from Çatal Hüyük apparently shows a human being dressed in a vulture skin.
Taking an eight-thousand year old image of a “human in a vulture skin” and turning it into an early Vulture Shamanism culture could be stretching things a bit… and one should always be careful of making assumptions when the evidence in support of pet theories is tenuous. However, in the last few decades archaeological research has come to light which, when added to the evidence from Çatal Hüyük, begins to lend very strong weight to the idea of a shamanic connection.
The Shaman can “fly” in trance, travelling to the realm of the spirits where he can then either do battle against malign entities, or try and persuade, flatter, cajole or otherwise entreat the spirits to act for the benefit of one or more human beings.
The golden eagle is the most common national animal in the world. It is also a common motif in the national symbols of countries that have not officially made it the national animal or national bird. The reasons for this are various, but among the nations that use the golden eagle as or in a state symbol, there are two clear traditions that help explain the modern usage.
Among European countries, the golden eagle was the model for the aquila, the most prominent symbol of the Roman legions and more generally the Roman civilization that had such a powerful impact on Western culture.
Eagles were particularly prominent in Roman culture. Many banners, coins and insignias from Rome feature eagles. Furthermore, some classical Roman traditions were carried on by the Eastern Roman Empire in the Southern and Eastern of Europe and the Holy Roman Empire in Central and Western Europe, transmitting the use of the golden eagle to several modern states.
This association of the golden eagle with Rome has also led to the adoption of similar symbols in other countries. Another large tradition of using the golden eagle can be found in the Arab world, where the eagle is historically a symbol of power in Arabic poetry, and was according to legend the personal emblem of Saladin.
The double-headed eagle is one of the oldest symbols. One of the earliest images of the eagle was found during excavations of the Sumerian city of Lagash in Mesopotamia. Ancient Hittites also well knew the symbol. Hittites, like the Sumerians, used it for religious purposes.
The eagle has been a sun symbol and is an attribute of sun gods in many cultures. The eagle is a symbol with multiple meanings. In addition, the eagle is always associated with strength, courage, morality and wisdom. It was considered as a sacred emblem of Zeus, Jupiter, Ninurta (Ningirsu), Nergal and Ashur.
In many cultures, eagles were viewed as a link between terrestrial mankind and celestial deities. The eagle was also considered to be a messenger of the gods, which connected the earth and celestial sphere. In ancient Sumerian mythology, the mythical king Etana was said to have been carried into heaven by an eagle.
Most researchers of this symbol believe the eagle is associated with the sun. The logic here is that the eagle is the king of birds and the sun the is the king of all the planets. The eagle flies above all, and is closest to the sun.
The eagle personifies power and nobility, reminding to a man of his exalted origin and divine nature. Large outstretched wings are a symbol of protection, sharp claws are a symbol of uncompromising struggle against evil, and white head symbolizes just power.
An eagle with antiquity was known as the royal symbol. It symbolizes rule. It is a sign of kings of the earth and heaven. The double-headed eagle represents the possibility of amplification of power, its extension to the west and east. Allegorically an ancient image of a two-headed bird could represent an unsleeping guardian who sees everything in the east and the west.
On the Adda Seal, Enki is depicted with two streams of water flowing into each of his shoulders: one the Tigris, the other the Euphrates. Alongside him are two trees, symbolizing the male and female aspects of nature.
He is shown wearing a flounced skirt and a cone-shaped hat. An eagle descends from above to land upon his outstretched right arm. This portrayal reflects Enki’s role as the god of water, life, and replenishment.
Sabazios is the horseman and sky father god of the Phrygians and Thracians. In Indo-European languages, such as Phrygian, the -zios element in his name derives from dyeus, the common precursor of Latin deus (‘god’) and Greek Zeus. The eagle is one of his symbols.
In Christianity, the eagle is the embodiment of divine love, justice, courage, spirit, faith, as well as the symbol of resurrection. As in other traditions, the eagle played a messenger of heaven.
Eagles are often prominent in the Bible, though are sometimes mixed with carrion birds and are not specifically identifiable to species. As the most widespread eagle in the Middle East and Eurasia, certainly many said references must pertain to the golden eagle.
The use of eagles seems generally heavier in the Torah or the Old Testament than in the New Testament. In biblical times, eagles and other meat-eating birds were banned from being eaten since their diet was considered unsavory.
However, eagles are mentioned in the Bible as being admired for their swiftness, great physical power and their seemingly endless endurance. Eagles are one of four dimensions of creation, as a messenger of God, and a skilled predator.
