Revolutionary Karahan Tepe

Research at 11,500-year-old monumental site in Turkey set to rewrite (pre)history.




Turkey has been in the forefront of research into the origins of farming and animal husbandry for several generations, starting with the discovery and excavation of Çatalhöyük (see the latest issue of Archaeology Worldwide, #7). This site, with its remarkable art and shrines, was excavated by James Mellaart, and more recently, investigated brilliantly by an international team led by Ian Hodder. Then followed the late Klaus Schmidt’s dig at Göbekli Tepe, with its monoliths and shrines dating to about 9600 BC.


The main focus of recent research has been in the upper Tigris and Euphrates region in the southeast, which appears to have been a major center of early cereal agriculture, preceded by population growth, sedentary villages, and a dramatic swelling of ritual observations, also what appear to have been ancestor worship. To discover more, Turkish archaeologists have embarked on excavations at over 12 other sedentary villages in the area. This semi-arid region was once a woodland area, where food resources were abundant.


Karahan Tepe, one of the sites now being investigated, dates to about 9,500 BC and covers about 10 hectares. Carvings here, as at Göbekli Tepe, are three dimensional sculptures, the monoliths forming concentric circles.


It appears that in this region, elaborate, permanent monumental villages came into being before agriculture began – and not after, as was the old assumption. The new Turkish researches are set to revolutionize our knowledge of the origins of food production, which led, of course, to the development of cities and states.


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Image: The monumental site of Karahan Tepe in southeastern Turkey appears to have been made by hunters and gatherers.

Credit: Esber Ayaydin