In Hellenistic religion, the golden eagle is the signature bird of the god Zeus, a connection most notable in the myth of Ganymede, where the god adopted the form of a golden eagle to kidnap the boy, as well as the eagle-like daimon Aetos Dios Theoi: Eagle of Zeus.
In Roman religion, the eagle was both the symbol and the messenger of the Roman sky-god, Jupiter. When an emperor died, his body was burned in a funeral pyre and an eagle was released above his ashes to carry his soul to the heavens. At least a few sources also associate it with Helios.
Eagles play a small role in Celtic mythology. In the Welsh tale of Llew Llaw Gyffes, the protagonist escapes death at the hands of a hunter by taking an eagle’s form and killing the hunter who assaulted him.
In Norse mythology, the golden eagle sits atop Yggdrasil, the great ash tree that runs through the universe. A squirrel, Ratsatosk, carries messages and insults between the eagle at the crown and a serpent gnawing at the tree roots.
The heavenly eagle
Anzû (AN.ZU could mean simply “heavenly eagle”), also known as Zû and Imdugud (Sumerian: AN.IM.DUGUD; meaning “heavy wind”), is a lesser divinity or monster in several Mesopotamian religions. He was conceived by the pure waters of the Apsu and the wide Earth, or as son of Siris, the patron of beer who is conceived of as a demon, which is not necessarily evil.
Anzû was depicted as a massive bird who can breathe fire and water, although Anzû is alternately depicted as a lion-headed eagle. The name of the mythological being usually called Anzû was actually written in the oldest Sumerian cuneiform texts as AN.IM.MI or MUŠEN (meaning “bird”). In texts of the Old Babylonian period, the name is more often found as AN.IM.DUGUD.
Thokild Jacobsen proposed that Anzu was an early form of the god Abu, a minor god of plants who was later syncretized with Ninurta/Ningursu, a god associated with thunderstorms. Abu was referred to as “Father Pasture”, illustrating the connection between rainstorms and the fields growing in Spring.
Abu was one of the eight deities born to relieve the illness of Enki. Abu means “father of plants and vegetation.” Stephen Langdon has proposed that Abu may have been an early name of Tammuz, on the basis that Abu was identified as the consort of Inanna, and that the name Abu did not appear in texts later than the Third Dynasty of Ur.
According to Jacobsen, this god was originally envisioned as a huge black thundercloud in the shape of an eagle, and was later depicted with a lion’s head to connect it to the roar of thunder. Some depictions of Anzu therefore depict the god alongside goats (which, like thunderclouds, were associated with mountains in the ancient Near East) and leafy boughs.
The connection between Anzu and Abu is further reinforced by a statue found in the Tell Asmar Hoard depicting a human figure with large eyes, with an Anzu bird carved on the base. It is likely that this depicts Anzu in his symbolic or earthly form as the Anzu-bird, and in his higher, human-like divine form as Abu.
Though some scholars have proposed that the statue actually represents a human worshiper of Anzu, others have pointed out that it does not fit the usual depiction of Sumerian worshipers, but instead matches similar statues of gods in human form with their more abstract form or their symbols carved onto the base.
In Sumerian and Akkadian mythology, Anzû is a divine storm-bird and the personification of the southern wind and the thunder clouds. This demon—half man and half bird—stole the “Tablet of Destinies” from Enlil and hid them on a mountaintop.
Anu ordered the other gods to retrieve the tablet, even though they all feared the demon. According to one text, Marduk killed the bird; in another, it died through the arrows of the god Ninurta.
Ninlil (NIN.LÍL”lady of the open field” or “Lady of the Wind”), also called Sud, in Assyrian called Mulliltu, is the consort goddess of Enlil. She may be the Goddess of the South Wind referred to in the story of Adapa, as her husband Enlil was associated with northerly winter storms.
Anzu also appears in the story of “Inanna and the Huluppu Tree”, which is recorded in the preamble to the Sumerian epic poem Gilgamesh, Enkidu, and the Netherworld. Anzu appears in the Sumerian Lugalbanda and the Anzud Bird (also called: The Return of Lugalbanda).
Also in Babylonian myth, Anzû is a deity associated with cosmogeny. Anzû is represented as stripping the father of the gods of umsimi (which is usually translated “crown” but in this case, as it was on the seat of Bel, it refers to the “ideal creative organ”).
Regarding this, Charles Penglase writes that “Ham is the Chaldean Anzû, and both are cursed for the same allegorically described crime,” which parallels the mutilation of Uranus by Cronus and of Osiris by Set.
The Roc (from Persian: ruḵ) is an enormous legendary bird of prey in the popular mythology of the Middle East. The roc appears in Arabic geographies and natural history, popularized in Arabian fairy tales and sailors’ folklore.
Ibn Battuta tells of a mountain hovering in the air over the China Seas, which was the roc. The popular story collection One Thousand and One Nights includes tales of Abd al-Rahman and Sinbad the Sailor, both of which include the roc.
The Garuda, also known as Tarkshya and Vynateya, is a legendary bird or bird-like creature in Hindu, Buddhist and Jain mythology. He is variously the vehicle mount (vahana) of the Hindu god Vishnu, a dharma-protector and Astasena in Buddhism, and the Yaksha of the Jain Tirthankara Shantinatha. In Hinduism, Garuda is a divine eagle-like sun bird and the king of birds.
Garuda is described as the king of birds and a kite-like figure. He is shown either in zoomorphic form (giant bird with partially open wings) or an anthropomorphic form (man with wings and some bird features). Garuda is generally a protector with power to swiftly go anywhere, ever watchful and an enemy of the serpent.
In the Mahabharata, Garutman is stated to be same as Garuda, then described as the one who is fast, who can shapeshift into any form and enter anywhere. He is a powerful creature in the epics, whose wing flapping can stop the spinning of heaven, earth and hell. He is described to be the vehicle mount of the Hindu god Vishnu, and typically they are shown together.
Garuda is a part of state insignia in India, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia. The Indonesian official coat of arms is centered on the Garuda. The national emblem of Indonesia is called Garuda Pancasila.
The Northern Cross and the Summer Triangle
The Summer Triangle is an astronomical asterism involving an imaginary triangle drawn on the northern hemisphere’s celestial sphere, with its defining vertices at Altair, Deneb, and Vega, the brightest stars in the three constellations of Aquila, Cygnus, and Lyra, respectively.
The Northern Cross is a prominent astronomical asterism in the northern hemisphere celestial sphere, corresponding closely with the constellation Cygnus The Swan. It is much larger than the more famous Southern Cross and consists of the brightest stars in Cygnus, Deneb, Sadr, Gienah, Delta Cygni and Albireo. The ‘head’ of the cross, Deneb, is also part of the Summer Triangle asterism.
Like the Summer Triangle, the Northern Cross is a prominent indicator of the seasons. Near midnight, the Cross lies virtually overhead at mid-northern latitudes during the summer months; it can also be seen during spring in the early morning to the East. In the autumn the cross is visible in the evening to the West until November. It never dips below the horizon at or above 45° north latitude.
The Dark Rift
Deneb is a marker for what lies behind it – the opening of the Dark Rift, the stream of dark stellar debris that splits the Milky Way from Cygnus down to the area of Sagittarius and Scorpius, where the sun makes its pass across the Milky Way.
All over the world, from India and Egypt to Mexico and South America, the Dark Rift has been seen as an entrance to the sky-world, a place of the ancestors, a land of the gods, and the source of cosmic creation. For example, the ancient Maya of Central America pictured Xibalba, their “underworld,” as accessible via a sky-road known as ri b’e xib’alb’a, the Black Road, identified as the Milky Way’s Dark Rift.
Its actual entrance or location was represented by cave and mouth imagery, often accompanied by a glyph known as the Cross Bands glyph. It has the appearance of a letter X inside a square frame, and has been identified with the Cygnus stars in their guise as a celestial cross, made up of five specific stars.
The actual road to Xibalba (a word meaning “place of fear”) is shown as a caiman crocodile, its long jaws the twin streams created by the Dark Rift, with its head, eyes and gullet located in the vicinity of the Cygnus region.
Turn the Milky Way on its side and the Dark Rift’s likeness to a crocodile’s head and jaws are unmistakable, confirming that the entrance to Xibalba; i.e., the opening of the Dark Rift, was via its gullet.
In Mayan mythology the solar god One Hunahpu was reborn from the mouth of the caiman, a sure reference to his emergence from the Dark Rift. The sun-god was then imagined as being carried along the length of the creature’s open jaws to the place where the ecliptic, the sun’s path, crosses the Milky Way in the vicinity of the stars of Sagittarius and Scorpius.
This is a point corresponding, visually at least, with the nuclear bulge in the galactic plane that marks the center of the Milky Way galaxy. The sun-god was conceived as reaching this point at the moment of sunrise on the winter solstice, an act that completed an annual solar cycle.
Similar ideas regarding a spirit world existing beyond the opening to the Dark Rift are held even today by a number of Native American tribes. The most consistent story that emerges from their beliefs and practices tells of how in death the soul departs westwards towards the setting sun, a journey that can take three to four days to complete. When it finally reaches the edge of the world it stands on a coastal shoreline, with the underworld visible beneath the surface of the water and the sky-world above in the night sky.
If the sky-world is chosen as the soul’s final destination, it must make a leap of faith into the night sky in order to access a star portal symbolized by something that native tribes refer to as the Hand Constellation. It is a symbol found again and again in the decorated art of the mound building cultures of Ohio.
In fact, it is likely that a psychopomp, in the form of a bird, was thought to accompany new souls entering this world. This, of course, is the role played in many parts of Europe and Asia by the stork, although in the Baltic (and seemingly in Siberia), it was a white swan that played this same role. In its guise as a celestial bird, Cygnus is identified with the swan throughout the Eurasian continent.
In Egyptian and Hindu myth it was a primordial goose or swan that brought forth the universe with its honk, although in many other countries the swan was said to have laid the egg that either formed the earth or heavens, or became the sun.
The holed stone
Further evidence of Göbekli Tepe’s proposed astronomical alignments comes from Enclosure D. A small stone pillar standing around five feet (1.5 m) tall has been found in its north-northwestern perimeter wall, exactly behind and in line with its central pillars. The stone is rectangular in shape and, unlike the rings of radially oriented pillars found in the main enclosures it has one of its wider faces turned towards the center of the structure.
The significance of this stone is that it has a hole some seven to eight inches in diameter bored through it horizontally at a height of around four feet off the ground. Covering the stone are a series of curved lines, which flow in pairs and converge just beneath the hole before trailing off towards the stone’s right-hand corner.
Very likely they are a naive representation of the human torso with legs coming together and bent towards the right-hand edge of the stone. If so, then this would make the hole synchronous with the vulva, or human birth canal.
If the enclosure’s twin pillars were indeed orientated towards Deneb during the epoch in question, then a person, a shaman or priest perhaps, would have been able to look through the stone’s sighting hole in order to see Deneb setting on the north-northwestern horizon, a quite magnificent sight that cannot have happened by chance alone. Clearly, this was powerful evidence that the enclosure really was directed towards this all-important star.
The Vulture Stone
Confirming the Göbekli builders’ apparent interest in Cygnus is Pillar 43. Located in the north-northwestern section of Enclosure D, it stands just a few yards away from the holed stone. Here we see a vulture positioned at the end of the line of small squares.
It stands erect, with its wings articulated in a manner resembling human arms. It also has slightly bent knees (or it is pregnant) and bizarre flat feet, in the shape of oversized clowns’ shoes, indicating that this is very likely a shaman in the guise of a vulture, or a spirit bird with anthropomorphic attributes.
Similar vultures with articulated legs are depicted on the walls of shrines at Çatal Höyük, the neolithic city in southern-central Turkey, which dates to c. 7000–5600 BC, and these too are interpreted either as anthropomorphs, or shamans adorned in the manner of vultures.
Just above the vulture’s right wing is a carved circle, like a ball, or sun disk. Klaus Schmidt (Göbekli Tepe’s discoverer) interprets this “ball” as a human head, and this is almost certainly what it is, for on the back of another vulture lower down the register is a headless, or soulless, figure, mimicking very similar examples of headless figures found in association with images of vultures and excarnation towers at Çatal Höyük.
And we can be sure that the “ball” does indeed represent a human head as similar balls are seen in the prehistoric rock art of the region, where their context also makes it clear they represent human souls.
So the headless figure represents not only the human skeleton but also a dead man whose soul has departed in the form of a ball-like head that is now under the charge of the vulture, which is arguably a bird spirit with anthropomorphic; i.e. human like, attributes.
Everything points towards Enclosure D’s holed stone and Vulture Stone next to it being not just confirmation of Deneb’s place in the mindset of the Göbekli builders but also in the site’s role as a place where the rites of birth, death, and rebirth were celebrated both in its architectural design and in the highly symbolic carved art left behind by its builders.
It is confirmation also of the incredible role played by Cygnus and the Milky Way’s Dark Rift in the cosmological beliefs of the Upper Paleolithic age and, later, among the early Neolithic peoples of Anatolia. These are incredible revelations that entirely alter our currently held views on the mindset of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic world.
Other structures at Göbekli Tepe were built perhaps with different considerations in mind. Enclosure B’s central pillars are unlikely to have targeted Deneb during the epoch in question.
The twin pillars marking the entrance to the apse in Enclosure A were orientated almost exactly northwest to southeast, while those in Enclosure F (a smaller, much later structure west of the main group) are aligned east-northeast or west-southwest, very close to the angle at which the sun rises on the summer solstice and sets on the winter solstice.